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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Studio Visit: Terrance DePietro and Nicole Lemelin

A view of the studio shared by Terrance DePietro and Nicole Lemelin
photo by TDP
A unique pleasure comes from visiting artists in their studios, as it is a privilege to step inside the process of a creative mind and get below the surface of the work itself. So, a few weeks ago, I took advantage of an opportunity to hang out with Terrance DePietro and Nicole Lemelin (and a few other guests) at their shared work/live space in rural Palenville, N.Y., and it proved to be time very well spent.

DePietro: Intuitions Rising from the Crevice of The Clove
oil on canvas
DePietro and Lemelin joined forces a few years ago, while he was long established in Palenville and she was still living in her native Montreal, and they now have integrated their lives and art practice in a surprisingly seamless way. I had seen very little of either artist’s work before this foray to the Catskills, so I spent hours just taking it all in, punctuated by interludes of conversation and Niki and Terry’s kind hospitality.

Lemelin: In Luna's Womb - oil on canvas
These two mid-life painters share sensibilities so close that at first I had a little trouble telling their work apart (and that includes the vast majority of the work that was created before they even knew each other). But there are discernible differences (of course), even though the two are consistently driving at the same ideas. And, by “driving,” I mean working in a very directed and persistent manner.

DePietro: A Leap of Faith - linocut
I’m sorry to say it’s often easy to take art for granted – we are blessed with so many talented artists in our midst today that there isn’t enough space to show them all or time to see them all. Yet a studio visit will typically reveal a level of commitment that would rival that of any Fortune 500 CEO – with none of the rewards, by the way. It’s always impressive to me.

Lemelin: Presage of Transformation - watercolor and ink
DePietro and Lemelin exemplify this single-minded pursuit as well as anyone I have seen. The fact that, in their case, the pursuit has now become double-minded just adds to the potency of the message. And that message is – what? I see a bright thread of humanism and spirituality in everything the two of them produce, whether it is representational, purely abstract, surrealistic or expressionistic.

DePietro: Pristine Happiness of the Static Action of Art
digital monoprint
Some would quibble about a lack of consistency among these various modes – and here it is compounded by past and current involvement in many media by both artists, especially DePietro, who seems to do it all: Painting, photography, drawing, printmaking, digital. Lemelin also paints, draws, makes prints – and adds sculpture to the mix.

Lemelin: Bluemajic - oil on canvas
But there remains a clear vision within this vast, diverse output. And all the more clear because it is remarkably shared by two individuals. DePietro and Lemelin are visionaries who revel in their experience of humanity and nature. They delve, they experiment, they cull and refine. They work. The results are complex, not easily digested in a quick scan, and not easily explained. I see historical references, geology, dreams and nightmares here. I see joy and despair. I see struggle and triumph and the imperceptible march of time. I see nature reflected and refracted.

It’s powerful stuff – I’ll be going back.

DePietro: Above On and Below - photograph

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Summer shows to see

Venus with an Organist and Cupid by Titan is on view at the Clark this summer.
Summer has arrived and it's usual for a spate of blockbuster shows to open at our region's major museums. But, alas, this year is a disappointment - there's no Van Gogh and Nature (which smashed box-office records at the Clark Art Institute last year); there's no Modern Nature: Georgia O'Keeffe and Lake George (which put The Hyde Collection - and Glens Falls - at the center of the art world's focus in 2013); and there's no Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera (which exemplifies the drawing and staying power of a well-formed exhibition, as it went on tour from Stockbridge's Norman Rockwell Museum in the summer of 2010 and, since then, has generated over 12,000 page views on my review of it here).

The closest thing we have this year to a summer blockbuster is the Clark's Splendor, Myth, and Vision: Nudes from the Prado (which opened on June 11). However, in our age of ubiquitous Internet pornography, it is almost quaint in its outdated immorality, and rather uninspiring compared to the usual star-studded summer fare offered by Williamstown's queen of art museums.

Instead, we seem to have a season of prints: The Hyde is presenting Dürer and Rembrandt: Master Prints from the Collection of Dr. Dorrance Kelly (set to open on July 10) and the Fenimore Museum in Cooperstown has Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in Bohemian Paris (which opened on May 28), featuring posters, prints and drawings - but no paintings.

We also have a summer of outstanding contemporary art, in venues as diverse as the Albany International Airport; The School in Kinderhook; libraries in Albany and at Union College; small galleries in Lake George, Hudson, and Schuylerville; and the vast MASS MoCA in North Adams, where conservative skeptics are won over every day by consistently excellent selection and installation of today's most challenging living artists.

Here are my recommendations for summer viewing, in approximate descending order of scale:
  1. Explode Every Day: An Inquiry into the Phenomena of Wonder, MASS MoCA through April, 2017. I could recommend this show on the basis of the title alone - but it includes a grand swath of international artists, at least one of whom I know I love, so there's reason to believe it delivers on the promise. And there are nine (count 'em) other current exhibitions there as well. Just plain go.
  2. Dürer and Rembrandt: Master Prints from the Collection of Dr. Dorrance Kelly, The Hyde Collection through October. When it comes to classical European printmaking, Dürer and Rembrandt are widely considered to be the best in history, and this collection is described as "one of the most distinguished private collections of prints" in the US. Should be a terrific show.
  3. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in Bohemian Paris, Fenimore Museum through Sept. 5. Lautrec was known for his color lithographic posters advertising Parisian entertainments, and these will be the centerpiece of the show. This summer the Fenimore also features exhibitions of early Ansel Adams photographs (from when he made the prints himself) and a traveling show of Whistler lithographs from the Speed Art Museum - so this is the perfect combination destination with the Hyde for lovers of works on paper.
  4. Splendor, Myth, and Vision: Nudes from the Prado, Clark Art Institute through Oct. 10. Williamstown is a heckuva lot closer than Madrid, so why not check out these 28 master paintings? Please forgive my lack of enthusiasm for what could turn out to be the best show of the summer. And let me know how you liked it!
  5. Staying Power, Albany International Airport Gallery through Jan 2. After 17 years, founding director Sharon Bates is retiring from the Arts and Culture Program at the airport, and this brilliant show is her swan song. More than a commentary on time's passage and the agelessness of the creative process, it is a gathering of eleven of the region's most vital artists of any age. Remember - you don't need to pass security to see it, and parking is free with validation from the gallery or gift shop.
  6. Change of Place: Four Solo Exhibitions, The School in Kinderhook though the summer. New York City gallerist Jack Shainman opened his upstate showcase two years ago and I must admit I haven't been there yet (being open only on Saturdays makes it a challenge). But this space has earned raves from all over and the current set of solos by Pierre Dorion, Hayv Kahraman, Richard Mosse, and Garnett Puetta is a strong incentive to get there now.
  7. Fence Select and Ray Felix, The Arts Center of the Capital Region, Troy, July 16 through Aug. 27. An annual favorite, plus a solo show by last year's top prize winner. On a sad note, Felix's Fulton Street Gallery in Troy has just closed, ending a long but worthwhile struggle to maintain a membership gallery that featured many good shows over the years and was a co-sponsor of the Photography Regional. It will be missed.
  8. Too Many Words, Albany Public Library Pine Hills Branch through Oct. 2. Six artists are organized by able curator Jess Cone into a quirky but also elegant exhibition space that brings art to the library-going public. These shows are always good, and the open hours are extensive, so access is easy.
  9. Woodcuts and Sculptures, The Laffer Gallery, Schuylerville, through July 10. Two of the region's best artists (Allen Grindle and Mary Pat Wager) in a strong pairing at one of the few local commercial venues that has survived showing contemporary fine art.
  10. Corwin Lewi and Barbara Price, Lake George Arts Project July 9 through Aug. 12. Consistently (along with Albany Center Gallery) one of the two best small nonprofit exhibition spaces in the region. These two artists produce subtle, delicate drawings connected to life's passing moments.
Add note: Through June 30, an exhibition titled Give 'Em Hell by street artist Scout/Pines is on view at Time & Space Limited in Hudson. Other Hudson galleries always worth visiting include BCB Art, John Davis Gallery , Davis Orton Gallery, and Carrie Haddad Gallery. Enjoy your summer!

A painting by Scout/Pines at TSL in Hudson through June 30.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Horror in Orlando

Deeply saddened and disturbed by the heinous attack in Orlando this weekend that left so many people dead and wounded. My heartfelt sympathy and support go out to the victims and survivors, their families and friends, and everyone else touched by this senseless tragedy.

The arts would barely exist without the cultural and creative contributions of non-conforming people, whether LGBT or just differently thinking. The America we know to be great is a place of tolerance and diversity, not a place of hatred. Tolerance and openness are the backbone of artistic expression, and it is the soul of America to respect and protect freedom of expression. This is our highest priority as a nation, as a people, and as a world leader for more than two centuries.

May we find a way out of the dilemma that places the right to purchase firearms higher than the right to a reasonably safe and secure pursuit of happiness. May all victims of gun violence rest in peace.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Borrowed Light at the Tang Museum

Installation view of Borrowed Light: Selections from the Jack Shear Collection
photograph by Arthur Evans
The future looks pretty frightening at the moment, and personal legacies may seem like a shallow concern - but Jack Shear's personal collection of photographs, a huge selection of which is on view at the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs through Aug. 14, is an absolutely dazzling legacy.

Edward Weston - Point Lobos, Calif. 1939
Shear, who is the executive director of the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation, is also a photographer in his own right and has experience as a curator (this selection was co-curated by Shear and Tang Director Ian Berry). But this more-than-500-piece collection, donated in its entirety to the Tang last year, is what he will be remembered for, and with good reason.

Beginning in the 1840s with a vitrine full of Daguerreotypes, and continuing through the early 2000s, this compendium of the history of Western photography is a treasure trove that belongs at a teaching museum, where Berry and Shear contrived to place it at the fingertips of students, curators and scholars for the years to come. For now, we get to be those scholars, exploring about half the collection where it is gorgeously arrayed through the Tang's entire second floor galleries, in pristine rows and heady constellations of cleanly framed prints.

Andre Kertesz - Satiric Dancer 1926
An 18-page printed guide provides essential information, including a concise introduction, a glossary of technical terms (around a dozen different photographic processes are represented), and diagrams to help the visitor sort out what they are looking at. The gallery-hung pictures are numbered to correspond with lists in the guide, while those presented salon-style must be identified via the guide's charts; the decision to forgo wall labels was the right one, as they would have been too distracting among the more than 200 objects on display.

Aaron Siskind - Chicago 42 1952
This absence of text provided me with the opportunity to have a little adventure on my first walk through the show, as I tried to name as many of the photographers as I could from memory or guesswork, and I recommend that approach to anyone familiar enough with the medium to give it a go. My score wasn't spectacular - I got a few wrong and missed a few easy ones, not to mention simply not knowing a whole bunch - but it was a lot of fun. Shear has assembled a somewhat thematic tour of the greats, including many singular images we all know (e.g. Andre Kertesz's Satiric Dancer and Roger Fenton's Valley of the Shadow of Death), but the lesser known artists and images are almost equally fascinating and they add a welcome freshness to the selection.

Lewis Hine -  A Young German
Just Arrived at Ellis Island
The show introduces itself, appropriately enough, with a large portrait of Shear by Robert Mapplethorpe, who is also represented here by a very early Polaroid self-portrait that could serve as a chapter header for the large portion of the exhibition dealing with sensuality and the human body. Other artists who have worked this turf and are presented here include George Platt Lynes, Nan Goldin, Sally Mann, Jock Sturges, Frank Eugene, Duane Michals, Peter Hujar and many more.

While the sexy stuff is the heart of the show, its soul is deeper - war, child labor, and other social issues are present, as are conceptual art and abstraction. Portraiture is also a theme here (not a huge interest for me personally, but of great significance in the medium of photography) and the landscape, both urban and natural, is another theme (and of greater personal import to me).

Emmett Gowin - Edith, Newtown, Pennsylvania 1974
Within each subgroup, there are stellar examples to enjoy, by everyone from Abbott, Arbus and Avedon to Warhol, Weems and Weston (both Edward and Brett). Overall, there is a dominance of black-and-white above color and an emphasis on certain periods (the '20s and '30s, the '60s and '70s - both very rich times for innovative photography), but that makes total sense for a personal collection. What is truly remarkable is that Shear was able to maintain strong, consistent interest in so many aspects of 165 years of the medium that, even staying within his personal range of tastes, this is still a very wide view of its history.

Nan Goldin - Pawel's Back, East Hampton 1996
One must take the show as a whole, both because of its survey approach and because of its five big floor-to-ceiling groupings (one of which contains 37 individual works); but it is easy to home in on individual favorites in the gallery-hung areas, and these contain a fabulous selection to choose from. For me, who grew up as a photographer in the '70s, it was candy-shop time - all my idols are on view, and I could never choose among them. All the more impressive, when I think that Shear not only had to choose, he had to pay for each choice with actual dollars, and decide each time just how to distribute those (presumably) limited funds.

Nice job, Jack. And, one more thing: Thanks for sharing.

Installation view of Borrowed Light  Note: the middle section has now been rehung with a different selection by Skidmore art history students researching the collection.
Photograph by Arthur Evans

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

On passing

Cars pass. Time passes. We pass cards and balls, we pass up opportunities, and sometimes we pass out.
But, when the end comes - we don't pass. We die.

The old euphemism was "pass on" or "pass away," and I'm still OK with those. At least they are grammatical and don't evoke flatulence ("He passed." He passed what?).

A recent article in the Daily Gazette discussed with great sensitivity a mother's loss of her little girl, and her 10-year run since then of regularly publishing touching poems and messages to the deceased child in that newspaper's memorials section.

The article (you can read it here) struck me, as it never used the words "died" or "death" ... except in one instance - when the girl, Lindsay Plant, was quoted by her Mom as having said she wasn't afraid to die.
Not afraid to call dying by its name, either.

Wise girl. May she rest in peace.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Christo and Jeanne-Claude at The Hyde

1976's Running Fence introduced the world to a new kind of environmental artist.
Heads-up! A traveling exhibition titled Christo and Jeanne-Claude: The Tom Golden Collection opens today at The Hyde Collection and will run just six weeks, through June 26 - so I recommend you put it on your calendar now.

This event creates many associations for me, most delightfully bringing up the memory of renovations many years ago at the Hyde house that caused it to be fully wrapped in plastic for months on end. I wonder if Hyde administrators remember thinking then, as I did, that it looked just like a Christo project.

It's also always a treat to see work by this curious duo who helped transform our conception of art from insisting on a housed display into a reluctant embrace of environmental installation on a scale beyond most of our imaginations. The fact that they could even conceive of building a curtain across a valley, or skirting eleven islands with pink polypropylene - much less actually doing it - is a testament to human ingenuity and persistence.

Married partners Christo (still alive) and Jeanne-Claude (died in 2009) took seriously the implications of their simultaneous births on June 13, 1935 on two different continents; I share that birthday as well (and add a third continent, though in a different year), so maybe I'm not objective - but I reasonably expect to love this show. Hope you do, too.

Installation view of The Gates,Central Park, New York City 2005
photo by Wolfgang Voltz

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Recommended: MHR Invitational at ACG

Four very diverse artists are in this year's Mohawk Hudson Regional Invitational at ACG 
One of the best shows each year at Albany Center Gallery is the annual invitational drawn from the Mohawk Hudson Regional. It's a cool idea we don't see often enough: Gallery representatives visit the big juried show and make notes on whose work they'd like to see more of, then ACG organizes an exhibition of those select picks.

This year's MHRI at ACG includes four very diverse artists in terms of medium, style - even age - and that's a good thing. As I am one of the gallery's board members and the chair of the exhibits committee, I was involved in the selection process - so this won't be a review. Instead, I will simply recommend the show and suggest you include it in your 1st Friday plans on May 6, when the artists' reception will be held from 5 pm to 8 pm.

The four included artists are Fern Apfel, Jess Ayotte, Roger Bisbing and Thomas Huber.  Apfel makes works on paper that build geometrically abstract designs from black-and-white words and painted colors. Ayotte is a young photographer working in traditional silver-based media. Bisbing has long standing locally as a maker of meticulously crafted dioramas. And Huber creates free-flowing visual diaries of mixed media.

Their outstanding bodies of work will hang intermingled in this installation; though each pursues a distinct path to image making, the gallery's director, Tony Iadicicco, envisions the show as an integrated whole. The 2016 Mohawk Hudson Regional Invitational opens Friday, May 6, and will run through June 12. Go and enjoy!