Jessica Rath’s project “Take Me to the Apple Breeder” at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, begins with a fundamentally captivating subject: the metaphor-rich science of apple cultivation.
After coming across a mention in a book of the USDA’s Plant Genetics Resource Unit at Cornell University, where endangered varieties of apples are preserved and clones crossbred to produce new varieties, Rath made several visits to the center over the course of three years and presumably learned a great deal about apples.
The research, however, appears to have got the upper hand of the art. For all the illuminating information contained in the supporting texts — did you know that the seed of one apple, if planted, will produce a tree that yields an entirely different kind of apple, and probably not a sweet one? (it is the reason that apple trees are grafted and cloned, not planted) — the work itself is uninspiring.
Rath photographed a handful of newly developed varieties in an apple breeder’s orchard, leaf-bare in winter, against a white muslin backdrop, and fashioned a series of glazed porcelain apples based on a selection of obscure varieties.
The images are handsome enough — there’s no arguing with the raw, gnarled beauty of an apple tree — and the porcelain apples are lovely objects, to be sure. But neither adds up to much more than a straight reflection of the subject’s more obvious dimensions.
One longs to see four or five more layers — synthesis, analysis, flights of fancy, what have you — beyond the rote, if earnest, documentation.
Pasadena Museum of California Art, 490 East Union Street, Pasadena, (626) 568-3665, through February 24. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. www.pmcaonline.org