Chazen exhibit highlights intersection between art and environment | Arts & Culture

The Chazen Museum of Art’s Associate Curator of American Art, Janine Yorimoto Boldt, wanted to highlight the ways in which different artists from different backgrounds have portrayed Wisconsin’s natural world throughout time. The result is “Resource & Ruin: Wisconsin’s Enduring Landscape,” an exhibit that runs from Dec. 19 through March 26.

“Some artists are just painting nature, and from what they’re painting, we can tell a much larger story about the environment and the ecosystem,” says Yorimoto Boldt.

Yorimoto Boldt says in curating the exhibit, she wanted to combine art from different media to address a modern social issue. Using existing collections, “Resource & Ruin” highlights historical examples of the different ways artists choose to speak to environmental issues. Some paint environmental landscapes, while others creatively use nature as a medium in their works. Artists’ backgrounds affected the ways in which they interpreted their environments; taken together, it paints a fuller picture over time. However artists choose to portray environmental themes, they can take something people already interact with — the natural world — and communicate important perspectives. 

“It’s great to shed a light on local art and local artists and landscapes and scenery,” Yorimoto Boldt says. “People are familiar with it, and they can connect to it, and then it helps tell them much larger national and even international stories.”

The exhibit will display works by European, Native American and Wisconsin artists, Yorimoto Boldt says. According to the exhibit’s website, works from people of various identities will highlight different perspectives, focuses and outlooks related to the environment. Many of the works in the Chazen’s collection also feature local artists who may receive less attention in other parts of the country. By collecting works from such a broad array of artists, media and perspectives, the idea for “Resource & Ruin” emerged. 

“It just seemed like we had a large group of material that could speak to environmental issues, given the fact that America’s landscape is in crisis right now,” Yorimoto Boldt says.

For example, George Morrison was a Grand Portage Ojibwe artist who used driftwood to create abstract collages representing the shores of Lake Superior, where he grew up. Carl Arneson, a second-generation Norwegian immigrant who lived in Wisconsin, painted a logging scene on a wood panel.

Another featured artist is John Steuart Curry, who served as the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s artist-in-residence in the late 1930s and early ’40s. One of his works depicts a site where university researchers conducted experiments to help reduce soil erosion. Yorimoto Boldt says the Steuart Curry painting— like many others at the Chazen — is an unusual piece that hasn’t been on display for many years, but portrays an interesting message about the environment.

Through these unique works, Yorimoto Boldt would like people to come away from “Resource & Ruin” thinking differently about art. By experiencing unique media and the various ways artists choose to represent their messages, people can gain new insights about the history of the environment.

“The [environmental] crises we’re facing now haven’t come out of nowhere, but have a much longer historical context,” Yorimoto Boldt says. “With that in mind… what can we do to help conserve Wisconsin’s landscape?”

Celia Hiorns is an editorial intern at Madison Magazine.


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