Current Exhibition


Signs of Life  | September 7 - November 30, 2014

In the fall of every other year, under the auspices and guiding hand of the Pasadena Arts Council, Pasadena and environs become the stage for the AxS Festival, a celebration of the arts and sciences — a very public and eclectic array of plays, concerts, art exhibitions, conversations and other happenings that respond to a particularly appropriate Pasadena theme. This year’s edition of AxS ( is Curiosity — a rich vein indeed — and Descanso Gardens has, for the first time, been invited to participate.

The AxS Festival’s theme Curiosity has been artfully chosen to coincide with the second anniversary of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory rover Curiosity’smission to discover more about Mars and, in the process, help scientists dig more deeply into the origins of our solar system and our own planet.

We know, of course, that the Curiosity rover will be sending back mountains of digital data about all manner of things relating to Mars’s geology, planetology, atmospherics, geochemistry, and its dirt and rocks. But what would really electrify us Earthlings is if Curiosity turned up signs of life. And in our world, that means the presence of water.

When thinking about how a botanic garden relates to Curiosity’s mission, we settled on water as the theme for an exhibition of artwork in the Sturt Haaga Gallery built around the presence (and absence) of water. Entitled Signs of Life, this specially curated show opened September 7 and runs not only through the duration of the AxS Festival (September 19 through October 5) but also through the fall, closing November 30.

What could be a more profound reminder of the life-enabling necessity of water than a botanical garden like Descanso? After all, 70 percent of our planet consists of water, 72% of our own body-weight is made of water, and for many species of plants, it’s much higher than that.” By virtue of their fundamental processes of photosynthesis and transpiration, plants are a major component of the Earth’s water cycle.

Signs of Life, with curatorial coordination by John David O’Brien, will feature art works that celebrate water in all its moods and states — literal, symbolic, poetic, and metaphorical. The exhibition features multimedia artworks from 11 artists. Featured artists include:

Matthew Chase-Daniel Stephen Douglas
F. Scott Hess Laura Lasworth
Margaret Lazzari Marina Moevs
Christine Nguyen Stephen Nowlin
Bill Viola Ruth Weisberg
Patty Wickman

Support for Signs of Life is provided by the Pasadena Art Alliance. Additional support for Sturt Haaga Gallery exhibitions provided by Richard Carlson and Erin Maclean Culley.Naturalist Loren Eisley once wrote, “If there is magic on the planet, it is contained in the water.” Signs of Life promises to be a lively and thought-provoking debut for Descanso Gardens in the Pasadena AxS Festival world, one that we hope will surprise, delight, and — yes -- refresh everyone who sees it.

above: 'Big Sur' by Matthew Chase-Daniel