Art about climate change is becoming increasingly common in museums and galleries, but some artists are moving outside and sharing their work in public spaces to reach a broader audience. From parks, to interactive experiences, to underwater landscapes, these displays have a unique capacity to communicate the severity of climate change and our current environmental crisis to onlookers.
These current exhibitions and installations around the world teach their viewers about climate change, habitat destruction, and our relationship with the natural world through non-traditional means.
1. The Garden of Earthly Worries – Daniel Libeskind – Apeldoorn, Netherlands
Designed by Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind, The Garden of Earthly Worries is the first piece of contemporary art to be displayed in the garden of the Netherlands’ Paleis Het Loo.
In contrast to the piece’s namesake – the famous painting by Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights – four three-meter-high sculptures curve over the heads of visitors, depicting fragments of a shattered Earth. Each represents a chemical compound that is contributing to climate change, standing in stark contrast with the idyllic, 17th-century gardens surrounding them. Libeskind’s work brings into question our technological advancements as a society and our intrusion into nature, and asks onlookers to consider the “imbalance of humankind in nature” and the environmental cost of our progress.
The sculptures will remain in the garden until the end of September.
2. Putting Green – Brooklyn, New York
While artistic excellence doesn’t usually factor into the definition of a mini-golf course, Brooklyn’s Putting Green is far from the classic, windmill-ed course, but rather was built to provide both entertainment and education through its artistic design and messaging about climate change. The 18-hole course was built atop a former industrial site on the North Williamsburg waterfront, designed using environmentally conscious methods, repurposed materials, and native plant species. While visitors play a round of golf, they’re immersed in a different scene related to climate change at each of the holes: a society adapting to sea-level rise, habitat loss, and the changing shoreline of Manhattan, to name a few. The holes were all designed by different community groups, environmental organizations, schools, and local artists.
Proceeds from the course go towards New York nonprofits addressing climate change through their work. Ticket prices range from $2-10 dollars based on age and visiting hours.
3. Birds Watching – Jenny Kendler – Chicago, Illinois
Artist Jenny Kendler’s stirring installation features a single eye from 100 different bird species threatened by cl… https://t.co/bzfNJyWk5A
— Audubon Society (@audubonsociety)
This striking piece was originally created for Storm King’s Indicators: Artists on Climate Change, and now resides on the elevated 606 Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago, Illinois, where it will be on display until mid-December 2021.
Jenny Kendler’s Birds Watching depicts one hundred eyes, each of a species of bird threatened by climate change, which are illuminated when hit with light from the sun, a camera flash, etc. Kendler’s piece reminds us that we aren’t the only species on Earth through this mutual gaze facilitated between onlooker and bird; she reminds us that birds (and other non-human creatures) aren’t just part of the backdrop of our life, but an equal part of the world – creatures that we continually sacrifice as we ravage the planet for our own benefit. The piece reminds us that, when we look at nature, it looks back.
4. Totemy – Alicja Biała and Iwo Borkowicz – Poznań, Poland
Designer Alicja Biała and architect Iwo Borkowicz have aimed to capture the realities of climate change with these… https://t.co/xUlC2mHvEo
— Clerkenwell Design Week (@CDWfestival)
These nine-meter pillars were erected outside MVRDV’s Bałtyk tower in Poznań, Poland, and while their vibrant colors and whimsical shapes may seem abstract, their textures, shapes, and colors correspond with data and statistics related to climate change. Viewers can therefore visualize the scale of different environmental issues – timber felling, air pollution, and exploitation of fisheries, to name a few – and scan a QR code on each structure to read more about the issues symbolized by the artwork.
Biała and Borkowicz made a deliberate choice to put this piece in a very public place, making it much more accessible to people as they walk by, rather than paying to visit a museum.
5. Ghost Forest – Maya Lin – Manhattan, New York
The designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. created a “Ghost Forest” to bring awareness to the… https://t.co/Smk78yKMRw
— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)
Forty-nine towering, leafless, naked cedar trees were erected in Madison Square Park this May, which artist Maya Lin hopes will raise awareness of climate change among the forest’s many passersby. These cedars used to cover much of the Atlantic seaboard, and, thanks to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, visitors can listen to field recordings on the park’s website of species once common in Manhattan, such as elk, bears, and wolves.
With this bleak, striking landscape of dying trees in the middle of a lush, public park – one of New York City’s busiest – Lin hopes to draw attention to our detached relationship with nature, and the slow but sure loss of biodiversity in the world. Extreme weather events – including hurricanes, drought, and flooding – and rising sea levels will create more of these “forest graveyards;” yet, we so rarely pay attention to the natural world around us, that we might not even notice this decline until the flora and fauna we’re used to living among are gone.
Ghost Forest will be on display in Madison Square Park until mid-November.
6. Beuys’ Acorns – Ackroyd & Harvey – Tate Modern in London, UK
The installation is named for Joseph Beuys, artist and co-founder of the German Green Party who planted 7,000 trees in Kassal: a “social sculpture” he called 7000 Oaks, meant to alter the cityscape and bring attention to the climate movement. Ackroyd and Harvey collected acorns from these oaks in 2007, and have now brought 100 of the successful saplings to the Tate Modern to create a living piece of artwork where visitors can reconnect with the natural world after the pandemic-induced lockdowns. The trees are placed directly above Beuys’s work The End of the Twentieth Century in The Tanks below.
Seven of the trees will be planted locally when the show concludes in November, and the others will be planted elsewhere by 2025.
7. MUSAN – Jason deCaires Taylor – Ayia Napa, Cyprus
Jason deCaires Taylor is famous for his site-specific, permanent, underwater sculptures – more than 1,000 of which are on display around the world.
Snorkelers and divers can now visit his Museum of Underwater Sculpture (MUSAN) in Ayia Napa, Cyprus, where 93 sculptures of trees and other figures cover a stretch of empty sand within a protected marine area. Taylor’s underwater museum both draws attention and offers a solution to the heavy overfishing in the Mediterranean Sea; the sculptures are made from pH-neutral materials and act as an artificial reef for aquatic creatures. They are situated at various depths for sponges, coral, algae, and other marine life to use for breeding areas and protection. Bottom trawling – a hugely destructive practice used in large-scale, commercial fishing – rips up coral that marine life depends on, and removes herbivorous, algae-eating fish from the ecosystem, resulting in large, harmful algal blooms. The artwork is meant to restore some of this destruction, and be a part of the landscape, rather than merely placed within it.
Sculptures of children play amongst the trees, reminding us of the human need to explore and connect with nature. The reef also draws tourists away from other, more popular reefs, where fragile species often suffer physical damage from too many visitors.
8. Arcadia Earth – Valentino Vettori – Manhattan, New York
At “the first immersive augmented reality journey through planet earth,” visitors learn about the small-scale life changes that have a big impact on our planet’s future. The immersive, interactive art exhibit utilizes augmented and virtual reality; each of the 15 rooms – which take visitors on a journey through fantasy lands, underwater worlds, and art installations – spotlights an environmental issue, including climate change, plastic pollution, overfishing, and food waste.
“Arcadia is designed to inspire us to make small lifestyle changes today to protect the future of our planet; every message has an actionable solution,” Vettori told Vogue when the exhibit first opened in 2019. “And we can’t sit around waiting for the scientific community to solve this—it’s on us.”
Every ticket sold plants a tree, and supports Oceanic Global, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving our oceans.
Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, Linnea worked at Hunger Free America, and has interned with WHYY in Philadelphia, Saratoga Living Magazine, and the Sierra Club in Washington, DC.
Linnea enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors, reading, practicing her German, and volunteering on farms and gardens and for environmental justice efforts in her community. Along with journalism, she is also an essayist and writer of creative nonfiction.
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