In his review of “Devour the Land: War and American Landscape Photography Since 1970” at the Harvard Art Museums, Mark Feeney finds the exhibition “prosecutorial” but complains about the lack of captions (“Out of focus”, Sunday Arts, Oct. 3). He writes that “Devour the Land” wants the museum visitor to feel “anger, disgust, moral superiority”. I haven’t experienced that at all. On the contrary, I was amazed by the nuanced photographic content, the juxtaposition of black and white with color and the wide range of formats. Some photographs astonish us while others function passively, like roots taking root.
Yes, the exhibition invites us to reflect. We can discover for ourselves the relationship between a family having dinner and a site devastated by chemical munitions.
Referring to Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s infamous March to the Sea, Feeney states that “ignoring the relationship between means and ends is foolish and even more heinous.” Whether it was fair of Sherman to order the destruction of all crops along the way is apparently a question the reviewer has already answered. Ironically, this exhibition allows him to do so.
Feeney also takes into account the premise of military expansionism from 1960 to 2021. But the infantry count in an era when we have sophisticated technology and drone attacks is misleading. “Statistics belong to a position paper”, he writes, “not to an art journal”, yet he is the one who manipulates them.
To be fair to the reviewer, he spends a lot of space describing selected images and ruminates on them with insight. However, the criticism ends with this rebuff: “Controversy without intellectual rigor is a form of moral self-satisfaction. Feeney apparently does not recognize the care and deliberation that has gone into this exhibit. It is a shame, because the Conservative has given us a rich palette of work. I encourage readers to see the exhibit and see for themselves.
The writer is a photographic dealer who emphasizes the work of the 19th century.