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Tour of “Landscape: Awe to Activism” with Executive Director and Art Curator Jeff Nathanson

Tour of “Landscape: Awe to Activism” with Executive Director and Art Curator Jeff Nathanson


Hi I’m Jeff Nathanson, Executive Director of the Museum of Sonoma County and curator of the exhibition “Landscape: Awe to Activism” I started working on the exhibition with the idea that it would be great for us to share some selected works from our permanent collection especially 19th century California landscapes and thinking about the evolution of landscape painting from the 19th century to today and how things have changed in terms of our consciousness about the environment and artists’ activism about climate change the idea of artists being awe-inspired by nature and that was the inspiration for making the artwork I was really looking at this evolvement to activism and artists having a different relationship with the land and the environment and nature because of climate change and concerns for the planet. Our exhibition starts in this gallery with our 19th century landscape paintings from our permanent collection and of particular interest to me is the fact that although most of the landscape painters represented in our collection and that we know art historically really painted gorgeous landscapes especially if we look at paintings by Thomas Hill or William Keith those kinds of artists. In fact, Ransome Gillet Holdredge, in addition serene, beautiful, just moving spiritually moody and generally gorgeous landscape paintings but Holdredge in particular interests me because in the 1870s he started to because of his dismay at the lumbering industry and the cutting down of redwoods, we have this pretty incredible painting of Korbel Flats and what’s left after the loggers got there and cut down some beautiful redwoods and his decision as an artist in the 1870s to represent something that was really human impact on the environment really made me start thinking about the fact that artists were activists around the environment and those kinds of concerns dating back to the 19th century. Our exhibition continues with some works that really take this idea of beauty, nature, awe-inspired artwork into the modern and current era and so a really nice example of Northern California artists, especially in Sonoma County and what they contributed is the Sonoma Four so we have these four paintings that are by Bill Morehouse, Bill Wheeler, Jack Stuppin, and Tony King. They’re four artists who traveled together in 1992 from California heading east across the country to New York and they painted the same scene together in each location they visited. What we have on view here are four paintings of Niagara Falls and you can see in the paintings the very distinct and unique styles of each artist and how they approach the same scene. Related to the Sonoma Four because he was friends with the group and exhibited quite often with them is Adam Wolpert. He is not actually a member of the Sonoma Four, that would have made a fifth wheel, but we do acknowledge his important work as a founder of the Occidental Center for Art and Ecology and this is a painting by him of an old oak. The detail on this painting is really extraordinary. What I got really excited about with looking at some of the painters who were depicting more contemporary views of landscape is the inspiration to go into a more abstract direction so we have some really beautiful examples of works by Bill Wheeler and Bill Morehouse Richard Mayhew and Naomie Kremer. They’re abstract paintings, but they’re clearly inspired by landscape and of particular interest to me is Naomie Kremer’s work. She’s a Berkeley artist who has incorporated technology into her painting, she calls these works “hybrids” and they use projected video imagery onto a painted canvas. So the exhibition continues with a wonderful painting by Brooks Anderson, a local Santa Rosa artist, by the way who is literally about five minutes from this museum and is just painting some of the most beautiful contemporary landscape works that I’ve seen. And then we turn to Diane Burko, who as an artist, activist, and environmental explorer has gone to the Poles, she has been documenting melting glaciers over the last two decades and we have two wonderful examples of her works. And we move on into Chester Arnold, who is really showing how a border wall or human impact of this nature – this is very different than the environmental concern that Diane Burko might show us – but from a political standpoint, Chester Arnold’s work is just as powerful, just as strong, really showing us his concern for the human impact, in this case, the border wall. Then we move into some photographs by a wonderful artist named Mercedes Dorame. Mercedes is Native American, she’s a member of the Tongva tribe in Los Angeles and has been doing these ritual ceremonial performances in the landscape in and around Los Angeles trying to really spiritually connect with ancestral lands and reclaiming the connection to her tribe’s ancestral grounds. The photographs document where she’s been and where that performance took place. And then we move into Richard Misrach, who is a phenomenal photographer. He is also depicting in this photograph the border wall on the Mexican border. Interestingly, he started documenting the border wall as long ago as 2004. This particular photograph is from 2014. But we know recently that it has become a hot button political issue just in the last four years, since 2016, so he was really ahead of the curve on looking at how the border wall impacts the landscape and paying attention to this particular human mark on the landscape. And it’s interesting to me how his work actually relates to the “Running Fence” by Christo and Jeanne-Claude so we have a couple of really fantastic examples of the “Running Fence” project and the photograph is by Wolfgang Volz and it really is a fantastic depiction of the “Running Fence” going through Sonoma and Marin counties, that was in the mid ’70s- 1970s. And from our own collection, this is the Tom Golden Collection, we have this really beautiful collage drawing by Christo and that’s part of a collection of Christo works, we have over a hundred in our collection. So Christo leads us into acknowledging that there is this really important movement over the last half century or so with artists who are doing land art, earthworks, and so it’s impossible for us to have an earthwork like “Spiral Jetty” or Nancy Holt’s “Sun Tunnels” because they are on site, in the landscape, in various places around the country and around the world but we did want to acknowledge that land art, earthworks and also environmental art and activism on a major scale actually in the landscape is something that we want people to be aware of, so we have some representation of that here in the exhibition. And finally, Jeff Frost is in this exhibition, representing a completely different way of looking at the landscape and landscape-based art making through a video piece and photographs. Jeff’s work is done in the Mojave Desert in Southern California. The video actually starts in an interior space in an abandoned structure out in the middle of nowhere and we have a relationship to the landscape from the inside, looking out. Really, just dynamic interesting, engaging work. Thank you for taking this walkthrough of the exhibition “Landscape: Awe to Activism.” We hope you enjoyed the tour.

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