Patrick Nagatani


March 30 - May 14 , 2001

The Andrew Smith Gallery opens an exhibit on Friday, March 30, 2001 titled, Excavations: Recent Photographs by Patrick Nagatani, with a reception for the artist from 5 to 8 pm. A distinguished professor of photography at the University of New Mexico, Patrick Nagatani has long been acclaimed for his entertaining and thought-provoking photographs that deal with various facets of the human condition. Working complex ideas in series form, Nagatani creates tableaus made up of two and three-dimensional imagery which he then photographs. The intensity of his subject matter is softened by the sheer beauty of the images and the humor he often brings to them. In his newest body of work, Nagatani delves into the field of archaeology and the "malleable picture space" of the photograph. Excavations is an intriguing series of thirty Ilfochrome and silver print photographs that explore the thin line between reality and illusion, and the ways in which photography creates, recreates, or supports a particular history. The exhibit continues through May 14, 2001.

Nagatani informs us that in 1985, a Japanese archeologist named Ryoichi received a mysterious set of maps that led him to excavate numerous historic and contemporary sites around the world noted for their cultural significance. For fifteen years Ryoichi and his team secretly excavated Stonehenge, Chaco Canyon, Ayers Rock, Kitt Peak National Observatory, the very Large Array radio-telescope, and other sites. At each location they unearthed a different make of car. Buried in the volcanic ash at Herculaneum they found a Ferrari. In the foundations of the Observatory at Chichen Itza was a Jaguar, while a Bentley emerged from Salisbury Plain near Stonehenge. Ryoichi had discovered a worldwide "automobile culture" that appeared to parallel our own, although it was anachronistic both historically and geographically. After unearthing the artifacts, Ryoichi's team covered up all evidence of their digs, but not before Nagatani had photographed each site, providing the only existing record of Ryoichi's discoveries.

In this elaborate fictional narrative and the accompanying thirty large format Ilfochrome and silver print photographs, Nagatani examines photography's role in documenting "history," as well as our willingness to believe what we see. In the color photograph titled, BMW, Chetro Ketl Kiva, Chaco Canyon, NM, USA, 1997, the circular stone wall of the kiva has been opened up to expose the front of a BMW. A ladder, shovels, wheelbarrows, picks, and a camera on a tripod are strewn about the site. Viewed casually, the scene appears real. Closer inspection reveals that "reality" is actually a miniature hand-crafted set complete with technical equipment, tools, and a model car. The audience is invited to suspend disbelief and participate in the wonder and puzzle of the paradox.

Born in Chicago, Nagatani was raised and educated in Los Angeles where he achieved artistic recognition for his highly original images of a benumbed consumer society living on the brink of disaster. In 1987 he moved to Albuquerque to teach at the University of New Mexico. Over the last decade he has imaginatively explored the effects of the nuclear industry on New Mexico, and Japanese-American internment camps from World War II.

Liz Kay