For years Edward Burtynsky has claimed he is not a particularly political artist. He can no longer make that claim: The Corcoran/Steidl catalogue for ‘Edward Burtynsky: Oil’ is the most immediately political museum catalogue I’ve seen. It is a catalogue that may — should? — impact the way museums and kunsthalles approach contemporary art catalogues and exhibitions.

It includes the standard: A strong curatorial essay from exhibition organizer Paul Roth and an essay by a travel writer who has followed Burtynsky to the ends of the earth.

It’s the last essay that’s an unexpected doozy: Written by Dr. William E. Rees of the University of British Columbia School of Community and Regional Planning, it argues that the way we’re treating the earth — particularly in regards to natural resources such as oil — is unsustainable. The essay puts Burtynsky’s work not in the context of art history, but in the context of research on recent environmental scholarship. It indirectly makes a powerful case for including artists among the ranks of our most significant public intellectuals. It aggressively pushes art out of the contemporary art ghetto and places it in the mainstream of discourse on the future of our planet.


Tyler Green
Modern Art Notes