Mills College Art Museum is thrilled to feature over 200 works from the collection in Shifting Terrains, our upcoming exhibition examining artists’ responses to the West Coast landscape. Works in the exhibition explore the impact of climate change and the importance of environmental justice and preservation, as well as capture the stunning beauty and ecological diversity of the American West Coast.
The exhibition pulls from the Art Museum’s deep holdings of California artists, including early twentieth- century California Impressionist paintings that celebrate the state’s northern coastal scenery, and images by pioneering photographers whose work helped establish Yosemite Valley as part of the National Park Service.
These pieces underscore the conflicting interests of land conservation and commercial development throughout the history of California, often at the expense and displacement of Indigenous peoples and immigrant labor. Examples of Native American baskets as well as contemporary critiques of manifest destiny help demonstrate how cultural identity is often embedded in landscape and emphasize the politics of place.
The exhibition also explores humankind’s impact on nature, including the increasing threat of natural disasters due to rapid climate change. In recent years this has taken the form of devastating wildfires, ongoing species extinction, and the continued threat of earthquakes along the California coast.
While some of the artists investigate these topics directly, others in the exhibition create abstracted and often poetic representations of nature that serve as metaphors for beauty, volatility, and rejuvenation. Above all, the works in Shifting Terrains help reveal our complicated relationship with the physical world that surrounds us, both in terms of natural splendor and evolving environmental realities.