Soaking rains or glorious sun, weather is hard to parse. Meteorologists can break down systems and make predictions, but they can’t begin to unpack the intimate, emotional relationship between the climate and the human critters that live in it.
Maybe nobody can. But artist Georgie Friedman attempts to, by turning a minimalist lens on wind and water. Her crisp show at the Foster Gallery at Noble and Greenough School, featuring photos, videos, and a video installation, has none of the hype of the Weather Channel, none of the majesty of an atmospheric Hudson River School painting. Still, Friedman’s spare, cool approach to weather savors the beauty of a gust of wind with a haiku-like clarity.
She attached cameras to high-altitude balloons and mounted images they shot in grids. When I saw works from this series before, I had a stubborn inclination to try to read narrative into them. It’s there in the twists and bobbles of the view — a record of flight.
But they’re so much more — a big picture. The grids abstract all those skies and horizons into pulses of blue, white, and gray. There’s a sense of fracture, but also of movement: sweeps and ticks that only incidentally rely on the camera’s flight, and more sharply depend on the artist’s compositional choices.
In “Flight VI, Descent II (Spin),” a luminous horizon streaks and tilts. Friedman distills a wild ride and an engulfing landscape into a simple line, swinging through a grid.
Her installation “Hovering Hurricane: Sandy 2012” features a video of rushing water projected over four cloud-shaped panels suspended from the ceiling. The sound of wind is constant, daunting. The sight of water overhead disorients. The panels cast black shadows on the ceiling, which the water appears to flow past. The shadows drift like seaweed. They look splayed, somehow human, wrecked.
But there I am, reflexively looking for story again, putting a human into the picture. Weather does that to people — we all have our stories about it. Friedman breaks down and decontextualizes weather’s familiar tropes. The results are often mesmerizing. They open up the scene, if only for a moment, before we trot in with our old tales of rainy days past.
Patches of color
Peri Schwartz also dodges nimbly between representation and abstraction. Her paintings at Gallery NAGA depict interiors of her own studio, which melt into planes of pungent color.
Like Friedman’s “Flight” series, “Studio XXXV” feels more about the artist’s choices than it is about any objective reality: hovering swatches of tangy orange and icy blue, a clean black block, its top streaked with verticals. Perhaps they’re book spines. Schwartz uses every patch of color to build a sense of space, yet the patches themselves look flat and deliciously smeary, as if on her way to pictorial depth, she fell in love with a particularly bright and sensuous dollop of paint.
Where Schwartz’s work is sunny and spacious, Joo Lee Kang’s is dark and intimate, and nearly colorless. Kang also has a show at NAGA. She draws mutant animals and insects among still lifes with shells and plants.
Kang’s work grows ever more detailed and precise. It’s strange, then, that her drawings of animals seem to play fast and loose with proportion. I don’t think the lamb (or goat?) with extra legs is truly close to the size of the featherless rooster in “Still Life With Shells #1.” The mutations are disconcerting enough; the odd sizes just feel off.
The same may be true of her creepy and wonderful insect drawings, but only an entomologist would know. The bugs often appear to merge with the cut flowers, as if there are no natural boundaries. In “Still Life With Insects #4,” an insect with huge black eyes sprouts from a blossom like a bug-eyed jack-in-the-box. Pieces like this feel reminiscent of Dutch and Flemish still life paintings of rotting feasts, fed upon by flies — only Kang puts it all under a microscope.
Humanizing famous people
Photographer Mark Ostow has a small, terrific show of portraits up in the Karen Aqua Gallery — really just a hallway — at Cambridge Community Television. He specializes in capturing his famous subjects in off moments, when they’re not quite posing. That humanizes them, although not always in flattering ways.
Writer Lois Lowry gazes straight into the camera with discerning blue eyes, and defiantly takes a sip from a mug. Not a dainty sip, either — the mug covers her nose and mouth. She comes across as daring and playful.
Ostow placed Mitt Romney between two columns and shot from below, so a shaft of light surrounds him and towers over him. It’s a monumental setup, appropriate for a would-be president, which he was when Ostow took this portrait. But the expression on his face is more dreamy than visionary, eyes drifting up to the right as if he’s remembering or regretting, lips oddly tight.
The overall effect is an astonishing blend of monumentality and fleetingness. Even the columns blur and seem to curve, thanks to the lens Ostow used. Nothing stands for long, but a good photograph captures a moment full of life, as Ostow does here, again and again.
GEORGIE FRIEDMAN: Into the Wind
At: Foster Gallery, Noble and Greenough School,
10 Campus Drive, Dedham, through Sept. 30.
PERI SCHWARTZ: Composing Paintings
JOO LEE KANG: Troubled Paradise
At: Gallery NAGA,
67 Newbury St., through Oct. 4. 617-267-9060, www.gallerynaga.com
At: Karen Aqua Gallery, Cambridge Community Television,
438 Massachusetts Ave., through Sept. 26.
617-661-6900, www.cctvcambridge.org/ostowCate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.