FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Bellingham, WA, January 30, 2018—The Whatcom Museum presents Endangered Species: Artists on the Front Line of Biodiversity, an interdisciplinary exhibition featuring 80 works of art, from rare books to cutting edge video, that span the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. It opens September 8, 2018 in the Museum’s Lightcatcher building and closes January 6, 2019.
Endangered Species highlights an international group of 52 artists who celebrate biodiversity’s beauty, interpret natural and human-induced extinctions of plants and animals, and focus on species from diverse ecosystems under stress. It also includes the work of artists who spotlight the human activities that threaten biodiversity alongside projects that revitalize habitats and reconnect people to the rich tapestry of life.
“We often read news headlines with alarming statistics and then turn the page,” said Barbara Matilsky, exhibition curator and Curator of Art at the Whatcom Museum. “Artists take this information and create images that inspire emotional and thought-provoking responses. Hopefully, ‘Endangered Species’ will stimulate visitors to help preserve the planet and its biodiversity.”
Exhibition spotlights important thematic concepts
The first theme, Celebrating Biodiversity’s Beauty and Complexity: From Landscapes to Microscopic Imagery, focuses on artists who illuminate biodiversity’s stunning variety on its most grand and intimate scales. By examining the shared practices that inspire artists and natural scientists, such as exploration, observation, and documentation, visitors can learn what biodiversity is about and why it is important.
The second theme, Mammoths and Dinosaurs: Interpreting Natural Extinction, introduces the concept of the complete loss of an animal or plant species. When natural scientists first discovered fossils of early life, nineteenth century artists presented convincing visions of animals roaming primeval habitats in best-selling natural history books and panoramic murals commissioned by museums. The exhibition will showcase illustrated books and preliminary paintings for these majestic landscapes.
In the third theme, Portraits of Loss: Extinction by Human Actions, visitors can explore how artists transform scientific documentation about early human-induced extinctions of the Dodo, the Great Auk, and the Passenger Pigeon, among others, into stirring portraits and still life paintings. Their artworks reflect meticulous research and analysis of specimens from natural history museum collections. By reviving past life in sometimes startling ways, artists imprint their memory on our consciousness and spark awareness about the contemporary extinction crisis.
The plants and animals interpreted by artists in the fourth theme, Endangered Species: Plants and Animals on the Edge of Survival, symbolize the threatened ecosystems in which they live and the global decline of biodiversity. The artworks call attention to just a few of the 10,000 “endangered” and “critically endangered” species classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. An illustrated timeline highlighting conservation milestones will be exhibited here.
Contemporary artists not only portray animal and plant species at risk, they also interpret the human actions that lead to their precarious status: habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, population growth, and overhunting and fishing. These issues will be explored in the final theme, At the Crossroads: Destruction or Preservation of Biodiversity. Within this area, the challenges facing several biodiversity hotspots, such as tropical rainforests and coral reefs, will be highlighted.
An uplifting narrative is interwoven throughout this section by including examples of how artists collaborate across disciplines to revive habitats and engage humans with the natural world. These multi-media projects serve as inspiring models for individual and community grass roots efforts towards environmental restoration and education.
Endangered Species has been organized with the intent of impacting public discourse about biodiversity while advancing the artist’s pivotal role in building awareness. By tracing links between contemporary and earlier artists, the exhibition examines art’s contribution to an enduring cultural legacy of nature conservation.
Featured artists include John James Audubon, Brandon Ballengée, Nick Brandt, Edward Burtynsky, George Catlin, Catherine Chalmers, Mark Dion, Madeline von Foerster, Nicholas Galanin, Ernst Haeckel, Martin Johnson Heade, Patricia Johanson, Chris Jordan, Isabella Kirkland, Charles R. Knight, David Liittschwager, John Martin, Courtney Mattison, Susan Middleton, Alexis Rockman, Christy Rupp, Joel Sartore, Preston Singletary, Fred Tomaselli, Roman Vishniac, Andy Warhol, and Yang Yongliang, among many others. A full list of artists can be viewed on the exhibition webpage. A fully illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition.
Endangered Species: Artists on the Front Line of Biodiversity is supported by major grants from The National Endowment for the Arts and The Norcliffe Foundation, with additional funding from the Whatcom Museum Advocates, the Whatcom Museum Foundation, and the City of Bellingham. The exhibition opens September 8, 2018 and extends through January 6, 2019 in the Lightcatcher building, 250 Flora Street, Bellingham, Wash.
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