Stormy Weather and Luminous Cities at NGV

Two free exhibitions on at the National Gallery of Victoria explore the landscape- one of the city and the other of the country. Stormy Weather is an exhibition of contemporary Australian photography curated from the NGV’s permanent collection. Luminous Cities is also drawn from the NGV permanent collection, but covers photographs from 1860 to the present, predominantly images from overseas.

Stormy Weather provides a contemplative space with relatively large works widely spaced about the level 2 gallery and shows the different approaches to and concerns with the landscape.

Stephanie Valentin’s “Rainbook”, 2009, from the Earthbound series, is at first glance, one of the more prosaic images- that of an old-style columned log book lying on the dirt, with pencilled figures for the months of the year 1977. It is also one of the most touching in this current climate of droughts, when you realise that the figures relate to rainfall received- or not, in the Mallee district that year. Valentin is interested in the intersections between science and nature and the way in which humankind is leaving its mark on the natural world. Another intriguing image is that of a laboratory bottle filled with water, resting in the red earth of the Mallee. The image of a tree in the landscape is reflected upside down in miniature in the bottle.

Two large photographs on the far wall look like windows; one view of night and one of day. They are actually images of Lake Eyre by Murray Fredericks from the Salt series, 2003-07. In what must be a strange experience, Fredericks has spent one month a year for the last six years camped out alone on Lake Eyre, photographing the expanse of the dry salt plains. “Salt 129” fades from a mid-blue through to pale lilac and the palest of greys with no beginning or ending. “Salt 154” has a horizon line and more intense colours from indigo through to cobalt and charcoal and shows what different moods he captures in this desolate place.

Luminous Cities: Photographys of the Built Environment charts the way in which people have constructed their urban spaces. From photographs of Pompeii and ruins in Rome to the skyscrapers of New York it has a focus on the buildings rather than their inhabitants. Most interesting were those that attempted to manipulate the photographic media for effect. Edward Steichen’s “The Maypole” (1932) is a double exposure of the Empire State Building which celebrates the achievement of this art deco building in the age of the skyscraper- the lines of the building stretch upwards to form a pyramid shape. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, a Hungarian photographer, photographed the radio tower in Berlin in 1928 from above. The image he captures is that of geometric shapes, reminiscent of an art deco painting. Adjoining this exhibition is a collection of other works from the NGV collection in the Contemporary International Gallery which includes the spectacular “Los Angeles”, 1999, by Andreas Gursky- a huge photograph of Los Angeles at night, laid out like a glittering canvas.

Two very different exhibitions that are worth viewing together.

Stormy Weather 24 September 2010 – 20 March 2011

Luminous Cities 22 October 2010 – 13 March 2011

at National Gallery of Victoria

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