“Robert Weingarten: The Road Less Traveled.”
Through March 20. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Lumière. 425 Peachtree Hills Ave, Ste. 29B. 404-261-6100. www.lumieregallery.net
“The Portrait Unbound.” Through May 30. $18; $15, students and seniors; $11, children 6-17; free for children 5 and under and members. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesdays-Saturdays; until 8 p.m. Thursdays (half-price 4-8 p.m.); noon-5 p.m., Sundays. High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree St. 404-733-4444. www.high.org
The bottom line: Hits and misses in a remarkably varied photographic career.
By Catherine Fox
Photographer Robert Weingarten is a methodical artist. He has made careful study of his métier, from effects of humidity to the psychology of perception, and often conducts his practice in the mode of research.
For the series “6:30 a.m.,” included in the survey of his work at Lumière, the California artist set up a camera at his home and took a shot of the same view almost every day for a year. The pink waters and yellow skies he captured defy “chromatic adaptation,” a psychological behavior in which the eye sees what it expects to see, not what is actually there.
“The Portrait Unbound” at the High Museum is also an experiment of sorts. Weingarten wanted to see whether portraiture is possible without a subject’s likeness. He asked a group of accomplished individuals to give him a list of meaningful things, places, etc., which he photographed and blended into compositions on the computer.
On one level, his work is a conversation with painting. Consider the landscapes at Lumière, printed on a toothy watercolor paper that makes for painterly texture and a blend of tones. A view of Prague glows with a golden, Old Master light. A view of distant trees enveloped in heavy mist shot in the Cascades recalls Chinese landscape painting. “6:30 a.m.” replicates the practice of Monet, his favorite painter, who painted the same view at different times of day to capture the effects of color and light.
These gorgeous pictures also mark his move into abstraction, which flowers in the large-scale “Palettes,” artful views of the paint-swabbed board that are his version of abstract expressionism. These works are not dialogue with painting but in competition, and painting wins. Though many of them are striking and winning, photos of texture and record of the hand are no match for the effect of the real thing.
It’s round two in “Portraits.” Weingarten describes photography as the process of deduction (one starts with an image) and painting as induction (one creates the image). He tries to have his cake and eat it, too, in this work, by taking the pictures and then digitally collaging them to create a final picture.
It may be possible to create a portrait without a likeness, but these don’t. The enumeration of Hank Aaron’s baseball bat, a stadium facade, etc., for example, is more like a scrapbook than a character study.
They fail formally as well. Weingarten’s delight in his innovative techniques overpowered his typical compositional rigor and sensitivity to color. Most of the works are too busy, and sometimes uncharacteristically garish.
For my money, “6:30 a.m.” remains the series in which Weingarten’s science and art come together to create the most meaningful and memorable results.
Catherine Fox is chief visual arts critic at www.ArtsCriticATL.com