Get Visual is the proud recipient of a grant from The Christos N. Apostle Charitable Trust

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Studio Visit: David Arsenault

Center of Attention - Oil on canvas by David Arsenault
His work has been compared to that of Edward Hopper. He was voted "Best Visual Artist" by the readers of Metroland in 2002. And as a past president and Oakroom Artists stalwart for many years, he has shown a lot in Schenectady and just about everywhere else a painter can in the Capital Region. But David Arsenault has moved on - to Rockport, Mass. - and he's not looking back.

Swaying in Time - oil on canvas
I recently caught up with Arsenault in his newly opened gallery in Rockport, a sweet seacoast town on Cape Ann with beautiful harbors, rocky sea walls, inviting cafes, many galleries, and a long history of resident painters. He moved there only last fall, but has already immersed himself in the cultural scene and staked his claim to the town's iconic "Motif #1," a satisfyingly geometric red fishing shack (seen in the painting reproduced above).

Arsenault was pushed to this decision by a helpful interruption to a long career in publishing (he was trained at Sage College of Albany as a graphic designer), and pulled by an equally helpful wife who has often relocated and was ready to do it again. They landed well, renting a nifty wooden house in town and the crisp space that houses the gallery (seen in this photo), where Arsenault has a well-lit painting loft and lots of nice walls to display his finished work, situated a stone's throw from the Motif on a charming, touristy stretch called Bearskin Neck.

Going Topless - oil on canvas
If you've seen his work in the past, you know Arsenault has one chief concern: Light. Unlike many painters who cherish this element, he used to paint night scenes often (an old favorite you may recall features the multicolored glow of the Malta Drive-In), and he also frequently addresses the matter of sunlight as it enters domestic interiors (as did his idol, Hopper). But the current work I saw on this visit is all about the light in the sky, over the water, and on the land of Cape Ann.

Cape Ann Rocks - oil on canvas
This is not a new subject for Arsenault - he spent a lot of time over the last decade or so painting in Cape Cod, where he also often showed - and he began visiting Cape Ann in 2013. But the full-time immersion is new, and the setting of Rockport, as rugged as the name implies and constantly windy, is a prime jumping-off point for this new life. The fact that Arsenault and his wife, Sue, an independent interfaith minister, set off to make their way there just as winter approached (and what a winter it turned out to be!) speaks to the boldness of the act, and goes a long way to explain how quickly these two have been embraced by the local community.

Rock Star - oil on canvas
But, now that the gallery is officially open (as of April 11) and the tourist season has begun, it's time to see if the decision will work financially. So far, Arsenault is off to a good start, having already sold a few originals and several reproductions (he has long marketed his work at several price points to reach a broader market). One concern is that Rockport tends to be popular this time of year with Europeans - but the euro is down sharply against the dollar; another is that surviving as an artist depends an awful lot on luck.

In the meantime, though, Arsenault is in a great spot - he can just keep painting every day until the next sale walks through the door. And, judging from what I saw on this visit, I'd say it's going to work out just fine. To see more of David Arsenault's art, he recommends you go to his gallery's Facebook page (The Art of David Arsenault). Another option is his website. Or you could just jump in the car and go check it out amid the other wonders of Rockport.

Good Harbor Spring - oil on canvas by David Arsenault

Monday, May 4, 2015

Click! and Making Their Mark at The Hyde Collection

Jeannette Klute American (1918-2009) Trillium, ca. 1950
Dye transfer print, 14 1/4 x 18 3/8 in.
All photos shown with this post: The Hyde Collection, Glens Falls, NY
Gift of George Stephanopoulos and Family, 2013
In a time of transition for The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, two small shows drawn from the museum's permanent collection are on display. The more significant of the two was curated by outgoing Director Charles Allan Guerin, who will be replaced in July by former Hyde curator Erin Coe. Titled Click!: Selections from the George Stephanopoulos Collection, the Hoopes Gallery display features 31 photographs chosen from among more than 120 that were recently donated to the Hyde by the political and media pundit. It hangs through May 31.

Having heard the news about this important addition to the collection, I was eager to have a look - and I'll admit I was a bit disappointed not to be seeing the whole trove. Guerin culled the larger group down to the work of 12 artists (pointedly describing them as such in the show's written material), with a nice range of styles, methods and time frame, creating a mini-lesson in the history of the medium of photography. A few of those included are widely regarded as significant, and none of the work is second rate, but some is rather little known, a treat for a crusty old curmudgeon like me who thinks he has already seen all the worthwhile pictures of the 20th century.

Mario Finocchiaro - Man Standing beside His Fiat 1000,
ca. 1970s, gelatin silver print, 11 3/4 x 8 1/2 in.
Among the household names are Larry Fink, represented here by four prints from his 1980s series on working-class people at home in Pennsylvania; Joel Meyerowitz, with four small color gems from his Bay and Sky series of Cape Cod pictures; and Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose two prints from the 1960s are more like news photographs than most of his best art. Surprises include an Italian photo-club member from Milan named Mario Finocchiaro (example shown at right); Jeannette Klute (the only woman in the show), who had a career at Eastman Kodak developing the dye-transfer printing process (image shown at the top of this post); and William E. Dassonville, a recently rediscovered practitioner from the early days of West Coast photography.

The majority of the pictures have social or political overtones, not surprising considering their source. Some of these are wonderfully witty, incisive, or even mysterious, such as Leon Levenstein's two undated pictures of people seen from behind, and Leonard Freed's four documents from diverse locales, including Sicily (the shot features a large tuna) and London (depicting British women of Indian descent). There are two images of Dwight D. Eisenhower, one by Cartier-Bresson (who was French), the other by the Canadian portraitist Yousuf Karsh.

Karl Struss American (1886-1981)
Bridge and Train Signal, Pittsburgh, ca. 1912
Gelatin silver print, printed ca. 1980, 3 3/4 x 4 3/4 in.
One of my favorites in this selection is a small, very Modernist print made from a 1912 Karl Struss negative (shown at left), which stands in stark contrast to a 1910 Struss image that is pure Pictorialism - what a difference a couple of years made! Also outstanding are two 8-inch-by-20-inch black-and-white contact prints by Michael A. Smith; one is of a lifeless corporate building in Princeton, N.J., the other of a sunny vineyard in Tuscany.

Only 13 works of art are included in the Rotunda exhibition titled Making Their Mark, but as the title suggest, they have an impact. Again drawn from the museum's permanent collection, these works on paper are by names major, minor, and in-between. Examples of the known include Wassily Kandinsky, Dorothy Dehner, and Robert Motherwell. Also included are two fine drawings by local artists Sandra Miller and Dorothy Englander, which were purchased by the Hyde back in the days of the Adirondack Regional exhibitions (full disclosure: Englander and I share a studio).

All the work in this show is abstract or nearly so. One curiosity is a very graphic representation of figures (so stylized they look more like mechanical drawing tools than people) titled "The Specious Solemnity of Gossip," made by Attilio Salemme in 1943. There's also a vibrantly colorful composition made by Ludwig Stein in 1985 titled "Time Trap" - somewhat ominous if you note his death date is 2015.

Perhaps the strongest piece in the show is a drawing by Gregory Amenoff (pictured below) - I would say that work alone is worth the trip. Making Their Mark will hang through June 21. The Hyde is also hosting the 24th Annual Regional Juried High School Exhibition through May 31 in the Wood Gallery.

Gregory Amenoff - Pink Sweet (Suite) #1, 1979 Gouache and pastel, 13 x 15 inches
Gift to The Murray Collection in memory of Terry A. Murray

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Jim Shaw: Entertaining Doubts at MASS MoCA

Jim Shaw - The Rinse Cycle 2012 acrylic on muslin
Have you ever tried to describe a crazy dream you had, or tried to follow someone describing such a dream? Then you will have some idea what it's like to experience the large exhibition Entertaining Doubts by California artist Jim Shaw at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams. Shaw draws a great deal from his dreams, and attempts to manifest them physically through sculpture, painting, and installation.

Alas, it is not an entirely successful effort, just as none of us has ever really adequately articulated our own dream or understood another's, but a lot of compelling and enjoyable art is created along the way, so it's also not a failure. Shaw has great skills in drawing and painting, and a good understanding of the theatrics that go into effective installations, and MASS MoCA gives him plenty of space to spread out in.

Jim Shaw - Frank Frazetta Figure 2013 - installation view
A signature of the show is Shaw's re-use of discarded painted theatrical backdrops. The worn texture of these huge curtains of muslin, and their time-softened colors, are very appealing, and Shaw makes the most of this appeal by limiting his interventions to partial overpainting or, in some cases, simple reinterpretation by the placement of flat figures in front. Shaw also takes smaller cuts of the backdrops and paints on them like stretched canvases. These are some of the best works in the show, perhaps because it is easier to digest them, or because smaller works can concentrate the idea better. (Mind you, in this context, small is relative: say, six feet rather than forty.)

Jim Shaw - Blake/Boring 2010
ink on paper 
Another key feature of Shaw's work is his impressive mastery of comic-book style inking, which he applies to various obsessions. Clearly, he is a child of the '50s and '60s, and is completely, unabashedly in love with Superman, whose image is captured, transformed, fractured and fragmented in many ways here.

Sources as disparate as William Blake and Walt Disney are blended into the Superman myth as processed by Shaw, connecting the visionary's Songs of Innocence and Experience to the Seven Dwarves and then linking it to Kryptonite.

Jim Shaw - Fire Female 2012
faux hair wigs with airbrush
Again, I think these elements come across best when simplified, as when Shaw groups giant cutout drawings of Superman's body parts into a wall-mounted installation, or in another installation where the black-ink area of the superhero's costume shorts turns out to be a portal into a plastic dreamworld of glowing colored crystals (shown below).

Shaw also shines in book-page-scale drawings of vortices, swirls of hair, and others of his many obsessions (architecture, the human body, American Indians, snakes, and Wagner's Ring series among them).

Shaw's sculptural forays include architectural dioramas, amusing surrealistic furniture designs (such as a nose-shaped wall sconce), and bizarre wigs, which also appear in a series of paintings made over inkjet prints, rather than discarded muslin. These paintings extend Shaw's technique of altering given imagery and introduce a self-conscious reference to art history in the form of a white rectangle cut out of the colorful image, then replaced outside it as a gray-toned expressionist swirl.

Meaning what? As with the dreams, I couldn't quite get inside Shaw's head to understand the point. But I'm grateful that it's such an active place, and that an artist of Shaw's ability makes the effort to take us there. Entertaining Doubts continues through February 2016.
Jim Shaw - The Issue of My Loins 2015 (installation detail)

In addition to Jim Shaw, MASS MoCA is currently featuring several other exhibitions. Two that are particularly worthy of note:

Eclipse is a remarkable, immersive video installation by Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris in collaboration with the ecological writer Elizabeth Kolbert that commemorates the passenger pigeon on the 100th anniversary of its extinction (image at left).

Not only a powerfully moving experience of what the incredibly numerous birds were once able to do (i.e. blot out the sky), Eclipse is a brilliant example of digital technology put to an innovative purpose as art. It also offers a beautifully produced oversized publication free to visitors. Eclipse is a must-see; it continues through Sept. 1.

Bibliotecaphilia is a group show curated by Allie Foradas with support from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute that brings together six very diverse artists around the theme of books.

It includes a complex interactive installation by Jonathan Gitelson that invites visitors to spend time with a great variety of books annotated by their former owners; Dan Peterman's wonderful sculpture titled The Polymer Catalog - one ton archive, which looks like massive stacks of books but is just slices of colorful recycled plastic boards; Meg Hitchcock's painstaking and beautifully transcendent collages made of individual letters cut from holy books; and a large-scale carved wooden screen by Susan Hefuna.

Also included in Bibliotecaphilia are Jean Prebe's site-specific sculpture titled The Secret Lives of Books (pictured below), and an adults-only series of nine videos by Clayton Cubitt titled Hysterical Literature, in each of which a woman sits at a table and reads aloud from a book of her choosing until she has an orgasm (you don't see what's going on below the table, but it apparently involves a skillfully wielded vibrator).

Bibliotecaphilia continues through the end of 2015.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Nicholas Krushenick at the Tang

Installation view featuring the painting titled Electric Soup at left
photo by Arthur Evans
It was 1979: Punk rock was at its peak, rents in SoHo were still cheap, and Nick Krushenick was nearly a forgotten man. My college painting class was on a field trip to New York City, where a visit to Krushenick's studio had been arranged. The artist showed little enthusiasm, reluctantly pulling a few paintings from a leaning stack, far less interested in talking about his work than he was in bragging about his son's band, which had just cut their first record.

Nicholas Krushenick - Battery Park, acrylic on canvas
Flash forward to 2015, and the late Krushenick is now the subject of a solo show at Skidmore College's Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, such a rarity that the 20 major pieces it has brought together represent the biggest collection of his work ever seen publicly. Nicholas Krushenick: Electric Soup, on view through Aug. 16, is a brash, bold exhibition that spans over 30 years of output with pristine, large-scale acrylics that appear so fresh they just about jump right off the wall.

Krushenick is considered a pioneer of Pop abstraction, but is not easy to label: Wall text at the show explains that he "developed a distinct style that straddled the lines between Op, Pop, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and Color Field." Krushenick himself is then quoted as saying, "They don't really know where to place me, like I'm out in left field all by myself. And that's just where I want to stay." Rightly so, as that's exactly where a truly original painter belongs. Krushenick's work, being mostly hard-edged and flatly painted, would be easy to copy yet still appears innovative and unique.

Quick Red Fox, acrylic on canvas
But Krushenick didn't work in a vacuum - he took direct influence from Matisse's cutouts, making paper collages himself as he experimented with style, then picked up the habit of outlining every color in black (check out some Matisse paintings and you'll see a similar technique employed there - it makes the colors look purer, richer, and brighter). Krushenick also severely restricted his palette (as represented here), using only black, white, the three primaries, and the three secondaries (and, of those, mainly orange).

Though square and angular geometry is prevalent, Krushenick also used softer forms, curves, flowing lines, and shaped canvases. Four of the earlier pieces in the show, from about 1962-3, are painted freehand, so the black outlines are irregular, and they have a lot of painterly texture below the surface, a touch that disappeared in all the later works. The four also share an element of woven forms that do not reappear in the later work, except as flat grids. Among these is Quick Red Fox, the Tang's signature image for the show, and one that also uniquely features the color silver (shown above at left).

CBGB  acrylic on canvas
The latest piece included, which is among the few horizontals here and much smaller than the rest of the work, is 1994's CBGB. The title presumably refers to the legendary music venue in New York (where I'm guessing the younger Krushenick may have performed) and the painting presents a distinct proscenium. Indeed, a number of these works suggest curtained openings, and at least one, Battery Park, is notably vaginal or sphincter-like in its forms. Others suggest flower petals, clouds - or word balloons - and the type of splots you'd see in a Batman comic. These call to mind another painter of the same era, Peter Max, whose style was famously used in the animated Beatles movie Yellow Submarine. So I'd say the Pop label really does fit Krushenick best.

In the end, I found the work speaks with a clear voice across more than 50 years of densely packed history, and was a real pleasure just to hang out with. But you can still take this art seriously - I'd argue that one painting in the show, 1993's Space Map, is influenced by both Willem DeKooning's and Wassily Kandinsky's later works - and if you do take art seriously, or just want to enjoy a fun show, then don't miss this one - it passes both tests with flying colors.

Jeffrey Elgin -Thus Passed Some Days, mixed media on paper
Another show of paintings at Skidmore that should not be missed is a 20-year retrospective by Professor Emeritus Jeffrey Elgin, presented in the art department's Schick Art Gallery.

Elgin's earlier work evokes Cubism in both its rigorous fragmentation of shapes and its dark palette - but as the years go by, he lightens up, resulting in more penetrable and joyous work. I was amazed by Elgin's ability to invent new forms constantly, and to avoid the pitfalls of representational associations - though, when he does appear to have a "subject," such as a window view or a row of common objects, it still works. I liked the show so much, I bought a painting.

Jeffrey Elgin - Thus Passed Some Days: Twenty Years upon an Overgrown Path is accompanied by a nicely produced 20-page catalog, which is available free in the gallery; also, there will be an artist's talk there at 4 p.m. on Thursday, April 9. Please take note, the show ends on April 26.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

37th Annual Photography Regional

Beau Comeaux - Rubble
The 37th Annual Photography Regional is both a glimpse of the past and a window on the future. Hosted this year by The Sage Colleges' Opalka Gallery, the Photo Regional's present iteration is a truly fresh experience that also speaks clearly to the show's long and influential history.

Steven Fink - SX-70 iPhone, 2014
Featuring 80 works by 39 artists, the show was ably and amiably judged by the collaborating duo Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, who filled the capacious gallery with a broad sampling of styles, often choosing three or more pieces by individual makers, which gives the show a welcome depth often missing from such juried affairs. Prizes, chosen by the ParkeHarrisons, went to nine recipients, including two prizes given to student work, a first for the Regional in my memory.

Overall, I got some very strong impressions of where art photography is at in 2015, and I liked what I saw: A lot of black-and-white work (whether digital or traditional); a good amount of strong color abstraction; a great deal of personal documentary; and some experimental/technical stuff - but very little of what I would call "postmodern," especially of the often annoying "created to be photographed" genre.

Erin Shipley - Yielding Defects #3, 2013
In other words, if this is the photography of the future, then the future is having a healthy reconsideration of the deeply felt and, to me, quite righteous photographic concerns of the past. The fact that 11 of the 39 included photographers are students (blindly chosen) is particularly encouraging - actually, some of the best work in the show is by students, and that includes both old-fashioned and progressive styles of work. There are also appearances from some of the Regional's earliest regulars (i.e. folks who showed in the Regional as far back as the late '70s) and, in another possible first, a father and his son (Steven and Jeremy Fink) are both included.

Larry White - Mantle, 2014
And, speaking of Steven Fink, I was surprised that his five large, boldly vibrant color prints, which introduce the installation with a happy shout, did not get even an honorable mention; though I have no quibble with the jurors' prize picks on the whole, I just don't get how you can like it enough to give it that much space, but not better than some other work that was otherwise rather modestly featured. Bold color also makes an appearance in the form of a terrific one-liner from the ironically surnamed Larry White, in which a wild painting above a mantle announces itself with a tiny but sharply visible signature.

Brian Williams - Pieces of 2, 2014
Also appealing are a handful of collaged, montaged, or digitally painted pieces by Liv Zabka, Treha Myth Downey, Brian Williams, and George Guarino. All make great use of a few of the zillions of possibilities that digital photography offers, without overdoing it. Beau Comeaux, a Sage photo professor, also uses the new technology, but he makes moody, timeless, almost spooky images with the big color printer, and they are toned down rather than pumped up, color-wise.

Jess Ayotte - Lucid Dream
But it's the more traditional work that steals this show - whether monochromatic, subtly colored or, as in several cases, using both color and black and white in the same presentation, these works delve into the personal stories and histories that make up so much of the great photography of the past. None is more effective than top prize winner Daesha Devon Harris, who pairs very fine square-format color portraits with small, grainy black-and-white transparencies of the same people seen in earlier times, then adds poetically evocative titles. Her works succeed by making the personal universal, in this case projecting black history onto the black individuals she lovingly portrays.

Also outstanding are three creepy Joel-Peter Witkin homages by Jess Ayotte in delicious black inkjet on paper, and Matthew Klein's lush prints that evoke the great Chicago street photography of Harry Callahan - or that of William Klein (a relative perhaps?), both working in the '50s and '60s. I'm not on a nostalgia trip, but I love seeing this excellent work from so many photographers who may very well be dreaming of the past, or at least look as though they do.

Matthew Klein - Oh Darling, 2013

Friday, March 13, 2015

Adirondack Artists’ Guild's 17th Annual Juried Art Competition

BEST IN SHOW: Elaine Vollherbst - Highway 28N Long Lake
Last weekend I had the privilege of driving up to Saranac Lake to judge the Adirondack Artists’ Guild’s 17th Annual Juried Art Competition. When I arrived, the Guild’s gallery - a pleasant, functional storefront on Main Street - was crammed with 185 entries in all media. My job was to trim these submissions to about 75 for the show, and to choose prizes to be awarded at the show’s opening reception: Best in Show (which carries with it the opportunity to have a solo exhibition at the gallery in November); 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prizes; and five Honorable Mentions. Needless to say, it was a daunting task.

A view of the AAG gallery
Here’s a first-person account:
Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the quantity (and overall quality) of the entries, I first sought to get my bearings. My hosts were three members of the Guild, a cooperative business whose 15 or so joint owners share the effort, expense, and rewards of such an enterprise, and they were graciously helpful throughout the process. They remained quietly alert as I worked my way around the room two or three times, occasionally answering questions I had as to certain relevant details. At this point, I had not yet begun to cut.

FIRST PRIZE: Shawn Halpern - Blue Cedar Vessel
The entrants were limited to three pieces each (maximum), and in many cases it was easy to tell which two or three belonged to the same artist – but not always. It also wasn’t always easy to tell the medium (and, I am embarrassed to admit, one pair of photographs had me fooled to the very end, when I was told they were not, in fact, amazingly detailed paintings). So my helpers provided clarification where needed.

The show drew a great variety of media, including most craft media (such as clay, glass, fiber and wood), jewelry, sculpture, mixed-media constructions, and two-dimensional paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs. I decided I must aim to maintain the diversity of the submissions in my final selections, as this was clearly the spirit of the show, and I delighted in keeping an open mind as to the intention of the artists.

SECOND PRIZE: Susan Hoffer - Connecting to the Protest
While I made judgments based on my own ideas about quality in art (including technical skill) and allowed my personal biases (or taste, if you will) to influence some decisions, I also tried to be receptive to the various styles and concepts that would motivate the artists. Slowly, I began to clarify which work was surely in and some that was surely out. Post-It notes helped streamline this process, and the helpers began to carry the work that I eliminated out of the room.

HM: Richard Nowicki - Lake Placid Outlet
I’m comfortable with all art media and have curated or written about all media for many years, so that was not an issue for me. However, one issue that did arise is that the Adirondacks region is very different from a city (even a small city like Albany, where I live), so I was confronted with a lot of unfamiliar rural and wilderness subject matter, including a good number of paintings, photos, and other media that depicted wildlife. To me this is a subgenre of art with its own set of rules – rules I may not be privy to – but I tried to give it the best consideration I could. After about an hour, I had picked about 40 things I knew I wanted to stay, and had cut an equal amount, leaving maybe 100 others in limbo.

HM: Lynn Taylor - Lake Lilies
Many artists entering a show like this take up certain strategies. For example, some may try to second-guess the juror and submit work that is calculated to appeal to that juror’s taste. Others will try a variety of styles or subjects to increase the chance of hitting something that the juror likes. But these attempts to outwit the juror are tactical errors, because they often fail to represent the artist’s best work or communicate the artist’s personal vision.

HM: Anastasia Osolin - Look
When I judge a show (or write criticism), I am looking for an individual style and a commitment to a personal vision that clearly communicates who the artist is and what they are passionate about. I seek to understand the artist – in his or her own terms – and then decide how successful that effort is. At this point, it became necessary to move things around, so I could see each artist’s work grouped together (the original hanging was totally random and many artists’ pieces were separated). Now the show was beginning to take on a shape, and I could more easily include and exclude more pieces.

HM: Steve Auger - Winter barn
I was trying to find the innate strengths in the work now, more than I tried to decide what I “liked best.” There was a simple but elegant clay bowl; a starkly illustrated woodland scene of an owl with its raccoon prey; a couple of quirky cartoonish drawings in glittery frames; and lots more. Many photographs were submitted - not because I am known as a photographer - but (I was told) because there are a lot of photos submitted every year. So I chose to include many good photographs of different kinds. There wasn’t a lot of non-representational work submitted, but the best of that I opted to include (paintings and fiber art, primarily). And there were many very well executed landscape paintings, including a couple of nearly abstract ones that reminded me of John Sloan; I chose those as well.

HM: Cris Winters - Arc of the Day
Deciding the prizes was a tough challenge that gave me serious doubts, but which ended up being very satisfying. The final cuts always hurt, and some excluded work perhaps deserved to be included, but I feel very comfortable that the best work submitted to this competition is the work that has received the prizes. I think that work displayed the strengths I describe above, as well as representing great skill – whether high or low – in carrying out the artist’s personal vision. Usually, this came across via two or three pieces that worked together as a body, though there were instances of a single piece that was so well realized in itself that I had no doubt about its meaning. Most of the prize-winning work is reproduced here, so you can decide for yourself if you agree or not.

Congratulations to all the artists who submitted work, and many thanks to the AAG for asking me to be their judge this year.

The opening reception for the Adirondack Artists’ Guild’s 17th Annual Juried Art Competition is today (March 13) from 5-7 p.m., with awards to be announced at 6; the show will hang through April 12.

THIRD PRIZE: Phil Gallos - America the Beautiful #17

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art

A detail of the Ringlings' home
If you find yourself within striking distance of Sarasota, Fla., any time soon, be sure to check out the Ringling Museum. Originally built as a lavish estate by John Ringling (of circus fame and robber-baron fortune) and his wife Mable, it was then donated to the local municipality in 1936 by the childless couple. The gorgeously lavish seaside site offers changing shows of contemporary art; a significant permanent collection of both circus art and fine art; free and guided tours of the Ringlings’ jazz-age, neo-Venetian villa; parklike gardens; and more.

My friend (and Florida native) John and I went there to see two shows in particular: One was a traveling collection of cutting-edge Chinese photography and video, titled Seeing the Unseen, which we found disappointing; the other is a new Ringling-curated contemporary group show titled Re:Purposed that was outstanding.

Li Wei, Mirror
Why were we disappointed by the Chinese contemporary work? Well, disappointment hinges on expectations, and I admit mine were a bit higher for this conglomeration that featured eight artists but was so narrow in scope as to seem almost a solo show. I’ll blame the curators, not the artists, for that, but it is certain that out of the vastness of the Chinese art scene there had to be more to work with that would have captured our attention. Instead, we moved on fairly quickly, our appreciation for the contemporary Chinese art world somewhat diminished.

Re:Purposed, on the other hand, provided a delightful overall experience and featured, for me, both old friends and new discoveries. The two best-known (and oldest) artists in the mix, Nick Cave and El Anatsui, do carry the show with conceptually sound, brilliantly colorful, exquisitely crafted pieces. But they also have some fine company, especially in the case of Aurora Robson, a Canadian collage assemblist with delicate sensibilities, wry wit, and 21st-century wisdom.

Robson’s pair of works on paper with magazine cuttings and deftly drawn curlicues cleverly celebrates and subverts our ubiquitous advertising media and its unsubtle consumerist messages, while offering playful and meaningful alternatives. Another artist with a message, Alyce Santoro, presents tapestries and dresses made from woven magnetic tape (pulled out of old cassettes), working not just with the shiny material but with the vestiges of sound that they contain and which can still be pulled up by a tape head. I found this aspect of the weavings equally intriguing and creepy – visually, though, the work fell a little flat.

A Nick Cave Soundsuit
Daniel Rozin’s moving wall of fragmentary detritus is probably the most innovative piece in Re:Purposed – via computer technology and little mechanical motors, the work looks back at the viewers and makes a shadow image of the figures it sees. The interaction is a valid way of communicating that we are directly connected to the trash he’s tricked us into looking at.

Ringling curator Matthew McClendon gave a big space to Jill Sigman for a site-specific installation of a hut constructed out of stuff culled from local Sarasota trash (including some discarded Ringling signage). Colorful and unsurprisingly chaotic, the hut felt forced – too artificial to be truly engaging. Visitors showed their discomfort by hesitating to enter it (despite a clear entrance and no prohibitive warnings) until I broke the barrier and walked in. This lack of audience interaction is symptomatic of the sterile, churchlike environment that museums have cultivated, but it also speaks to an absence of excitement about the Sigman work presented here.

The other artists in the show (Matt Eskuche, Vanessa German, Emily Noelle Lambert, and Mac Premo) all are well represented by a good sampling of work that ranges from elegant glass reproductions of crushed cans to mechanical constructs. The show is augmented by a few items from the Ringling’s permanent collection, including a first-rate wall relief by Robert Rauschenberg and several Marcel Duchamp readymades.

Also on view at the Ringling is a permanent installation by James Turrell titled Joseph's Coat that is a super-flat 24-foot-square aperture in the ceiling of a courtyard, through which viewers can see the ever-changing sky above. Periodic nighttime LED shows designed by Turrell are the real event, but just to stand under the opening during the day and look up through it is a transcendent art experience well worth the effort.

Seeing the Unseen ended on Feb. 28; Re:Purposed will be on view daily through May 17.

Liu Bolin, Hiding in the City - Bird's Nest