“Renate Aller: Ocean|Desert” at Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art

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#79 Great Sand Dunes May 2013
2014
Archival pigment print
61″ x 91″ Edition of 3
Photo: courtesy Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art

Although she lives and works in New York, German-born artist Renate Aller captures the landscapes of the Southwest with subtlety and drama in her recent series Ocean|Desert. For these photographs, the artist transforms natural environments into compositions of pervasive calm, which serve as elegant testimony to the dimensionless pleasures of the outdoors. For 15 years, Aller has worked on Oceanscapes, a series of images of the Atlantic Ocean. They’re taken from the same vantage point on the eastern end of Long Island, but capture the many moods of the sea with understated beauty and depth. It was during Aller’s treks to the Southwestern United States between 2011 and 2013 that she began photographing the Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado, and White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. Juxtaposed side-by-side with images from her Oceanscapes series, Aller’s current body of photographs occurs not only as a continuation of previous work, but also as a wholly new take on American landscapes.

The seductive, immersive beauty of these photographs is perhaps due to qualities which directly appeal to our senses: glittery, shining waves, gently sloping expanses of sugary gypsum sand, and the spectacular, singular silence of the great outdoors. Aller’s tendency to capture landscapes from a direct, often head-on perspective is maintained in her images of sand dunes, many of which contain distant, solitary human figures. #3-4 Ocean 2011, Desert 2013 pairs photographs of two distinct viewpoints. On the left is the silver-crested Atlantic, interrupted midway by a horizon line that separates the sweeping sea from the cloud-streaked sky above. In the image to the right, a lone figure stands on the crest of a White Sands’ dune, which foregrounds a pale, crisply blue sky. At five feet tall and almost eight feet across, #79 Great Sand Dunes May 2013 is a dizzying overhead view of wind-carved Coloradan cliffs, as dramatic and isolate as the surface of a foreign planet. This sense of dimensionless, unnamable vast space carries over into works like #5 Great Sand Dunes May 2013, whose seemingly endless stretches of sand, dotted with figures, conjure romantic notions of the Sahara or Gobi Deserts. Renate Aller’s photographs are studious, reverential observations of the world as it exists within and between ocean and desert, sky and land, earth and ephemera.

—IRIS McLISTER