The Edge: Where California Culture, Critters and Environment Collide


of an Exhibition

by Kathleen McLean

Published on July 01, 2007, Modified on August 05, 2009

  • Description:

    This interesting exhibition experiment—recently opened at the Oakland Museum of California—was created on a shoestring budget in less than a year. Focused on the ubiquitous nature/culture tensions in California, the exhibition juxtaposes artworks, history artifacts, and natural science specimens—many from the museum’s collections—in interesting and unusual ways.

    Paintings and maps of the estuary that once thrived where the museum now stands made me wonder what, if any, evidence of that rich environment still remains deep below the museum’s concrete foundations. A bear skull, two bear specimens, and a painting of a historic bear kill are accompanied by text that describes the grizzlies that once roamed nearby. How ironic that only taxidermied remnants now occupy this place.

    In a section called “Just Add Water,” sounds of flowing water—usually so soothing—were almost disturbing as I peered into a large photograph of a storm drain that empties into the LA River. Nearby, a three-dimensional graph made of pipes from the local water utility shows California water use over time.

    In another section—“Which Side of the Fence Are You On?”—aerial photos of suburban development are displayed adjacent to a large painting and a taxidermied specimen of a California condor. Comment boards throughout ask visitors to weigh in with their questions and statements.

    The exhibition is small and a bit sparce—understandably, given that it was created so quickly—and I found myself wanting more. I look forward to additional experiments like these, particularly in places like the Oakland Museum with its collections of art, science, and history. By the way, when I visited, the exhibition was full of visitors, reading carefully and talking to each other.

Latest Comments (2)

Ideas, not artifice

by Paul Orselli - July 02, 2007

I love the idea of “quick take” exhibits that can deal with tricky topics without getting caught up in endless “what color Corian?” and “which typeface for the entry panel?” discussions.

Do our approaches toward exhibit design and development tend to favor “surface” more often than “substance”?


by Wendy Pollock - July 03, 2007

Thinking of minimal-surface exhibits, I noticed in one of the photos (#6) that a bulletin board seems to be making a place for visitor contributions. What’s the focus of this area (e.g., what question or prompt encourages people to write)? And is this user-built mode a way of favoring substance over surface?

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