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inside art reviews san francisco visual

Art / Richard Misrach slays 49 Geary

Hazardous waste

First Thurs­days at 49 Geary can be over­whelm­ing, peo­ple-wise, and under­whelm­ing, art-wise, and this month was dif­fer­ent only in that the over­whelm­ing­ness was crammed into one place: the Fraenkel Gallery. Packed with peo­ple, it also dis­played a face-melt­ing col­lec­tion of Richard Mis­rach pho­tos.

When I first saw Misrach's pho­tos, I thought imme­di­ate­ly of Sebas­tiao Sal­ga­do. Both guys address big themes — civ­i­liza­tions, sea­sons, land­scapes, human endeav­ors — but they do so in vast­ly dif­fer­ent ways. Sal­ga­do frames his work around human action; his sub­jects are migrants, activi­tists, labor­ers. Mis­rach works with earth, light, space; he works with dunes, strangers, cars, pow­er plants. Salgado's work is tied to cur­rent events, polit­i­cal move­ments, regimes, defin­able moments and rec­og­niz­able things; Mis­rach works with more anony­mous objects and land­scapes. There are much more sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences between them, but they share a social aware­ness that invests the best of their work with real intrigue and impor­tance.