The Symbolic Landscape: Pictures Beyond the Picturesque

UCI Art Gallery, Pennsylvania, Irvine, 10/03/2013 - 11/27/2013

712 Arts Plaza


The Symbolic Landscape’s thematic derives from Rosalind Krauss’s critique of pictorial form, made in her 1984 essay “The Originality of the Avant-Garde.”  There she reminds us that Jane Austen had challenged the conventional notion of the “picturesque” as early as 1818, at which time the picturesque was conceived as being “remarkable for its singularity” and thereby “afforded a good subject for landscape.”  Krauss is quick to point out the semantic paradox of conflating “singularity” (nature) and “landscape” (painting), well before the avant-garde would ponder the same phenomenon within the field of art.  For it was this same  paradox that directed a branch of modernist and postmodernist artists throughout the twentieth century, from Marcel Duchamp to Sherrie Levine. 

Since Krauss’s formulation in 1984, similar critiques of the “picturesque” have come to inform an international group of artists – ones working across the mediums of film, photography, painting and installation – who aim to tarry further with the notion of “landscape.”  They do this not only by employing the conceptual, aesthetic strategies indicative of the avant-garde that preceded them. They also do so as a means of cultural or political analysis.  In The Symbolic Landscape we thus encounter topics as diverse as the 2008 financial collapse, American “red state” politics, the African-American Civil Rights Movement, Argentine Conceptualism, the Arab Spring, high modernist aesthetics, and what Roland Barthes poetically called “A Lover’s Discourse.” 

Formally speaking, The Symbolic Landscape features a number of images that literally resemble a landscape, while others embrace figurative or textual strategies.  All the exhibited artworks, however, conceptually defy their morphological resemblance to such tried and true genres.  This begs the broader question of just what a landscape is for the subject, especially when psychological notions of that genre are entertained.  As a result, Krauss’s original theorization of the picturesque can be translated into the broader psychoanalytic question of who we are, in the field of the Other.  For it’s within this psychoanalytic, symbolic landscape that the Other stands for the many “fields” of desire that define us as subjects: from history, to nation state, to love (and beyond).

Artists include: Kevin Appel, Kelly Barrie,  Zanny Begg & Oliver Ressler, Civil Wars: Queer Theory and the Arenas of Activism Collective, Miles Coolidge, Kate Ericson/Mel Ziegler, Hassan Khan, Mary Kelly, Monica Majoli, Dorit Margreiter, Daniel Joseph Martinez, Florian PumhöslConnie Samaras, and Bruce Yonemoto

For More Information


Kevin Appel
Kelly Barrie

Share this Exhibition: