Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950 at the Hirshhorn spans from World War II to the present, covering the destructive theme through artistic interpretation. The enormous exhibit can be broken down into media types: installation, new media, painting, and photography. The first time I visited, I focused on the video art to see how new media plays a role in how we understand destruction. During my last visit, I looked at how the photographs act as virtual realities of devastation. Aside from a few pieces — Arnold Odermatt’s series of car crashes and Gordon Matta-Clark’s “Window Blown Out” from 1976 — the images are enormous. It felt as if I could walk into each chaotic environment I was looking at. But the photographs also call to question its function as a medium.
What we see when we look at a photograph is filtered through our personal experience. When photographs are ambiguous, it is our unique perspective that shifts how we view them. Work like Angela Kleis’ There’s Been a Terrible Accident series relies on the viewer to determine what’s real.