Forces of Nature | Smithsonian American Art Museum

Forces of Nature | Smithsonian American Art Museum

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An installation inside an art gallery

Lauren Fensterstock’s the totality of time lusters the dusk installed at the Renwick Gallery. Photo by Ron Blunt.

Every two years SAAM presents an exhibition of mid-career makers at its Renwick Gallery. The 2020 iteration, Forces of Nature: Renwick Invitational 2020, comes at just the right time. With most of us at home during the pandemic, we’re often looking to nature as a source of solace and renewal. The four artists in the juried Invitational—Lauren Fensterstock, Timothy Horn, Debora Moore, and Rowland Ricketts—present unique visions of the natural world that balance environmental challenges with nature as a source of endless beauty and possibility.

Lauren Fensterstock’s the totality of time lusters the dusk—commissioned by SAAM for the Invitational—brings us face to face with a comet as the artist explores our relationship to celestial events and our desire to imbue them with meaning and metaphor. Trained as a jeweler and metalsmith, Fensterstock works with obsidian, crystal, mosaic and cut paper.

Back down to earth, Timothy Horn celebrates materiality and storytelling by creating large-scale adornments inspired by decorative arts, science, and history, while Debora Moore’s Arboria series of glass-blown trees creates a multi-seasonal landscape that seamlessly blends strength and fragility. Rowland Ricketts, represented by his installation Ai No Keshiki—Indigo Views, practices a kind of “farm to gallery” sensibility as he grows the indigo on his farm that is used in his works. The 450 pieces of indigo dyed cloth that comprise the piece were originally installed in people’s homes in Japan and became a tangible record of the passage of time.

As guest curator, Emily Zilber, told me, “We were interested in thinking about how people engage with nature and that allows them to interpret a world that is often chaotic, often troubling, but allows people to find a sense of attainable beauty in the midst of chaos that allows people to make sense of the world around them.”

The exhibition was planned in 2019, way before the quarantine, when evidence of climate change was increasingly wreaking havoc on the world, from ice caps melting to forests burning to more frequent and powerful hurricanes. And yet in all the bad news about the world, can there be some good?

The four artists featured in the Invitational this year each present a vision and a reason for saying yes. Whether you’re able to visit in person or virtually online, each artist presents a case for slow, careful looking, contemplation, and an engrossing use of organic materials, whether it’s textile, metal, glass, or even rock sugar. The exhibition has helped me to remember the beauty in everyday life and the power of nature as a source of resilience in difficult times.

Enjoy a virtual Q&A with the artists and curators to learn more about this awe-inspiring exhibition, and be the first to explore online the new “natural” environments these artists have created Tuesday, October 13, at 7 p.m. ET. Registration is required via Eventbrite.


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