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. 

Diorama with bears on either side

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. 

The Creation of Wilderness: A Century of Dioramas at NHM

The Natural History Museum (NHM), built in 1913, still displays 63 large-scale habitat dioramas created over the last 100 years. The dioramas are both art and science; the same painters who produced their landscapes were also accomplished plein air painters, Hollywood backdrop artists, and Imagineers. Though these theatrical recreations of nature have fallen in and out of favor over the last century, curators now praise them as valuable research archives, which preserve the ecology of habitats that no longer exist, as well as the history of collecting and interpreting them.

CROPPED Visitors discuss the greater kudu diorama NHM

At a time when many institutions have dismantled their dioramas, the NHM dioramas remain a dynamic part of the museum’s galleries and are updated regularly. Though they are among the most viewed in the world, familiar to 800,000 annual visitors and millions more who have seen them in films and TV shows, they have never been closely studied. The Creation of Wilderness will tell the artistic and scientific stories of NHM’s dioramas, demonstrating how they have shaped diorama art and the ways we view nature. Visitors will be encouraged to reconsider these windows into science, nature and art through a series of artist interventions, exhibitions, programs, and publications.

Visitors contemplate the bison diorama NHM

Ice Age L.A. Field Site

For Ice Age Field Site at La Brea Tar Pits, contemporary artist Mark Dion will create a new body of work that interprets scientific processes for visitors. Dion is well known for using a playful visual vocabulary to examine how public institutions shape our understanding of history, knowledge, and the natural world. The museum’s unique site, an urban park dotted with bubbling asphalt seeps, allows visitors to watch scientists at work excavating the fossils of giant sloths, dire wolves, and saber-toothed cats as well as tiny insects, plants, and shells—an entire Ice Age ecosystem.

Kid's playing on sloth

Dion will investigate the museum and its site during an extended residency, leading to an installation that excites visitors' imaginations, creates emotional connections to the research being done at the Museum, facilitates the public's understanding of the process of science, and reminds us that art and science, while not the same, can be allied practices.

Inside Mark Dion's Urban Wildlife Installation
Inside Mark Dion's Urban Wildlife Observation Unit installation in Madison Square Park, New York

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.”