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David Maisel (b. 1961, New York) is an artist working in photography, painting, and video. He is the recipient of a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship in the Creative Arts. Among his chief concerns are the politics and aesthetics of radically human-altered environments, and how we perceive our place in time via investigations of cultural artifacts from both past and present. His work focuses on power and the production of space by examining landscapes and objects that are off-limits, quarantined, or hidden from view.

Maisel received his BA from Princeton University, and his MFA from California College of the Arts, in addition to study at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. He resides in San Francisco, CA. He is represented by Edwynn Houk Gallery, NY; Haines Gallery, San Francisco; Robischon Gallery, Denver; and Ivorypress Gallery, Madrid.

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David Maisel

(c) Lynn Fontana


For over thirty years, Maisel has produced aerial photographs of compromised landscapes in a multi-chaptered series titled Black Maps, revealing the physical impact of activities such as mining, logging, urban sprawl, and military testing. Rather than create literal documents, the artist has exploited the slippage between the evidentiary and aesthetic functions of photography. The resulting images subvert cartographic mapping, instead occupying a zone both imaginative and descriptive, informed by the politics of land use. Proving Ground utilizes photography and time-based media to investigate Dugway Proving Ground, a classified military installation in the Utah desert devoted to the development and testing of chemical and biological weapons and defense systems. His current project, Desolation Desert, depicts the damage wrought by massive lithium and copper mining sites in Chile’s environmentally fragile Atacama Desert. This work was funded by Maisel’s 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship.

In projects such as Library of Dust and History’s Shadow, Maisel investigates institutional archives, and shows the power of objects to convey meaning over time. Library of Dust depicts one hundred copper canisters from the Oregon State Hospital, each containing the cremated remains of a psychiatric patient unclaimed after death. The canisters have reacted with their ashen remains, causing mineral encrustations to bloom on their metallic surfaces. The project helped initiate a major architectural rehabilitation of the hospital, which dates from the 1880’s.  In History’s Shadow, Maisel uses x-rays depicting sculpture, painting, and artifacts from antiquity as source material in the creation of new photographic artwork. Through the re-photography of these scientific records from the Getty Museum and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Maisel subjects these objects from antiquity to a process of transmutation, allowing them to become reanimated and renewed.


Maisel is the recipient of a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship in the Creative Arts; a 2011 Investing in Artists Grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation; a 2008 Artist in Residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts; a 2007 Scholar in Residence at the Getty Research Institute; a 1990 Individual Artists Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts; and a 1984 Francis LeMoyne Page Award in the Visual Arts from Princeton University. Maisel was named to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 100 in 2015, and was a finalist for the 2008 Prix Pictet Award in Photography and the 2008 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts. Maisel served as a Trustee of the Headlands Center for the Arts from 2011 to 2019, and serves on the California College of the Arts President’s Alumni Council.

Maisel’s Library Of Dust was the subject of a 2009 symposium organized by Lawrence Weschler and the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU; speakers included Karen Lang, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Jonathan Lethem, Geoff Manaugh, Michael Roth, Luc Sante, Lawrence Weschler, and others. Maisel’s Black Maps was the subject of a 2016 symposium organized by Neil Brenner and Harvard University Graduate School of Design; speakers included Pierre Bélanger, Rosetta Sarah Elkin, Sharon Harper, and Neil Brenner.


Black Maps: American Landscape and the Apocalyptic Sublime was a solo exhibition of Maisel’s landscape work that traveled from 2013-2015; it originated at the CU Boulder Art Museum and traveled to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and the University of New Mexico Art Museum, among other venues.

Maisel’s work has been exhibited internationally, including the following major group exhibitions, among others: Landmark: The Fields of Photography (Somerset House, London); New Territory: Landscape Photography Today (Denver Art Museum, Denver CO); Surveying the Terrain, (Raleigh Contemporary Art Museum, Raleigh NC); History Recast: Contemporary Photography of Classical Sculpture (American Academy, Rome); Memory Theater (Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, NY); Infinite Balance: Artists and the Environment (Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego CA); Imagination Earth (Seoul Arts Center); Imaging a Shattering Earth: Contemporary Photography and the Environmental Debate (Museum Of Contemporary Art, Toronto, and the National Gallery of Art, Ottawa); Dark Matters: Artists See the Impossible (Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco CA); and Ecotopia; the Photography Triennial (International Center of Photography, New York NY). In addition, Maisel has been featured in exhibitions at the Victoria & Albert Museum (London), the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, CT), and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles CA), among many other venues.


Maisel’s photographs have been the subject of seven monographs: Proving Ground (Radius, 2020); Mount St Helens: Afterlife (Ivorypress, 2017); Black Maps: American Landscape and the Apocalyptic Sublime (Steidl, 2013); History’s Shadow (Nazraeli, 2011); Library of Dust (Chronicle, 2008); Cascade Effect (Nazraeli, 2008); Oblivion (Nazraeli, 2006); and The Lake Project (Nazraeli, 2004).


Maisel’s work is held in the permanent collections of more than fifty museums internationally. Among them are:

  • J.Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles CA
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA
  • Victoria and Albert Museum, London, United Kingdom
  • National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
  • Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, NY
  • Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, AZ
  • Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO
  • Harvard University Art Museum, Cambridge, MA
  • Library of Congress, Washington DC
  • Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI
  • Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN
  • Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA
  • Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, IL
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
  • Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, MO
  • Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CA
  • Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA
  • San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA
  • Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA
  • Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT
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