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‘Next Door’ Photo Exhibit often profound, joyful

Last week my wife and I visited Atlanta’s High Museum of Art to view the retrospective of photographer Abelardo Morell.  I was not familiar with his work but it looked like something we’d enjoy.  I was blown away by this exhibit…his work is just so creative, unusual, beautiful, fun, moody….lots of emotion.  Below is a review from the AJC that describes the exhibit better than I can put in words….I just know I really liked it.  See it….you won’t be disappointed! 

Photos let viewers feel like they’re in on the joke.

By Felicia Feaster For the AJC

   When he arrived at the High Museum in 2011, curator of photography Brett Abbott expressed his desire to stage a show of photographer Abelardo Morell’s work. Three years later, with a new Morell retrospective taking up two floors of the Anne Cox Chambers wing at the High, Abbott has realized his goal. A delightful, profoundly engaging show focused on this Cuban-born photographer, who fled that country with his family when he was 13, “The Universe Next Door” features more than 100 photographs.


   Morell may be best known for his photos created using the camera obscura technique. Latin for “dark chamber,” the camera obscura is an ancient optical effect that inspired the invention of photography in the 19th century. A camera obscura allows an entire room to become, in effect, a camera when light passes through an aperture in a dark room to project an image of the world onto a wall inside the room. Morell has used that technique in numerous images in “The Universe Next Door,” including “Camera Obscura: Times Square Hotel Room,” where a room is filled with the crazed neon spectacle of that New York City intersection.


   In a series of photos charting the shift of Central Park from spring to winter, Morell creates dramatically different effects in the reflection of the park on a room’s walls: essentially “lighting” the room with ravishing fall color when the leaves are in full autumn bloom, or dimming the lights when leafless, drab winter sets in. By capturing these outside phenomena and projecting them onto a wall via the camera obscura technique, Morell makes a statement about how profoundly our mood and vantage is altered by the outside world, and the tension between private and public space.


   But “The Universe Next Door” extends far beyond Morell’s black and white and color camera obscura images.


   Re-imagining the world and arresting our attention to its subtleties is an ongoing theme of the exhibition. Morell has turned his camera on books and on maps to show the depths of imagination , of discovery and emotions these simple objects can inspire. In a series devoted to currency, he riffs on the abstract nature of money. Morell transforms paper bills into sculptural novelties: stacking bills into heaps to represent $7 million dollars or folding a series of bills to form a spectacular, impossibly grand columned building.


   Morell is an artist who combines formal experimentation in such investigations, but also a conceptual, puckish sense of play as he reveals depths of meaning in commonplace objects. The exhibition is filled with thrilling assertions of Morell’s ocular experiments dependent upon qualities of light, texture and the marvelously expressive tool of the camera. In photographs done at museums around the world, Morell places sculptures in the foreground and paintings behind to create a sense of theater, as the human figures in the sculptures seem to play out dramas against dramatic landscapes. As with much of the work in “The Universe Next Door,” those mashed-up images shot in museums in Boston or Madrid are so clever, it’s hard not to laugh out loud at Morell’s inventiveness and his surprising feats of visual imagination.


   Part of the thrill of this show is how much Morell makes viewers feel like co-conspirators for sharing in the joke; we search his photos for the “trick,” like a human profile formed in a book’s pages in “Paper Self.” Morell confronts the world with inquisitiveness and delight, capturing water droplets on a background of film in “Microcosmos: Photogram of Water on Film,” to give the appearance of a vast galaxy, or conveying a sense of the unknown in the depths of a “Paper Bag,” whose black interior is a void standing in for so many mysteries.


   There is a joyfulness, a sense of discovery in the way Morell confronts the world. That comes through powerfully in his work. Much of contemporary art can put one at a distance and encourage studious scrutiny, but Morell’s work inspires a sense of discovery and unexpected, ticklish pleasure.


   The analogies to what Morell does are legion: His work can feel like film-making for the way he dresses his sets and then creates his carefully orchestrated photographs. But Morell is also akin to a magician for his deft way of, not exactly fooling the eye, but showing how much we like to be fooled.


   The show’s title, “The Universe Next Door,” is absolutely telling. Morell is an artist who sees complexity, beauty and profundity equally well while contemplating the skyscrapers of great cities or a solar eclipse as he does in his poetic images of his own family. Some of the most moving photographs in the show are early works in black in white that give you the feeling of Morell exploring the world through his camera’s lens, which make one feel transported along on the journey.


  I started making photographs as if I were a child myself,” said Morell. “The Universe Next Door” tells the story of an artist wide awake to the world.