History’s Shadow, a new photography book by artist David Maisel (Nazraeli Press, $75, hardcover, 72 pages, ISBN 978-1-59005-278-4), examines art and artifacts through museum conservation x-rays. Like spectral transmissions conveying messages across time, the images in History’s Shadow make the invisible visible – expressing the shape-shifting nature of time itself and the continuous presence of the past contained within us. The book will be published October 1, 2011 and includes an essay by David Maisel and a short story by Jonathan Lethem.
Maisel’s work has always been concerned with processes of memory, excavation, and transformation. History’s Shadow fuses the temporal, the artistic and the scientific, allowing us to see into previously hidden realms. The subjects of History’s Shadow are re-photographed x-rays of three-dimensional objects from the Getty Museum, Los Angeles, and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. Historically, the x-ray has been used for the structural examination of art and artifacts much as physicians examine bones and internal organs; it reveals losses, replacements, methods of construction, and internal trauma that may not be visible to the naked eye.
The History’s Shadow series began during Maisel’s visiting artist residency at the Getty Research Institute in 2007 as he culled through thousands of x-rays that were created in the processes of art preservation. Captivated by images of these objects from the museum’s permanent collections – dating from antiquity to the 1840s (just before the invention of photography), he began photographing those that seemed to possess a rare quality of ineffability. The works in History’s Shadow allow a glimpse inside of history itself, connecting the contemporary viewer to the art impulse at the core of these ancient works.
“I view these x-rays as expressions of the artists and artisans who created the original objects, however many centuries ago, as vestiges and indicators of the societies that produced these works; and as communications from the past, expressing immutable qualities that somehow remain constant over time,” writes Maisel. “What do these works of art from past cultures have to teach us about our current point in human history or about our relationship to the past? The x-ray provides a filter and a means (much as perception itself is both filter and means) to read the intrinsic properties of these works, the trace elements with which these objects are imbued. They encourage an understanding – made through feeling and art, as well as science and reason – that both spans and collapses time.”.
David Maisel is the recipient of a 2007 Scholar/Artist Residency from the Getty Research Institute and a 2008 Artist Residency from the Headlands Center for the Arts. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Opsis Foundation, and was a finalist in 2008 for both the Alpert Award in the Visual Arts and the Prix Pictet in Photography. His work is represented in major public and private collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the Museum of Fine Arts Houston; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Maisel’s photographs have been featured in solo and group exhibitions in the United States, Europe, and Asia. His previous publications include The Lake Project (2004), Oblivion (2006), Cascade Effect (2008), and Library of Dust (2008), which was called “a fevered meditation on memory and loss” by The New York Times.