Studies show that even looking at photos of nature can relieve stress and rebalance the mind. And in this summer of eco anxiety, we need all the help we can get. Apparently, so do art curators around the country, who have planned exhibits that celebrate and explore the natural world through photography, painting, sculpture, and even garden installations.
Scroll through to see the environmental art shows we're thrilled to experience this summer, including an atmospheric exhibit in Utah, architecture for birds in Brooklyn, and a series recycled paper statues you're supposed to take home.
And just in case you need a reminder, please do not put yourself in harm's way and glue yourselves to a Van Gogh on behalf of the planet. Support emerging artists working on behalf of nature instead!
What happens to art after we make it? The Museum of Design in Atlanta doesn't just want to find out—they want to ensure that everything from jeans to skateboards to office buildings has a clear path from creation to biodegradation. See their solutions until September 25.
Yes, those are bright blue trees. No, we are not in Avatar. Instead, we're at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts for Konstantin Dimopoulos' latest installation, which dyes trees cobalt (with temporary, organic, biodegradable pigment that washes off during rainfall) to spotlight the value of plants in an increasingly industrial world. Unlike traditional art exhibits, this installation lasts as long as the dye does—so, not that long!—and fades back into nature when nature decides it's time.
Like many of us, artist Jessica Maffia saw her first spring bird migration while working from home during the pandemic. (It was so cool, right?) That experience fueled her new sculpture, a working birdhouse called A Home for Flickers that lives at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden through this fall, along with 32 other birdhouses from Tom Sachs, Joyce Hwang, and more.
When Rubén Aguirre moved his studio to a warehouse in 2019, nature became an even more important source of inspiration for his work. You can see the results through July 24 at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, and get up close with the new painted panels done on grainy wood that serve as "poetic contemplations on origin, self-awareness, and one’s connection to the Earth."
Between Hawaii and The Philippines lies the Marshall Islands, an island nation whose American descendants are considered climate refugees due to the lack of available farmland, water, and other natural resources once plentiful in the atolls. Master boat builder Liton Beasa created a kōrkōr, or traditional Marshallese canoe, as a symbol of the channels between old and new cultures and environments.
Andrea Bowers calls her work "art that activates," and her massive paintings, sculptures, and photographs include protest messages around ocean health, reproductive freedom, and environmental rights. The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles has them all in one place through September 4, including a "radical feminist pirate ship" meant to sit in the bough of a tree. Amazing.
Illustrator Meg Lemieur began using her art for change in 2008, when industrial water pollution compromised the health of her friends. Now she and fellow artist Brie Barton (of the beloved site Everybody Colors) have created a massive wall mural called Water Ways that traces marine ecosystems across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. See it this summer at Protect PT’s Community Environment Education Center starting July 23, or online anytime.
SALT LAKE CITY
Air is a vital natural element, and can be a force for good—like wind energy—or a sign of just how much work we have left, like the sobering statistic that 40% of Americans live with unhealthy levels of particle pollution in their atmosphere. The Utah Museum of Fine Art looks at art's response to the air around us with photography, sculpture, and more.
Paper sculptures can take many forms, from the tiny paper cranes of traditional Japanese origami to Frank Stella's massive abstract pieces that take over whole museum floors. The Cincinnati Art Museum wants to honor them all with The Paper Sculpture Manual, a free PDF with DIY prompts and instructions from 29 artists. Create your own masterpiece with newspaper, used computer printouts, or catalogs you'll never actually read, and engage with a world-renowned art institution along the way!