Artists are rediscovering the oceans that surround them

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AT SOME point, city-dwellers turned away from the sea. It’s hard to say when, exactly, but over the course of the last century, most urbanites stopped depending on the ocean for travel, for food, for work, for pleasure. Coastal residents have become more and more insulated from the water that surrounds them. “The water was a kind of embarrassing secret, the unloved daughter, neglected, while the parks were doted on, fussed over, overused,” muses the narrator of Teju Cole’s novel “Open City” (2011), about Manhattan, an island, one of America’s mythic ports of entry. This is true too in San Francisco, Boston, perhaps port cities everywhere: it is getting harder to sense the sea.

The sea feels largely absent from contemporary visual art, too. It is certainly absent compared to previous eras, when it was of source of fascination and inspiration for painters. The genre of marine painting exploded in the 17th-century Netherlands during the Dutch golden age, the peak of the empire’s naval power. But it is J.M.W. Turner’s Romantic…Continue reading

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