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Before California 

When: Sept. 13-Jan. 30 2013

Artist-naturalist Laura Cunningham works primarily as a scientific illustrator, rendering fossils for paleontology publications by the likes of UC Berkeley and the Smithsonian Institution. Her background comes through loud and clear in her first ever solo exhibition, Before California, which reads like a terrifically illustrated textbook about the effect of human activity on local wildlife. Cunningham captions paintings of condors and wolves with text explaining the nature of the species' endangerment, and draws East Bay flora along with an illustrated calendar of wildflower bloom times. The wall texts are replete with Latin nomenclature. The exhibition meanders into the domain of art with a series of imaginative works juxtaposing photographs of Bay Area locales with painted renderings of how the places might have looked five hundred years back, before the touch of civilization. Some of the comparisons come off as judgmental, contrasting unsightly concrete constructions against what used to be pristine vistas. Others, however, simply delight in the rendering of alternate realities, and all the future possibilities entailed therein. Before California runs through January 30 at the David Brower Center (2150 Allston Way, Berkeley). 510-809-0900 or

— Alex Bigman


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