“A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.” — Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 1973
In recognition of the anniversary of 9/11, a rich variety of mushroom clouds bloomed along the whitewashed walls of Peter Blum Gallery on Wooster Street from June 9 to September 2. Vintage photographs snapped mostly by anonymous witnesses (not artists, traditionally speaking) of nuclear testing and detonations evoke a sense of terrifying silence related to the promise of such immense destruction. The nameless photographers and their unsettling atomic images have an emphatic voice in the context of an art gallery with a roster of important modernist and contemporary artists.
In the early Twentieth Century, violent war technologies were evolving at the same time that art was changing. Modernism marked a breakdown of traditional ideals of beauty, and gave way to new and unpredictable aesthetics. As the mushroom cloud became iconic, the zeitgeist shifted. The Atomic Explosion show at Peter Blum presents documentation of a pivotal moment in human history, and therefore in the history of art. We have the retrospect to look at what happened to art after the nuclear tests and the detonations at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now that over 10 years have passed since 9/11, what is different in our contemporary art landscape?
Check out Taking Sides on Paddle8, a new show curated by Zak and Robin Williams opening today