Art about climate change: a new trend

This post comes to you from Culture|Futures


“Wow, I wish I knew someone dealing with climate change. How is it that no artists are working with the most compelling issue that affects all of us?”

Jane Tsong said this to Robby Herbst when he asked her if she would direct him to an Los Angeles-based artist addressing the topic in May 2013.

“Climate change poses some tough problems for artists: as a concept, it has long seemed too big, too grim, too abstract, too political and too far away. Efforts to portray it quickly become too preachy, too scientific, too shaming. Few can make a living from making people feel bad about themselves and doomed about the world.”

An anonymous reporter wrote this in the Economist on 20 July 2013. The Economist writer sees a new trend where cultural meditations on climate change are becoming more popular, and mentions three recent examples of this:

• New York’s Museum of Modern Art has had a summer-long arts festival, ‘Expo 1: New York’, that attempts to address climate change and the ecological challenges of the 21st century. The exhibitions of the festival will be on view until 2 September 2013.

• In January 2013, Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt began what it calls ‘The Anthropocene Project’ — a two-year culture programme that considers the human impact on the natural world.

• In October 2013, Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, one of the largest in North America, will host ‘Carbon 14’ — an art exhibition and four-month programme of plays, talks and seminars about climate change.

Touch and disturb
The exhibitions, shows and festival ‘Expo 1: New York’ at Museum of Modern Art features the short film ‘The Drowning Room’, an installation by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson called ‘Your Waste of Time’, a ‘Rain Room’ by the London-based group Random International which is a room of falling water for visitors to walk through, and an exhibition of a group of large photographs of the American frontier by Ansel Adams.

Anchoring the exhibition/show/festival at Museum of Modern Art is ‘Dark Optimism’. “The name, coined by online publication Triple Canopy, encapsulates the sentiment of being on the edge of apocalypse, tempered with the hope of technological innovation. Featuring work from 35 artists, including Joseph Beuys, Adrián Villar Rojas, Meg Webster, Agnes Denes, and Anna Betbeze, a selection of landscapes by Ansel Adams, and a group exhibition curated by Josh Kline preoccupied with the human body and technology, Dark Optimism seeks to reconcile the failure of Modernism’s ideals with humanity’s capacity for an improved future,” wrote Colleen Kelsey in Interview Magazine.

The Economist interviewed Klaus Biesenbach, director of MoMA PS1, the contemporary wing of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, who explained:

“After Hurricane Sandy in late 2012 — which destroyed New York’s coastline, ruined many art galleries and left locals feeling vulnerable — the show’s environmental concerns became more urgent.” At a time when climate is vanishing from the political agenda, Klaus Biesenbach believes art can “touch and disturb” in ways that charts and articles cannot.

Can artists do better?
“Climate change is one area where the communication of uncertainty has landed scientists in dangerous territory. Can artists do better?,” asks art and science blogger Johanna Kieniewicz, who herself is a ‘bridge-crosser’ between the two worlds holding a PhD in Earth and Planetary Science as well as a foundation degree in fine art.

In her blog ‘Plos – where art and science meet’, she concluded in a blogpost on 25 July 2013, titled ‘Art of Uncertainty’:

“Artists are not going to solve scientists’ problem of communicating uncertainty pertaining to climate change. This is something that scientists themselves need to do, perhaps with help from sociologists and innovative designers. But in so doing, scientists must recognise that in the communication of uncertainty, they must not just win minds, but also hearts. This does not necessarily come naturally. I suspect that there is a great opportunity for artists who are interested in collaborating with scientists to engage in this area.”

Art contest: CoolClimate
Luis Hestres wrote on

The folks at the Creative Visions, Crosscurrents and Quixote Foundations realize that art has the potential to move and inspire people the way facts and figures, necessary as they are, simply can’t. After all, there’s a reason why a copy of Picasso’s Guernica is hanging at the U.N. building instead of a fact sheet about casualties during the Spanish Civil War.

That’s why they’ve launched the CoolClimate Art Contest, which has been running since 12 July and closes on 6 September 2013:

The contest seeks to generate iconic images that address the impact of climate change and spurs participation in the climate change debate. Create a work that encompasses the questions above and explores our relationship with the climate — from clean energy jobs to pollution-free oceans — the subject choice is yours.

The contest will be judged by a who’s who from the artistic, scientific and climate advocacy worlds:

  • Jackson Browne (musician)
  • Jayni Chase (philanthropist)
  • Chevy Chase (comedian)
  • Mel Chin (artist)
  • Dianna Cohen (environmental artist)
  • Philippe Cousteau (ecologist)
  • Agnes Gund (renown art collector)
  • Van Jones (environmental activist)
  • David Ross (former head of Whitney Museum and SF Museum of Modern Art)
  • Carrie Mae Weems (artist)

The deadline to submit artwork is 6 September 2013. If you’ve decided to participate, good luck!


The Economist – 20 July 2013:
Art about climate change: Chilling
“The future is uncertain. It is also inspiring.”

Interview Magazine – 24 April 2013:
MOMA PS1’S Current Climate
By Colleen Kelsey

ArtNews – 13 November 2012:
A Climate Change in the Art World?
The art community is digging out, drying off, counting its losses, helping its neighbors–and starting to prepare for the hurricanes of the future. By Robin Cembalest

Artbound – 10 May 2013:
Who Makes Art About Climate Change?
By Robby Herbst

Plos – 25 July 2013:
‘Art of Uncertainty’
By Johanna Kieniewicz – 11 August 2013:
CoolClimate Art Contest sets out to inspire climate action
By Luis Hestres

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