Newton Art Center
In Romantic art era of the late 18th and 19th centuries, nature-with its uncontrollable power, unpredictability and potential for cataclysmic extremes-offered an alternative to the ordered world of Enlightenment thought. Violent and terrifying images of nature collided with lush visual aesthetics of the Sublime-the quality of nature's incalculable greatness and beauty. The Newest Romantics exhibition intentional casting of these contemporary artists as a new generation dealing with themes original to the Romantic era-scenic vistas and overgrown exotic flora that express the inherent power and beauty of nature and set scenes of the Sublime. But unlike the original Romantics, who primarily produced painting, prose and poetry and who opposed the strictly symmetrical, formal gardens and landscapes held dear by the aristocracy, The Newest Romantics use formal variations of photography in combination with sculpture, video, architecture and site-specific installation to embrace the tension between nature's chaos and Modernism's angular order.
While historical interpretations of nature in art underpin this exhibition's theme, the artists featured also harness the illusive qualities of photography and sleek lines of architectural sculpture in ways that showcase today's cutting-edge photographic processes. Conjuring apt yet contrasting references to both the paintings of John Constable and the Hudson River School, Theresa Ganz and Letha Wilson compactly synthesize harsh landscapes, caves and rock forms with bucolic elements such as intricate vining, starry skies and first snows. Erin Leland and Frank Poor, whose presentations bring the rural South to New England, signal humanity's incapacity to match the consuming terrain. In Leland's What Is Mine Is Yours, Romantic-era-esque figure succumbs to the land; in Poor's Missing House - Forsyth, GA, the eventual absence of rural architecture, and thus human life, is predicated by unruly, overgrown plant life's reclamation of the land. Contrastingly, Heidi Norton's Blackscape and Whitescape photographs and Amy Beecher's massive floor-based photo-sculptures pit human hands-as creative and destructive devices-against opulent florals reminiscent of Dutch still life traditions. Elizabeth Corkery and Jessica Labatte construct paper sculptures of botanical still-lifes and gardens, and then photograph them in conventional studio photography settings that provide opportunities for manipulating lighting and depth. The real, which is already paper-made simulacra, therefore contrasts with its representation and approximates an illusion of a kind of Victorian naturalism that only heightens its artifice. Clement Valla's Untitled (Still Lifes) are flattened imagistic sculptures composed using computerized and three-dimensional picture-making apparatuses borne out of military and satellite map-making machineries. Though materialized as wall map-like tapestries, the artworks warp the traditional pictorial strategies of botanical photography in the realm of Nature Morte. They represent a turn toward science and technology as a means of moving the notion of the artistic Sublime forward.
Holistically, The Newest Romantics exhibition demonstrates the lasting thematic, cultural and emotional connections artists cultivate with their environments, whether natural built or something in between. By considering contemporary photography through lenses of nature and an art historical narrative such as Romanticism the exhibition has a particular take on the current state of photography's material presence, its status as a cultural material-within art. In most instances, images become objects and objects become images, all entrenched in the liminal spaces between three-dimensional mixed-media constructions and the photographic frame imposed by their camera. In relation to recent trends in contemporary photography especially as it pertains to sculpture and varying degrees of abstraction, and as part of a vast art history of simulacrum-the fabricated likeness, similarity representation or imitation of a person or thing-The Newest Romantics artists position nature as an enduring creative and intellectual inspiration and as the great metaphor for life, death and transformation.