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This is an article I wrote for The Village Voice, published August 12, 2008. Read the original here.

Beauty bomb: Eugene Von Bruenchenhein’s  Atomic Age, 1955, Courtesy Kinz, Tillou + Feigen/The New Museum of Contemporary Art

Beauty bomb: Eugene Von Bruenchenhein’s  Atomic Age, 1955, Courtesy Kinz, Tillou + Feigen/The New Museum of Contemporary Art

Americans experience the world as being in a state of perpetual pre-apocalypse: Disaster looms large in the form of terrorism, AIDS, nuclear war, or environmental devastation. Assembling a collection of works that pit the vulnerability of man against the devastating force of man-made catastrophe, the New Museum’s “After Nature” exhibition heralds our fear and bravely imagines the world post-apocalypse.

The power of the exhibition lies in curator Massimiliano Gioni’s complex and contradictory view that destruction is beautiful. Werner Herzog’s documentary Lessons of Darkness inspired the show and is a fitting opener; the film is a smoky chronicle of Kuwait on fire in the months after the end of the first Gulf War. Herzog splices footage of firefighters battling blazing oil wells with exquisite aerial views of the desert pocked with searing red flames and billowing black smoke. In his paintings Atomic Age and The Birth of Light, outsider artist Eugene Von Bruenchenhein also revels in the exuberant beauty of fiery explosions. Made during the Cold War era, his glossy waxworks envision the final atomic blasts as bright, looping mushroom clouds gleefully signaling the end. (more…)

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