Why is an arts organization doing a project on farming? The answer is provided by the Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Ketchum, Idaho, whose new group show “Farming in the 21st Century,” was the visual arts component in a larger, multidisciplinary project on the subject. The resulting, handsome exhibition examined the past, present, and future of farming, through paintings by Geoff Krueger and Michael Gregory, photographs by Julie Moos and an installation by Tracy Linder. Inspired by Michael Pollan’s dogmatic ideals, the show is a sentimental ode and a political pinch to farming, once a hard-working and honest profession, which in recent decades has been subsumed by the big cooperate manufacturing gorilla of cheap food production.
Geoff Krueger’s husky, faceless men represent an archetypal view of man. The figures fade into lush verdant fields of vegetables, which recall the Southern California landscape the artist grew up in, when fruit picking and field production were done by laborers. Michael Gregory’s meticulously painted farm structures of dilapidated round barns, symmetrical hay lofts and multi-level grain houses present majestic farm edifices in wide-open spaces met by expansive skylines. These classic structures are a reminder of a lifestyle which today is on the brink of extinction. Tracy Linder’s one-room installation is an homage to her family and her own experience growing up on a working family farm in Montana. In this work, the artist splays coveralls on the walls like priceless kimonos, except these precious garments present the history of men working the soil. Hung from the ceiling, a line of amber shovels missing shafts is lit from below to resemble ghostly artifacts, while a line of workmen’s gloves are suspended from a wheat-yellow colored wall off straight pins. The many gloves come in all different shapes and sizes, suggesting the wide range of hands engaged in farm labor. Linder’s use of farm materials and leather gloves coated with resin and wax turns these everyday objects into almost devotional artifacts. Moos’s monumental scale photography portraits of pairs of farmers from her Monsanto series present images of American farmers who work independently of big agribusiness. Overall, this intriguing exhibition suggests a disconnect between people and their farmland, and depicts a way of life that is being lost to the cooperate farming practices in America. At the same time, it also presents an honest depiction of what farmers look like in the 21st Century.
Day Work I, 1996, Geoff Krueger, oil on canvas, 24' x 30'
Photo: courtesy of the artist