'Cross Pollination' Traveling Exhibition and VR Experience Mixes Contemporary Art, 19th-Century Paintings and Ecology

  • March 08, 2021 19:11

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Martin Johnson Heade, Amethyst Woodstar, ca. 1863 – 1864, Oil on canvas. 12 1/4 x 10 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2006.84. Photography by Dwight Primiano
Thomas Cole (1801-1848) Thomas Cole’s Box of Minerals and Artifacts, c. 1830-1848
. Various minerals, artifacts, and specimens. 18 x 20 x 3 in. Thomas Cole National Historic Site; Gift of Edith Cole Silberstein and the Greene County Historical Society, TC.64.11.2

The exhibition travels in 2021 (see full schedule below); a VR experience is available from Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

The Olana Partnership, Olana State Historic Site, and the Thomas Cole National Historic Site have announced that “Cross Pollination: Heade, Cole, Church, and Our Contemporary Moment” will open on June 12 at the two historic sites – the only opportunity to see the unique presentation of the exhibition in New York, in the landscapes and historic spaces that so dramatically influenced and continue to influence the evolution of art in America. For the first time in over two decades, 16 paintings from the influential series of hummingbirds and habitats – The Gems of Brazil (1863-64) – by Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904) will be on view in New York for public audiences. The project uses the metaphor of cross-pollination inspired by Heade’s paintings to explore interconnections in art and science, between artists, and across the 19th and 21st centuries. Paintings, sketches, sculpture, and natural history specimens will be displayed in provocative juxtapositions.

Artist Martin Johnson Heade has long been associated with the Hudson River School of landscape painting, which is characterized by the epic landscapes of the artists Thomas Cole (1801-1848) and Frederic Church (1826-1900). Heade, though, with his series The Gems of Brazil, was making a different kind of “landscape” that magnified the intricate operations within nature itself. Heade traveled to Brazil in 1863, so that he could study the hummingbirds in their natural habitat. Heade’s focus in The Gems and his related writing, which decries the overhunting of bird species, aligns with the proto-environmentalism of Thomas Cole, who wrote against deforestation in his own time. Heade’s own Brazilian journey was inspired by Frederic Church’s travels in Latin America. The environmentalawareness and advocacy of these 19th-century artists connect thought and conversations taking place today, as concern for preservation and protection of the environment reaches critical urgency.

Isabel Charlotte “Downie” Church (1871-1935). Botanical Study of False Solomon’s Seal, September 26, 1890. Watercolor on paper. 10 ½ x 7 in. Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; OL.1985.303

The exhibition will also include paintings by Thomas Cole and Frederic Church, as well as botanical works on both paper and porcelain by Emily Cole, Cole’s daughter, and Isabel Charlotte Church, Church’s daughter, which will be shown together here for the first time. The exhibition highlights natural specimen collections amassed by Thomas Cole and Frederic Church, including Cole’s mineral and herbarium collections and a sampling of the Church family’s extensive collection of bird eggs.

“Cross Pollination” positions these 19th-century artists in a call and response with 21st-century American artists, whose works engage contemporary issues related to biodiversity, habitat protection, and environmental sustainability. The contemporary artists are Rachel Berwick, Nick Cave, Mark Dion, Richard Estes, Juan Fontanive, Jeffrey Gibson, Paula Hayes, Patrick Jacobs, Maya Lin, Flora C. Mace, Vik Muniz, Portia Munson, Lisa Sanditz, Emily Sartor, Sayler/Morris, Dana Sherwood, Jean Shin, Rachel Sussman, and Jeff Whetstone.

The joint project will be presented simultaneously as one exhibition at both Olana State Historic Site in Hudson, NY, and the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, NY, from June 12 to October 31, 2021. The two historic sites are connected by the Hudson River Skywalk, a scenic walkway across the Hudson River – with sweeping views of the Hudson Valley and the Catskill Mountains – that opened in June 2019. “Cross Pollination” is the second major collaborative project between Olana and the Thomas Cole Site and builds upon the success of the inaugural “River Crossings: Contemporary Art Comes Home” exhibition in 2015.

Mark Dion and Dana Sherwood, The Pollinator Pavilion, at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, 2020, Photography © Peter Aaron/OTTO

The “Cross Pollination” exhibition was created by The Olana Partnership at Olana State Historic Site, Thomas Cole National Historic Site, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas. The exhibition was originally scheduled to open in May 2020 at the two historic sites in New York but was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The exhibition tour is presented at a total of five venues: Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens in Jacksonville, FL, Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem, NC, Thomas Cole National Historic Site and The Olana Partnership at Olana State Historic Site in New York’s Hudson Valley, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas. The exhibition tour is organized by Crystal Bridges.

The exhibition will include site-specific artwork created expressly for this occasion and inspired by The Gems of Brazil, the natural environment, and the landscapes, historic homes, and studios of Cole and Church. The following artists made new work for these specific settings: Rachel Berwick, Mark Dion and Dana Sherwood, Lisa Sanditz and Emily Sartor, and Jean Shin. In addition, Sayler/Morris, Portia Munson, and Paula Hayes drew from existing works to create new site-specific installations for “Cross Pollination.” The Pollinator Pavilion, for instance, is a major public artwork by Mark Dion and Dana Sherwood created for the exhibition at the Thomas Cole Site; it is designed so that pollinators and humans may share the same space. Nationally renowned artist Jean Shin will create a site-specific installation at Olana titled "FALLEN," a memorial artwork created from a much-beloved hemlock tree that died of natural causes. “FALLEN” creates an opportunity to reflect on the sadness of both this hemlock and the wider history of environmental loss in the Catskills region.  The installation is in process and will open on May 1.  

Olana and the Thomas Cole Site interpret and open their landscapes to the community for free as public parks and follow all pandemic protocols laid out by New York State. All guided tour and program participants are required to wear masks covering the mouth and nose and maintain social distancing (six feet at all times). More information and tour details are available at the historic sites’ websites (below).

Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2006–12, found sequined and beaded materials, hand-sewn, mannequin, and armature, 72 x 30 x 30 in. Collection of Carol McCranie and Javier Magri, © Nick Cave. Photograph courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

“Cross Pollination” is curated by Kate Menconeri, Curator & Director of Exhibitions and Collections at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site; Julia B. Rosenbaum, Associate Professor and Chair of Art History & Visual Culture, Bard College, and former Director of Research & Publications at The Olana Partnership; Mindy N. Besaw, Curator of American Art & Director of Fellowships and Research at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and William L. Coleman, Director of Collections & Exhibitions at The Olana Partnership. The exhibition was created collaboratively by the partner museums and in conversations with leading American artists, scholars, scientists, and historians.

A richly illustrated companion book – also titled “Cross Pollination” – accompanies the exhibition and features new original essays by the exhibition curators. The book is published by the Thomas Cole National Historic Site and The Olana Partnership.

For more information, visit hudsonriverskywalk.org/crosspollination 

Olana VISITOR INFORMATION:  The landscape is free and open to all every day from 8:30 am to sunset. For a current list of tours of the Main House and artist-designed landscape, visit www.olana.org/hours-and-admission. Keep in touch on social media @OlanaSHS.

Thomas Cole VISITOR INFORMATION:  Admission to the gardens and grounds is free every day from dawn until dusk. The hours for Thomas Cole’s home, studios and special exhibitions vary by season. For details, see www.thomascole.org/visit.


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