Artist Diane Burko Documents Beauty – and Depletion – of Polar Landscapes

August 12, 2013

Artist Documents Beauty – and Depletion – of Polar Landscapes at Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers

New Brunswick, NJ – A new exhibition at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University brings 19th-century American landscape traditions into the 21st century with a blast of arctic air. “Diane Burko: Glacial Perspectives,” on view September 4, 2013, through July 31, 2014, not only captures the beauty of ice, it also addresses the fragility of these remote vistas and the concern that their disappearance will have drastic effects for us all. The exhibition transports museum visitors to the very ends of the earth, documenting changes in glacial movement and depleted snow levels that have occurred within the past century. “Few people will ever have the opportunity to visit these distant regions, yet their existence is crucial to life as we know it on this planet,” explains Suzanne Delehanty, the Zimmerli’s director. In addition, support from an endowment fund established by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation allows the Zimmerli to collaborate with Rutgers colleagues on interdisciplinary programs throughout the 2013-14 academic year.

With their large scale and vivid color, Burko’s new work featured in “Glacial Perspectives” reflects her longtime interest in extreme landscapes. For more than 40 years, she has focused on monumental and geological phenomena throughout the world: from American scenic icons to volcanoes on four continents. Beginning in the early 2000s, Burko’s explorations have extended to include snow and ice in increasingly remote locations. “My ‘obsession’ since 2006 is the threat of global warming,” she explains. “My practice has been devoted to exploring those issues and interpreting that knowledge through my own aesthetic language articulated with my brush and camera.”

Burko draws from American landscape traditions of the 19th century. Choosing to expand on the genre, she reinvents it by integrating contemporary climate concerns with scientific evidence – rather than political commentary – as the basis for her work and encourages viewers to develop their own points of view about climate change. “Diane has a marvelous ability to translate technical data into dynamic, panoramic views, while also evoking an intimate, emotional experience,” observes Donna Gustafson, the Zimmerli’s Andrew W. Mellon Liaison for Academic Programs and Curator.

Burko’s sublime paintings from her ongoing “Politics of Snow” series (2007-13) capture gradual landscape changes, as well as specific climatic events. She created the “Columbia Glacier” series (2011) based on photographs of this Alaskan glacier taken by explorers and the U. S. Geological Survey at different intervals during the 20th and 21st centuries. Each of the four canvases is a majestic scene in itself; and seen together, they illustrate the glacier’s rapid retreat since 1980. The paintings “Petermann Calving, August 16, 2010” (2012) and “Arctic Cyclone, August 2012” (2012-13) re-create specific natural events: a dramatic break in Greenland’s Petermann Glacier and a cyclone that traveled across the Arctic Ocean from Siberia to Canada, respectively. Burko referenced NASA imaging as her source material for these aerial views, but added a personal perspective with her sweeping brushstrokes.

In 2000, Burko added photography to her oeuvre, with her first series culled from thousands of slides taken on research excursions for prior projects. Burko’s newest photographs include oversized prints from “Polar Investigations,” an ongoing series that began with her expedition to Antarctica in early 2013. The 20 photographs in “Antarctica Grid” (2013) capture chunks of ice in various sizes, breaking apart from glaciers and icebergs. Her close-up shots in Paradise Bay – one of only two ports for cruise ships – also show what now are incremental pieces of ice, but collectively had been significant portions of nearby icebergs. Burko’s concern is that this additional ice contributes to sea level rise.

As the exhibition opens at the Zimmerli, Burko begins the next phase of “Polar Investigations” in September, when she joins a voyage with other artists and scientists to the high Arctic. The Independence Foundation in Philadelphia awarded Burko a Fellowship in the Arts to support her expedition, which is sponsored by the nonprofit organization The Arctic Circle ( The group embarks on the adventure from Longyearbyen, the world’s northern-most town, located only 600 miles from the North Pole, and sails as far north as the pack ice allows. The exploration complements Burko’s trip to Antarctica, allowing her to experience both poles in the same year.

Thanks to the generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation endowment, the Zimmerli is collaborating with Rutgers colleagues to offer an interdisciplinary seminar series, “Polar Perspectives on Art and Science,” throughout the 2013-14 academic year at the Zimmerli Art Museum and other venues across the university. The museum’s partners include the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy, Department of Geography, Rutgers Climate Institute, the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, and the Institute for Women and Art. These partnerships are co-sponsored by the Centers for Global Advancement and International Affairs (GAIA Centers) as part of the 2013-2015 Biennial Theme: “Global Health!” For updates throughout the 2013-14 academic year, visit,, and

The lecture series “Polar Perspectives in Art and Science” kicks off on Wednesday, October 23, with a screening of “Chasing Ice” at Rutgers Cinema on the Livingston campus. The film captures environmental photographer James Balog’s journeys to document video evidence of ice depletion on glaciers in the Arctic over a period of several years. Showtime will be posted on the Cinema’s website at

The artist presents the illustrated lecture “Freeze Frame: Diane Burko on Art and the Cryosphere” at the Zimmerli on Wednesday, November 6, beginning at 6 p.m. She also discusses her recent expeditions to Antarctica and the Arctic. In addition, the evening includes a reception following the lecture. The events are free with museum admission. Space is limited; seating is available on first-come, first-serve basis.

During the Spring 2014 semester, professors Asa Rennermalm (Geography) and Hal Salzman (Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy) lead the Byrne Seminar “Arctic Lens: A Journey to the Great North through Film.” This class for first-year students explores the physical, environmental, and social dimensions of the Arctic through feature films and documentaries. It also includes an examination of Burko’s work and an opportunity to meet the artist in her studio. Information about Byrne seminars is available at

In addition, “Glacial Perspectives” is part of the university-wide initiative organized by The Centers for Global Advancement and International Affairs (GAIA Centers). GAIA’s 2013-2015 Biennial Theme: “Global Health!” focuses on the global health connections that are apparent in all aspects of life: from disease to violence, from natural disasters to art therapy, from drought to market forces in health care delivery. By exploring the impact of such issues like these, it becomes clear that global health issues are also local. More information is available at

This exhibition was organized by Donna Gustafson, Andrew W. Mellon Liaison for Academic Programs and Curator, with the assistance of Kelsey Brosnan and Jenevieve DeLosSantos, PhD candidates in the Department of Art History at Rutgers and Andrew W. Mellon Summer Interns at the Zimmerli, and Faye Doelling, Summer Intern, Rutgers, Class of 2014.

This exhibition and related programs are made possible by an endowment fund established by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Schedule a guided group or class tour of “Glacial Perspectives.” Docents are available to lead tours in English, French, and Spanish. Please schedule at least two weeks in advance by emailing


Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1945, Diane Burko ( has had more than 30 solo exhibitions in galleries and museums across the United States and her works are in numerous private and public collections. Her residencies in Giverny, France, and Bellagio, Italy, resulted in two series of paintings that received critical acclaim. She also has received two NEA Visual Arts Fellowships, two Individual Artists Grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and a Women’s Caucus for Art/College Art Association Lifetime Achievement Award. For more than 30 years, Burko was a professor of fine arts at the Community College of Philadelphia. In addition, she has taught at such institutions as Princeton University and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, as well as lectured at museums and university galleries across the country. She holds a B.S. in art history and painting from Skidmore College and an M.F.A. from the Graduate School of Fine Arts of the University of Pennsylvania, where she also studied painting. Burko lives and works in Philadelphia and Bucks County, Pennsylvania.


The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum houses more than 60,000 works of art, ranging from ancient to contemporary art. The permanent collection features particularly rich holdings in 19th-century French art; Russian art from icons to the avant-garde; Soviet nonconformist art from the Dodge Collection; and American art with notable holdings of prints. In addition, small groups of antiquities, old master paintings, as well as art inspired by Japan and original illustrations for children’s books, provide representative examples of the museum’s research and teaching message at Rutgers. One of the largest and most distinguished university-based art museums in the nation, the Zimmerli is located on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Established in 1766, Rutgers is America’s eighth oldest institution of higher learning and a premier public research university.


The Zimmerli Art Museum is supported by Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, as well as the income from the Avenir Foundation Endowment Fund, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowment Fund, and the Voorhees Family Endowment Fund, among others. Additional support comes from the Estate of Victoria J. Mastrobuono and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. Contributions from other corporations, foundations, and individuals, as well as earned income, also provide vital annual support for the Zimmerli’s operations and programs.


The Zimmerli Art Museum is located at 71 Hamilton Street at George Street on the College Avenue campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The Zimmerli is a short walk from the NJ Transit train station in New Brunswick, midway between New York City and Philadelphia.


Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and the first Wednesday of each month (except August), 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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