NHMLAC + Pacific Standard Time
NHMLAC receives two grants to prepare for the next edition of the regional arts initiative Pacific Standard Time, scheduled to open in 2024.
NHMLAC’s family of museums is proud to once again partner with the Getty Foundation as part of the ongoing series of collaborations that comprise Pacific Standard Time. Between October 2011 and March 2012, NHM was one of more than 60 cultural institutions that joined forces to rewrite the history of the birth and impact of the L.A. art scene for Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945–1980. In 2024, Pacific Standard Time: Art x Science x LA, will explore the intersection of art and science in a global dimension, and we’re excited to bring the lens of natural history to bear with a project each from NHM and La Brea Tar Pits, as well as participating in a third project led by Self Help Graphics.
Habitats: Rethinking a Century of Dioramas
The Natural History Museum’s (NHM) historic diorama halls are the largest exhibitions at the Museum, showcasing over 75 incredibly detailed habitats from arctic tundra to tropical rainforest. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the dioramas, NHM will restore and reopen a diorama hall that has been closed for decades.
There, visitors will experience immersive new installations that call attention to dioramas as a unique combination of art and science that explore biodiversity, ecology, conservation, colonialism, and changing museum display techniques.
NHM maintains an active diorama program where staff continue to update and build dioramas, keeping this art form alive. Visitors will be inspired to examine these illusions of wilderness through a series of displays, engaging programs, and a new book that sheds light on the previously untold history of NHM's dioramas.
During his extended residency at La Brea Tar Pits, contemporary artist Mark Dion assisted with excavations, cleaned fossils, shadowed a taxidermist, explored collections and archives, and interviewed curators, educators, and floor staff. His installation, Excavations, deliberately evokes a behind-the-scenes space, displaying new work alongside early museum murals, dioramas, and maquettes of Ice Age mammals.
Dion’s 10-foot-long sculpture of a fossilized pack rat skeleton stands atop a mix of natural and cultural detritus from the Tar Pits and the Hancock Park neighborhood. Though often overlooked by visitors in favor of the saber-toothed cat or dire wolf, pack rats’ dung and nests include organic material that can date back tens of thousands of years, making them valuable to scientists trying to understand past ecosystems.
Six new drawings of mammal skeletons commonly found in the Tar Pits are painstakingly labeled with the names of locally important scientists, artists, historical figures, mammals, and Southern California landmarks, further blending artifice and reality. A new field guide to Hancock Park highlights the flora and fauna of the area, as well as the Tar Pits’ cultural and scientific importance.
Researching Environmental Racism with Self Help Graphics
NHMLAC staff will also play a supporting role in a third grant awarded to Self Help Graphics & Art (SHG), which will conduct research to inform and develop an exhibition focusing on the environmental disparities faced by people of color, through the lens of two sites in Los Angeles County: the Exide Battery plant in Vernon and the former Exxon/ Mobil Oil site in the Willowbrook neighborhood.
Working with our Mineral Science Department, SHG will research methods of lead analysis and analyze samples for a better understanding of contamination in the Exide area. In partnership with NHM’s Community Science Department, SHG will encourage Willowbrook and Vernon community members to contribute their own images of wildlife from affected regions. NHM research will assist SHG’s exhibition, helping to amplify the lived experiences of two communities who have lived through systemic environmental racism and injustice in Los Angeles County.
Art x Science x L.A.
Through programs centered on our own campuses and by supporting SHG’s important work, NHMLAC’s family of museums are excited to examine the intertwined histories of art and science to address some of the most complex challenges of the 21st century—from climate change and environmental racism to the current pandemic and artificial intelligence—and the creative solutions these problems demand.
“We applaud our partners for embracing remarkably diverse and imaginative approaches to this PST’s theme of art and science,” says Joan Weinstein, director of the Getty Foundation. “Beyond the inventiveness they are bringing to their individual research topics, they will build new community partnerships and engage the public in civic dialogues around pressing issues of our time. This will be a PST defined by creativity, curiosity, and community.”