• Emily Brown, Empty Boat, 2017. Vitreous enamel paint on glass. 4 ½ x 7 1/8. Loaned by the artist.

April 22, 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, founded in 1970 to educate the public about environmental issues impacting our planet. To commemorate this event, the Michener Art Museum will feature work by contemporary artists from the Bucks County and greater Philadelphia region that are investigating the effects of global warming, climate change, pollution, and related environmental concerns on bodies of water and aquatic species. Including large-scale painting, works on paper, sculpture and installation, this exhibition will celebrate the power of art to visualize ecological crisis and global change through the eyes of seven local artists.

Emily Brown’s delicate renderings of water elicit emotion and consideration for the element that nurtures all life on Earth. While water permeates our world, we rarely study its subtleties. Brown’s large drawings allow close observation of its surface, composed of simple gray and white lines that swirl in alluring, abstracted arrangements. She has replicated this imagery on painted glass cylinders, which will also be included in the exhibition.

Diane Burko operates at the intersection of art, science, and environmental activism. To begin her work, Burko first travels to regions of critical concern to collaborate with scientists who are learning and spreading awareness about Earth’s deteriorating conditions. Featured in Rising Tides are mixed media paintings and inkjet prints, whose aerials views of glacial melt emphasize the scale and real-time effects of Earth’s warming climate.

•For Janet Filomeno’s most recent series of paintings, As the Sea Rises—Blue Crystals Revisited, she streaks brilliant blue paint across each canvas, creating dynamic, abstracted compositions that visualize troubled waters highlighted by red boxes and lines. Filomeno created the original Blue Crystals series following the devastation of 9/11. In linking this new series to the previous one, Filomeno conveys her profound concern for our current turbulent political climate and the rapid acceleration of climate change.

Marguerita Hagan’s ceramic sculpture focuses attention to the remarkable diversity of creatures that comprise aquatic ecosystems, from microorganisms to larger organisms, like coral and the blue whale. In representing the most infinitesimal of life forms, Hagan stresses the interconnectedness of life on Earth, particularly aquatic life and its susceptibility to pollution and ocean acidification. Hagan’s sculptures thus allude to the monumental change human practices are imposing upon ocean ecosystems.

Pat Martin will exhibit two works of art that address the deteriorating conditions of oceanic ecosystems due to pollution. One work, Floating Reef, offers an unsettling depiction of discarded, tangled fishing nets that ominously float on the water’s surface, just above the sea life.

Stacy Levy’s installation, comprised of small vials of water collected from the Delaware River, will visualize the river and its swelling banks when flooded. This installation will track the Delaware’s fluctuating water levels and conditions, while considering the larger weather patterns that affect them.

•The jagged, white surfaces of porcelain sculptures by Paula Winokur (1936-2018) evoke glacial ice. Winokur regarded porcelain as a contradictory material, as it is simultaneously strong enough to withstand searing temperatures when fired, but afterward becomes fragile and will shatter if disturbed. Porcelain is also sourced directly from the Earth, and its use in her work prompts consideration of the materials and processes that comprise our planet, as well as the glaciers, ice cores and globes her sculpture represents.

Rising Tides: Contemporary Art and the Ecology of Water is generously supported by Visit Bucks County.

Media support is provided by Grid Magazine.


A note to teachers: You can download gallery activities for your visit to the Michener, as well as related lesson plans for your classroom on Learn with the Michener.