Donald Sultan: The Disaster Paintings — Smithsonian American Art Museum

26 May - 4 September 2017

In the 1980s,  Donald Sultan began his industrial landscape series the Disaster Paintings. He worked with the subject for nearly a decade, using images of actual events drawn from the daily newspaper. Sultan’s Disaster Paintingsillustrate robust, man-made structures—such as industrial plants and train cars—as fragile constructs that can be undone by catastrophic events. Distinguished for combining this subject matter with industrial materials, such as tar and Masonite tiles, the Disaster Paintings exemplify in both media and concept the vulnerability of the most progressive, manufactured elements of modern culture.


Sultan’s Disaster Paintings echo the drama of their subjects in their large scale and great physicality. The series presents a confluence of seeming dichotomies, merging the materials of Minimalism with representational painting, stylistically combining figuration and abstraction, and making references to high and low culture, ranging from topical events drawn from newspaper imagery to nineteenth-century art-historical iconography.