Contested Terrain: Painting the Modern Landscape
6/30/2012 - 9/16/2012

What's Pictured:
(Above) Don Stinson (American, born 1956), The Necessity for Ruins, 1998, oil on panel, metal, plastic, and mixed media, Denver Art Museum, Funds from Contemporary Realism Group, 2000.147

Contested Terrain: Painting the Modern Landscape is organized by Joslyn Art Museum.


Douglas County

Contributing Sponsor

Supporting Sponsors
Carol Gendler
Wiesman Development

Additional support provided by the Nebraska Arts Council and
Joslyn's Bodmer Society and Contemporary Art Society.

Rather than searching for scenic vistas or idyllic fragments of wilderness, the artists in Contested Terrain uncover a diversity of narratives — personal, environmental, technological, and cultural histories — that are revealed by a careful reading of American topography. Each artist emphasizes the importance of their personal experiences within the American landscape, encouraging close observation and an awareness of one’s relationship with nature. Reevaluating the grand traditions of landscape painting that helped shape our national identity, these paintings embody a consciousness of the past while playing against conventional mythologies. Images of reservoirs, wind farms, housing developments, and natural disasters reflect an interest in sites where our preconceptions about the natural world are laid bare. Panoramic vistas of strip mines and clear cut forests replace sites like the Grand Canyon as monuments of a post-industrial landscape we have created yet still struggle to acknowledge. Yet by reworking tradition to accommodate the realities of the present, the beauty that still endures at these intersections of man and nature becomes evident. Contested Terrain describes places transformed by development and industry, while still locating moments that speak forcefully of the natural world.

The Artists

Chuck Forsman (American, born 1944) asks what it means to be “in balance” with our surroundings in the twenty-first century. In his paintings, strip mines and dams replace canyons and rivers as monuments to the post-industrial word. His uneasy representations of the tension between development and preservation refuse to shy away from the contradictions of the mythic West.

Karen Kitchel (American, born 1957) paints intricately detailed closeups of the western prairie, eschewing a traditional horizontal compositions based on the distant horizon to concentrate on more intimate spaces. Kitchel’s art is a sensitive portrayal of the personal and environmental transformations that help shape one’s identity.

James Lavadour (American, born 1951) rejects traditional narratives and symbols of western painting in favor of a synthesis of Asian philosophy, jazz, and Abstract Expressionism. Lavadour’s fluidly painted surfaces capture the energy and emotion of the geological and cosmic forces that govern our surroundings.

Jean Lowe (American, born 1960) depicts the suburban landscape with the trappings of a nineteenth-century painting to examine the relationship between nature and culture, reality and image. In their monumental scale and false grandeur, her paintings become ironic laments for a landscape that is being consumed at an alarming pace.

Alexis Rockman (American, born 1962) reveals the tensions of growth and destruction that follow the human impulse to impose order on the environment. Rockman’s apocalyptic paintings synthesize a range of art historical sources including abstraction, museum dioramas, and scientific illustration.

Michael Scott’s (American, born 1952) work critiques the interrelationships of myth, spectacle, and commercialism in Western Americana. Incorporating motifs from art history, folklore, and popular culture, his art engages the complex and often contradictory realities of the contemporary West.

Don Stinson (American, born 1956) revels in scenes of human intervention — satellite dishes, abandoned hotels, highways, and billboards — creating monumental panoramas reminiscent of nineteenth-century Romantic painters such as Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Church. His brightly lit views illuminate a landscape where fictions of the past meet the unsettling realities of a present whose future is precarious and uncertain.

Exhibition Events & Programs

On Friday, June 29, Joslyn members will enjoy a preview of the exhibition. Click here to join Joslyn!

Public events include:

  • Saturday, June 30, 10:30 am to noon — free public panel event featuring artists Chuck Forsman, Karen Kitchel, and Don Stinson. The three will discuss their work in Contested Terrain and the challenges inherent in painting the contemporary landscape. Moderated by Toby Jurovics, Joslyn’s Chief Curator & Richard and Mary Holland Curator of American Western Art, the panel discussion will be followed by the opportunity to ask questions of the artists and view their work in the galleries. Admission is free.

  • Sunday, July 8, 2 pm — Public Lecture: "Representations of the Prairie in American Art"
    Spencer Wigmore, Joslyn Art Museum's 2011–12 Weitz Family Intern, will address representations of the prairie in American art from the early nineteenth century to the present, discussing artists from Alfred Jacob Miller to Karen Kitchel. Held in Joslyn’s Abbott Lecture Hall, the talk is free with regular Museum admission.
  • Thursdays, July 19 and August 16, 6:30pm — Gallery talks by Toby Jurovics, Joslyn’s Chief Curator & Richard and Mary Holland Curator of American Western Art (free with regular Museum admission; $5 on Thursdays from 4-8 pm)