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Monday, December 14, 2020

In Brief: Fence Select at ACCR

Michael Oatman - American Spring (after Wallace Bergman), collage
Part all-inclusive members' show, part juried regional, the longstanding Fence Show at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy is a unique annual event. Like many other exhibitions this year, Fence was delayed a few months due to the pandemic, and so it is still on view in December, though it would normally be a summer show (historically, the show got its name because it was hung outdoors on a wrought-iron fence that surrounds a private park associated with the former location of the ACCR).

Victoria van der Laan - To Dash Against Darkness
sewn and quilted cotton
This year's Fence Select was chosen by Tang Museum Director Ian Berry, with additions selected by ACCR staff (possibly a first) and, if memory serves, this was the first time the show restricted entrants to just one submission each. Naturally, this would lead to a far less comprehensive presentation than a juried show with the typical three or more entries per participant, but it still resulted in a representative cross-section of many of the region's most interesting artists.

In this way, despite its limitations, Fence Select serves as a handy augmentation of the Annual Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region (aka the Regional), currently on view at the Albany Institute of History & Art through Jan. 3. Coincidentally, this year's Regional also features just one work by many of the participating artists, and several of those artists are in Fence Select - so a careful observer can actually combine those in their minds' eye to develop a fuller understanding of each of those artists.

Fern Apfel - The Yellow Envelope
For example, Fern Apfel, whose acrylic and pen on wood panel received the Best in Show award at Fence, has two related pieces in the Regional; and Victoria van der Laan, who was named runner-up at Fence for her lyrically graphic quilt, has another outstanding quilted work in the Regional.

Other important artists represented in both shows include Niki Haynes, Michael Oatman, John Hampshire, Mandi Coburn, Jeff Wigman, and Dorothea Osborn. I also noticed a few favorite photographers in Fence Select, such as Chris DeMarco, Ray Felix, and Jennifer Duke Anstey, bringing to mind the recent annual Photography Regional at Albany Center Gallery, where some of them were also represented.

Apart from these various associations, Fence Select stands alone reasonably well, but it is a bit thin, due to the relatively large space it inhabits at the ACCR. I suspect this underfilling may be the reason that five staff picks were added (making for a total of 28), and I'm glad they were, as they include some of the better works in the selection.

Fence Select remains on view only through this week, with open hours Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. - so , if you want to catch it, be sure to act now.

John Hampshire - Labyrinth 623, ink on polypropylene

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Unraveling at Opalka Gallery

Joan Grubin's E Pluribus is part of Unraveling at the Opalka Gallery in Albany
The artist Yura Adams has curated an important show at Russell Sage College's Opalka Gallery in Albany that features three other artists and herself. While it’s generally a faux pas for curators to include themselves in the show they’re selecting, Adams proves to be an exception to this rule, having plenty of experience organizing worthy exhibitions and events while being one of the region’s best and most productive artists.

Unraveling includes Adams, Joan Grubin, Ruby Palmer, and Christina Tenaglia, all of whom have ample room in the big space to spread their wings, and they all do so by bringing aspects of installation into their presentations.

Yura Adams - Geologic Time, acrylic and ink on Tyvek
Both Tenaglia and Adams have drawn or painted directly on the walls, while Grubin created her single, sprawling piece on-site; Palmer’s pieces aren’t site-specific, but they claim the space physically, in one instance by straddling a corner of the gallery. Altogether, the exhibition finds the right balance of scale and fullness without overcrowding the venue or overshadowing any of the art, which all works well individually and as a group.

A large panel near the entrance to the gallery introduces the show with a concise, cogent statement from the curator that explains the intention of the title, including equally valued interpretations that relate to the current unraveling (or falling apart) of society and the unraveling (or solving) of a mystery, in this case through the artists’ steady explorations. Her summary statement celebrating the act of “creation in the face of uncertainty” aptly describes the show’s purpose and relevance.

Though the curator’s introduction states that these are “four women artists,” it really doesn’t matter to me whether they are women or not. The qualities of perseverance and resourcefulness they exemplify are generally embodied by all significant artists (it’s pretty much part of the job description), regardless of gender.

Ruby Palmer used a minimalist dollhouse to display
ten small sculptures, five on each side
What matters more here, as in any contemporary art exhibition, is that the work is very good. Beyond that, one can seek to derive elements of a show’s meaning from the personal identities of its artists (and there are certainly many cases where that is the main point, or a significant part of it), but I don’t feel that urge in this case.

Rather, I respond to a strong collection of mostly abstract work that emphasizes form and color more than content. There is an arguably feminine perspective in Grubin’s wall-size construction, where the traditionally female craft of weaving is employed, and a few household objects that reference domesticity (including a loop potholder) are deployed, but it is so much more than that. After all, every one of us is caught in life’s vast networks, as helpless as the fly in a spider’s web. The title, E Pluribus, and the placement of tiny photographs of Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela among the many parts, reveal a broader political interpretation and an inclusiveness that I think supports this point.

Ruby Palmer - Surprise Ending
acrylic paint on basswood
Palmer’s work also could be viewed through a feminist lens, but her dollhouse construction (as one example) could just as well have been made by a man, and its meaning would be little different if that were so. What stands out for me in Palmer’s work is her sense of humor, her playfulness, and a feeling of freedom, all of it enhanced by the power of her meticulous application of rich colors and materials. Some of her works are clearly inspired by stage sets, while others cross the line into domestic architecture. Either way, they are endlessly clever, whether simple or complex.

These strengths are also in evidence in Tenaglia’s collection of more than 30 discrete items, eight of which are wall drawings, all of them nominally presented as one piece under the title halftones and densities.  An additional installation is slyly tucked behind a freestanding wall, all of its many elements painted the same shade of gallery white as the wall itself. I particularly enjoy Tenaglia’s skilled-yet-roughshod handling of her materials, which range from raw wood to fired porcelain, and her innovative investigation of shapes.

An untitled object in painted wood
by Christina Tenaglia
Adams is essentially a painter, but she achieves a similar monumentality as Grubin and Tenaglia by stacking six large paintings into two rows, nearly filling the 16-foot height of the gallery’s end wall. Entitled Geologic Time, the six free-floating Tyvek sheets ripple and billow slightly, their utilitarian surface reflecting light in such a way as to seem almost transparent. These pieces are ever so vaguely figurative, and their scale is similar to human size, building a connection between our bodies and the environmental elements they draw from. These and several other works by Adams in the show emphasize form but also feature intriguing illusions of texture in a nod to printmaking and papermaking techniques.

Unraveling will remain on view through Saturday, Dec. 19. The gallery has generous hours (including through 8 p.m. on Thursdays) and is operating with smart COVID protocols: Masks are required, temperature is taken and travel/exposure questions answered upon entry, and a phone number is recorded for contact tracing.

Installation view of Christina Tenaglia's halftones and densities
A note on curating: There seems to be a trend – or a series of coincidences – in the region among certain artists, galleries, and curators. I couldn’t help but notice that all three artists that Adams chose for Unraveling were also included in a recent show entitled SpaceLAB at Troy’s Collar Works, which was organized by Julie Torres and Ellen Letcher. That pair, in turn, made up half of a panel of four jurors who selected the work for Infinite Uncertainty, the previous show at the Opalka. And Palmer was among eight artists included in Cut and Color, which recently closed at the Albany Airport Gallery.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Running at 62

Ready to start a virtual race with my buddy, Dick, in August (I'm the one in yellow).
photo by Dorcey Bennett
Right about now, if today were a normal Thanksgiving, countless thousands of people all over the country would be gathering for annual Turkey Trot races. Instead, a fraction of them will happily participate in "virtual" versions of those charity events, glad to at least be out there moving their bodies.

That's as good a conclusion as any to this year's pandemic-ravaged racing season, during which recreational runners experienced a near-total loss of those eagerly anticipated competitive/friendly events that help to keep us on the road, track, or treadmill week after week.

My own season was pretty good despite all that, bookended by two LIVE races sponsored by the intrepid and hyper-organized Albany Running Exchange (ARE), with a healthy handful of virtual races sandwiched in between. Though my times were slightly behind last year's, at this age just maintaining requires more effort, so I am satisfied with having regularly broken 27 minutes for the 5K distance, including my best effort, 26:11, for a virtual race on a course in Clifton Park. I also managed 26:18 on a favorite course in Ballston Spa, where the Jailhouse Rock is regularly run, and where my running buddy, Dick, and I ran it together virtually in August (pictured above before we set out).

The dilemma now is, how to get through the winter? I've been to the YMCA a couple of times on colder days, where I ran several miles on a treadmill with an increasingly sweaty and stifling mask over my breathing holes - not fun! My hope is that the Y will begin to allow runners on its indoor track (currently, for no reason I can fathom, it is restricted to walkers). Most runners will tolerate a treadmill, but it's my understanding that it's not considered good for your gait, and I much prefer actually moving through space to trying to keep up with a machine (even if that means going in little circles above a basketball gym).

Though returning to the track doesn't take away the (obviously prudent) mask requirement, it's the way I have gotten through the last couple of winters without totally losing my conditioning, so I hope to be able to continue that trend. In the meantime, I'm grabbing whatever reasonable temperature opportunities I can to run outside. (I'm willing to exercise in cold air, but I find that below 40 degrees it hurts my lungs to breathe too deeply and, one time, I gave myself bronchitis that way, so - never again.)

Another option is to just let it go, and recover from scratch in the spring - but that prospect seems even more painful than running on a treadmill all winter, so I'm resisting it. Also, I fear the loss of the psychological boost that regular running provides, not to mention the true overall goal, which is to achieve and maintain better health (as proven in many studies, running at any pace for 10 to 20 miles a week slows the aging process).

So, with diminished goals (e.g., I think it's time to abandon hope of ever breaking 25 minutes for a 5K), I plan to go forward, grateful that I can still run when so many others cannot, and with the knowledge that one day, sooner or later, I also won't be able to do it.

In conclusion, I'd like to borrow a beautiful quote from today's Times Union Preview section, in which Kristen Garzone, of Troy, said it all to writer Tresca Weinstein: A race is the celebration of the hard work you've put in, and even though a virtual race isn't as exciting as a regular race would be, it's still something we can enjoy with our immediate family members or the other people in our pod. A lot of things have been taken away from us in this pandemic, but running is still there, and when you're running, you're untouchable.

Amen to that!

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Closing museums now is the wrong move

A view of the Smithsonian Museum before the pandemic

Frustration. Disappointment. Perplexity. These are a few of the emotions I experienced after reading a Washington Post report that the Smithsonian and National Gallery of Art are set to close due to a recent increase in the number of COVID cases in the Washington, D.C., region.

One unaddressed question arises: Who’s getting COVID from visiting a museum? (Or, even less likely, at a zoo – yes, the National Zoo is part of the Smithsonian’s organization and will also close.) Since the beginning of the pandemic, as essential businesses including big-box grocery and hardware stores remained open, I’ve asked why museums should be barred from opening, when they typically attract much smaller crowds than those stores (especially with no foreign visitors coming in).

And, eventually, starting in late June, the museums were released from forced closure. The Smithsonian reopened its seven museums in stages beginning in July, and they have recorded about a half-million visits since – a fraction of their normal traffic. But now, despite what is obviously a low-risk scenario with a big upside (after all, who among us doesn’t need some nice, uplifting distraction like a museum or a zoo right now?), the great minds that lead that institution concluded “that caution needed to prevail to protect our visitors and staff.”

I wonder whether those leaders are also advising their staff to wear helmets while bicycling, to drive defensively, and to avoid murder hornets while they’re at it.

National Gallery of Art Director Kaywin Feldman admitted, “It can’t help but feel like a step backward.” No kidding! It’s definitely a step backward, and for no good reason.

By now, we all have seen plenty of evidence that shows which activities are spreading the virus: Close, sustained, personal contact - usually within families; indoor gatherings where people talk a lot and loudly (as in bars); tightly packed outdoor circumstances (like, you know, pro-Trump rallies); or any close contact while not wearing masks. Otherwise, transmission is very rare.

All the museum administrators need to do for everyone within their purview to remain safe is what they’ve already been doing: Limit attendance, observe social distancing, and wear masks.

To make decisions based on an overabundance of caution sends the wrong message: Be afraid, shut down, quit living. The right message is this: Wear a mask, maintain distance, and enjoy life as much as possible - which includes going out and doing other very dangerous things, like riding a bicycle, driving in a car, or walking in the woods (where the hornets may live).

Note: The above quotes were taken from a report published by The Washington Post on Friday, Nov. 30.

Friday, November 13, 2020

The Ivy League leads, again

It took a pandemic to make me proud to be a product of the Ivy League. I received my bachelor's degree in studio art from Brown University in 1979, but it was a bad fit, and I largely hated the place, only making it through thanks to a fully credited year at the Italian University for Foreigners and a lot of time spent at nearby RISD, where I took more courses than the allowable limit for Brown students and shared housing with some of those wacky art students.

But setting aside the proto-Gordon Geckos of my time at Brown, and the centuries of entitlement that have floated the elitists who typically graduate from Harvard, Yale, and the rest, this educational confraternity has led the nation twice in making the right call on shutting down its sports programs before the coronavirus itself had the chance to do the deed more brutally.

You may recall that the first sports league in the US to declare a full stop last March was the Ivy League.

It didn't matter that they were in the midst of their annual league basketball tournament, or that the NCAAs of March Madness fame and glory would be next - the great minds of those combined institutions (including the many top scientists on their faculties) knew it was time to mask up and hunker down. The next day the NBA followed suit, leading all the other college and pro leagues that then joined the inevitable months-long pause, one by one.

And, now, it's happened again, as the second wave of the virus is taking hold of the country, and the Ivies announced on Thursday that they are canceling all winter sports. This will have immediate local impact, as two of the mots popular teams in the Capital Region (Union College and RPI hockey) compete in the ECAC, a league that includes six of the seven Ivies (making up half of the total number of ECAC teams).

And, I predict, this is just the beginning. Like last spring, there will be more canceled sports seasons to come. Don't get me wrong - I don't celebrate the loss of healthy competition for collegians, nor the potential massive loss of revenue for the professional leagues if they also shut down again; neither do I applaud the disappointment to millions of fans who need the distraction of sports entertainment now more than ever.

And I am truly grateful for the mid-pandemic professional sports seasons that were recently completed - somehow, almost miraculously, without widespread illnesses or deaths - including baseball, soccer, hockey and, my favorite, basketball.

But it is starting to look like madness to try to continue the NFL season, or to resume the NBA, etc., if things don't turn around very soon. I've no doubt that the great minds that run these leagues are currently consulting with the great minds that know the science - many of them educated at or teaching at Ivies - and that they will come to the right conclusions that will keep athletes, coaching staffs, and fans safe.

In the meantime, stream a good movie, read a good book, eat some good takeout with carefully vetted family and friends - and take good care.

Monday, October 19, 2020

In Brief: D. Jack Solomon at LGAP

D. Jack Solomon - Call on Me, acrylic on canvas 38x50 inches

A favorite artist and a favorite venue have teamed up to produce something special this fall. Sixteen paintings by D. Jack Solomon currently fill the Lake George Arts Projects's Courthouse Gallery in Lake George Village, and the result is nothing short of a knockout.

Solomon, who recently moved to Hudson from Surprise, is in the twilight of a quietly impressive career that seems to have gained steam over time. I first became aware of his work in 2004, when he showed at Albany Center Gallery, and I became a fan immediately.

Skedaddle 24x18 inches
The Lake George exhibition is something of a late-period retrospective, featuring works that date from 2007 through 2016 and, while there are standout pieces among them, the overall strength of this selection is particularly consistent.

Solomon's painting style leans heavily on elaborate design elements, often delineated in black, and he supports these elements with beautiful passages of smoothly applied color. He works in acrylic, with the masterful control of the medium you'd expect from a lifelong painter - but one shouldn't take this achievement for granted, even if he makes it look easy. Indeed, Solomon is the real deal.

What exactly do I mean by that? To be an artist worthy of attention, one must accomplish certain things. Though our current era seems to have abandoned ideas of traditional technique (and there's nothing wrong with progressing to new standards that break old rules), I would argue that it's still crucial that any work of art show significant control of its medium (whatever medium that may be). Otherwise, we're just mucking about. Clearly, Solomon passes that test with - sorry - flying colors.

Long Gone 24x18 inches
It's also necessary for an artist to find something new to say, or a new way to say something; and to say it in a voice that's recognizable. That's sometimes referred to as having a personal style, but I prefer to call it voice or vision. Again, Solomon checks the box. You know a Solomon when you see it and, in a show like this one, you get to immerse yourself in the vast sea of the unique visual vocabulary he's developed and perfected.

Finally, an artist has to reach you. Maybe this is an element of taste, or timing, but I think it's also a matter of heart. Is it too late in the human experiment to value sincerity? If not, then Solomon gains by being steadfast. But - unlike me - he also maintains a wonderful sense of humor. This playfulness is perhaps the final puzzle piece that makes his work so enjoyable, so intriguing, and so lasting.

Paintings by D. Jack Solomon will remain on view at the Courthouse Gallery through October 30.

Installation view of D. Jack Solomon paintings at Courthouse Gallery

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Regionals, regionals ...

Juror Karen Davis peruses the Photo Regional Salon at Albany Center Gallery
Thanks in part to the coronavirus pandemic, we now have a perfect storm of regional exhibitions that are all on view simultaneously. With three annual juried shows having been rescheduled, and a new lockdown-themed juried show now open at a prominent college gallery, it’s a boon to regional artists and their fans.

Laura Brodsky's fatherhood 2 won one
of four top prizes at the Photo Regional

First up, the 42nd Annual Photography Regional at Albany Center Gallery began on Sept. 8 with a salon-style installation of 200-plus submissions by more than 80 photographers. Karen Davis, co-owner of Davis-Orton Gallery in Hudson, then culled those submissions into a Select show that re-opened on Sept 18. It features 43 photographers (of which I am one) and includes 49 pieces, with 11 of those works receiving special recognition. Heads-up: The Photo Regional will close this Friday (Oct. 2), so you’ll have to hurry if you want to take a look. I recommend that you do.

Jill Baucom's Blackberries won one of
four top prizes in the Photo Regional
Also recently opened, on Sept. 19 (through Jan. 3, 2021), is the 2020 Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region (aka the Regional), which is the most significant show in the annual calendar locally and, now in its 84th year, one of the longest-standing shows of its kind in the nation. The Regional rotates among three venues, and is hosted this year by the Albany Institute of History & Art, which tapped MASS MoCA Senior Curator Susan Cross as juror. In keeping with Regional tradition, an accompanying catalog with an essay by Cross is planned by the Institute and will be available in a few weeks.

Amy Silberkleit - 1918 stone lithograph
Perhaps due to Cross’s high profile as a curator in the region, the show attracted more than 700 entries by nearly 250 artists across all media. Cross whittled these down to 108 works by 73 artists (of which – you guessed it – I am one), also selecting 19 among them for special awards that range from $1,000 cash to $100 gift certificates. She then planned the installation of the show in five contiguous spaces within the museum, using the variously sized galleries as venues for thematic groupings.

Deborah Zlotsky - Yours, Mine, Ours
vintage scarves

The largest of those galleries contains vast splashes of bright colors provided by works in many media – painting, sculpture, photography, collage, and textiles among them – with a large portion of those pieces being abstract. In a nearby, somewhat smaller room, again featuring the full array of media, the theme is landscape.

Yet another medium-sized gallery includes works that mostly engage in political or social commentary, again with many media represented but, in this case, weighted much more toward photography (not including my own, which are abstract, and hang in the larger gallery).

One feels the effects of 2020’s global and national upheavals in Cross’s selection of prizes, many of which went to the more topical works in the show, yet the overall effect of this Regional is what it should be: a well-distributed cross-section of the region’s best art, organized - but not dominated - by theme.

Jeff Wigman's oil on panel Arrival in Hell is included in Infinite Uncertainty.
Wigman also has work in the Mohawk-Hudson Regional and the Fence Salon.
Fortunately, another local gallery took up that thematic challenge by specifically requesting topical work for an open-call show juried by Sharon Bates, Stacey Robinson, Ellen Letcher and Julie Torres. Infinite Uncertainty opened at Sage College of Albany’s Opalka Gallery on Sept. 1 and includes approximately 100 works selected from over 250 total submissions. It closes on Oct. 10 so, again, you’ll have to hurry if you want to see it - and I recommend that you do.

It’s worth noting that seven of the 33 regional artists included in Infinite Uncertainty are also included in the Mohawk-Hudson Regional (in which four of them received awards), an overlap that underscores the meaningful relationship between the two shows. Like the Regional, Infinite Uncertainty features work across many media, a good bit of it colorfully or monochromatically abstract, but much more of it representing interpretive responses to our current social issues.

Tatana Kellner - Scream
collage, acrylic, and charcoal on paper
Each artist’s work is accompanied by statements that explain the impetus for the selected pieces, ranging from technical adaptation to using available quotidian materials during art-supply-chain shutdowns to direct commentaries on hot topics like the pandemic and BLM protests. The writings provide a telling window into the interior lives of artists, and make a strong statement about both their resilience and the power of art to buoy the human spirit in hard times.

Altogether, Infinite Uncertainty is a relatively rare instance of a carefully curated large group show at an urban Capital Region gallery featuring only regional artists. Though 33 seems like a lot of participants, the spacious gallery has enough room to accommodate multiple pieces by most of them, and numerous pieces by many, making for a great degree of depth in this presentation.

This mixed-media collage by Paula
Drysdale Frazell is in the Fence Salon
Finally, the Fence Salon show opened on Sept. 11 at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy and will remain on view there through Nov. 7, after which it will be rehung as the Fence Select, which will be juried by Tang Museum Director Ian Berry. Please note that the Arts Center is operating on a modified schedule – open Tuesday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. or by appointment.

Here, too, there is significant overlap with artists who are also in the Mohawk-Hudson Regional (I counted nine), which comes as no surprise considering the prestige of the juror and the longstanding tradition of this show, which I have often referred to as “the other Regional.” There’s also some artist overlap between Fence and the Opalka show, as well as between Fence and the Photo-Regional. I can only begin to imagine the thought processes that went on with these artists as they tried to determine which works to submit where. 

I will revisit the Fence show on this blog after it has been juried and re-hung as Fence Select.

In the meantime, please do yourself a favor and get out to see these treasure troves of high-quality, current regional art while you can.

Mike Glier's oil on canvas Swallows Hunting is part of the Mohawk-Hudson Regional.
Glier is one of three former Regional jurors who have work in this year's show.