“Richard Misrach: On the Beach” To Monday, Sept. 1, at the National Gallery of Art

There’s nothing creepy about the blue tranquility of island beaches filled with sunbathers, until they’re seen through the lens of Richard Misrach, who aptly manufactures a feeling of dread in the most perfect of paradises. Shot from a hotel balcony in Hawaii, Misrach’s massive photos are bird’s-eye views with no horizon—the swimmers drift alone in an endless ocean, while the sunbathers dry out in a vast expanse of sand. Had the various vacationers who float spread-eagle in the sapphire water been facedown instead of belly-up, they’d be corpses. The same goes for the men and women who sunbathe with T-shirts or towels over their faces to prevent sunburn, but instead resemble the efforts of relief workers to identify and cover the washed-up bodies of tsunami victims. In the series of untitled photographs, the ocean is too blue and the sun is too bright and the unsettling sense of disaster prevails—a feeling, perhaps, that emanates from the subjects of the images, which were taken in the days following 9/11. Misrach is not the first to mine our sun-worshipping summer beach fixation for fright—Spielberg, of course, has beaten him to it, and one photo of female legs, straight up in the water, seems like an outtake from Jaws. There are other cinematic-looking shots that make ragged survivors out of honeymooners and vacationers. When men and women wade through the shallow ocean back toward the shore, it’s as if they’re shipwreck survivors finally reaching land. When a man and a woman kiss, legs entangled, in a sea of sand, it’s as though they’re the last people on earth. The exhibition is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays, to Monday, Sept. 1, at the National Gallery of Art, 4th St. & Constitution Ave. NW. Free. (202) 737-4215.

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