Trevor Paglen blurs the lines between art, science, and investigative journalism to construct unfamiliar and at times unsettling ways to see and interpret the world around us. Inspired by the landscape tradition, he captures the same horizon seen by American photographers Timothy O’Sullivan in the nineteenth century and Ansel Adams in the twentieth. Only in Paglen’s photographs is the infrastructure of surveillance also apparent—a classified military installation, a spy satellite, a tapped communications cable, a drone, an artificial intelligence (AI).
Paglen’s photographs show something we are not meant to see, whose concealment he regards as symptomatic of the historical moment we inhabit. His objects act in opposition to what his images have exposed, imagining another and potentially different world. Paglen is a conceptual artist with activist intentions. Helping to better see the particular moment we live in and producing spaces in which to envision alternative futures are among his chief concerns.
Trevor Paglen: Sites Unseen is a mid-career survey of the MacArthur Award-winning artist, the first exhibition to present Paglen’s early photographic series alongside his recent sculptural objects and new work with AI.
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 the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) is provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture and the County of San Diego Community Enhancement Fund.