Alex Lukas, "Untitled," 2011

Apocalyptic American landscapes fill the walls in Philadelphia-based artist Alex Lukas’s current exhibition (on show through October 8, 2011). The twenty-five works here range in size from 6-by-10 inches to 25-by-72 inches. The undisputed centerpiece is an enormous cyclorama in the center of the gallery that measures 4.6 x 33 feet; the work is displayed in an arc that surrounds the viewer so that it encompasses one’s entire field of vision.

Two types of scenes are presented here. Metropolis-scapes appear underwater, overtaken by lush vegetation and what appear to be decaying swampy suburban areas. The revisiting of very similar imagery does become repetitive is too frequent, causing the initial emotion response to dissipate.

The cyclorama features the second, suburban-y scene. The format itself is significant not only because of its grand size but also because its original message juxtaposes powerfully against its message here. Cycloramas were a format used during the 19th century to display scenes that commemorated national strength, such as battles won; here it envisions the ultimate power as nature (to the demise of a superpower). It is tempting to extrapolate that the action in the original cycloramas (e.g., war, striving for ultimate power) may well lead to the condition presented in the current cyclorama.

In all of the works there is not a human in sight, but there are traces everywhere, in the form of buildings, deteriorating billboards, and graffiti. The latter is especially poignant, pointing to what is often the most enduring and powerful form of communication to distant generations and after general destruction: writing on walls. That graffiti might be the only surviving remnants of man amounts to the proverbial “writing on the wall”: we should have seen this coming.

What is particularly striking in these works, as opposed to other end-of-days art (think Sandow Birk’s series The Rise and Fall of Los Angeles or Albrecht Dürer’s The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse), is that the images feel peaceful. Waters are still and clear. There is no fire; there are no explosions. Trees and bushes are healthy and abundant. Doom is paired with serenity.

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