OKLAHOMA CITY — Beneath the tumultuous skies of Oklahoma, the National Weather Center (NWC) is hosting its second curated exhibition interpreting meteorological phenomena through art. The 2015 National Weather Center Biennale includes 88 works in the towering atrium of its main building on the University of Oklahoma campus, with photography, painting, and works on paper all inspired by the human experience with weather.
The first NWC Biennale was in 2013. Curator Alan Atkinson told me upon its announcement in 2012 that “the weather has been a source of inspiration for as long as humans have made art — what we hope the Biennale will do is perhaps help stir up some new ways of thinking about the weather as subject matter. After all, we live in an era when we probably know more about weather than we ever have, yet never has the weather, once the most mild topic of conversation one could imagine, been so controversial.”
Climate change, drought, and other current weather issues don’t make overt appearances in the exhibition, but each piece is a personal attempt to understand and interpret weather. This year’s curator, artist Mel Chin, selected California-based artist Mitch Dobrowner’s “Landspout” for his Best in Show, stating in his remarks that the photograph — capturing an ominous storm cloud with the dimensions of a dirigible — “shows the power of a moment.”
The participants include both studio artists and storm chasers like Greg Stumpf, who took an eerie photograph of tornadic clouds over Route 66. And there’s a regionalism in the international art, from Spencer Frazer with his “Storm Shudders” painting interpreting tempestuous dark clouds consuming a blue sky in a Pacific Northwest landscape to Roger Edwards with his painting of ice breaking on the cool surface of Alaska’s Portage Lake. Along with the showy storms, there is an appreciation for quieter moments of nature, such as Carol Beesley’s “Bluff, Johnson Ranch, Near Guymon, OK” of the sun’s warmth altering the colors of a rocky hill in Western Oklahoma, or Richard Hoff’s “Hot and Humid” illustration of a muggy afternoon where the heat has an almost physical presence in the shading.
The NWC is already planning ahead for another Biennale in 2017, with the call for entries planned for the fall of 2016. In addition to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the NWC complex hosts an impressive mix of academic and private company research, and it would be interesting in the future for the building to be more actively involved with the art. There are different ways of understanding weather, and as the world’s only biennial dedicated to meteorology themes, the art is an access point for viewers to consider how the rains, storms, heat, and snows impact their lives, and the science behind it.
The 2015 National Weather Center Biennale is at the National Weather Center (120 David L. Boren Boulevard, Norman, Oklahoma) through June 14.
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