Trevor Paglen: The Genres is the third and final installment in the Broad MSU’s exhibition series The Genres: Portraiture, Still Life, Landscape. Each installment features a single artist who is emerging as a significant voice in contemporary artistic discourse and whose work has reinvented, reworked, or re-engaged one of these three established genres of Western art history. This contemporary work is then shown in conjunction with historical examples of that genre, culled from the collection of the Broad MSU. Though few artists today would describe themselves as practitioners of these particular genres, the series’ creation of an artistic dialogue between recent works and their more traditional counterparts points to the ways in which many of the most cutting-edge contemporary practices are themselves rooted in the history of art. Similarly, looking backward through the lens of art made today allows us to consider historical works in a new light. 

Paglen’s practice provides a critical voice in today’s sociopolitical climate, contributing to current debates surrounding the relationship between the visual arts, technological advances, and the political realities of our world. Paglen is a social scientist, researcher, and writer who explores the secret activities of U.S. military and intelligence agencies, often referred to as the “black world,” through his endeavors in publishing, public speaking, and photography. His meticulously researched work blurs the lines between the discourses of science, contemporary art, and journalism. Approaching his subjects as an “experimental geographer,” he asks us to examine our own position within our simultaneously comfortable and unsettling world. Paglen utilizes photography as a political tool and a performative act, creating large-format prints that address subjects such as U.S. government surveillance, spy technology, and the dynamics of global political power. Both raising and responding to questions of mediated perception, these haunting images engage with the grand tradition of early twentieth-century American landscape photography while also moving steadfastly into the most contemporary of realms.

This exhibition spans the entire second floor of the museum, with two galleries dedicated to Paglen’s work (including highlights demonstrating his photographic process and sculptural replicas of satellites). The third gallery brings together landscapes from the museum’s collection that cross multiple time periods and media.

Alison Gass
Guest Curator

Trevor Paglen: The Genres is organized by the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University and guest curated by Alison Gass. Support for this exhibition is provided by the Broad MSU’s general exhibitions fund.