A new exhibition at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University brings 19th-century American landscape traditions into the 21st-century with a blast of arctic air. “Diane Burko: Glacial Perspectives,” opens September 4 and continues through July 31, 2014.
The exhibition not only captures the beauty of ice, it also addresses the fragility of remote vistas and the concern that their disappearance will have drastic effects for us all. It documents changes in glacial movement and depleted snow levels that have occurred within the past century. “Few people will ever have the opportunity to visit these distant regions, yet their existence is crucial to life as we know it on this planet,” explains Suzanne Delehanty, Zimmerli’s director.
With their large scale and vivid color, Ms. Burko’s new work reflects her longtime interest in extreme landscapes. For more than 40 years, she has focused on monumental and geological phenomena throughout the world: from American scenic icons to volcanoes on four continents. Beginning in the early 2000s, Ms. Burko’s explorations have extended to include snow and ice in increasingly remote locations. “My ‘obsession’ since 2006 is the threat of global warming,” she explains. “My practice has been devoted to exploring those issues and interpreting that knowledge through my own aesthetic language articulated with my brush and camera.”
Expanding on American landscape traditions of the 19th century, Ms. Burko reinvents it by integrating contemporary climate concerns with scientific evidence — rather than political commentary — as the basis for her work and encourages viewers to develop their own points of view about climate change. “Diane has a marvelous ability to translate technical data into dynamic, panoramic views, while also evoking an intimate, emotional experience,” observes Donna Gustafson, the Zimmerli’s Andrew W. Mellon Liaison for Academic Programs and Curator.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1945, Ms. Burko has had more than 30 solo exhibitions in galleries and museums across the United States. Her works are in numerous private and public collections and her residencies in Giverny, France, and Bellagio, Italy, resulted in two series of paintings that received critical acclaim. She has taught at such institutions as Princeton University and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, as well as lectured at museums and university galleries across the country.
Ms. Burko’s paintings from her ongoing “Politics of Snow” series (2007-13) capture gradual landscape changes, as well as specific climatic events. She created the “Columbia Glacier” series (2011) based on photographs of this Alaskan glacier taken by explorers and the U.S. Geological Survey at different intervals during the 20th and 21st centuries. Each of the four canvases is a majestic scene in itself; and seen together, they illustrate the glacier’s rapid retreat since 1980. The paintings “Petermann Calving, August 16, 2010” (2012) and “Arctic Cyclone, August 2012” (2012-13) re-create specific natural events: a dramatic break in Greenland’s Petermann Glacier and a cyclone that traveled across the Arctic Ocean from Siberia to Canada, respectively. Burko referenced NASA imaging as her source material for these aerial views, but added a personal perspective with her sweeping brushstrokes.
“Diane Burko: Glacial Perspectives,” is at the Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street on the College Avenue campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. For more information, hours and admission (free on the first Sunday of every month), call (848) 932-7237 or visit: www.zimmerli