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Shifting Terrains

Not on view
9/10/2022 - 2/18/2023
Organizing institution: Mills College Art Museum

Shifting Terrains examines 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.


Saturday, September 10, 2022
Opening Reception
5:00-7:00 PM | Art Museum
Celebrate the opening of Shifting Terrains and take in over 130 years of artists engaging with the West Coast landscape. Refreshments will be served. Masks required inside the gallery regardless of vaccination status.

Saturday, October 1 & Friday, October 15, 2022
All Is Not Lost
7:00-9:00 PM | Downtown Oakland (21st Street & Harrison Street)
Artist Christy Chan brings her video projection piece All Is Not Lost to Downtown Oakland—a waterfall flowing backwards on the exterior walls of the 28-story Kaiser Center. All is Not Lost is a nighttime experience intended to offer a moment of pause in the chaos of our time.

Thursday, October 20, 2022
Judith Belzer and Kathryn Spence in Conversation
6:00-7:30 PM | Danforth Lecture Hall
A conversation between Bay Area artists Judith Belzer and Kathryn Spence, whose work is featured in MCAM’s fall exhibition Shifting Terrains. Belzer’s paintings explore human engagement with the natural world, often looking to manmade landscapes in order to consider this dynamic and sometimes uncomfortable relationship. Spence’s objects and installations are inspired by nature but are composed from the discarded materials of the human world—exploring the disconnection between nature and human culture and, in particular, the realities of an overwhelmingly consumption-driven society.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022
Bessma Khalaf Artist Lecture
7:00-8:30 PM | Art Museum
An artist lecture from esteemed Iraq-born and Oakland-based artist Bessma Khalaf whose video work is featured in MCAM’s fall exhibition Shifting Terrains. Khalaf employs processes of degradation (burning, smashing, shattering, melting, defacing, eating, regurgitating) to her work in photography, video, sculpture, and performance to explore the boundaries of landscape, place, and image.

Exhibition Objects (109)

Cactus II 1999.21.5

Denali 1987.26.1

Dryads 2016.30.27

Dune 1936.12

High Tide 1925.202

Hill 1952.52

Landscape 1925.128

Moonlight Landscape 1964.11.duplicate number

Peak 1 2018.4

Reef/Moon 1987.26.15

Sprouts 2016.21

The Ocean 1940.104

Two Trees 1940.224

Untitled 2021.3.3

Yosemite 1974.140

Exhibition Images (14)

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