Slick and spectacular, Edward Burtynsky: Oil is a must-see

By Pam Dillon

Wow. The Edward Burtynsky: Oil exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Nature is amazing. And mind-boggling.

Edward Burtynsky, Recycling #2, Chittagong, Bangladesh, 2001. Chromogenic color print. Photograph © Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg & Bryce Wolkowitz, New York

Any time, the Museum of Nature is a favourite place, but you do not want to miss this limited-time, blockbuster show of 56 large-scale images by world-renowned photographer Ed Burtynsky. Appearing only until September 2, it unearths the real-life substance of how oil has changed our life and transformed our planet.
The visual impact is spectacular.
And shocking.
Trust me. You haven’t seen a photo show like this before. It exposes oil’s lifecycle, from oil fields and refineries to racetracks and suburban sprawl to ship demolition in Bangladesh.  Burtynsky presents mountains of scrap tires, vast graveyards of castaway vehicles and thick, winding ropes of urban freeways. Striking works of art, these images are also irrefutable evidence of our oil-driven, consumerist culture and its impact on nature.
The photographs were captured during a 12-year period as Burtynsky recorded oil’s production, distribution and use, far and wide. In fact, the St. Catharines Ontario native is internationally revered for his artworks dealing with nature transformed through industry. “Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction,” he has pointed out.
This show is definitely fuel for thought and family discussion.  Notably, its shock factor extends beyond the riveting images.  Not only is Edward Burtynsky: Oil a kid-approved exhibition, it’s enthusiastically teen endorsed.

Edward Burtynsky, Highway #1, Intersection 105 & 110, Los Angeles, California, USA, 2003. Chromogenic color print. Photograph © Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg & Bryce Wolkowitz, New York

Think of it. When was the last time you heard of an adolescent wanting to accompany the (unsightly) parental units anywhere, let alone to an art show at a museum?
This unnatural phenomenon occurred last evening, when the teen asked − “Please?!” – to go to the Museum of Nature with us and was then glad to have had the opportunity. He was impressed by Edward Burtynsky: Oil and, naturally, cynical: “Sure. People will come here and see this. This,” he said, gesturing to the eye-opening and provocative array of magnificent photographs. “And then they’ll go home and go back to doing what they were doing before.”
“That’s up to you,” I told him. “And me.”
The Canadian Museum of Nature is located at 240 McLeod Street. For details, visit

Bonus:  Free screenings of the award-winning documentary Manufactured Landscapes are offered each Thursday and Friday evening from May 31 to August 30, starting at 6 p.m. (Admission to the museum still applies on Friday nights. On Thursday nights, the movie and admission after 5 p.m. are both free.) The movie follows Burtynsky through China, where he shot the evidence and effects of that country’s massive industrial revolution.

Image: Martin Lipman. Copyright Canadian Museum of Nature


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