Major Traveling Exhibition Offers Expansive New Vision of American Art Through the Lens of Environmental History and Changing Ideas About Nature

  • PRINCETON, New Jersey
  • /
  • September 06, 2018

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Albert Bierstadt, American, 1830–1902, Mount Adams, Washington, 1875. Oil on canvas. Gift of Mrs. Jacob N. Beam.
Princeton University Art Museum

Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment debuts at Princeton University Art Museum Oct. 13, 2018-Jan. 6, 2019

Reframing more than 300 years of diverse artistic practice in North America, from the colonial period to the present, Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment examines for the first time how American artists have both reflected and shaped environmental understanding while contributing to the emergence of a modern ecological consciousness.

The exhibition traces evolving ideas about the environment – and our place within it – from colonial beliefs about natural theology and biblical dominion through the 19th-century notion of manifest destiny to the emergence of modern ecological ethics. This pioneering exhibition will gather approximately 125 works of art by a broad range of artists – including iconic masterpieces as well as rare and seldom exhibited works – and interpret them through an interdisciplinary lens that unites art and environmental history with scientific analysis, using ecocriticism as a tool to see the history of American art in a new light.

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Salish-Kootenai, born 1940, Browning of America, 2000. Mixed media. Crocker Art Museum Purchase with contributions from Gail and John Enns and the George and Bea Gibson Fund 2007.23.
© Jaune Quick-to-see-Smith.

Organized by the Princeton University Art Museum, the exhibition is cocurated by Karl Kusserow, John Wilmerding curator of American art at the Princeton University Art Museum; and Alan C. Braddock, Ralph H. Wark associate professor of art history and American studies at the College of William and Mary.

After its premiere at Princeton (Oct. 13, 2018-Jan. 6, 2019), the exhibition travels to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts (Feb. 2-May 5, 2019) and to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas (May 25–Sept. 9, 2019).

Nature’s Nation advances a new approach to understanding and interpreting American art of the past three centuries, opening up rich avenues of engagement with both celebrated and less familiar works of art,” said James Steward, Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, director. “At a time when the question of our relationship with the natural world is so much on our minds, Nature’s Nation positions the museum as a crucial site for close looking, conversation and exchange on questions that matter both to our identities as Americans and to our future.”

Nature’s Nation will consist of paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, videos and works of decorative art gathered from more than 70 eminent collections across the United States as well as from Princeton’s own extensive holdings. The exhibition will be arranged in three chronological eras marked by shifting human conceptions of the natural world and increasing artistic awareness of environmental change.

alerie Hegarty, American, born 1967, Fallen Bierstadt, 2007. Mixed media. [Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Campari, USA, 2008.9a-b]. © Valerie Hegarty. Courtesy of the artist and Guild & Greyshkul, NY.
Photo: Brooklyn Museum, CUR.2008.9a-b_Jeffrey_S...

Among the more than 100 artists featured in the exhibition will be John James Audubon, George Bellows, Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Cole, Thomas Eakins, Theaster Gates, Winslow Homer, Louisa Keyser, Dorothea Lange, Ana Mendieta, Thomas Moran, Isamu Noguchi, Georgia O’Keeffe, Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles Willson Peale, Sarah Miriam Peale, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Alexis Rockman, Robert Smithson and Carleton Watkins.

A major 448-page catalogue, published by the Princeton University Art Museum and distributed by Yale University Press, accompanies the exhibition. In addition to a series of expansive narrative essays by the curators, the publication features contributions by 13 distinguished scholars and artists in a variety of fields, including art historians Rachael DeLue and Robin Kelsey, artists Mark Dion and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, and environmental theorists Timothy Morton and Rob Nixon.

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