Critics’ Picks

Richard Misrach, Diving Board, Salto, 1943, C-print, 18 x 23".

Richard Misrach, Diving Board, Salto, 1943, C-print, 18 x 23".

Stanford

“California: The Art of Water”

Cantor Arts Center
328 Lomita Dr
July 13–November 28, 2016

As true today as when it was published in 1977, Joan Didion’s essay “Holy Water” speaks to the Californian’s obsession with water, a fanatic preoccupation sparked by wildfires on the Big Sur coast and years of drought that have compelled the rising of the land itself. The exhibition “California: The Art of Water” traces a centuries-long struggle––a history of mercurial oppositions––over resources bestowed only grudgingly or in excess. The cerulean volume of David Hockney’s Sprungbrett mit Schatten (Paper Pool #14), 1978, acts as mocking foil to the thirsty void that opens beneath Diving Board, Salton Sea, photographed by Richard Misrach in 1983. Strawberry and peach fields flooded by irrigation networks in photographs by Thomas Hill and Peter Goin are remarkably like Henry Bainbridge and George W. Casilear’s lithographic print depicting catastrophe in Views of Sacramento City as It Appeared During the Great Inundation in January 1850, ca. 1850.

In an effort to survive, real things are made to appear like their surrogates, turning nature into a landscape of wedded polarities. Goin’s Golf Course near Coachella, 2007, shows bare, scrappy hillsides rising behind golf courses cropped into turf-green gingham. In Stephen Johnson’s California Aqueduct Near Tracy, 1984, a waterway is caught stilled to a smoothness that is more like the black uniformity of asphalt than the tempestuous course of a river. As Didion noted, “Water is important to people who do not have it, and the same is true of control.” Documented here is a state’s infinite campaign to wrest both from a reluctant and hostile land.