Visually engaging, powerful, and at times even beautiful, the Moss Arts Center’s newest exhibition presents works of art that demonstrate the devastating ways human activity impacts the environment.

Expansive in theme and panoramic in scope, the exhibition includes photographic work by nationally and internationally recognized artists Edward Burtynsky, Chris Jordan, and Daniel Beltrá; a stunning film installation of one of the largest arctic glacier calving incidents to date by James Balog; and Steven Norton’s arresting soundscape of animals that are now extinct.

Unbearable Beauty” is currently on view at the Moss Arts Center, located at 190 Alumni Mall, Blacksburg, Virginia, on Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. The exhibition continues through April 24, 2021. Masks are required and social distancing guidelines should be followed in all gallery spaces. The center’s exhibitions and all related events are always free and open to the public.

Population growth and the need for expanding agricultural production, industry, relentless urbanization and energy use, mass consumption, and the proliferating manufacturing of products worldwide are some of the root causes of the planet’s current state. Consequences of these actions range from global warming, pollution, and the exponential growth of industrial and commercial waste, to deforestation, diminishing wildlife habitats, and the threat of wildlife extinction.

Curated by Margo Crutchfield, Moss Arts Center curator at large, the exhibition features extraordinary work from these artists:

Edward Burtynsky

Ruth C. Horton Gallery

An accomplished contemporary photographer, Edward Burtynsky is known for his images of industrial projects and their effects on the environment. His photographic depictions of global industrial landscapes explore the scale of human intervention on the Earth’s surface and include colossal mines, quarries, dams, factories, and disposal facilities. Featured in this exhibition are examples of his photographs that focus on the extraction of metals—mining sites in Arizona, New Mexico, and Ontario, Canada.

Chris Jordan

Ruth C. Horton Gallery

Chris Jordan is a photographic artist whose work in this exhibition explores mass consumption from a sociological and environmental perspective. In his photographs Jordan translates social and environmental statistics into visible terms, visiting landfills and recycling centers to photograph vast piles of discarded products — cell phones, chargers, circuit boards, and other consumer goods. Jordan’s works walk the line between abstraction and representation, examining the actions of humans and their impact on society and the environment.

Steve Norton

Sherwood Payne Quillen '71 Reception Gallery

Steve Norton is a sound artist, musician, and researcher who is currently focused on the gathering of field-recorded sound to use in electroacoustic compositions and improvisational performance. Presented in this exhibition is his four-channel sound installation, “Requiem” (2018), which was created with the recordings of 10 recently extinct bird species and two species of frogs. “Requiem” is a eulogy to these animals and a sobering reference to the global threats to wildlife and impending extinction of numerous species.

Daniel Beltrá

Miles C. Horton Jr. Gallery

Daniel Beltrá’s work over the past two decades has taken him to all seven continents, photographing everything from oil spills, glacier melts, and droughts to the effects of greenhouse gases. Up to four feet high by six feet wide, Beltrá’s panoramic aerial photographs capture the shocking scale of environmental degradation. Photographs in the exhibition depict the deforestation of the Amazon forest and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest marine oil spill in history.

James Balog

Miles C. Horton Jr. Gallery

James Balog brings the enormity and significance of climate change and the world’s melting glaciers into visual focus in his acclaimed film “Chasing Ice” (2012). Presented in the exhibition is footage from the film portraying the historic breakup of the Ilulissat Glacier in Western Greenland — a breathtaking calving event that lasted for 75 minutes — due to rising temperatures. This footage has gone on record as the largest glacier calving event ever captured on film and brings into focus the reality of climate change with an immediate and visceral impact.

“Towards a Better Future”

Frances T. Eck Exhibition Corridor

This related component of the exhibition, “Towards a Better Future” highlights several initiatives currently underway at Virginia Tech to address some of the world’s most critical  environmental challenges.

A comprehensive land-grant research institution, Virginia Tech has been recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the top green colleges in the U.S., Canada, and Europe for 11 consecutive years. This presentation explores some of the environmental issues illuminated in “Unbearable Beauty” through the lens of related Virginia Tech research projects, sustainability efforts, national and global resources, and simple everyday changes that are moving the world towards a better future.

On view through April 10, 2021, “Towards a Better Future” is curated and organized by Meggin Hicklin, Moss Arts Center exhibitions program manager, along with graduate assistants Anthony Pearson and Alexandra Palin.

To schedule a tour or class visit, please email

Parking is available in the North End Parking Garage on Turner Street. Virginia Tech faculty and staff possessing a valid Virginia Tech parking permit can enter and exit the garage free of charge. Find more information about reopening procedures online.

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