Since I can’t bring myself to care about the Super Bowl or the Olympics or New Jersey, I’ve been paying attention to the extraordinary amount of snow covering most of the country this winter, even places like Atlanta and Portland, OR, that don’t normally get snow. In fact, there’s been a whole lot of weather around the U.S. this season, with the polar vortex and whatnot. That has gotten me thinking about when and how snow and ice show up in artworks, and how various artists have embraced winter weather in their work.
I’ve already written about surveillance art and gun art. Snow art might be somewhat less vital as a theme, but the arts are complicated and diverse and approach all kinds of subjects. Plus, snow is very pretty!
There’s plenty of art about other kinds of weather, from Random International’s Rain Room, on view at The Museum of Modern Art last year (not to mention the cinematic classic Step Up 2: The Streets, in which the finale ultimo takes place in the pouring rain on, well, the streets); to Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project, for which he installed a hazy sky and a simulated sun at London’s Tate Modern in 2003; to Walter De Maria’s 1977 The Lightning Field, wherein the artist installed 400 lightning rods in remote western New Mexico; to John Constable’s numerous early 19th-century studies of clouds.
But the following list will focus on winter weather, which is only appropriate since I’m publishing it on the heels of the “Blizzard of 2014!”
1) Ice Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia
Russian Empress Anna Ivanovna, who ruled between Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, but who was not herself great, did, though, have the great idea of commissioning an ice palace in St. Petersburg in 1740. A replica was constructed in 2006, including all the buildings, sculptures, furnishings, even bric-a-brac, all made of ice. This is the 18th-century Russian analog to the tableaux made of butter at certain American 4-H conventions. It is a Russian tragedy that there isn’t ice made of ice to go in the cups made of ice.
2) The Igloos of New York City
Not everyone can be the Empress of all the Russias; sometime being an ingenious, anonymous New Yorker is more than enough. If a palace is too much, then an igloo can be just the right scale. There have been many, and various igloos have been documented in at least three boroughs.
During the 2010 “snowpocalypse,” an igloo was claimed for the Dominican Republic in the middle of an intersection in Brooklyn. 2011 saw pretty much the Platonic form of your basic igloo in Queens. Also in 2011, some Occupy Wall Street protesters flirted with the idea of living in igloos in Central Park, but nothing came of that. EV Grieve has reported on a 2010 igloo in Tompkins Square Park that seems to be a conceptual artwork about the real estate market. It was posted as a satirical “real” listing on a legitimate real estate sales site: “This fully original Soho igloo is ready to go at a stunning and spacious 15 square feet!!”
And, of course, there was the unforgettable Castle Grayskull igloo in Brooklyn in 2011.
3) David Hammons, Bliz-aard Ball Sale, 1983
Don’t blow all your cash on that sweet igloo; you’ll need to save some to buy a snowball from David Hammons. Or, you could have in 1983, on the sidewalk outside Cooper Union, just blocks from Tompkins Square. Hammons’ performance was a piece of guerrilla theater, offering assorted sizes of snowballs for assorted prices with plenty non-art snow on the ground all around him. In one simple performance, Hammons managed to poke fun at racial identity, capitalism and the, ahem, snowballing commercialism of the art market, then centered in that same East Village neighborhood. That’s how powerful and dynamic snow art can be!
(Documentation from Bliz-aard Ball Sale is currently on view at the Studio Museum in Harlem, in their show “Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art” through March 9.)
4) Jeff Koons, Fait D’Hiver, 1988
Speaking of the rampant commercialization of the downtown art scene, but with more participatory élan, this brings us to Jeff Koons (link is NSFW). Who among us can’t relate: lying supine in the snow (here made of porcelain), protected from the chill only by the fur collar and cuffs of our mesh “shirt,” desperately relieved to be rescued by a St. Bernard pig—with a cask of brandy to warm us—and his penguin companions (there’s a second one not visible in this photo).
There’s a joke about cocaine as “snow” and big-money ‘80s art to be made here, but I shall refrain.
5) Utagawa Hiroshige, Atagoshita and Yabu Lane, No. 112 from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 1857
There are tons of beautiful, elegant, exquisite woodblock prints of snowy landscapes and cityscapes by Hiroshige and his Ukiyo-e colleagues. I chose this one because if you look very, very closely, you can see gently arcing lines of stranded cars with Georgia and North Carolina license plates.
6) Claude Monet, Haystacks (Effect of Snow and Sun), 1891
7) Thomas Kinkade
Move over, Mr. Monet! Thomas Kinkade, The Painter of Light™, is also the painter of snow. This is January from Kinkade’s 2012 calendar, which is basically just an excuse for me to recommend Drew Dernavich’s very funny reviews of the calendar images on The Awl.
8) Star. Wars. Snowflakes!
When it comes to snowy Star Wars-iana, it’s easy to point to Hoth and be done with it; but I want to take this in a more subtle, DIY direction. For the past few years, Anthony Herrera has designed and released templates for anyone to make his or her own amazing and elaborate Star Wars-themed snowflakes. Anyone, that is, with nimble fingers and an affinity for precision cutting—it’s ludicrously hard to cut out some of the details. Or, you could wrap yourself in a blanket, drink a hot toddy (or some brandy from the cask carried by Koons’ pig) and guide your X-Acto knife with the Force.
Snowflakes smell great on the outside and the inside!