We have officially entered the depths of summer here in NYC, and local art museums have really turned up the heat with a provocative line-up of environmentally charged exhibitions. The New Museum on the Bowery just opened its much-anticipated, After Nature show, coined after W.G. Sebald’s visionary book of the same name. We are also eager to view the prefab architecture installations that open at MoMA this weekend, but After Nature has definitely captured our imagination with its international roster of eclectic artists (Werner Herzog included), assembled on three floors of the New Museum’s galleries. Poised somewhere at the edge of an irretrievably lost or a yet to be decoded civilization, this eco-feverish exhibit seeks to examine humankind’s relationship to nature, in all its dark, decrepit, and mysteriously lit corners.
After Nature brings together twenty-six multigenerational artists, filmmakers, writers and outsiders, many never before shown in an American museum. As the rather haunting press release states, “Unfolding as a visual novel, the show depicts a future landscape of wilderness and ruins. It is a story of abandonment, regression, and rapture—an epic of humanity coming apart under the pressure of obscure forces and not-so-distant environmental disasters.”
From the eerie fictional documentaries of Werner Herzog to the hallucinatory and prophetic worlds of artists like Zoe Leonard and her crippled tree installation (pictured above) to depictions of vegetal kudzu encroachment in the serial photographs of William Christenberry (see images below) – where traces of humans have been erased and new ecological systems struggle to find a precarious balance. “Other works, like the animations of Nathalie Djurberg, the imaginary maps of Roberto Cuoghi, or the video confessions of Erik van Lieshout, guide viewers to the edge of the Earth, taking us for a walk in the fictional woods of our near future, while expressing a sincere preoccupation for the world as it is now.”
Perhaps most powerful in the entire line up is Herzog’s aerial footage of the Kuwait landscape during 1991 when nearly all 700 oil wells were ignited in the wake of the Gulf War. Otherworldly does not even describe the perverse scene that unfolds as Herzog and team fly over the charred fields, deceptively serene bodies of oil (not water), and satanic, industrial wasteland. If you have not yet seen any of the footage from ‘Lessons of Darkness’, brace yourself for a window/mirror into a world that is ambiguously past, present, and future in it’s nightmarish inversion.
After Nature was organized by Massimiliano Gioni, Director of Special Exhibitions, and will be on view from July 17 through September 21, 2008. The show includes an array of paintings, photographs, installations, films, writings, and living sculptures by the following artists: Allora and Calzadilla, Pawel Althamer, Micol Assaël, Fikret Atay, Roger Ballen, Huma Bhabha, Maurizio Cattelan, William Christenberry, Roberto Cuoghi, Bill Daniel, Berlinde De Bruyckere, Nathalie Djurberg, Reverend Howard Finster, Nancy Graves, Werner Herzog, Robert Kusmirowski, Zoe Leonard, Klara Liden, Erik van Lieshout, Diego Perrone, Thomas Schütte, Dana Schutz, Tino Sehgal, August Strindberg, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, and Artur Zmijewski.
There will be a public program entitled ‘The Visual Rhetoric of Environmentalism’ at the New Museum theater on Saturday, August 16 at 3p.m. Brian Collins, designer of Al Gore’s “We Can Solve It” campaign, and others will explore issues related to global warming and visual environmental strategies. Brian Sholis, the editor of Artforum.com will moderate.