The Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, WA takes on a thought-provoking topic in Endangered Species: Artists on the Front Line of Biodiversity, an interdisciplinary exhibition highlighting 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.
Offering a unique perspective of the critical work that artists are contributing toward natural science and environmental issues, this exhibition represents an international group of 60 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. While the exhibition features artwork that represents vulnerable species and human activities that threaten biodiversity, it also includes the work of artists whose projects contribute to the revitalization 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.”
Related programming aims to explore exhibition themes
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Museum will offer close to two dozen lectures, slideshows and films supporting the exhibition themes. Through collaborations and educational programming, the Museum will help visitors understand topics related to biodiversity, and offer community dialogue and discussion within the Museum setting. The programs aim to educate people from different age groups about the importance of biodiversity. They relate to the Museum’s mission of stimulating curiosity about our cultural and natural landscapes.
“The works comprising this exhibition are powerful; visually stimulating and thought-provoking,” said Susanna Brooks, Director of Learning Innovation at the Museum. “They will unsettle and challenge visitors of all ages, and because we believe that how we learn is as important as what we learn, our programming lineup was selected with different learning styles in mind. We encourage visitors to enjoy, engage and exchange ideas during their visit.
The Whatcom Museum is partnering with various organizations to host speakers and special events, including Humanities Washington, Conservation Northwest, the Hancock Wildlife Foundation, the North Cascades Audubon Society, Bellingham Parks & Recreation, and the Whatcom County Historical Society, among other organizations. Additionally, Western Washngton University Gallery, Allied Arts of Whatcom County and Make.Shift Gallery will host concurrent exhibitions related to Endangered Species and biodiversity. A number of film screenings will be shown at the Museum that highlight the effects of plastics on ocean habitats, as well as the important work being done to protect wildlife along Washington State’s I-90 corridor.
About Endangered Species themes
The exhibition will focus on five interconnecting themes presented in multi-layered interpretive formats: illustrated text panels, object labels, a timeline of conservation milestones, a cosmic calendar, quotes by notable scientists, authors and environmentalists, and a gallery guide.
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 as well as contemporary interpretations.
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.
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 fifth 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. Much like the Whatcom Museum’s visionary 2013-2014 exhibition, Vanishing Ice: Alpine and Polar Landscapes in Art, 1775-2012, this new exhibition will help visitors make connections with local as well as global environments. It will also highlight the impact individuals have in affecting the diversity and health of various ecosystems.
Internationally recognized artists
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 Museum’s website: www.whatcommuseum.org. A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition.
Major funding for Endangered Species: Artists on the Front Line of Biodiversity has been provided by The National Endowment for the Arts and The Norcliffe Foundation, with additional support from the City of Bellingham, the Whatcom Museum Advocates, the Whatcom Museum Foundation, Alexandre Gallery and Heritage Bank.
The exhibition opens September 8, 2018 and extends through January 6, 2019 in the Lightcatcher building, 250 Flora Street, Bellingham, WA. The Museum is open Wednesdays – Sundays, noon to 5 p.m. For more information about Whatcom Museum exhibitions and admission visit whatcommuseum.org.
For travel information visit bellingham.org.
Sept. 7, 5 – 7 p.m., Member Preview Reception: Endangered Species: Artists on the Front Line of Biodiversity (Lightcatcher building)
Sept. 22, 2 – 3 p.m., Humanities Washington: Politics of Conversation with Ben Gardner (Old City Hall)
Sept. 25, 7 – 9 p.m., North Cascades Audubon Society: Arctic Seabirds in Warming World with George Divoky (Old City Hall)
Oct. 4, 7 – 9 p.m., Bellingham Parks & Rec Travelogue: North Sound Baykeepers Use Citizen Science to Protect Biodiversity (Old City Hall)
Oct. 6, 1 – 2:30 p.m. Return to the Forest Film and Behind-the-Scenes Discussion with Director Patricia Sims (Old City Hall)
Oct. 11, 11:30 a.m. coffee, noon program, Museum Advocates: Douglas Tolchin of the Salish Sea Bioregional Marine Sanctuary Discusses Our Salish Sea Watershed Community (Old City Hall)
Oct. 11, 7:30 – 9 p.m., Whatcom County Historical Society: History Professor Anna Booker Discusses Regional Waterfront as Contested Space (Old City Hall)
Oct. 12, noon – 1 p.m., Whatcom Symphony Orchestra Performance Inspired by Endangered Species (Old City Hall)
Oct. 13, 2 – 3 p.m., Presentation with Endangered Species Artist & Biologist Brandon Ballengee (Old City Hall)
Oct. 17, 1:30 – 2:30 p.m., Curator Barbara Matilsky’s Gallery Tour of Endangered Species (Lightcatcher building)
Oct. 18, 7 – 9 p.m., Bellingham Parks & Rec Travelogue: Brett Bauton on The Wild Nooksack River (Old City Hall)
Oct. 20, 1:30 – 2:30 p.m., Film Showing of Cascade Crossroads, presented by Conservation Northwest (Old City Hall)
Oct. 23, 7 – 9 p.m., North Cascades Audubon Society: Global Climate Change Impacts on the Pacific Northwest by Dr. Richard H. Gammon (Old City Hall)
Nov. 2, 4 – 5 p.m., Hancock Wildlife Foundation Presentation about the Amazing Recovery of the American Bald Eagle (Old City Hall)
Nov. 2, 6 – 10 p.m., Downtown Art Walk featuring Endangered Species (Lightcatcher building)
Nov. 8, 11:30 a.m. coffee, noon program, Museum Advocates: Curator Barbara Matilsky Discusses Endangered Species and the History of Environmental Art and Activism (Old City Hall)
Nov. 8, 7:30 – 9 p.m., Whatcom County Historical Society: Retired Professor Bert Webber Talks About Estuaries and Ecosystems of the Salish Sea ( Old City Hall)
Nov. 14, noon – 2 p.m., A Plastic Ocean Film (Old City Hall)
Nov. 27, 7 – 9 p.m., North Cascades Audubon Society: Threatened and Endangered Wildlife in Washington by Biologist Fenner Yarborough (Old City Hall)
Dec. 8, 1:30 – 2:30 p.m., Curator Barbara Matilsky’s Gallery Tour of Endangered Species (Lightcatcher building)