Robert Frost's ditty about the apocalypse begins:
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
The poem proceeds for another seven jaunty lines, not quite doggerel, but closer to the prosody of Mother Goose rhymes than to Frost's natural iambic pentameter. No vision of the end-time was as scary to Frost as his understanding of the human heart, so he plays the notion for a lark. But there are plenty of end-of-theworld nutters around for whom the concept is real enough; President Ahmadinejad of Iran is apparently one, and global warming hysteria has produced militant hosts of others. And over the last century enough horror has been visited on humanity for many wholly sane people to have had visions of what an apocalypse might look like. Thirty-one such photographs by 16 photographers are currently on display in "Apocalypse: Contemporary Visions" at the Candace Dwan and Nailya Alexander galleries, which share a space on 57th Street.
Burning fires, appropriately enough, are a key element in the first image of the exhibition, Lucian Perkins's "A Survivor of the Gulf War" (1991); yellow fires flare up across the horizon of al-Burgan oil fields south of Kuwait City. The ground to the horizon is sand dotted with small shrubs, and the sky above the horizon is blue and black with smoke from the fires. A donkey in the left foreground rears upon its hindlegs, almost vertically, as if dancing. The donkey has some bedding from an Iraqi trench in its mouth, and its antic behavior adds the touch of fantasy that gives the picture its grim, hallucinatory cast, like a Pieter Brueghel vision of hell.
Dennis Stock's "Sun (Brother Sun)" (1970) has none of the political overtones of Mr. Perkins's picture from the Gulf War, but instead is an image of the natural world ablaze. The background of the picture is a deep black; in the center of the upper half is a red and orange fiery spinning ball, and in the lower half, some trees are seen in silhouette against a similar band of red and orange. Exactly where or how the picture was taken is not clear, but the impression is of a raging inferno consuming whatever it encounters.
As Frost's poem suggests, the end may come in several ways. David Maisel's "Terminal Mirage 12" (2003) and "Terminal Mirage 38" (2004) present mottled splotches of irregular color — purples, reds, yellows, greens, pearly whites — somehow too diseased to be appealing. The pictures are aerial photographs of the Great Salt Lake, and they suggest something is seriously awry. Or maybe those are the natural colors of that unique feature of the desert. A naturalist would know, but the uncertainty makes one anxious.
Jonas Bendiksen has two very different pictures with the same name, "Spaceship Junkyard, Russia, Altai Territory" (2000). The first is of an idyllic countryscape: green fields on top of a cliff that runs along a river, trees on the other side of the water, and a deep blue sky filled with fluffy white clouds. Unfortunately, the foreground is littered with the carcasses of half a dozen dead cows. The bovine massacre that disturbs the tranquility of the scene is the result of rocket fuel that poisoned the soil.
The second picture from the Russian "Spaceship Junkyard" looks like an illustration from a Jules Verne novel; two hunks of space debris sit in a verdant field. A round mechanical item is to the left and a larger section of a banged-up rocket, maybe 10 feet tall, is to the right, with two men occupying the top of it, as if it was a submarine conning tower; they are villagers collecting scrap. The fields and hills are variously yellow-green and dark green, the metal is dull gray, and the sky runs from baby blue to a darker French blue, but what makes the image smack of apocalypse are the strange white blurry things that float through it. They turn out to be thousands of white butterflies whose future is also endangered by the soil poisoned with rocket fuel.
Ms. Dwan and Ms. Alexander are catholic in the possibilities they entertain to suggest the end of days. There are three black-and-white photographs by Dodo Jin Ming from his "Free Element" series, plates III, XI, and XX (2000–01), each of which is a section of violently agitated ocean: waves, spume, mist. They are pictures of W.B. Yeats's "gong-tormented sea" that drowns or dissolves everything material. There are five small black-and-white pictures by Bogdan Konopka in black mats that make them very grim. One is an asphalt road set in a scenic valley that has been washed out, so the white stripe down the middle wanders erratically. One is the rusticated ground floor of a building all of whose windows have been closed up with cinder block. One is a girl's outfit hanging pathetically in the middle of three windows with their shades pulled down.
David Spear's lyric "Juana Paloma" (1989) is a black-and-white study of a beautiful young Mexican girl holding up the dead crow she offers for sale. Lori Grinker's "Untitled, 9-11-01, WTC building #7 collapses" shows seven New Yorkers watching a significant skyscraper dematerializing on a day that felt for many like the beginning of the end. Giorgia Fiorio's black-and-white "Catholic Voodoo Syncretic Ritual, St. Jacques Basin, Plaine du Nord, Haiti" (2005) looks like a dead body lying face-up submerged in mud.
And Stephan Vaughan's "Thule" (2005) validates Frost's intuition that:
… for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
His blue and gray iceberg sits imperially on a beach, the essence of chill. Of course, on a hot day in the summer in New York, that doesn't seem all that bad.
Until July 27 (24 W. 57th St., between Fifth and Sixth avenues, suite 503, 212-315-0065 or 212-315-2211).