New York – Zoe Leonard: “Excerpts from ‘Al río / To the River’” at Hauser & Wirth Through October 29th, 2022

October 6th, 2022

Zoe Leonard, Untitled (2020/2022), via Hauser & Wirth
Zoe Leonard, Untitled (2020/2022), via Hauser & Wirth

This fall in New York, Hauser & Wirth plays home to a selection of images culled from artist Zoe Leonard’s latest work Al río / To the River (2016 – 2022), a six-year undertaking in which the artist photographed the 1,200-mile stretch along the Rio Grande / Río Bravo that runs between Mexico and the United States and is used to demarcate the border. Using geographical landmarks and the political connotations drawn from them, the work is a subtle, yet commanding meditation on borders, landscapes, and the politics that develop from them. The full work, ‘Al río / To the River,’ encompassing hundreds of photographs, debuted at MUDAM, Luxembourg, in February, and will travel to the Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris this fall. Hauser & Wirth’s exhibition presents excerpts from this epic project for the first time in the United States.

Zoe Leonard, Al Rio / To the River (Installation View), via Hauser & Wirth
Zoe Leonard, Excerpts from ‘Al Rio / To the River’ (Installation View), via Hauser & Wirth

Al río / To the River is structured through a series of ‘passages,’ sequences of photographs that impart a sense of movement, as if the artist were drawing the viewer over the landscapes she herself passed. . Pointing to the dynamism of the river, Leonard groups images so that the topography and communities depicted invite associations and interpretations from the viewer. The artist depicts the river and surrounding borderlands with an eye for the complexity of the various ecosystems, communities, and histories that converge at the river—from families swimming off the riverbank at Ciudad Juárez, to helicopters and border patrol vehicles on sentry; and from dams and irrigation canals, to bridges and boundary markers.

Screen Shot 2022-10-17 at 4.36.34 PM
Zoe Leonard, Excerpts from ‘Al Rio / To the River’ (Installation View), via Hauser & Wirth

Zoe Leonard, from the Puente Colombia, looking downstream (2017-2022), via Hauser & Wirth
Zoe Leonard, From the Puente Colombia, looking downstream (2017/2022), via Hauser & Wirth

Through a series of carefully-composed and attentive black and white photographs, Leonard’s work uncovers the pervasive yet quiet tension of the border, a fitting analog for the often violent disputes that arise from the political lexicon of the United States surrounding the border, implications of national security and national identity. Towers and tracks blend with immense cement barriers and bridges, stretches of farm land and other images that underscore the economic and political backdrop around the border. “What is the political task asked of the river?” Leonard seems to ask, questioning the explicit problem of imbuing natural structures with a political or social task. There are few answers offered

By employing a range of perspectives from both sides of the river, Leonard’s work ultimately blurs the various binaries so often ascribed to the border and underscores the often-imposing infrastructure that has been built around the river, turning its winds and curves into question marks around the nature of modern nationhood, and its inherent challenges.

– D. Creahan

Read more:
Zoe Leonard at Hauser & Wirth [Exhibition Site]