Across the Lands and to Nebraska: The Photographs of Andrew Moore

September 13, 2008 – January 4, 2009 —

The color photographs by New York artist Andrew Moore consist of striking and subtle images of both the familiar and unfamiliar and the real and seemingly unreal. In Across the Lands and to Nebraska, his first exhibition in the state, Moore’s photographs feature images from around the world juxtaposed with a series of the Nebraska sandhills.

While the locations vary, there is a consistent use of line, scale, grandeur, and the sublime. All 21 images measure approximately 40 x 50” and were taken with a large-format camera. While digitally produced, Moore first utilizes film, then scans the negatives into a computer, and the resulting images are digitally printed. His shooting, printing, and mounting process (the photographs are fused onto a backboard with a protective covering fused on top) is one that produces rich colors and arresting detail.

The Great Plains is both quiet and elusive and the challenge to capture its essence without recreating stereotypes can sometimes prove to be an indomitable task. The challenge intensifies when there is also a search for a particular and frequent structure or architectural form. What exists on the Plains, in its simplest, is a three-part chord: land, sky, and the line that separates the two. Yet this seemingly simple landscape has a sublime and resonating nature that is deceptively obvious and therefore often overlooked. This land, in all its forms, can be a challenge for an artist, especially an outsider, to portray its essence.

The large-format and large-scale color photographs of Andrew Moore have focused on particular parts of the world that often are dense in population and architecture. From Cuba and Russia to New York and Vietnam, Moore’s photographs have frequently utilized the structures of a region to speak its inhabitants and their way of life. The exhibition Across the Lands and to Nebraska: The Photographs of Andrew Moore and accompanying catalogue is an overview of the photographer’s work created throughout the world, with a focus on the Great Plains, particularly Nebraska. The 21 images consist of 12 taken in Bosnia-Herzegovina, China, Cuba, Russia, Sweden, Vietnam, New York and New Jersey, and nine of the Plains. The 12 were selected from larger bodies of work including those that were published in three books: Russia: Beyond Utopia; Inside Havana; and Governor’s Island: Photographs by Lisa Kereszi and Andrew Moore. This particular selection of photographs is a mini-retrospective of the artist’s career and puts his Plains images in context with the other places he has photographed, prompting the question, “how does an artist, who looks for form and structure in a land, find form in the seemingly formless?”

Moore’s association and attraction to man-made structure began at an early age. As a boy, his architect father took the family on Sunday afternoons to visit buildings sites in the New York and Connecticut areas. This gave the artist, as he says, “a very intuitive sense of architecture.” It also gave him the opportunity to view places others were not allowed. These experiences were fortuitous as they influenced work created by Moore many years later. While his subjects appear to vary greatly, there is a consistent element found in his work – an on-going desire to seek out structure and bring to the surface a bit of the unknown in a place that already has elicited numerous pre-conceived ideas and imagery.

In the Russia series, Moore takes images of everyday life that contain iconic objects, colors, or  moods that support ideas formed in our mind about the country. Yet, the power found in all of the artist’s work is that he goes beyond the stereotypes and presents something new with the familiar. Icebreaker and Mischa and Vladimir both attest to this. Icebreaker is an image of a large, looming, red ship that, although not a building, serves as one in this context. Its stark verticality, intense color, massive size (which is only fully appreciated by noticing the man, far below, dwarfed by the vessel and its rudder) all feed an archetype of Russia. Yet, the ship is sitting slightly askew and immobile. It is not so much threatening as it is amazing with its magnitude and intense color in a sea of grey. We know it is large but are not able to fathom its true mass, however the photograph does this for us. Consequently, it also speaks of a country, once with a formidable and single-minded purpose, that is now struggling yet still stately and moving forward in some way. The bear cub in Mischa and Vladimir also points toward the idea of a strength that is grounded – temporarily faulty and under the gaze of its former leader, the bust of Vladimir Lenin. The cub looks unreal, something hard to imagine, chained up and isolated. While the image is beautiful in its formality, there is a haunting sadness to it attributed to a breakdown in the order of things and the resulting forced existence on a creature.

Moore’s series of Russia, Cuba, and the other places that are full of people and form offer insight by an artist who does not want to tell his story or give his viewpoint, but rather his observances, and with that, he always offers further insight into a place and people. Such is the same with the Nebraska photographs, even if they, on the surface, seem to be subjects that are strikingly different formations from those in the majority of his work.

For a person pulled to the complexity of structure or objects created, treasured, and left behind by people, Moore was somehow drawn to a place devoid of it. The Great Plains region is a harsh contrast to the normal experience of this artist and, on first seeing it, particularly Nebraska’s sandhills, he thought it to be “exotic.” It is a fitting response from one who immerses himself in places with a lot of people, things, and verticality. To then be in a locale surrounded only by a great deal of horizontals – gentle hills that roll on and on and on all around, Moore was intrigued. For any “outsider” and even for insiders, this simplicity can be viewed as nothingness. Most people driving through on the interstate are only allowed one perspective and it is from the road. The three-part chord of land, sky, and horizon can seem to be monotonous – yet beyond that road, in the towns and homes and sometimes just over a hill, much is going on. What is seemingly nothing, offers much. Artists who experience the Great Plains are often taken by it. Over 100 years ago, Worthington Whittredge expressed that he “cared more for them than for the mountains.” Brice Marden stated, “I was very impressed with Nebraska. I just thought it was a very surprising and beautiful landscape.” The result from both artists was paintings of their impressions of this land.

Moore also innately recognized this, confirmed in his works, that things are not what they seem – a lot more exists beyond barriers and within the simple imagery and stereotypes. As is his practice, he met and became familiar with the people of the area and this was the beginning of a closer association with the Plains. While works such as Round-Up #2 utilize the vastness of the landscape to speak about an existence, of the nine photographs, only two were of sweeping vistas. It is also interesting that over the four or five trips Moore took to photograph in Nebraska and the Dakotas, only these nine photographs were produced. The task was a difficult one for this structure-seeker and although not many works were completed, they nonetheless offer a distinct and engaging view of the Plains.

Round-Up #2 is an image that captures the limitless experience of the Plains yet shows that there is much going on. Under a big sky, the focus is a ring of ranchers rounding up a herd of cattle smack in the middle of softly undulating hills. The ranchers seem dwarfed by the sea of green and blue which hem them in below and overhead. They appear almost as small farm toys or figurines placed in the grass by a child, a magical frozen-in-time existence. The detail is so fine, you can pick out the breed of a dog skirting among the hooves of horses and cows in motion. At first glance, it seems like a blotch – but on closer inspection, it is apparent that it is a blue heeler accomplishing its task of rounding up cattle. This mix of the miniscule with the gigantic creates a play on what is real – taken by a camera, with what seems unreal – the horizon appears to be drawn with a pencil or marker, as the line is so crisp. In The Subtlety of Land, a short story by Sharon Butala, she writes of this land and the line that is created, “It is a geology so bare, leaving behind only a vast sky and land stretched out in long, sweeping lines that blend into the distant horizon with a line that is sometimes so clear and sharp it is surreal….” Moore has captured that in this photograph.

In Auction, Bassett, Nebraska, Moore photographs an indoor scene of an active auction house (the Bassett Livestock Auction, one of the top three auction houses in Nebraska). Individuals are scattered throughout the space taking heed of the livestock below. Included are a tow-headed child in denim overalls, old farmers with coveralls and plaid shirts, and a rancher with his laptop computer and dog, among many others. They are all actively sitting on wonderfully multi-colored bleachers. Auction, Bassett, Nebraska is an iconic rural farm scene yet with a twist. The mass of livestock below has become a swirling cloud of motion and color and the animals have become indiscernible. Taken with a slow shutter speed, motion is recorded as blurs throughout the scene. One of the tell-tale signs of a Moore photograph is juxtaposing realism (what we know as “real”) with what we think of as the abstract. This work not only accomplishes the joining of the two, but provides a distinctive approach to the everyday in Nebraska.

In Blue Crush, Merriman, Nebraska, the artist again offers a commonplace Nebraska scene. The subject is a cattle chute in the middle of a pasture with a line of cows prodded through by two ranchers. Like many of his photographs, Moore approaches the chute in a full-frontal position and then centers it in the middle of his camera frame. At the peak of the forward snaking chute is a focal point – a calf’s dark eye peeks above the rim of blue it is entrenched in. The eye contact that the photographer, camera, and viewer make with the calf is exceedingly striking and yet subtle in the middle of all the blue and all the action. It is a definitive moment in time and has become personal – as if there is an introduction with that particular calf. Additionally, the emphasis of the chute’s structure as it juts forward into the viewer’s space further supports making a connection with the calf. The intense blue color in the form of a half circle is an intriguing placement to the linear swatch of blue sky above. While the title of the work can allude to the cattle being “crushed” through the small confines of the chute, it can also speak of that other “blue” in the scene – the sky.

Moore’s play with the familiar and the unfamiliar, with the real and the seemingly unreal never allows for stagnation or stopping cold within the photographs or the artist’s proselytizing his own ideas or political agenda about a place other than to introduce information in this elegant, imagination-piquing way. His reliance on not just the medium of photography but the lessons of the Luminist painters of the nineteenth century is evident with the grandeur, sublime, and detail contained within his imagery – this too adds to that other worldliness but is not utilized in a way that outright articulates, as the painters did, man being in awe of nature, thus in awe of God. Moore tries to stay objective. Yet, his childhood experiences seep through in the works and are what lead him to continue to discover. As Alfred Stieglitz writes, “In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more than reality,” and this is what holds our gaze in front of the photographs of Andrew Moore.

Andrew Moore is best known for his richly colored images of architectural and urban scenes. A full-time photographer, his professional career has been impressive. He has had eight solo shows in New York as well as numerous exhibitions in the U.S. and internationally. Recent one-man exhibitions include those at the Moscow Art Center, Russia; Museum of Russian Art, Minneapolis; Galerie f 5:6, Munich; and a three-part retrospective on the legacy of Robert Moses at three New York area museums.

His photographs are represented in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City; George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester, New York; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut; Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Israel Museum, Jerusalem; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia; Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California. Moore has been the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, The New York State Council on the Arts, and the Judith Rothschild Foundation. His photographs have been the subject of three books – Inside Havana (2002), Governors Island: Photographs by Lisa Kereszi and Andrew Moore (2004), and Russia, Beyond Utopia (2005). In the fall of 2006 he was artist-in-residence at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire.

Moore began making experimental short films in the late 1980s, several of which were broadcast on MTV and PBS’s New Television series. Since then he has collaborated on film projects with David Byrne and Lee Breuer, and shot documentaries for The American Experience, The Discovery Channel, and WNET’s City Arts program. Moore was the producer and cinematographer for “How to draw a bunny,” a documentary feature on the artist Ray Johnson. The film premiered at the 2002 Sundance Festival, where it was awarded a Special jury prize and was voted by New York Magazine as one of the 10 best films of 2004. Moore was one of the founders of the Art of Science project, a university-wide competition that celebrates the aesthetics of research and the ways in which science and art inform each other. He is a Visiting Lecturer in Visual Arts, Princeton University, New Jersey, and the School of Visual Arts, New York City.

Born in 1957 in Connecticut where he was raised, Andrew Moore today makes his home in New York City.

Additional information and images are found on the artist’s website: