The precarious relationship between nature and humanity is the subject of this exhibition, drawn from SJMA’s permanent collection. For over two generations since Rachel Carson’s landmark book Silent Spring (1962) triggered the modern environmentalist movement, contemporary artists have been similarly moved by a primal reverence for nature and thus also prompted to raise questions about our rampant impact on the earth’s fragile ecosystems. For example, Anne Appleby uses the spare language of minimalism to record the subtle beauty of nature in Sage (1993), in which each monochromatic panel (built up of translucent layers of color) relates to the annual life cycle of a sage plant—and to Appleby’s observant, poetic take on the perennial succession of life, death, and renewal.
Photographer Edward Burtynsky says, “while trying to accomodate the growing needs of an expanding, and very thirsty civilization, we are reshaping the Earth in colossal ways.” His overriding interest in the environment has led to long-term photographic essays on, for example, oil, mining, quarries, and water. In Oil Fields #19a, Belridge, California (2003–2005) and Oil Fields #19b, Belridge, California (2003–2005), he shows the interface of industry and central California’s landscape, where acres of oil rigs methodically hammer the ground. His pictures are stark and harrowing, yet exquisitely detailed and surprisingly beautiful.
On view for the first time in Indestructible Wonder is the important recent acquisition Untitled (Butterfly Videowall #2) (2008), a video installation by Diana Thater. Thater filmed monarch butterflies as they rested on the ground at El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Michoacán, Mexico, where millions of monarchs hibernate after their long migration from Canada. Due, in part, to the lack of foliage in which the butterflies normally take refuge, their only option was to gather together on the forest floor—an extremely vulnerable position. By placing upturned monitors on the gallery floor, Thater created a meditative experience through which to consider the lives of other creatures who share this planet.
Also included in Indestructible Wonder are artworks by Lisa Adams, Chester Arnold, Ruth Asawa, Sandow Birk, Val Britton, Chris Jordan, Amy Kaufman, Michael Light, Danae Mattes, Richard Misrach, Nathan Redwood, Sam Richardson, Alyson Shotz, Kathryn Spence, Kirsten Stolle, and Gail Wight. Oakland artist Evan Holm will also create a new installation using water, manzanita branches, duckweed, and tape cassettes, commissioned by SJMA for this occasion.