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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

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The best films of 2014

Patricia Arquette and Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood
With the awards season in full swing, I'm ready to weigh in on my favorite films of the past year. 2014 was an excellent year for movies, and that shows in the truly tough-to-handicap Oscar races. Luckily, I have so far seen six of the eight Best Picture nominees, and they are all worth the time. I've missed American Sniper and Selma, but plan to see the former very soon. As for the latter, I'm just not that interested in a dramatic alteration of Civil Rights history, so I'm skipping it.

1. Boyhood - How anybody can not be completely blown away by the achievement of this 12-year project by Richard Linklater is beyond me. It's a drama about a kid growing up, in which all the actors actually age in real time through the course of the filming. More than that - it's a really great life story, beautifully performed. Patricia Arquette will win the Oscar for this one, and if Linklater doesn't, it's simply wrong.

Agata Trzebuchovska in Ida
2. Ida - Gorgeously shot in black and white, this Polish production was rightly nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. It is heartbreakingly beautiful, deep, original and refreshingly unresolved. Your local library probably has a copy you can borrow for free.

Michael Keaton in Birdman
3. Birdman - I expect this to win Best Picture, but who knows? From the opening credits, the solo improvisational drum soundtrack is just plain brilliant. The film's immersive shooting style draws you immediately into the has-been main character's desperation and never lets you go. Keaton has a shot at Best Actor, except the competition is brutal. I have one quibble with the movie, which is that I can't understand why they felt it necessary to tack on a blow-job for social media in the midst of an existential struggle. Sorry, the rest of this movie is just not so superficial as the message it pushes that you don't matter if you're not being re-tweeted, and that brought it down - unnecessarily, in my estimation.

4. The Imitation Game - This was the film that was recommended to me more than anything else this season, and it does not disappoint. Benedict Cumberbatch deserves the Oscar for  his highly nuanced portrayal of a conflicted gay autistic savant who paid as dearly for his sexual proclivities as for his OCD pursuit of a machine that can think. Keira Knightley is tolerable but not on the same level as her co-star. Daunting British accents for the hard-of-hearing; otherwise very enjoyable and extremely moving.

5. Force Majeure - A Swedish film shot in French Switzerland will never do well in the US market - however, this is exactly the sort of movie that shows what Europe does so much better than Hollywood (and apparently, always will). Force Majeure is a Hitchcockian thriller about a bad marriage that makes you very uncomfortable about life, civilization, humanity, and child-rearing without showing you anything shocking or truly negative. The actors in it are amazing. Borrow this one from the library, too.

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel - Super-quirky, especially when it goes (literally) off the rails into a sledding fantasy. Anything this original that gets an Oscar nod should stand very proud. Will not win, however.

Mark Ruffalo (center) and
Channing Tatum in Foxcatcher
7. Foxcatcher - Classic Indie film - quasi-major actors, a true story that's stranger than fiction, topics nobody thought they could be interested in (wrestling, disapproving mothers). Steve Carell's performance as nut-job billionaire John DuPont is career-making; Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo are terrific (as always). A real downer, but vividly great.

Jones and Redmayne in The Theory of Everything
8. The Theory of Everything - I'll admit, this one disappointed me, though it is still a very good movie. The problem is, it's about Stephen Hawking's first marriage - not about his work in physics. It's a romance. Which is fine, once you accept that it will not get cosmic in any real way. On the other hand, Eddie Redmayne (who is generally expected to win Best Actor) does bring the extremely fascinating younger Hawking startlingly back to life (the older Hawking is still with us), and Felicity Jones is completely irresistible as his first love, Jane.

9. Whiplash - Who knew music school could be like boot camp, only worse? I'm a huge fan of jazz drumming, but this is not the way to form a great artist. Another Indie-style film featuring terrific performances, especially by the Oscar-nominated and likely to win Best Supporting Actor J.K. Simmons as the brutal taskmaster.

10. Big Eyes - I have a bias in the case of this film, because it almost impossibly combines the three extremely disparate pursuits that are at the core of my three careers: art, newspapering, and fraud. The story of con man Walter Keane, as told by a gossip columnist nicely voiced by Danny Huston, is not shocking. Keane's fraudulent pose as the artist behind his wife's kitschy paintings is fairly well known now - but it is shocking to learn, via a tour-de-force, Oscar-nominated performance by Amy Adams, that Margaret Keane believed completely in her art as the true expression of her soul. An unexpected delight, with director Tim Burton's usual surreal flourishes.

Special Mention: The Lunchbox is a 2013 film out of Bollywood that was missing at last year's Oscars because India refused to nominate it. Still, it earned my top rating of four stars for its combination of charming romance and rare entry into the day-to-day life of working and middle-class Indians. The plot focuses around an unlikely glitch in the Six-Sigma perfection of India's system of "dabba wallas" - the largely illiterate deliverymen who transport millions of home-made lunches to office-bound workers' desks every day. The delivery error leads, naturally, to quite unexpected love. A must-see movie for anyone with a heart or an interest in everyday India.

Irrfan Khan in The Lunchbox

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Mike Glier at Opalka Gallery

December 29, 2008: Stream, Hoosick, NY, 30ºF, 2008 Oil on aluminum, 24" x 30"
The title of the current show at Sage College of Albany's Opalka Gallery - meander, because you can't see much while marching - could simply express a philosophy, but I feel it also aims to serve as a sort of explanation. This 35-year survey of Mike Glier (extended till Feb. 8) features several rather disparate bodies of work - the titular meandering - each of which displays technical mastery, intellectual rigor, and engaged passion. Glier paints, brilliantly. Glier draws, with consummate ease. Glier conceptualizes, deeply and effectively.

Satisfaction: Untitled, 1989
Charcoal on paper
12.5" x 9.25"
But there remains the sticky problem of Glier's diversity, and it can't be overlooked. We want our artists clearly recognizable - the market dictates this, and people's overworked minds and hearts demand it. How then do we view an artist who refuses to present a unified vision, who is - inconstant?

I'm not very familiar with Glier's career history, but I expect this variability - or the appearance of variability - has plagued him. I also assume he has chosen not to let the perception of others affect him very much - otherwise, why run the risk of changing tracks? In this very ambitious presentation of great swaths of his best work, Glier and curators fearlessly place portraits next to abstracts, text-splashed sticks next to landscapes, and political commentaries next to familial musings.

Garden Court: Summer, 1994
Acrylic, charcoal on canvas 120" x 90"
The overall effect is impressive, but confusing. While Glier's skill and commitment are undeniable, one must read the wall text and label details to grasp the singularity of his vision, which is more about ideas than images. In the end, his message is primarily as an environmentalist, expressed by a talented painter who is as deeply sensitive to humans and other creatures as he is to the land they inhabit, who is worried about political and economic power-mongering, and who strives to make these concerns apparent in his lushly beautiful art.

Rather than try to describe it all to you, I offer a few choice examples here (leaving out the overtly political work, which I find caricaturish) and urge you to go see for yourself what Glier does so well, and has done for all these decades.

Also, at 3 p.m. on the last day of the exhibition (Sunday, Feb. 8), the gallery will host a talk by Sage professor Steven Leibo on the effects of global warming in this region. After the talk, Glier will be on hand to answer questions about his work. That should provide a great opportunity to understand this complex artist a little better.

Shade Turf with Nine Mice, 2001
Charcoal, oil on aluminum panel  60" x 60"

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region

Jeanette Fintz - Traveler's Reflection 3, acrylic on canvas
The annual Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region, hosted this year by the Albany Institute of History & Art, raises the usual set of questions while presenting the usual confounding mash-up of regional art.

Popularly known as the Regional, this show has been running for nearly 80 years, making it one of the longest-standing exhibitions of its kind in the U.S. It's always an annual high point for fans of the local art scene, and can be either a high point or a low point for participants, depending on their success in entering, personal taste, or overall degree of crankiness. This year's edition was mounted on a later schedule than the usual summer appearance and will be up through Jan. 19, affording a nice opportunity for the procrastinators among us to see it, even as 2015 arrives.

Stephen Niccolls - Nudges, oil on canvas
Typically (for the Institute) this Regional is overstuffed: It includes 142 works by 75 artists, which is about one-third larger than what I consider a healthy portion for one viewing. I'm pretty sure it's not the biggest Regional in memory (I can't say with certainty when that was or how many artists were included) but I think it drew a record number of entries - reported to be more than 800 by 278 artists - so the able juror, Stephen Westfall, can be forgiven for perhaps running out of the moral strength it requires to keep cutting when you've already eliminated a ton of good art.

Indeed, the show includes very few dogs, and it does present a great deal of truly outstanding work in a variety of forms, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, fiber arts, collage, drawing, sound and video, and mixed media. Westfall, however, is a painter (apparently of some renown), and his bias is so pronounced that we could arguably describe this Regional as a show of painting. According to the show's catalog (nicely produced and abundantly illustrated), Westfall also planned the layout of this Regional, in which we find solid thematic groupings and some worthwhile innovations (my favorite being the placement of four wonderful photographic nudes, one pair each by Mark McCarty and Dan McCormack, in the Institute's 19th century sculpture foyer, where these modern sprites get to cavort with those of a former time).

Susan Meyer - House of Windows, wood,
steel, acrylic, hardware, paint, flocking,
wheels, succulents, toy deer
My response to the now-common practice of curator as creator is one of discomfort for the artists whose work has been subjected to interpretation by a juror who is, in my opinion, imposing his own vision onto other people's work and using that work to express himself. Is that what the Regional's sponsors intend when they choose a juror? I hope not - rather, I would expect them to ask the juror to seek to understand the submitted work, to attempt to see it in a collective context, and then to choose a show that best expresses those discoveries. Put simply, there is too much work and too much Stephen Westfall in this Regional.

That said, it's a good show, and some of Westfall's installation ideas bring freshness to a format that runs the annual risk of being stale or stuffy. Here, he deploys Colleen Quinn's ALL SOULS, a collection of cartoonishly painted-over beach balls, into three of the museum's spaces, placing them high, low and in between. He also has placed a floor sculpture by Ginger Ertz that represents a babbling brook (crafted in colored pipe cleaners) among landscape pictures from the museum's 19th century collection in the entry hall to the exhibition; put a plaster piece by Linda Horn that looks like a giant prehistoric crawling bug high up on a wall in a narrow gallery; and set one painting by Stephen Niccolls entirely outside the exhibition, where it serves as an emblematic welcome to the exhibition. Emblematic of what? Of the painterly geometry that pervades the rest of the show, of course.

Jenny Kemp  - Mellow Yellow, gouache on paper
In all, there are 70 paintings included, and all but a few of the sculptures, fiber work, and most other media are decidedly painterly as well. I noticed that most of the sculptors in the show each had two pieces selected, but then they were not shown together; instead, each artist's works were systematically separated into different rooms, while the great majority of the painters' works, also largely selected by twos and threes, were not separated. There were two exceptions to this treatment of the sculptures: Joann Axford's three delicately decorated white porcelain vase forms (unique among the rest of the selected work in both medium and scale) are presented together in a glass case; and Susan Spencer Crowe's three-dimensional pieces remained together but, being wall-mounted, they come across more as painting than sculpture anyway.

Another factor that added to my discomfort with Westfall's method is that a large swath of the photographs selected were segregated in a lesser gallery, along with other work that seemed to be among the show's secondary choices. Pride of place in the exhibition's main gallery was given to three photographs by Jim Allen and two by Julie Pamkowski, and I agree with the juror that they are better than most of the ones in the other room - but then, why keep the others at all? If it weren't for a terrific little painting by Jenny Kemp; a finely seen color photograph by David Ricci (which I liked much better than another one of his that took a prize); a large mixed-media painting by the ever-wonderful Wendy Williams; and a few other choice pieces in that room, I'd say the juror should simply have eliminated the whole bunch, rather than not-so-subtly kicking them to the curb within the exhibition.

Richard Garrison - Circular Color Scheme: Walmart,
May 22-27, 2013, Pages 1-2 "Celebrate With Savings",
watercolor, gouache,and graphite on paper
As regular readers of this column know, I adore painterly abstraction, and I actually really liked a lot of the work in this show, including many pieces the juror singled out for awards. Most compelling were two potent panels in greens and blues by Jeanette Fintz (nicely deployed on opposite sides of a narrow space); Richard Garrison's methodical yet agitated gouache studies; Susan Meyer's two colorful architectural fantasies; and the aforementioned Niccolls painting, titled Oscillator, along with his smaller Nudges. Additionally, there were some terrific - and not painterly - sculptures, including Specimen by Mary Pat Wager and Tendere by Peter Dellert. The show has many other highlights and is, naturally, not to be missed.

Also, upstairs from the Regional is a fascinating historical exhibition of quilts and coverlets, titled Undercover: Revealing Design in Quilts, Coverlets, and Bed Hangings, on view through March 8, and well worth checking out.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Abecedarius at The Arts Center of the Capital Region

An installation view of Abecedarius
When Colin C Boyd and Michael Oatman won the 2013 Emerging and Established Artist Awards from The Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy, it wasn't said that they'd be collaborating on a show there, but it certainly comes as no surprise that they did. That show, a rollicking compendium of these two artists' individual and overlapping obsessions, is Abecedarius (subtitled "A Cautionary Alphabet of 26 + 1 Works).

The Convenience Effect, a 2014 collage
by Michael Oatman in a shaped frame
made by his father, Gordon Oatman
I don't know what sort of history Boyd and Oatman have with each other, but I'm going on the assumption that this is their first co-production, as it mostly re-presents significant past works, new works both major and minor by each artist, and just one jointly made item, making it in effect a two-person show. For those already familiar with the two artists, Abecedarius is a welcome return to some really fascinating and fun stuff, augmented by some really cool new stuff. And for those new to either maker, it's a pretty broad and deep immersion - not quite a retrospective, but in that direction.

Foreground, American Bison 2012 by Colin C Boyd;
background, Over (After Durer) 2014 by Boyd and Oatman
For me, the really engaging subtext of this show is discovering the elements that Boyd and Oatman share - each has for years produced fictional histories, pseudoscience, anthropological fantasy and so on. While Boyd tends toward the really old, and populates his share of the exhibition with many archaeological references, Oatman's take on anthropology is of the more cultural variety, particularly expressed in retro-futurism.

Still, both are miners of deep troves of rich material, and both exercise overactive imaginations, the result being always intriguing and entertaining. The conceit of the show is that it presents one work of art for each letter of the alphabet (plus one more), so there's the game of finding these references (easy enough by looking at the labels), and then perhaps the more challenging game of figuring out what it's all supposed to mean.

The Branch, or the Site of Our Complete Liberation 2012
multi-panel collage by Michael Oatman
The show's labels are evocative, following the classic pattern of a children's ABC book (or a mystery series), so you start with Oatman's "A is for Alien Craft" and Boyd's "B is for Balance Scale Act" and go on from there; but, given that the works were not actually created to fulfill this structure (all have other more specific titles and they range in date from 2007 to 2014), it comes off as a fun but false construct. That said, there is a lot of fresh work in the show by both artists, and I'll take any excuse offered that allows us to see it.

Favorites include "F is for Fauna + Firearms," which offers a trio of minimally layered collages by Oatman, revisiting one of his best themes with sweet subtlety; and Boyd's "Z is for Zetetic," with a museum-of-science-worthy scale model of a conceptual spacecraft designed by the Flat Earth Society, appropriately suspended above the viewer.

As I write this, the show has just one day left and will close after Dec. 23. Can we agree for purposes of this review that B is for Better Late than Never?