The world's great artists have long been drawn to the natural beauty of landscapes and the imposing grandeur of seascapes. And while weather may not have been the primary focus of these museum-quality works, the prevailing atmospheric conditions certainly had an impact on the final product.
Think of the tempest tossed ship in Rembrandt's “The Storm on the Sea,” the still beauty of Monet's “Train in the Snow” or the crowd of people carrying umbrellas in Caillebotte's “Paris Street, Rainy Day.”
Norman's National Weather Center, the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art and the Norman Arts Council have joined forces to present the first “National Weather Center Biennale,” a juried art show that explores how all types of weather affect the human experience.
The culmination of more than a year's worth of planning, the “National Weather Center Biennale” drew submissions from all 50 states and several foreign countries. As with any inaugural exhibition, organizers hoped there would be a sufficient number of entries in the show's three categories: painting, photography and works on paper.
“One week before the submissions' deadline, we had received 106 works,” said exhibit curator Alan Atkinson. “Since we had planned to feature 100 works in the exhibit, we thought we'd have little trouble eliminating six works.
“Then in the last 72 hours before the cutoff, there was an avalanche of activity that brought the number of submissions to 700. In the end, a lot of great talent had to be left out although most of those decisions were not qualitative but rather quantitative. We wanted to have a nice balance of images from the four seasons and a variety of weather phenomenon.”
When the idea of such an exhibit was first proposed, Atkinson did extensive research to see if similar exhibitions had been featured elsewhere. To his surprise, he was unable to find anything that approached the scale and scope of this inaugural event.
“I didn't really find anything that took weather as a thematic underpinning and certainly nothing that featured artists from all over the world,” Atkinson said. “I feel very fortunate that our timing appears to be good. We were really looking for something that could be a signature event for Oklahoma. We are the world capital of interesting weather after all.”
With 700 submissions, a large number of which fell into the photography category, Atkinson worried that he and his fellow jurors would have to wade through hundreds of thunderstorm images.
Surprisingly, he found that many artists used weather to stimulate or inspire art, often in ways that were non-representational or abstract. Some had a clear narrative content while others were more subjective in their approach to weather.
“Because of the physical characteristics of art in each category, the artists responded somewhat differently,” Atkinson said. “Photo is heavily representational and deals with the drama of weather in its extreme forms. But there were also some surprisingly poetic images that made you wonder where the influence of weather was.
“In the works on paper category, the artists approached the theme in a painterly way, but even that varied depending on whether you were dealing with pastels or prints. In the end, you could see how the artist used weather as a collaborator in the artistic process.
“Painting is a huge category and has some of the most craftsman-like, meticulous representational work. Here, weather becomes the inspiration rather than the subject matter. It's the broadest category in terms of how we see art.”
The 100 works will be displayed in the Weather Center's five-story atrium, a space that allows for considerable natural light. Approximately half of the artists whose works were selected for the exhibition are planning to attend the opening.
Christoph Heinrich, Spencer Finch and Jacqui Jeras will select the winning entries in this much-anticipated exhibit. Winners in each category will receive $5,000, with a Best of Show winner earning $10,000. Jeras is a television meteorologist in Washington, D.C.
“It was decided from the get go that we needed to have a famous meteorologist as one of our judges,” Atkinson said. “Who knows the weather better than someone who is professionally engaged with the weather?
“One of the most surprising things about working on this exhibition was to learn how vital weather was as an inspiration for artists. I heard artists say over and over again that they had been waiting all their lives for an exhibition like this. It really struck a chord with them.”