David Maisel’s images explore the politics and aesthetics of radically human-altered environments, and how we perceive our place in time via investigations of cultural artifacts from both past and present. His work focuses on power and the production of space by examining landscapes and objects that are off-limits, quarantined, or hidden from view.


For over thirty years, Maisel has produced aerial photographs of compromised landscapes in a multi-chaptered series titled Black Maps, revealing the physical impact of activities such as mining, logging, urban sprawl, and military testing. Rather than create literal documents, the artist has exploited the slippage between the evidentiary and aesthetic functions of photography. The resulting images subvert cartographic mapping, instead occupying a zone both imaginative and descriptive, informed by the politics of land use.


His recent body of work, Proving Ground, utilizes photography and time-based media to investigate Dugway Proving Ground, a classified military installation in the Utah desert devoted to the development and testing of chemical and biological weapons and defense systems.


In projects such as Library of Dust and History’s Shadow, Maisel delves into institutional archives to illustrate the power of objects to convey meaning over time. History’s Shadow uses x-rays depicting sculpture, painting, and artifacts from antiquity as source material in the creation of new photographic artwork. Through the re-photography of these scientific records from the Getty Museum and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Maisel subjects these objects from antiquity to a process of transmutation, allowing them to become reanimated and renewed.


Maisel received his BA from Princeton University and his MFA from California College of the Arts, in addition to study at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. He is the recipient of a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship in the Creative Arts; a 2011 Investing in Artists Grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation; a 2008 Artist in Residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts; a 2007 Scholar in Residence at the Getty Research Institute; a 1990 Individual Artists Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts; and a 1984 Francis LeMoyne Page Award in the Visual Arts from Princeton University. Maisel was named to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 100 in 2015, and has been a Trustee of the Headlands Center for the Arts since 2011, as well as serving on the California College of the Arts President’s Alumni Council.  


Maisel’s photographs have been the subject of seven monographs, and his work is in numerous collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among others. The artist lives and works in San Francisco, CA.

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