Recapturing the Scenic Wilds
September 06 - December 07, 2014
Inspired by the naturalist legacy of Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), a former resident of Wave Hill House who had a lifelong passion for discovering and collecting specimens for public exhibit, Recapturing the Scenic Wilds investigates and complicates the notion of the natural history display. In the 1870’s when Roosevelt was 11 and 12 years old, his family spent two summers at Wave Hill, and the burgeoning naturalist developed his ardent interest in birds, taxidermy and the study of nature.
This attraction to natural history and its display is shared by the nine artists whose work is on view here. Each artist responds in various ways to this type of artificially “organic” exhibit, where the experience of the natural world is transformed into a tightly controlled scene, tableau or informational resource, often revealing as much about our relationship to nature as it does about the subject depicted. The artists expose the blurred lines between artificial and natural, artistic and scientific. In the context of Wave Hill, a garden where aesthetic sensibility is a horticultural emphasis, the use of an alluring visual framework to convey scientific and historical information becomes a fitting parallel to the strategies of the natural history museum.
Alexa Hoyer and Liselot van der Heijden present voyeuristic photographs from their ongoing projects in the American Museum of Natural History, whether of fake flora or spectators’ silhouettes. With cinematic flair, Dana Levy lets live animals loose among dead specimens. Mark Dion’s works from the Provisions & Equipment - Clark Expedition series cheekily turn the natural historian into a specimen. Richard Barnes’ camera catches the diorama in tenderly off-guard moments, with renovation underway or parts in storage. Lori Nix’s pictures of miniature displays insert a macabre humor into natural history. The knitted pelts of Ruth Marshall, exact replicas of actual specimens, raise awareness of the plight of large and small cats in the wild. Jessica Segall presents “in-progress” results of her field study of the invasive bird species of New York. Using real feathers and braided fur, Hugh Hayden suggests that nature is the ultimate luxury product.
Support for the Visual Arts Program is provided by Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc., Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, New York Community Trust Edward and Sally Van Lier Fund, New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, and by the Cathy and Stephen Weinroth Commissioning Fund for the Arts.