"Landscapes in Passing" at Smithsonian American Art Museum Wednesday, August 21

The open road is so quintessentially American that it verges on cliché. The Smithsonian American Art Museum exhibit “Landscapes In Passing” follows this well-traveled route. The exhibit features works by three photographers—Robbert Flick, Elaine Mayes, and Steve Fitch—each of whom documented America’s landscape as seen from the automobile in the 1970s and early 1980s. The most engaging images come from Fitch, in part because they’re carefully thought out rather than happenstance. Fitch focuses on objects—kitschy billboards, run-down dinosaur statues, and patently offensive Indian-themed motels. The exhibit includes a few too many of Fitch’s images of a creepy snakepit and zoo in rural Oklahoma, but this excess is made up for by the exhibit’s most captivating photograph: a deserted, nighttime image of the art-deco Trail drive-in movie theater in San Antonio (shown), decorated by a vernacular rendering of a cowboy scene. The fresco offers a perfect example of how reality, fantasy, and art come together to produce the myth of the American West. The exhibit is on view 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily to Jan. 20, 2014, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and F streets NW. Free. (202) 633-7970. americanart.si.edu.

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