What if people could see what is driving climate change? Months before fires raged across the globe, that question was posed by the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas, leading to its group show, “If the Sky Were Orange: Art in the Time of Climate Change.”
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Claude Monet was “terrified.” He looked outside and saw a scene across the London landscape that worried him: no fog, clear skies.
For many North Americans, the lasting news image of Hurricane Maria, the monster storm that laid waste to Puerto Rico in 2017, wasn’t of the storm itself, but of a political photo-op that followed, when former President Donald J. Trump visited more than two weeks after the disaster had left the island desperately short on power, fresh water and food.
As world leaders debate climate change policies at COP27, the annual U.N. climate summit running through Friday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Bahia Shehab wants to turn up the temperature — literally. The Cairo-based artist has made the threat of a warming planet more visceral with an immersive installation “Heaven and Hell in the Anthropocene,” a reference to the current, human-centric geological age.
Sarah Cameron Sunde, an interdisciplinary artist, was visiting Maine in 2013 when she noticed something in an ocean inlet. The tide was coming in quickly and completely covered a rock, making it disappear within 30-40 minutes.
It was her eureka moment, the inspiration she had been looking for since Hurricane Sandy devastated her adopted hometown of New York City a year earlier.
I first learned of Maggi Hambling from her polarizing public sculptures. A bust of writer Oscar Wilde lounges in a green granite coffin, smoking a cigarette and laughing at passersby behind St. Martins in the Field in London. A nude, silvered bronze statue of 18th-century feminist thinker Mary Wollstonecraft emerges from an undulating silver plinth, whose sides jut out like free-floating hips, in North London. There’s an irreverence to those sculptures, a cheekiness that refuses one-dimensional worship. But there’s nothing cheeky about Real Time, her first exhibition in New York City, now on view at Marlborough Gallery. Instead, the swirling, gestural, and surprisingly moving landscapes, seascapes, and portraits offer more somber reflections on climate change and death.
For most of us, envisioning a world battered by the climate crisis is almost too excruciating. After all, it would require us to swallow the inconvenient truth and face our deepest fears.
NOT LONG AFTER he joined the Princeton University Art Museum in 2006, the curator Karl Kusserow wore a bracelet bearing the phrase “Stop global warming” to a staff meeting. His colleagues noticed (“It was,” he conceded, “kind of ugly and noticeable”), but only a few of them knew it referred to a cause. The term was just getting mainstream traction — this was the year Al Gore released “An Inconvenient Truth” and Vanity Fair launched its first Green issue. But the science suggesting that industrial societies have thrown climatic rhythms wildly out of whack had been around for decades. Just a year earlier, the environmentalist Bill McKibben had railed against the culture’s perceived indifference. “Where are the books? The poems? The plays? The goddamn operas?” he wrote in an op-ed for Grist. “Compare it to, say, the horror of AIDS … which has produced a staggering outpouring of art that, in turn, has had real political effect.” For future generations looking back on the present, “the single most significant item will doubtless be the sudden spiking temperature. But they’ll have a hell of a time figuring out what it meant to us.”
The DC Art Science Evening Rendezvous (DASER) is a monthly discussion forum on art and science projects in the national capital region and beyond. DASERs provide the public with a snapshot of the cultural environment of the region and foster interdisciplinary networking.