Nature Strikes Back: Man and Nature in Western Art October 9th 2009 - April 5th 2010

Nature Strikes Back:

Man and Nature in Western Art

October 9th 2009 - April 5th 2010

Man and Nature in Western Art

To coincide with the UN climate meeting in Copenhagen we have put together an exhibition based on the museum’s collections.

The exhibition addresses humankind’s relationship with nature from antiquity through to the present day, and is arranged by topic, so that each hall confronts one theme as it has been portrayed throughout the history of art. Nature Strikes Back consists exclusively of works from the National Gallery of Denmark’s own collections.

Our intention with the exhibition is not to claim a moral or political stake in the climate debate, but rather to provide a historical, philosophical, and in particular an art-historical framework by which to understand the current perception of nature in order to perhaps gain a more nuanced image of the world’s current climate condition. The exhibition was created by two of the museum’s researchers, Hanne Kolind Poulsen and Henrik Holm.

It is not directly about the climate. Rather, it is about humankind’s relationship with nature as seen through western art. But by contemplating art, science, and philosophy in a single context, it is possible to reflect on questions such as these:

  • Where did things go wrong?
  • How has our relationship to nature changed?
  • How do scientific revolutions leave their mark in art?
  • How does landscape art change
  • What does the Apocalypse look like?

We have gathered works that cross periods, genres and nationalities in a single collection centring around 5 themes:

1. The exploitation of nature

Western civilisation’s exploitation of nature created the foundation for our world. But the expression now threatens to push the relative balance of the Earth’s climate beyond a critical point. Nature reacts with a form of punishment. The need to exploit nature has left deep traces in art and culture, and in art we can see how exploitation of nature has been depicted in various ways.

More about The Exploitation of Nature

2. Man and nature

The Man and Nature topic is divided into People in Nature and Nature in People. In People in Nature we follow humankind’s place in nature from the Renaissance via Dutch works from the 1600s to the new relationship between people and nature that grows forth in the modernist era. The heading Nature in People asks the question of what peoples' inner nature is.

More about Man and Nature

3. Nature as system

In the theme Nature as system we investigate how humankind through time has tried to understand nature from various fundamental assumptions about how nature is ordered. We have taken a focused look at how artworks relate to the order of nature from the Middle Ages until today. In the section The Other- outside the system, we observe that there is much that falls outside the dominant system and thereby assumes the character of being different or the “other.”

More about Nature as System

4. Landscape

Landscape is the fourth main theme, which is divided into Landscape ideologies and Paradise. In Landscape ideologies we look at the different ages of the landscape and its different meanings within art. In Paradise we can see that the depiction of the haven paradise has been the prototype for “good nature” since the early Middle Ages. Only with the flood does “evil nature” begin to plague humankind with its “whims.”

More about Landscape

5. Deluges, Judgment Day, Hell - and really bad weather!

Judgment day rhetoric is prevalent in the climate debate, present in both religious and ideological terms. At bottom it is a fear of nature that finds expression in visions of judgement and the flood. Just as catastrophic speculation has played a critical role in our culture since the dawn of time, the concept has also played a central role in the visual arts- and here it can be said in all seriousness that nature is striking back!

More about Deluges...

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