What is it?
Beth Lipman (b. Philadelphia 1971)
Glass, wood, metal, paint, and adhesive
112 x 98 x 112 in.
Gifted 2018, The Kohler Foundation
About the Work
Beth Lipman is known for glass installations that blend conceptual themes with traditional techniques. Her work draws inspiration from earlier art, in particular seventeenth-century Dutch still-life painting and its symbolic vocabulary. Lipman’s choice of material is significant: glass is a suggestive substance, malleable enough to precisely imitate forms while presenting a ghostly, translucent aspect as though the object had been drained of some essential vitality.
InEarth combines Lipman’s interest in material culture with her research into deep, geological time. The idea was born in 2013 while on a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship in the institution’s Department of Paleobiology and Department of Botany. The prehistoric imagery Lipman encountered struck her as a poignant vehicle for exploring contemporary society’s relation to the epochs predating humans.
With stand-ins for far-flung geological periods, InEarth imagines a post-Anthropocene future in which nature has reclaimed humanity’s place at the table. Species of long-extinct plant life occupy the tabletop, relegating the relics of human presence to the ground. The installation can be viewed as a vanitas, an artwork intended to remind viewers of the transience of life and the vanity of human concerns. Playing cards, musical instruments, and wine glasses—all to be found in InEarth—symbolize frivolous pursuits and indulgences. These objects are bounded by an apparatus used for lowering caskets into the ground.
Despite its historical inspiration, the concerns of InEarth are distinctly modern. Artists from the Dutch Golden Age had a religious message: to remind viewers of Judgment Day and the hereafter. Lipman’s extinct flora address ecological issues: do our priorities and pastimes square with the reality of climate change?