Critics’ Picks

APL#1 Alaskan Plants,
2003.

APL#1 Alaskan Plants,
2003.

New York

Jason Middlebrook

Sara Meltzer Gallery
525-531 West 26th Street
October 18–November 15, 2003

Jason Middlebrook has reproduced the eight-hundred-mile Alaskan Pipeline (at a scale of 2.5 miles to 1 foot) as a formal and narrative thread winding in silver paint around Sara Meltzer Gallery. Along the way, it connects thirty or so drawings, beginning with a depiction of Prudhoe Bay, where the APL originates, and ending with the Port of Valdez, where the oil departs for the lower forty-eight. The multitude of graphic languages that Middlebrook brings to his work—in particular, the merging of artistic and scientific codes—has always been a major strength; here he draws on the vocabularies of ecology, art history, and politics to evoke the pipeline’s status as an international commercial venture, an environmental threat, and a phenomenological and visual creation—a sort of inadvertent work of Land art. A number of images reference Earthworks created contemporaneously with the APL (which was initiated in 1970 and completed in 1977); in one, the pipeline runs through Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field, 1977, its horizontal silver band in striking contrast with a deep purple ground. Though his “drawings” participate in the current trend of collage, obsessive detail, and pop-culture saturation, everything about Middlebrook's project—starting with the choice of subject itself—suggests a commitment to something beyond the usual repertoire of graphic and pop references.