“Storm Before the Calm” Brings Climate Dystopia to Praz-Delavallade

This climate doom-themed exhibition encapsulates the many questions and hypotheticals we have as a global society
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On display at Praz-Delavallade Los Angeles, Storm Before the Calm, curated by Michael Slenske, is a multi-disciplinary group exhibition featuring 31 artists, with each capturing their idea of Earth’s future, via painting, sculpture, ceramic, video, and mixed media.

Emphasizing the impacts of climate change, Slenske gathers his thoughts from Robert Smithson’s 1968 essay, “A Sedimentation of the Mind,” in which Smithson coins “Earth Art”—more commonly known today as Land Art. Nowadays, the vision of what Land Art and art about the natural world is, was, can, and will be, is in question conceptually. What elevates nature? Is artistic intervention or the human hand necessary for the environment to thrive?

In artist Olivia Hill’s Hollywood Bowl (2022), an oil painting on canvas, the artist depicts a distorted and desolate performance venue. Inaugurated in 1922, the bandshell amphitheater was built into the side of the Hollywood Hills, but how would it transform if nature were to take over? Artist JPW3’s Hawaii Supermarket (2022) is a shopping cart filled with wheatgrass, aloe, dirt, and a solar-powered sprinkler that transforms this sculpture into a fountain. Although absurd, JPW3 contemplates the reuse of an abandoned shopping cart as a wellspring garden to cultivate plants and where creatures can prosper.

Depicting a community of brontosauruses, artist Richard Nam’s Longnecks Gathered (2022), an oil painting on canvas, envisions the Late Jurassic period when the atmosphere had 50% more oxygen, and the Earth was full of lush vegetation. Nam cultivates a blissful image of serenity, although dinosaurs would vanish from an asteroid impact in a horrible demise. An acrylic painting on used Dacron sailcloth, Colombian-born artist Yaron Michael Hakim’s En Bogotá Me Quedo [I’ll Stay in Bogotá] (2022), reveals the glimpse of an eye perceptible behind the dense green of the foreground. Hakim portrays his figure coming back to the Earth and, in doing so, becoming one with nature.

Storm Before the Calm at Praz-Delavallade Los Angeles; curated by Michal Slenske (Credit: Simon Cardoza/Praz-Delavallade)

Two standout oil paintings in this exhibition are from artist Pam Posey, who’s Coming and Going (2022) portrays verdant mounds of grass, and Coriolis Effect (2020), representing the rotating qualities of ocean waves. These intimate paintings draw the viewer inward and act as close-object studies that capture the hypnotic rawness of the biological universe. Similarly, artist Jordie Oetken’s Antelope Valley (2022), a grayscale archival pigment print on Dibond, has visitors running up and down desaturated California Poppy-clad hills. While visiting the Poppy fields has become a popular recreational activity, the destruction from stomping on the flowers and the negligence of visitors posing for photographs is problematic; by taking away their signature bright orange hue, Oetken directly focuses on the actions and consequences of the actors in the frame.

In artist Marnie Weber’s video piece, The Cabin of Mothra Crone (2021), the artist morphs into various hilarious characters, including a bizarre Hansel and Gretel-esque witchy figure and a humanoid monkey; the two become friends. With a cabin in the woods as its central location, the characters paint and interact with one another in a fairytale-like dream state that recalls the work of artists Mike Kelly and Paul McCarthy. Blurring the lines between furniture and art, artist Kelly Wall’s And when they tried to speak with the voice of angels, the words turned to ash in their mouths (2022) is a crafted table made of Jadite glass, ceramic, grout, aluminum, and red-gum eucalyptus. Engraved into the underside of the table is a text that imagines a meeting between industrialists William Mulholland and Edward Doheny, who are critical figures to the building of Los Angeles. Investigating the shapes that make up the local landscape, David Hicks’ Shrub (2022) is a coral-like glazed ceramic work formed in the shape of a mushroom cloud plume. While this work takes its essence from botany in the chaparrals, it also looks toward the apocalyptic realities that face humanity.

Storm Before the Calm aims to alert the audience to the dystopian realities of our existence. While there are moments of introspection and beauty, this exhibition encapsulates the many questions and hypotheticals we collectively have as a global society. Will there be a storm before the calm, or are we in the calm before the storm?

Storm Before the Calm
Praz-Delavallade, Los Angeles
6150 Wilshire Blvd
Ends October 29, 2022

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