Thursday, September 20, 2018

Brandywine Museum Natural Wonders Exhibit Explores Nature In Contemporary Art, Chester County

On view through October 21 at the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chester County is a landmark exhibition, Natural Wonders: The Sublime in Contemporary Art, featuring 13 major American artists whose work examines our relationship with nature—exploring both its beauty and its capacity to inspire awe and fear.
The Brandywine Conservancy, the Museum’s sister program, will also hold a guided trail walk related to the Natural Wonders exhibit on September 27.
Organized by the Brandywine with guest curator Suzanne Ramljak, Natural Wonders includes recent works by Suzanne Anker, Lauren Fensterstock, Patrick Jacobs, Maya Lin, Roxy Paine, Miljohn Ruperto & Ulrik Heltoft, Diana Thater, Jennifer Trask, Mark Tribe, Kathleen Vance, T.J. Wilcox, and Dustin Yellin, which investigate the intersection between the natural and artificial realms and the wild and cultivated.
Through some 40 recent works, which often reflect the current anxiety and concern for the sustainability of the Earth’s resources, the artists raise questions about our strained relationship with the natural world: from species extinction, to the loss of open space, to the prevalence of GMOs and the increase in designer breeding of both plants and animals.
Many of these themes serve as a complement to the work of the Brandywine Conservancy and its fifty-plus-year effort to conserve land and safeguard water throughout the Brandywine Valley.
“As the director of the Conservancy, I am always thrilled when our sister organization presents an exhibition that highlights our relationship to the environment and the threats we face to preserve our natural resources,” said Ellen Ferretti. “Every day we work to protect and conserve open space and dependable clean water sources now for all future generations. Natural Wonders offers a unique artistic perspective on these environmental challenges and I look forward to the dialogue it will create among our visitors.”
Artists such as Maya Lin, Roxy Paine, Dustin Yellin and Diana Thater present works in the exhibition that engage with ecological concerns, including the museum debut of Thater’s Road to Hana series, which captures in a multi-screen video wall the fantastical “painted forest” of rainbow eucalyptus on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
Other works enlist sophisticated technologies and techniques—from 3D printing and lenticular prints, to advanced 4K digital cinema—to capture and convey nature’s formidable powers, such as the North American premiere of Mark Tribe’s New Nature series of 4K videos drawn from wilderness preserves in the United States.
Patrick Jacobs’ intricate, three-dimensional dioramas, which often focus on fungi and weeds, invoke the beauty that can be found in organic life that is often perceived as undesirable or dangerous.
Likewise Jennifer Trask’s sculptures encourage the viewer to ponder the relationship between mortality and fertility, as she uses animal bones as source material for her detailed carvings of plants and flowers.
“The history of American art in the Brandywine region, in many ways, is the history of artists exploring the power and beauty of nature,” said Thomas Padon, the James H. Duff Director of the Brandywine River Museum of Art. “With Natural Wonders, visitors have an opportunity to experience contemporary perspectives on this subject, with works of art that challenge and confront our presumptions of nature. This exhibition has particular resonance here, as the Brandywine River Museum of Art is located in a bucolic setting in which nature becomes an integral part of the visitor experience.”
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Brandywine commissioned a site-specific piece by Kathleen Vance: a 35-foot-long re-creation of a segment of the Brandywine River—complete with flowing water—in the Museum’s atrium. (photo)
Known for her Traveling Landscape series of works that engage viewers in exploring the changing topography of natural waterways, Vance conducted research on the Brandywine River’s history and shoreline as a prelude to developing her piece.
Her commission offers visitors the rare opportunity to see her work within view of the very body of water that inspired it. With the river visible through the Museum’s floor-to-ceiling windows, the installation directly stages the interplay of artifice and nature at the core of the exhibition.
“Our idea of the sublime in nature has been largely shaped by Edmund Burke’s 1757 treatise, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful,” said Suzanne Ramljak, the exhibition’s curator. “Burke identified seven unnerving aspects of the sublime—including darkness, obscurity, privation, and magnificence—and these features can be found in the interpretations of nature in this exhibition. The selected works are also alluring, arousing the mixed emotion of delight and dread that is a hallmark of sublime experience.”
Natural Wonders: The Sublime in Contemporary Art is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with an introductory essay by Ramljak and an incisive conversation between artists Mark Dion and Alexis Rockman, whose works have long explored the human impact on nature, and who address art’s role in the face of environmental threats.
Published by Rizzoli, the catalogue includes statements by the featured artists, providing further insight into the sources and connections to nature in their art.
Guided Trail Walk
On September 27 the Brandywine Conservancy will hold a guided trail walk related to the Natural Wonders exhibit.
The Harvey Run Trail Walk: Finding Natural Wonders will be led by easement steward Susan Charkes, author of the recently published new edition of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Philadelphia, and dean of education Mary Cronin.
Click Here for all the details.
For more information on programs, initiatives and upcoming events, visit the Brandywine Conservancy website.  Click Here to sign up for regular updates from the Conservancy (middle of the webpage.)  Visit the Conservancy’s Blog, Like the Conservancy on Facebook and Follow them on Instagram.
(Photo: 35-foot-long re-creation of a segment of the Brandywine River-- complete with flowing water.)

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