October 31, 2014, by Aaron Rothman
Since 2008, the Nevada Museum of Art, in Reno, has convened its Art + Environment Conference, a forum for wide-ranging conversation about how art can help us better understand humans’ place in the natural world. This year’s conference went on earlier this month, and writer and artist Aaron Rothman was in attendance. He’s sharing a series of reports and reflections from the conference, the second of which is below. Top image: Fighting Stags by Moonlight, 1900. Oil on canvas, JKM Collection®, National Museum of Wildlife Art. © Georges Frédéric Rötig.
I wrote here a couple of weeks ago about my hopes for some unexpected revelations at Art + Environment. These hopes were met before the conference officially began, when I arrived early at the museum to get a good look at the exhibitions before the crowds and kibitzing started. Late Harvest, the largest of the half-dozen-plus A+E associated exhibitions at the museum, mixes classic wildlife paintings from the mid-nineteenth through mid-twentieth century with works from the 21st century that are made, in whole or in part, from taxidermied animals. It is a genuinely bizarre exhibit, equally revealing and confounding in its exploration of our complex and contradictory relationship with wild animals.
The first thing that jumped out at me in Late Harvest was the amazing beauty of the paintings, from the collection of the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, Wyoming (whose curator, Adam Duncan Harris, curated the show with Nevada Museum of Art’s JoAnne Northrup). Working in a post-Darwin world, the painters of these images—including Joseph Wolf, Carl Rungius, Georges Frédéric Rötig, and many others—were influenced by the theory of evolution and an understanding of the interconnectedness of life. They undertook intensive field observations to present a high degree of naturalism and accuracy in depicting animals and their habitats. The paintings are indeed stunning in their attention to detail and visceral sense of reality.