Worldwide icon-chevron-right South Pacific icon-chevron-right Australia icon-chevron-right Sydney icon-chevron-right These two transportive exhibitions examine nature and the sublime
David Stephenson Human Landscapes 2017 Art Gallery of NSW supplied image 2004 The Zinc Works and Mount Wellington from Store Point from the series Marking time 2003-05 courtesy AGNSW (c) David Stephenson
Photograph: Diana Panuccio David Stephenson 'The Zinc Works and Mount Wellington from Store Point, Tasmania', 2004, from the series Marking time (2003-05)

These two transportive exhibitions examine nature and the sublime

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Welcome to the 25th guest blog post of Time Out Sydney's 52 Weeks of #SydCulture 2017 challenge! June's culture selector is Emily Nicol, a journalist and producer for Koori Radio and NITV, and the guest editor for Time Out Sydney's May 2017 Deadly Sydney issue. Every Wednesday of May, Emily will be telling us what she loved the week before. Think of it as your recommendations for this week, from someone who sees a helluva lot of arts and culture. Over to her.

Every time I walk into the Art Gallery of New South Wales I immediately think: I need to come here more often! The green and lush grounds and the building itself are always beautiful to see, but inside you’re guaranteed to be transported somewhere else – within your own psyche, or to another time and place. This week I decided to check out two of the current exhibitions, and experienced a nice respite from a very busy week.

In the 20th and 21st century Australian art section, AGNSW have curated a one-room exhibition of works by American-born Tasmania-based photographer David Stephenson, titled Human Landscapes and mostly featuring works from the early ’80s.

 

David Stephenson ‘Alaska pipeline, Brooks Range, Alaska’ (1981)
Photograph: Felicity Jenkins, AGNSW

 

 

Stephenson’s approach to landscape photography draws the viewer in, piquing curiosity about the subject and its environment, however stark. It takes a clever hand to unveil the layers and cinematic life that live beneath an otherwise ordinary everyday scene. Two works – a pipeline cutting through Alaskan hills, and a lone man atop a rocky outcrop overlooking a coastline – in particular caught my imagination. Moving the perspective from extremely close to more expansive panoramas, Stephenson manages to achieve an exaltation of nature in the most subtle of ways. As the curator aptly writes, the work is “poetic and philosophical, confronting concepts like the infinite and the sublime.”

 

Installation view 'Glorious: earthly pleasures and heavenly realms' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Photograph: Diana Panuccio, AGNSW

 

 

Downstairs in the Lower Asian Gallery is the captivating exhibition Glorious: Earthly Pleasures and Heavenly Realms, featuring works from India, China, Japan and Korea, across all disciplines. This collection of works displays the importance of ritual, observation and ceremony in ancient cultures, and the importance of otherworldly realms in their art. Some pieces date all the way back to the 1st century (a reliquary box in schist and gold, featuring a lotus design, from Pakistan); there are also 12th century tea vessels from China, 18th century watercolours, and 19th century theatrical costumes, all in incredibly good condition.

 

'Ragaputra Velavala of Bhairava' from the series 'Tandan' ragamala (c1710)
Photograph: Ray Woodbury, AGNSW

 

 

Several Buddhist and Hindu bodhisattvas statues are completely enchanting; one in particular, inlaid with precious stones and in a curving tribhanga pose, looks like it may come to life at any moment. Dramatic Hindu art from the 18th and 19th centuries, including ‘Woman swooning’ and ‘Shiva and family’, conveys the richness, depth and character of this culture.

Having a long time fascination with ancient history, I found this exhibition satisfyingly transportive; and it made me wonder what daily life would have felt like at these times, living with such reverence for nature and the godly realms.

You can see David Stephenson: Human Landscapes until July 23 at Art Gallery of NSW. Glorious runs until 2018.

Check out our hit list of the best art in Sydney this month, and read more about our 52 Weeks of #SydCulture challenge, and let us know what you're seeing/loving on Instagram via the hashtag #SydCulture.

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