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From the Director

January 2014

Underlining the universal importance of the environment, this semester we’ve devoted an unusually large share of the Museum’s indoor and outdoor exhibition space to a thought-provoking and compelling exhibition organized by Andrea Inselmann, our curator of modern and contemporary art & photography.

beyond earth art • contemporary artists and the environment features the work of more than three dozen artists whose provocative work explores the environmental challenges that are increasingly acute around the globe. The works on view urge all of us to think about man-made ecological disasters (Collapse presents Brandon Ballengée’s installation of 26,162 preserved specimens from the BP oil spill), to contemplate absence (Maya Lin’s What is Missing? project), or to imagine how things could be different (the inspired social sculptures of Lucy + Jorge Orta).

beyond earth art takes inspiration from another groundbreaking show at Cornell: Earth Art, organized in 1969 by the Johnson’s predecessor, the Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art. Those site-specific installations by nine artists comprised the first collective “land art”–based show held under the auspices of a college or university museum in the United States. In conjunction with our new exhibition, we’re proud to make the 1969 exhibition catalogue, long out of print, newly available online. 

For Earth Art, Dennis Oppenheim (whose work is included in beyond earth art) created a winding channel cut into the ice of Beebe Lake with the assistance of Gordon Matta-Clark (Cornell Class of 1968). Under the headline “New Art Draws Varied Reaction,” the February 12, 1969, issue of the Cornell Daily Sun quoted Oppenheim as saying that the show provided him space to free himself from “object” art. Art, Oppenheim said, should be “dynamic” and an integral part of the environment. 

Universities—and, no less, university art museums—are laboratories for collaboration, experimentation, and the critical examination of new ideas. No one could know, back in 1969, the many powerful ways in which the work of the artists in Cornell’s Earth Art exhibition would recalibrate the concepts of “site” and “non-site,” but it was clear even then that the show was something new and important. As Cornell President James Perkins told the Sun, “This is a most exciting adventure, though I really don’t understand all of it.” 

We think beyond earth art is similarly new and exciting, highlighting facets of a topic that every year grows more critical to all of us living on what Carl Sagan called the “Pale Blue Dot.”

I hope you will visit the Johnson Museum soon to share this and many other adventures in the visual arts.


Stephanie Wiles
The Richard J. Schwartz Director