Indefinitely Wild: Preserving California’s Natural Resources
Guest curated by
On view through September 9, 2023
Indefinitely Wild explores how the early history of environmental conservation in California might have influenced the state’s Impressionist painters. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as the final chapter of westward expansion unfolded, these artists witnessed how California’s tremendous population growth and industrialization depleted its natural resources. They also observed concurrent efforts to protect California’s wild spaces. Their paintings of the region’s glorious mountains, forests, rolling hills, rivers, and coastlines can help viewers discern how these artists considered humans’ relationship to nature at such a transformative moment in the state’s history.
In contrast to Indigenous worldviews that consider humans to be part of nature, Western European ideas of nature positioned humans in opposition to it, conceiving of wilderness as a concept to witness from a distance, to revere as spectacular or even spiritual. This sense of wonder inspired artists to celebrate the beauty or sublime power of nature and became a key focus of artists in California at the time. European traditions also viewed natural resources—mountains, trees, land, the coast, and water as commodities from which they could profit. The exhibition is therefore organized according to natural resources to shed light on the period’s reconfiguration of nature and its resulting tension with California landscape painting.
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