Art Watch: ‘Natural Wonders’

“Natural Wonders: The Sublime in Contemporary Art” is a bold and beautiful art exhibition at the Brandywine River Museum of Art that you must see before it closes October 21.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you really should! “Natural Wonders” examines the intersection of nature and man in the first ever contemporary group art exhibition at The Brandywine River Museum of Art.  This extraordinary show features the work of 13 major American contemporary artists in 40 artworks, each designed to highlight entirely unique points of view and means of expression. From a high resolution 24 hour running video of a stream by Mark Tribe, to 3-D computer generated universes in petri dishes by Suzanne Anker, this is not your usual Brandywine River Museum of Art exhibition.

The artwork is very contemporary, but the theme is ages old. “Natural Wonders: The Sublime in Contemporary Art” is dealing with the same subject matter that many of the artists in the museum’s permanent collection have reflected upon in the past two centuries – the wonder and majesty of nature and man’s place in it.  Years ago Frolic Weymouth set aside huge expanses of land and helped create The Brandywine Conservancy, in which the Brandywine River Museum of Art is located. The relationship of nature and art has always been at the forefront of the mission of the Brandywine River Museum, and this newest exhibition blasts that historic relationship into the 21st Century. This is an art event for every age, child to older adult. Whether you are a fan of contemporary art or not, you cannot help but be mesmerized by the beauty, light, textures and novelty of the displays.

The heart of the Brandywine’s collection of Wyeths and artists of the Brandywine is not obscured or diminished by the inclusion of such novel multi-media exhibitions. Rather, by viewing this contemporary show, it brings new light and understanding to the beautiful permanent collection for which the museum is so famous.

Jennifer Trask, Landscape (detail), 2014, various bone fragments, spliced antler “vines,” cast resin mixed with bone, calcium carbonate, bone char underpainting, 18 x 48 x 12”. Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Loupe.

Director Thomas Padon and guest curator Suzanne Ramljak spent years planning this exhibition, the loans of the artwork, the choosing of each artist, the display of each piece. This is a stunningly beautiful show. The pathway through the exhibition moves the viewer gently from one artist to the next. From the exquisitely carved bones by artist Jennifer Trask, to the melted silver landscaped by Maya Lin (who also designed the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC) each image is unique and sublime, beautiful and mysterious. Aesthetically, without reading any of the signage, the viewer will be transported to the very newest and best that contemporary art can offer, with fresh mediums of expression and unique and interesting presentations. Delving deeper, the visitor can read the signage and learn of the artist’s underlying impetus for creating these works. Each artist’s works are personal reflections upon nature and human’s current interaction and effect on the natural environment. Do not expect the usual man against nature gloomy diatribe. Each artist presents a very unique way of looking at nature, and following through the exhibition, the result is a sort of murmuring discussion of nature, humans and art that is energetic, thoughtful and ultimately uplifting.

Lauren Fensterstock, Kiku, 2013, paper, wood, 30 x 72 x 72”. Courtesy of the artist and Claire Oliver Gallery, New York.

American art has always been at the forefront of creating new mediums to express a new world, and in “Natural Wonders: The Sublime in Contemporary Art” each artist uses surprising new techniques and mediums to express their visions. Lauren Fensterstock paints artificial Kiku flowers flat black and arranges them in an unnatural order on a square surface. Artist Suzanne Anker creates 3-D printed horticultural universes on petri dishes, evoking all the wonder and oo’s and ah’s of a Grand Canyon, but then followed by why do that? And how did you do that? The urge to touch and feel the 3-D renditions is restricted by a large clear plastic case. We can look but we cannot touch. I couldn’t help but think of an early Twilight Zone episode where scientists created mini planets in the size of an aquarium, under glass.

There is something for everyone in this truly wonder-filled exhibition. This would be a terrific place to introduce yourself or your children to contemporary art that is not violent, sexual or shocking. The works are all beautiful, unique and make you think. What could be better?! Be sure to pick up the catalogue book on the exhibition which is an amazingly great read, full of gorgeous photographs and clearly and poetically written by author and guest curator Suzanne Ramljak. Bravo to the Brandywine River Museum of Art for creating such an extraordinary exhibition for us all right here in Chester County. More please!



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About Lele Galer

Lele Galer is an artist who has chaired numerous art shows, taught art history and studio art, public art and has chaired, written and taught the Art in Action Art Appreciation series for the UCFD schools for the past 12 years. She worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and wrote for the Associated Press in Rome. She has been dedicated to Art History and art education for most of her adult life. Lele and her husband Brad own Galer Estate Winery in Kennett Square.



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