Graphic design professor curates show in unique desert art gallery | The Penn State Stuckeman School Skip to main content

Graphic design professor curates show in unique desert art gallery

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Unpaved Gallery is not your typical art show venue. Situated on 5 acres of untamed landscape deep within the Mojave Desert in Yucca Valley, California, a large shipping container has been transformed to a gallery space that is dedicated to cultivating a dialogue of contemporary art in the region.

It is in this space that Emily Burns, an assistant professor of graphic design at Penn State, has curated a group exhibition of paintings and works by artists from across the United States that explores the human relationship with plants and other living things through the lens of contemporary art. “Biophilia,” which opened on Sept. 28 and runs through Nov. 3, takes inspiration from the desert landscape surrounding the gallery.

“I had been thinking about this [type of] show for a while, and when invited to curate an exhibition at Unpaved in the Mojave Desert, I knew it would be the perfect place for these themes to come to life,” said Burns. “The desert invites a certain stillness, where time slows down and viewers are compelled to reflect and ponder in a way that is often blocked by the tumult of daily life elsewhere. There is a time warp sensation that occurs in this environment, where past, present and future collide.”

The show attempts to capture some small fragment of the zeitgeist and presents work that considers the ways in which our connection with nature is present today.

With work from artists including Howard Fonda, Greg Ito, Haley Josephs, Aaron Elvis Jupin, Karen Lederer, Nat Meade, Laurie Nye, Padma Rajendran, Kathia St. Hilaire, Christina Van Der Merwe and Jasmine Zelaya, “Biophilia” provides an occasion for reflection and consideration of the deep – though perhaps dormant – elemental intimacy between one’s self and nature.

“This unusual sensorial juxtaposition invites visitors to reexamine their own personal connection to nature in the moment, as well as the larger human impact of tomorrow,” added Burns.

For Burns, this is the second show she has designed in the past five months; she curated an exhibition by artist Kaveri Raina in April at the Assembly Room in New York City. She has also curated group exhibitions locally at the Woskob Family Gallery and in Seattle at studio e gallery and The Alice.

An alumna of Penn State with a bachelor’s degree in drawing and painting and a master of fine arts in graphic design, Burns has also seen her own work exhibited both internationally and nationally throughout the United States.

People milling around the opening reception for Biophilia at Unpaved Gallery in the desert.
Biophilia as installed in Unpaved Gallery by Emily Burns.
Nude on a Faraway Planet by Laurie Nie
Blades by Nat Meade