Michael Light: Private Frontiers


Private Frontiers features the work of Brooklyn-based painter Chris Ballantyne and San Francisco-based photographer Michael Light in a collaboratively-conceived exhibition. Having addressed similar themes in their work for some years, both artists have been in dialogue for the past year to develop work that examines the human urge to stake territory and its more absurd manifestations on the American landscape. The exhibition will include Light’s large-scale aerial photographs and artist books documenting the American West, and Ballantyne’s quirky, quasi-minimalist paintings on wood panel, canvas, paper, and on the wall in the form of a site-specific mural.


Chris Ballantyne paints the buildings, roads, fences, parking lots, and pipelines of depopulated suburban and exurban environments with such deadpan finesse that it takes a moment for the incongruities to emerge. Roads end abruptly at fences that divide empty space or surround arbitrary borders. Hillsides are neatly sliced to demarcate irrational boundaries. An empty parking lot dotted with random palm trees becomes a maze of irregular routes and random double-wide spaces. Ballantyne renders these dysfunctional constructions, divisions, and passageways with sly humor in a crisp graphic style. His delicate craftsmanship provides the perfect veneer for depictions of aberrant infrastructure and environmental re-engineering.


Michael Light’s majestic, disconcerting photographs document the collision points of human development with open space. Using a customized, large-format camera that allows him to lean from a door-less, self-piloted aircraft, Light continues a decade-long quest to examine the American West from an aerial vantage point. His extreme process provides a singular perspective on spectacular geology and the gated, exclusive ‘communities’ of the Western states. Light presents several recent series, including developments outside of Las Vegas in various states of abandonment and bankruptcy. Ample homes poised atop cliffs, cloned subdivisions carved into austerely beautiful desert landscapes, and ostentatious McMansions vying for ‘king of the mountain’ are evidence of an American frontier instinct and the aspirations of a decade’s boom mindset. Like Ballantyne, Light coolly exposes the surreality of landscapes audaciously sculpted and manipulated for human exploitation, with ironic reference to the grandiose Earthworks of Michael Heizer, James Turrell, and Robert Smithson.


Chris Ballantyne lives in Brooklyn, NY and received his MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2002. His work is in major museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. He was included in Bay Area Now 4 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco in 2005 and the California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art in 2006. His work was also included in the exhibitions Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes organized by the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis) and traveling to the Carnegie Museum (Pittsburgh); and Wallworks at the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto).


Michael Light lives in San Francisco and received his MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1993. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2007. A comprehensive exhibition of his aerial photographs was presented at the Nevada Museum of Art, Reno in 2008. A previous body of work, ‘100 SUNS’, has been traveling internationally since 2003, appearing at museums in the U.S. as well as Poland, Rome, Luxembourg, and Rotterdam. Radius Books is publishing a multi-volume selection of his aerial photographic series, most recently ‘LA Day/LA Night’ (2010). His work is in major museum collections including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Getty Museum, Santa Monica, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.


Installation Views