By the 1960s, San Jose was in the midst of rapid-fire transition from a small agricultural community to a sprawling metropolis. The tech industry was swelling, and by the end of the decade the population had grown five-fold. This era also brought to town a new, innovative community of artists, many of whom were recruited from across the country by San Jose State College (now San Jose State University). Fresh from top graduate schools and conversant with the radical artistic thinking of the time, this generation of artists brought new vitality and a proclivity for experimentation to town.
The precarious relationship between nature and humanity is the subject of this exhibition, drawn from SJMA’s permanent collection. For over two generations since Rachel Carson’s landmark book Silent Spring (1962) triggered the modern environmentalist movement, contemporary artists have been similarly moved by a primal reverence for nature and thus also prompted to raise questions about our rampant impact on the earth’s fragile ecosystems. For example, Anne Appleby uses the spare language of minimalism to record the subtle beauty of nature in Sage (1993), in which each monochromatic panel (built up of translucent layers of color) relates to the annual life cycle of a sage plant—and to Appleby’s observant, poetic take on the perennial succession of life, death, and renewal.
Milton Rogovin (1901–2011) shed light on important social issues of the time: the plight of miners; the decline of the once-robust steel industry in upstate New York; the everyday struggles of the poor and working class in Buffalo, New York, where he lived. Life and Labor marks the public debut of these photographs, which were gifted to the Museum’s collection in 2011.
At first thought, artistic and scientific practice might seem unrelated: one is focused on expression, the other on data. Yet the similarities between the way artists and scientists work far outweigh their differences. The scientist’s laboratory and the artist’s studio are places where learning is achieved through open-ended inquiry, a never-ending cycle of thinking and doing, and the belief that failure is an inherent part of the process. This exhibition celebrates artists represented in SJMA’s permanent collection who thrive at the interface between art and science.