An-My Lê (b. 1960), Colonel Greenwood, 2003-2004, gelatin silver print, Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College, Chicago, Gift of Lannan Foundation, Santa Fe, NM; 2011:88, © An-My Lê. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris, and London
Great art gives us new ways to look at complicated topics, and An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain does just that. Now on view at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, this nationally touring exhibition presents the first comprehensive survey of the work of celebrated photographer An-My Lê. Featuring more almost eighty photographs covering twenty-five years of the artist’s career, the exhibition provides unprecedented insight into her subtle, evocative images that explore the complexity of American history and conflict.
Lê has spent decades exploring the edges of war and recording these landscapes of conflict in beautiful, classically composed photographs. Born in Saigon during the Vietnam War, she vividly remembers the sights, sounds, and smells of growing up in a warzone. She and her family were eventually evacuated by the U.S. military in 1975, but it would take another 20 years for Lê to return to her homeland, this time with a large-format camera in tow.
The exhibition presents selections from five of Lê’s major series, beginning with “Viêt Nam” (1994-98), which explores the lasting effects of the Vietnam War on the country of her birth, addressing both her memories of the country and its reality decades later. Having examined the war abroad, she came back to consider its legacy at home in the series, “Small Wars” (1999-2002), in which she photographed U.S.-based Vietnam War reenactors, exploring the legacy and mythology of the Vietnam War for contemporary Americans.
Lê’s next two series dealt with the contemporary U.S. military instead of its history. In “29 Palms” (2003-04) she photographed marines training in the desert of California before deployment to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then in “Events Ashore” (2005-14) she expanded her scope to include U.S. naval vessels and their crews around the world. In both series, Lê explores the global reach of the American military while also capturing scenes of the everyday lives of the troops. Finally, her most recent work, “Silent General” (2015-present), grapples with the legacy of America’s Civil War and responds to the complexities of the current socio-political moment, from the fate of Confederate monuments to immigration debates around agricultural laborers.
“An-My Lê’s work has dealt with American history, conflict, and citizenship for decades, topics that are even more relevant now than when we began planning the show over two years ago,” says Kristen Gaylord, the Carter’s Assistant Curator of Photographs. “Her subtle images avoid the polemics and partisanship we’re bombarded with every day, and instead, as great art always does, open up space for us to ask questions and contemplate our own relationships to U.S. culture and identity.”
Notable about the Carter’s presentation of On Contested Terrain is that Lê deliberately follows in the footsteps of nineteenth-century photographers, a tradition that is reflected in the Carter’s renowned photography collection. Artists like Timothy O’Sullivan and Mathew Brady used large-format cameras—the same equipment Lê employs—to capture images of the Civil War that brought the realities of combat to everyday Americans. Similarly crafting sweeping views that emphasize the size and breadth of the theater of war, On Contested Terrain highlights the artist’s technical strengths, used to compose beautiful images that draw the viewer into deeper consideration of complex themes of history and power.
An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain is on view at the Carter through August 8, 2021. Admission is free.
An-My Lê: On Contested Terrain is organized by the Carnegie Museum of Art. Major support for this exhibition is provided by Lannan Foundation and the William Talbott Hillman Foundation. Additional support is generously provided by the Virginia Kaufman Fund, the Henry John Simonds Foundation, the Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, Jennifer and Karl Salatka, and the Virginia S. Warner Foundation. Generous support for the exhibition catalogue has been provided by Marian Goodman Gallery. The Carter’s presentation of On Contested Terrain is generously supported by Lannan Foundation.
An-My Lê (b. 1960), Fresh Water Wash-Down of Super Structure, USS Ronald Reagan, North Arabian Gulf, 2009, inkjet print, © An-My Lê. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris, and London
An-My Lê (b. 1960), Rescue, 1999-2002, gelatin silver print, © An-My Lê. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris, and London
An-My Lê (b. 1960), Untitled, Hanoi, 1995, gelatin silver print, © An-My Lê. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris, and London
An-My Lê (b. 1960), Fragment VI: General Robert E. Lee and P. G. T. Beauregard Monuments, Homeland Security Storage, New Orleans, 2017, inkjet print, © An-My Lê. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris, and London