Thursday, Jan 10, 2019 - 3:24 pm

San Diego, CAOn the evening of Thursday, February 21, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego will open Trevor Paglen: Sites Unseen at its monthly free program, Downtown at Sundown. The exhibition will remain on view through Sunday, June 2, 2019.   

Trevor Paglen is a Nam June Paik Art Center and MacArthur award-winning artist whose work blurs the lines between art, science, and investigative journalism to construct unfamiliar and at times unsettling ways to see and interpret the world. Trevor Paglen: Sites Unseen originated at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) and is the first exhibition to present Paglen’s early photographic series alongside his recent sculptural objects and new work with artificial intelligence. This mid-career survey features more than 100 artworks, including the multimedia installation The Last Pictures, prototypes of Paglen’s non-function satellites, and the premiere presentation of his video work Image Operations. Paglen will be the featured speaker at the 19th annual Axline Lecture on Wednesday, April 17.

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Inspired by the American landscape tradition, Paglen captures the same horizon seen by iconic photographers Timothy O’Sullivan in the 19th century and Ansel Adams in the 20th. However, in Paglen’s photographs, the infrastructure of surveillance also apparent—a classified military installation, a spy satellite, a tapped communications cable, a drone, or artificial intelligence (AI). With this presentation, the Museum engages visitors in the important and ongoing conversation about privacy and surveillance in contemporary society.

Paglen does not expose secrets, but instead shows secrecy as a system organizing human activity by producing constraints on freedom. “Rather than trying to find out what’s actually going on behind closed doors,” he said, “I'm trying to take a long hard look at the door itself.”

Paglen’s exploration of the landscape of secrecy has spanned a decade during which the expansion of its infrastructure has seen the development of the automated seeing systems that now concern him. What is radical about this moment, he suggests, is that most images are now made by machines for other machines—images that do not operate recognizably as images and thereby challenge people’s understanding not only of what images are and what they do, but also what can be done with them or done about them. Paglen and the exhibition ask if images are in some sense the defining characteristic of human history and culture: are image makers adequate to address the challenges of this historical moment’s radical redefinition of humanity?

Trevor Paglen: Sites Unseen features the artist’s recent prototypes for Orbital Reflector, an artwork that he launched into outer space in December of 2018. Crafted from a lightweight, mylar-like material, the Orbital Reflector is a reflective, inflatable sculpture affixed to a small satellite that will orbit the earth for several weeks before disintegrating upon re-entry into the atmosphere. The work serves no commercial or military function. Instead, for a brief time it will become an artificial star, a reflective object of pure delight and wonder. Launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Airforce Base near Santa Barbara on December 3, the Orbital Reflector will remain visible in orbit when Trevor Paglen: Sites Unseen opens at MCASD.

Trevor Paglen: Sites Unseen is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with generous support from Carolyn Small Alper Exhibitions Fund, The Altman Siegel Family, Paul and Emma Bain, Gabrielle Bekink and the Honorable Rudolf Bekink, Joanne and Richard Brodie, Joanne and Richard Brodie Exhibition Endowment, Elizabeth Broun, Elizabeth Broun Curatorial Endowment, James F. Dicke Family Endowment, Sheila Duignan and Mike Wilkins, Arthur Fleischer Jr. and Susan Fleischer, Ed Fries, Carole Gigliotti in honor of Paula and Peter Lunder, mark sanford gross and billy ocallaghan, Alex Lakatos and Kelly Riser Lakatos, Lannan Foundation, Paula and Peter Lunder, The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Nion McEvoy, Metro Pictures (New York), Jack and Marjorie Rachlin Curatorial Endowment, Smithsonian Council for American Art, Bernie Stadiem Endowment Fund, Adriana and Aaron Vermut, Virtru Data Privacy and the Elizabeth B. and Laurence I. Wood Endowment. 

Support for the exhibition’s tour is provided by the C.F. Foundation in Atlanta and the William R. Kenan Jr. Endowment Fund. Funding for the San Diego presentation is made possible by underwriting support from Nora and Fritz Sargent and Gad and Suzan Shaanan. Institutional support of MCASD is provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture and the County of San Diego Community Enhancement Fund.

About the Artist
Trevor Paglen (b. 1974) is an artist, geographer and investigative journalist. He is a recipient of the Nam June Paik Art Center Prize 2018 and of the MacArthur Foundation “genius” Award in 2017. He has exhibited widely in solo and group exhibitions internationally. His work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, Berkeley Art Museum, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and Nevada Museum of Art. In December of 2018, Paglen launched an artwork, Orbital Reflector, into outer space in collaboration with the Nevada Museum of Art. In 2016, he received the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize, and in 2014 he received the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneer Award for his work as a “groundbreaking investigative artist.” Paglen holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California Berkeley, a master’s degree in fine art from the Art Institute of Chicago, and a doctorate in geography from the University of California Berkeley. He is the author of five books and numerous articles on subjects including experimental geography, state secrecy, military symbology, photography and visuality. He is represented by Altman Siegel Gallery in San Francisco and Metro Pictures in New York City.

About the Axline Lecture
MCASD and The San Diego Museum of Art will present the 19th annual Axline Lecture featuring internationally renowned artist Trevor Paglen at 7 PM on Wednesday, April 17. Paglen’s work, on view in the wide-ranging exhibition Trevor Paglen: Sites Unseen at the MCASD, spans image-making, sculpture, investigative journalism, writing, engineering, and numerous other disciplines. Known for his striking landscape photographs that emerge from his interest in science and journalism, Paglen’s work evokes more than a pristine or idyllic location; his images make visible the structures and technologies that impact our lives and reveal government secrecy. The Axline Lecture is presented annually by The San Diego Museum of Art and MCASD in recognition of the extraordinary bequest by Rea and Jackie Axline to both institutions in 1999. This program is free for students with valid ID and Members of MCASD and The San Diego Museum of Art; $15 for non-members.

Founded in 1941, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) is the preeminent contemporary visual arts institution in San Diego County. The Museum's collection includes more than 4,700 works of art created since 1950. In addition to presenting exhibitions by international contemporary artists, the Museum serves thousands of children and adults annually at its varied education programs, and offers a rich program of film, performance, and lectures. MCASD is a private, nonprofit organization, with 501c3 tax-exempt status; it is supported by generous contributions and grants from MCASD Members and other individuals, corporations, foundations, and government agencies. Kathryn Kanjo is The David C. Copley Director and CEO at MCASD. Institutional support for MCASD is provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture.