When Lothar Schmitz, a research physicist at UCLA, enters the studio, he doesn’t escape his day job. Rather, Schmitz’s art embraces a panoply of sciences, from microbiology to chemistry to environmental science. The Cologne-born installationist has made his mark locally with detailed topographical miniatures, rather like hypernaturalistic model-train landscapes, in which certain clumps of vegetation are enclosed in Plexiglas bubbles, as if being subjected to targeted experimentation — or, conversely, protected from atmospheric perversion. But this selection of mostly recent works ranges far wider in its media, images and realms of investigation, and more often than not engages actual physical/biochemical material — everything from tanks and fluids to video images of protozoa to salt — in the mix. Unlike so much ecological art, Schmitz’s (increasingly) elaborate displays seem, if anything, to glamorize the taming or even undermining of natural conditions. In fact, they embody a peculiar ambivalence born of dystopian revelation: Nature’s already so shot to hell, only our intervention can save it. The question, of course, is whether nature “wants” to be saved like this. In this way, Schmitz, ever the scientist, cautions against the excesses of environmentalist romanticism as much as he does against heedless exploitation of resources. To save nature, he urges, know nature — all of nature. University Art Museum, California State University Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach; Tues.-Sun., 12 noon-5 p.m. (Thurs. until 8 p.m.); thru April 20. (562) 985-5761.
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Lauren Bon’s engagement with nature is more directly hands-on, even interventionist — she works, famously, with real flora and fauna in their natural contexts, but also confronts tree-hugging cliché with her involvement in crop farming, beekeeping, meat preparation and other time-honored (and eco-friendly) agrarian pursuits. As funky as Bon’s sculptures and installations can get — from a room-filling corn harvest to a lamb carcass drenched in a continually circulating fountain of honey — she operates on a level of metaphor Schmitz studiously avoids. Indeed, her poetics suggest the elaborate symbology and mythology of another artist from Schmitz’s part of Germany, Joseph Beuys, who would certainly have appreciated Bon’s dynamic embrace of “social sculpture.” ACE, 5514 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; thru April 26. (323) 935-4411.