If the Sky Were Orange: Art in the Time of Climate Change

A painting of a vast blue sky with lots of orange clouds over it. At the bottom is the beach front with waves lapping around

If the Sky Were Orange: Art in the Time of Climate Change

Guest curated by Jeff Goodell
September 9, 2023
February 11, 2024

About the Exhibition

This special two-part exhibition explores the history and contemporary urgency of climate-related issues. Guest curated by journalist Jeff Goodell, who has written extensively on the topic, If the Sky Were Orange is the first exhibition at the Blanton to explore one topic across several of the museum’s temporary gallery spaces.

The Contemporary Project and Film & Video Gallery feature work by ten contemporary artists addressing how climate change affects life on our planet, from how we create energy to the stability of ice sheets in Antarctica. Texts by Goodell and internationally known scientists and writers from The University of Texas at Austin and beyond interpret the artworks from the perspective of the authors’ specialized knowledge of climate change.

In the museum’s Paper Vault, works selected by Goodell from the Blanton’s collection complement and contextualize the contemporary works on view. Spanning centuries, the featured artworks demonstrate that many of the issues related to climate change today are not new. For example, artists have long addressed how humans both harmonize with nature and grapple with its unpredictable and monumental forces. They have explored energy as both an economic and cultural force, as well as what has been gained and lost by technological progress. While many of these works were not created in response to climate change, Goodell interprets the selections in light of our rapidly changing world.

The exhibition’s title, If the Sky Were Orange, is inspired by a large painting in the Blanton’s collection by Aaron Morse, Cloud World (#3) (2014), which features jarring, hot-orange clouds floating above a massive seascape. Goodell sees the painting as a striking visual metaphor for the greenhouse gases causing rising temperatures on our planet: Were those gases a visible color, he suggests, we would be far more aware of their presence in our atmosphere and thus their consequences for the Earth. A hotter planet and the related rise in sea levels are the two best-known issues around climate change, but the exhibition explores the complex interrelatedness of climate disruption and human knowledge and culture, including such benefits as the advancement of scientific research and related solutions like renewable energy and human and environmental adaptability.

Writers featured:
Amitav Ghosh
Jeff Goodell
Katharine Hayhoe
Elizabeth Kolbert
Sy Montgomery
Julian Brave NoiseCat
Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò
John Vaillant
Michael Webber
Amy Westervelt

Contemporary artists featured:
Julian Charrière
Jessie Homer French
John Gerrard
Amy Globus
Joan Jonas
Christine Sun Kim
Cannupa Hanska Luger
Aaron Morse
Sandra M. Sawatzky 
Nyugen E. Smith
Jamey Stillings

Guest curated by Jeff Goodell. The organizing curator is Carter E. Foster, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs, Blanton Museum of Art, assisted by the curatorial staff and the 2022-2023 Modern and Contemporary Mellon Fellow.

A digital resource for this exhibition is also available. Click the button below to read an introduction by Jeff Goodell and navigate through the resources.


About Guest Curator Jeff Goodell

Jeff Goodell’s latest book is the New York Times bestseller The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet. He is the author of six previous books, including The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World, which was a New York Times Critics Top Book of 2017. He has covered climate change for more than two decades at Rolling Stone and discussed climate and energy issues on NPR, MSNBC, CNN, CNBC, ABC, NBC, Fox News, and The Oprah Winfrey Show. He is a 2020 Guggenheim Fellow.

Photo: Matt Valentine

About the Writers

Amitav Ghosh
Amitav Ghosh is an Indian-born writer of acclaimed fiction and nonfiction, including The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis.

Jeff Goodell
Jeff Goodell’s latest book is the New York Times bestseller The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet. He is a Contributing Writer at Rolling Stone and a 2020 Guggenheim Fellow.

Katharine Hayhoe
Katharine Hayhoe is Chief Scientist for The Nature Conservancy and a distinguished professor at Texas Tech University. She is the author of numerous books, including Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World.

Elizabeth Kolbert
Elizabeth Kolbert is a staff writer at The New Yorker and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.

Sy Montgomery
Sy Montgomery has written 34 books including The Soul of an Octopus, which was a National Book Award Finalist.

Julian Brave NoiseCat
Julian Brave NoiseCat (Secwépemc/St’at’imc) is a writer, filmmaker, and journalist. In 2021, NoiseCat was named to the TIME100 Next list of emerging leaders.

Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò
Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University and author of Reconsidering Reparations.

John Vaillant
John Vaillant is a Vancouver-based author and journalist. His most recent book is Fire Weather: A True Story from A Hotter World.

Michael Webber
Dr. Michael Webber holds the Josey Centennial Professorship in Energy Resources in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin and is the author of Power Trip: The Story of Energy.

Amy Westervelt
Amy Westervelt is an award-winning investigative journalist and executive producer of the podcast company Critical Frequency.

Upcoming Events

No Events


If the Sky Were Orange: Art in the Time of Climate Change is organized by the Blanton
Museum of Art.

Generous funding for this exhibition is provided in part by Suzanne Deal Booth, Alice
Kleberg Reynolds Foundation, Jay Hodges and Katya Jestin, and Ellen and David

Feature Image Credit

Aaron Morse, Cloud World (#3), 2014, acrylic on canvas, 89 x 118 in., Blanton Museum of Art,
The University of Texas at Austin, Gift of Portia Hein and Philip Martin, 2015.34, © Aaron Morse

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