Solvang’s unique Wildling Museum of Art & Nature has flung open its portals with the impressive summer exhibition Bio/Mass: Contemporary Meditations on Nature. Beyond the renewed pleasure of basking in a strong museum show, this selection turns out to be one of the most intriguing, materially diverse exhibitions in the museum’s history. It also fortifies the museum’s mission and illustrates inventively the symbiotic link laid out in the institution’s name and concept: “art and nature.”
Moving away from conventional representations of landscape, the work here finds nature informing art in various ways, including nature as fuel for abstraction. Nature is the girding foundation for such disparate work as Maria Rendón’s back-lit acrylic and flash on vellum abstractions, Karen Kitchel’s square oil paintings of spindly bunchgrass in Patagonia, and Sommer Roman’s sly sculptural conglomerations from reclaimed fabric scraps.
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Distinctive landscape artist Nicole Strasburg co-curated the show with painter Holli Harmon, and her work appears here in fittingly site-centric form — a set of gouache miniatures of the I-5 at the Grapevine, echoing her 2014 exhibition in this space. More generally, multiples are a running theme, as in Carol Saindon’s mosaic of sea photographs, John Robertson’s 65 Lilliputian landscapes on un-stretched canvas — as if “weathered” by the elements — and Rendon’s 300 (count ’em) Post-It note odes to horizons.
Refreshingly, ceramic work seizes the spotlight more than once, in both Libby Smith’s striking set of veracious bird heads — an aviary wall of sorts — and Scott Chatenever’s elaborate clay work mimicking tide pool activity. Chatenever provides a tellingly natural/poetic process-oriented title, “Order Equals Chaos Plus Time.” It could be a Zen kōan, or a pandemic-referential concept.
As a tacit subplot of Bio/Mass, the possibility of nature’s consolation and communion has been a saving grace in the lockdown era. Now, we can at least cautiously add museum-going to the list of life-affirming activities.
The exhibit is showing through September 5. Learn more at https://wildlingmuseum.org/.