VIENNA: Super Mario video games, Pink Floyd’s music, the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Belgian artist Rene Magritte: Who would have thought these had anything in common?
Vienna’s Leopold Museum demonstrates there is a link in its new exhibition “Clouds. Fleeting Worlds.”
The show draws upon conventional and unexpected sources – 18th-century paintings and Nintendo, album covers and floating silver pillows – to pay tribute to this airy phenomenon.
“We don’t stop and think about the phenomenon of clouds ordinarily,” says the exhibit’s curator Tobias Natter. “We take them for granted ... but they are always different, never the same, constantly in movement.”
Whether depicted realistically or stylized, painted, photographed or filmed, images of clouds succeed one another on the walls of the museum.
The highlight is the eclectic mix of art and media on display, with dozens of album covers – including works by Dire Straits, The Who, Velvet Underground, John Lennon, Depeche Mode and The Kinks, all of them featuring clouds in some way – dotted among 19th-century masterpieces by William Turner, Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh.
In a ventilated room, Andy Warhol’s “Silver Clouds” – comprised of large pillow-shaped balloons – float about within the reach of visitors, especially children, who delight in catching them and bouncing them off the walls.
In the projection in one exhibition room, big kids may recognize the pixellated white clouds drifting across a bright blue sky as the background used in the Super Mario video games in the 1980s – albeit without the cheerful moustachioed plumber and his prized mushrooms.
Artists first became obsessed with capturing clouds on canvas in the late 18th and early 19th century, and scientists started studying them around the same time, drawing up the first cloud atlases, some of which are on show.
This provides the starting point for an exhibition that moves deftly through time, genres and media, from painting to photography and documentary film, from 1800 to the present day, from the great masters to the digital age.
Not only a background, clouds were often the focus of an entire painting or its main motif, as seen in many of Magritte’s surrealist works.
Now “reinvented with digital means,” they drift across a tablet installation showing different skies in real time via webcams, and swirl around on weather satellite imagery screens.
Often seen as airy and dream-like, they also appear in their more nefarious forms – ash clouds rising from erupting volcanoes, black smoke billowing from industrial chimneys and deadly mushroom clouds like the one that followed the 1945 atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Even the ears have something to feast on with music stations dotted throughout the exhibit playing Pink Floyd’s “Obscured by Clouds” and other albums.
Other highlights include works by Edvard Munch, Gustav Klimt and Paul Cezanne, and a gigantic fluffy atomic mushroom that rises off the floor in one hall – a poly-fil creation by Australian artist Dietrich Wegner entitled “Playhouse.”
Part art exhibition, part science fair and part playground, the show is proving popular with everyone from kids to science buffs, travel aficionados and music lovers.
In total, some 300 objects are on show with loans from major international collections such as London’s National Gallery and Courtauld Gallery, Paris’ Musee d’Orsay, Kunsthaus Zurich and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
“Clouds. Fleeting Worlds” is up at Vienna’s Leopold Museum until July 1. For more information see www.leopoldmuseum.org/en/exhibitions/49/clouds.