McNay Art Museum: ‘Is it Real? Staging Nature’

Captivating exhibition is a love letter to Mother Nature

Tree centerpiece. Photo courtesy of the McNay Art Museum

Victoria Caldera, Contributing Writer

The wondrous exhibition “Is it Real? Staging Nature” gives you a magical glimpse of the work and thought that goes into theatrical design. This exhibition, curated by R. Scott Blackshire, first opened on April 22 at the McNay Art Museum. “Is it Real? Staging Nature” features a wide variety of artists, composed mostly of costume and stage designers to see firsthand the work put into a play. Some of the artists featured are Auguste-Alfred Rube, Rouben Ter-Arutunian, Boris Aronson, Kenzo Okada, Jo Mielziner, Patrick White, Earl Staley, Otakar Schindler, Leon Bakst and Eugene Berman. 

While the display of artwork in this exhibition is view only, there was one exception: “Art Burst” by Kenzo Okada. In this display, a motion-activated fan sits alongside an oil-on-canvas. While admiring the artwork, the viewer gets a taste of the “onstage sensation of a windy day.” As the centerpiece of this exhibition, there is a staged tree towering over. The tree was modeled after American scenographer Earl Staley’s acrylic design for Marguerite’s Garden, in Act III of the play “Faust. Additionally, a projection of leaves around the edges of the walls are accompanied with this tree. 

Spaced evenly throughout the exhibition, there are signs labeled summer, spring, winter and fall. Each sign evokes how playwrights communicate each season through use of color, light fixture and uninviting or inviting environments. This gives the viewer more insight as to how much thought is put into each detail to convey the setting to an audience. American born artist Patrick White uses this concept in his watercolor art piece titled “Thanksgiving Rain.” In the painting, White uses crimson and copper colored leaves to convey that it is fall without having to read the title of the painting.

Alongside scenery paintings, there are costume designs, several surrounding the naturesque theme of the exhibition. This is portrayed in Czech artist Otakar Schindler’s watercolor, metallic paint and graphite costume design for Titania, the queen of fairies, in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Titania lies in the center of the painting wearing the brightest colors, directing the viewer’s point of focus to her. Her wardrobe is much more intricate than those who surround her holding flowers, and it is clear she is in a position of power. Furthermore, American born artist Boris Aronson’s gouache and crayon costume design for a tree creature in “The Snow Maiden” depicts a man-like creature with trees for arms. The figure has colorful skin, like fur patches on a dog and appears to be howling. 

If you enjoy nature and are interested in learning how artists mimic these qualities, consider visiting the “Is it Real? Staging Nature” exhibition before it closes on October 24. The McNay Art Museum is closed to the public Monday and Tuesday but is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Make sure to visit before it’s too late!