‘Disaster Paintings’ exhibition features industrial architecture, destruction

Amanda Prats // Staff Photographer
Amanda Prats // Staff Photographer

Created between 1983 and 1990, the “Disaster Paintings” are a collection of pieces by artist Donald Sultan that portrays different calamities from modern times, such as fires, industrial destruction and accidents. Eleven of the large pieces, most 8-by-8 feet in size, are currently on display at the Lowe Art Museum. Eerie color schemes add to the strength and message of the images, which explore the concepts of destruction and reconstruction.

The Lowe is the first stop for the national tour of the collection, curated by the Modern Art Museum at Fort Worth. The Lowe will show the artworks until Dec. 23.

Born in Asheville, North Carolina, Sultan attended UNC Chapel Hill before obtaining his MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. For him, moving from the mountains to the industrial setting of Chicago was an experience in itself.

In his speech at the opening for the exhibition on Sept. 29, Sultan recalled how this move inspired him. “I got fascinated with how we live and how these huge architectural structures can die,” Sultan said. His fascination comes to life in his paintings, such as “Dead Plant,” which illustrates scenes like an abandoned steel plant, or “Double Church,” which shows St. Paul’s Cathedral still standing amidst the aftermath of the Blitz in London.

One characteristic of Sultan’s work that intrigued the crowd was his use of industrial material, for which he is well known. Sultan employed latex, tar, linoleum and Masonite in the creation of the works. This reflects aspects of his background, such as his father’s tire business or, particularly, his training in theatre and experience setting up stages, which guided the structural side of the project.

Sultan’s extensive knowledge in art history is also a distinguishing factor in his work. He listed Goya, Turner, Pollock and Rococo paintings as a few of his influences for this series. Jill Deupi, director and chief curator at the Lowe, noted Sultan’s influences in his work.

“This is, in part, why ‘The Disaster Paintings’ is such a perfect fit for the Lowe, because we are committed to exploring contemporary art through 5,000 years of culture,” Deupi said.

On organizing the event, Deupi expressed the complexities of executing an exhibit of such sort. “There are only 10 works in the exhibition, so it sounds like it might be really simple, but in fact, it’s incredibly time-consuming and complicated,” Deupi said.

In addition to receiving the works from six different museums, the 8-by-8-foot paintings are composed of 12-inch squares. This made the total number of pieces 37, rather than 10. She commended her staff members for their hard work at organizing the necessary components.

The event hosted a mixed crowd that mingled amongst the sounds of a live bossa nova band and conversed over wine and hors d’oeuvres. Many were impressed with Deupi’s introductory speech for Sultan.

Daniel Torrents, a UM junior and political science double-major and music and business law double minor, enjoyed the event. “The speaker did a good job of telling his ideas and his ideology,” Torrents said.

Junior economics major Zoe Gorospe said that her favorite piece was “Firemen.” “I thought it was the most interesting. The other ones are a little more abstract than that one,” Gorospe said.

The Lowe is selling Sultan’s book about the paintings for $49.95. It offers a look at all 60 works accompanied by interviews, poems and other writings about the paintings.

Sultan will return to the Lowe on Dec. 4 as a featured speaker to discuss his more recent works in the annual Art Basel Miami Beach Bubbles & Brunch event. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased at rsvp.lowemuseum.org. For more information about “The Disaster Paintings” and the tour, visit the Lowe and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.