Close-Up: Bellingham National Juror Bruce Guenther Sees Nature in Peril
Whatcom Museum - Lightcatcher Building, Bellingham, WA
Water’s Edge: Landscapes for Today, Bellingham WA - Feb 2 - May 19
by Matthew Kangas
Former chief curator at the Portland Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Bruce Guenther pored over 870 entries submitted by 500 artists from all over the US as juror for the third biennial Bellingham National 2019 Juried Art Exhibition and Awards. With US$4,000 in prizes available, Guenther selected 74 artworks by 59 artists from 21 states, including Hawaii, New York and Texas. In a telephone interview from his home in Portland, where he is currently adjunct curator at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, Guenther commented upon commonalities and contrasts among the chosen.
“I was disappointed that there wasn’t more risk across the board in the entries, but what was nice were some fresh takes on how younger people are experiencing nature. They haven’t been predisposed to see it as a surrogate but as their firsthand take on its perils. They share a sense of toxic or infected nature. With Bellingham site-related at the edge of the continent, it locates where we find ourselves as a species who came from the water,” he said, hence the exhibition title Water’s Edge.
“Artists are struggling with the plight of nature,” he continued, “like Bremner Benedict, who deals with the springs and sources of water … and artists from the Southeast are more aware of the power of water … or the disappearance of wildlife species in Tennessee [Lorraine Turi].There are also images of places wherehumanity is present and the built environment is on the periphery of where a species waslast seen [Sharon Birzer].”
Guenther concluded, of the works selected, “There are fever dreams that range from the abstract [Cable Griffith, Naomi Shigeta] to specific images. They all suggest that landscape is a very compelling introduction to our lives.”