It’s been some time since landscape photography could lay any claim to pictorial magnificence or inspirational grandeur. These days, it tends to the mundane and the idiosyncratic, annexing the outside world to the private realm and investing it with the emotional resonance of a portrait. Nan Goldin employed this strategy to astonishing effect for the wall of landscapes in her Whitney retro, and her pal David Armstrong hits a similarly warm, muted note with his new soft-focus color views (at Scalo, 560 Broadway, through April 17). Eschewing the cool conceptualism of Uta Barth and Seton Smith, who also see the world through a pointillist fog, Armstrong goes for something more romantic and dreamy; his Times Square at night is a twinkly wonderland, his suburban lawn a fuzzy green patch of memory. Like most reveries, Armstrong’s disappear when examined too closely, but they’re so freighted with yearning and remembered pleasure they stick with you anyway.
Robert Polidori’s and Todd Eberle’s landscapes from Brasilia (at Robert Miller, 41 East 57th, through April 24) come heavily freighted, too. Each photographer has evolved his own strategy for shrugging off this urban utopia’s burden of bruised optimism, but neither can entirely ignore it. While Eberle focuses on enduringly chic architectural details and carefully circumscribed vistas, imagining the city in preserved perfection, Polidori is alert to decay, improvisation, and the quotidian mess of a high-modernist ideal succumbing to the realities of postmodern life.
Tom Bamberger’s black-and-white pictures of furrowed farmland and flattened dirt (at Leslie Tonkonow, 601 West 26th Street, through May 1) have an austere, blasted beauty due, in large part, to their absence of sky. Each landscape ends at the far horizon in a faint gray mist punctuated by tiny trees or houses; above that, the sky is bleached dead white. Here, the richly detailed earth appears to float free, an eloquent swatch of soil lost in space.