Conceptual Art Explores Nature’s Return

As people have retreated to their homes, fish have recolonized Venice’s canals, coyote have been spotted in downtown San Francisco, wild sheep occupied a Welsh town, and deer have started using crosswalks in Japan. And now nature is at least temporarily taking over arts institutions.

The closures of opera houses and museums have offered an opportunity for artists and arts institutions to create charming conceptual works that recognize nature’s new privileges.

Earlier this summer, conceptual artist Eugenio Ampudia partnered with the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, Spain, to stage a performance of Puccini’s CrisantemiThe Chrysanthemums. But this time, instead of thousands of Barcelonan opera lovers enjoying Puccini’s melodies, the audience was nearly 2,300 ficus trees, palms, and Swiss cheese plants from a local nursery.

Gran Teatre del Liceu
Gran Teatre del Liceu
Gran Teatre del Liceu

Perhaps the flora-themed music performed by the UceLi Quartet appealed to the plants on some vegetal level.

Gran Teatre del Liceu

Ampudia told The Guardian: “At a time when humankind has shut itself up in enclosed spaces and been obliged to relinquish movement, nature has crept forward to occupy the spaces we have ceded. And it has done so at its own rhythm, according to its patient biological cycle. Can we broaden our empathy and bring it to bear on other species? Let’s start by using art and music and inviting nature into a great concert hall.”

Victor Garcia de Gomar, Liceu’s artistic director, called the piece “a visual poem, both a subtle metaphor but one which makes us smile.”

After the concert, all the house plant attendees were donated to Spain’s frontline healthcare workers so they can provide some much needed stress reduction benefits at home.

With both the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and Kansas City Zoo in Kansas City, Missouri, closed due to COVID-19, administrators at the museum had an idea: Why not invite Humboldt penguins from the zoo to visit?

In the video, Randy Wisthoff, the zoo’s executive director, said: “we’re always looking for ways to enrich their lives and stimulate their days. During this shutdown period, our animals really miss visitors coming up to see them.”

According to Julián Zugazagoitia, the museum’s director, Humboldt penguins, which are native to Chile and Peru, seemed to “really appreciate” when he spoke to them in Spanish. As they waddled from room to room, they are seen pausing at some paintings but not others. “They seemed, definitely, to react much better to Caravaggio than to Monet,” Zugazagoitia said.

Humboldt Penguin admiring a Caravaggio / Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

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