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Inside Video Artist Diana Thater’s Expansive LACMA Retrospective

LACMA’s The Sympathetic Imagination, a mid-career retrospective of video artist Diane Thater’s work, is one of the largest shows the museum has ever mounted. The exhibit showcases the thematic range of Thater’s work, which focuses on subjects as varying as Monet’s garden, NASA imagery, and the game of chess.

One piece for example, Abyss of Light, was inspired by her appreciation for movie Westerns. “My BA is in art history, but I also studied film history, and I’m a big fan of classic American films,” Thater tells Unframed. “In particular, Westerns, because they feature very interesting depictions of the American landscape, the southwest. So I spent a few weeks traveling around the southwest, going to all the places where John Ford, the premier director of American Westerns, filmed some of his greatest works. I filmed from the same sort of perspectives. In fact, in Abyss of Light, there is a sign that says: John Ford Point. And if you go to the edge of John Ford Point and look out, it’s the shot of Monument Valley from The Searchers. The interesting thing about Ford’s films is that the landscape becomes a character and not just a backdrop. What does it mean for a landscape to be a character and to have its own life? So I made this three-part piece. The beginning is separated into red, green, and blue and the end is separated into cyan, magenta, and yellow. The opening scene is from Bryce Canyon, and the closing is Death Valley. Death Valley is always an appropriate ending for anything.”