Friday, August 28, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Featuring seven artists, about half of whom have Airport Gallery history, the show is such a riot of color that one could easily overlook its organizing theme of transformation. Starting with the neon yellow that covers the gallery walls, this is an almost psychedelic experience, optically stimulating and very entertaining – ideal to perk up the weary traveler or distract those waiting to pick up same – but not to be taken all that seriously.
Devorah Sperber, for example, offers three pieces that depict Leonard Nimoy as Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, one made with 1,102 cleverly aligned spools of thread, the other two with chenille stems (for the uninitiated, those are pipe cleaners) that have been placed with digital accuracy to build an image out of color-coordinated dots.
Also working with blobs and dots, but more abstractly, is Betsy Brandt, whose agglomerations of artificial flower parts, hot glue, plastic beads, and other craft store paraphernalia tickle the imagination as they conjure microscopic or undersea worlds and the creatures that inhabit them (a detail of one, titled Akin, is shown at right). Her sister, Susie Brandt, works in fabric. Visitors to the exhibition who take the stairs are welcomed by a Susie Brandt installation that evokes geology with folded and stacked strips of colorful fabric that cling to a narrow ledge and work their way up the wall all the way to the ceiling, like a sedimentary intrusion.
Susie Brandt’s other works in the show consist of fanciful (and, again, brightly hued) hooked rugs that are based on tracings of round city water drains and amoeba-like tree trunks – the latter are displayed on a rectangle of Astroturf, which makes a nice, bright green contrast but is a bit campy. Speaking of green, it’s the dominant color of one of Chris Harvey’s marvelous stacks of objects, this one featuring the heads of many plastic toys (including Shrek, of course), and amusingly titled Totem for the New Green Inititiative.
Harvey made quite a splash last year with a large installation at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy titled The Mandala of Perfect Happiness. A video on view here presents the creation of that piece, very speeded up, with Harvey clowning throughout. His other new works in this show include a row of columns (shown at the bottom of this post) in the rainbow colors of our plastic Wal-Mart culture. Its title, Seven Pillars of Commerce and Pleasure, pretty much sums up the piece’s intentions and results – viewing it is indeed very pleasurable.
The show’s painter is David Miller, recently retired from Skidmore College and, amazingly, showing here for the first time. Two very large pieces of his from 2007 are included: one a highly textural and aptly titled Symphony in Yellow, the other smoother, darker, and more evocative of the show’s theme with its inky black depths and floating figures (it is titled Midnight in the Garden of the Sea and is shown at the top of this post). These are strong paintings, but I was more moved by Miller’s series of seven much smaller panels made this year that have delicate markings and luscious color variations, and resemble views of Earth from a satellite.
Also included in the show are three ravishing sculptures by Ginger Ertz (plus one, a chandelier, that has been hanging above the stairwell for a year or more), all made from those suddenly ubiquitous chenille stems. Ertz emphasizes sculptural form and texture, rather than color, in these sexy and humorous pieces, such as one titled Docking that may depict two odd creatures about to mate, and another titled Odalisque. Ertz, of Schenectady, just received a coveted NYFA fellowship for this work, and it’s easy to see why.
Finally, the show includes another sculptor who uses familiar material in an innovative way – and, unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably seen Jennifer Maestre’s amazing pencil-stub critters on the Internet. Here’s your chance to see them in 3-D and marvel at the technical and formal achievement they represent.
Overall, this is the sort of show we’ve grown accustomed to seeing at the Airport Gallery – hip, innovative, high-quality, and entertaining. It is also refreshing to see so much sculpture in a curated exhibition, which is no doubt due to the fact that Gallery Director Sharon Bates is herself a sculptor – but it is no less appreciated for that. The show runs through Nov. 29, and the gallery’s hours are an unbeatable 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Whether you’re flying or not, it’s well worth the trip.
Friday, August 21, 2009
In a very raw space high above the gritty downtown of a Capital Region city, Sam Altekruse paints. The 43-year-old left-hander has lived all over the United States – New Orleans, Los Angeles, New York, South Carolina – and has traveled extensively abroad, including long visits to Mexico, Berlin, and Pakistan. In all these places, he has painted.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Monday, August 17, 2009
Saturday, August 15, 2009
First up is the gorgeous Prendergast in Italy, created in partnership with the Terra Foundation of American Art in Chicago, which draws on the vast Prendergast collection of the WCMA, along with the Terra’s major holdings and several private collections. After it completes its run here on Sept. 20, the show will travel to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy, and then in 2010 to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Prendergast in Italy presents the work of an artist at the top of his game at two distinct points in his career, during travels in Italy in 1898-9 and 1911-12. A consummate craftsman, Maurice Prendergast began as a commercial artist, but then crossed over into fine art after studying in Paris in the 1890s. With his first sojourn to Italy, focusing on Venice as his subject, his success was launched. Always attuned to the development of Modern art, over the next decade Prendergast changed styles; the work of his second sojourn is so different from the first that it is almost like viewing two artists, though the dominant medium throughout is watercolor (to compare, see the images at the top and bottom of this post).
Also getting the star treatment at the WCMA is another almost absurdly talented and productive artist, the photographer (and painter) Edward Steichen. Filling a very large gallery almost salon-style is In High Fashion, the Condé Nast Years, 1923-1937. It simply astonishes and overwhelms with the sheer number of masterful portraits of the stars of the day and the groundbreaking fashion pictures that today we take for granted but, when Steichen did them, were a revelation. Again, fans will love it, but others may grow bored. This show ends on Sept. 13.
In a second, smaller gallery, another Steichen show focuses on his personal work. Titled Episodes from a Life in Photography, it features 90 pictures that range from early abstractions (the example above of avocados was made in 1920) to an extended series of landscapes made at Walden Pond, and also includes some commercial images, such as the jazzy 1926 Design for Stehli Silks shown above at right. this show will remain on view through Nov. 8.
Finally, another show of photographs features the work of a Williams alumnus named Ralph Lieberman. While Steichen is a pretty tough act to follow, Lieberman's architecturally inspired black-and-white work holds up very well. Many of the images are classical renderings of their subject matter (such as the one shown here, from San Gimignano in Italy) while others display a more analytical and expressive mind at work. He does Williams proud.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Monday, August 10, 2009
He inspired Georgia O'Keeffe to begin painting abstractly, became a lifelong friend and ongoing influence on her work, and was celebrated alongside her by the most influential art critics of the first half of the 20th century. Still, though millions of people today can instantly recognize almost any picture by (or of) O'Keeffe, the name Arthur Dove scarcely rings a bell.
But not if Debra Bricker Balken has her way. Balken is the independent curator who created this summer's blockbuster exhibition, Dove/O'Keeffe: Circles of Influence, on view at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., through Sept. 7. Balken also put together a Dove retrospective in 1997, and has written the text for the handsome catalog that accompanies this show.
The exhibition at the Clark amply demonstrates both how and why Dove was an artist of similar significance to O'Keeffe, and lovingly documents the depth and duration of their connection. It also features two other players: Alfred Stieglitz, who showed both artists' work at his New York City gallery and introduced them to each other before eventually marrying O'Keeffe; and Sigmund Freud, whose writing on sex greatly influenced the thinking of participants in the American Modernist movement.
O'Keeffe bristled at the characterization of herself and Dove as representative of their respective gender in painting, and I think she was right - the many works by both artists in this show share and swap so many characteristics as to defy any honest viewer who would try to categorize either artist's expression as essentially male or female (to test yourself, take a look at the paintings reproduced above at right and below at left, and then decide which painting is better representative of which sex - they are identified at the bottom of this post).
That debate, I would add, is part of the point. Abstraction, in the hands of Dove and O'Keeffe, became a disembodied celebration of nature, expressed not through the neuroses and complexities of human perceptions, but experienced instead as a pure thing in its forms and essences. What is remarkable about these pioneering paintings is how fresh they seem, and relevant they remain, nearly a century after they were made.
The exhibition does well by presenting the work in bite-size pairs and groupings, and by organizing it into several historical themes (such as New York Modernism) and contextual categories (such as Color/Light). The wall texts are informative, which really helps one to navigate the show conceptually, and succinct, which is practical, as it is likely to be pretty crowded any time you visit. The throngs make it a bit difficult to linger, but it is essential that you take the time to contemplate this art long enough to let it work its magic with your perceptions.
And magical it is. From Dove's stark early drawings, through O'Keefe's groundbreaking watercolors and Dove's experiments with materials such as glass and metal, to the final pairings of the two artists' transcendental nature paintings, it is both a lesson in the history of Modern art and an immersion in the process and power of fully resolved works. While the key to the show is how it works as a whole, both in relating Dove's work to O'Keeffe's and in presenting each artist's work on its own, there are several highlights worth mentioning.
While the larger, finished paintings are very impressive, both artists' watercolor sketches are fascinating, and they provide convenient bookends to the exhibition - O'Keeffe's journey began with hers as she discovered a new style in 1916-17, and Dove's ended with his, as he made one or two tiny personal images each day in the years leading up to his death in 1946.
A room that places two major O'Keeffe cityscapes side by side, and then adds a quieter but compositionally identical Dove nearby, holds enough interest to justify the entire exhibition. Equally, two brilliant Doves (one of which is reproduced at the top of this post) dominate another room, while an understated O'Keeffe pastel titled Slightly Open Clam Shell hangs serenely nearby. Amusingly, the other Dove is titled Alfie's Delight; I will go out on a limb and assert that it's a reference to Stieglitz (who knew they called him Alfie?).
A trio of works by Dove that develop an idea for an image of a stream from a sketch into a fine painting is engrossing and gratifying. On an adjacent wall, two luminous O'Keeffes explore a glowing humanlike form in relation to a vividly green landscape. In this corner of the museum, the presence of the artists is as strong as if we were in their studios the day after these works came into existence.
The entrance to the exhibition, which features a Dove painting of the moon that looks like a towering plant and an O'Keeffe painting of a jack-in-the-pulpit that resembles the Northern lights, sets the proper tone. These are awe-inspiring artists; juxtaposing the two enhances the already powerful experience of seeing their work individually. This fabulous show will not travel - you must see it here and now, and I recommend that you do.
Georgia O'Keeffe, Sunrise, 1916. Watercolor on paper, 8 7/8 x 11 7/8 in.
Gender quiz answers: The painting reproduced above at the right is Georgia O'Keeffe's Red & Orange Streak, 1919. Oil on canvas, 27 x 23 inches (68.6 x 58.4 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art. Bequest of Georgia O'Keeffe for the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1987 [Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art]. The one below it at left is Arthur Dove's Fog Horns, 1929. Oil on canvas, 18 x 26 inches (45.7 x 66 cm). Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Anonymous Gift, FA 1954.1 [Courtesy of and copyright The Estate of Arthur Dove / Courtesy Terry Dintenfass, Inc.].
Additional credits: The painting reproduced at the top of this post is from the collection of Deborah and Ed Shein [Courtesy of and copyright The Estate of Arthur Dove / Courtesy Terry Dintenfass, Inc.]; the one at the bottom is from the collection of Barney A. Ebsworth [(c) 2009 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York].
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
In a world where too many shows are curator-driven and thematic, it's good to see singular bodies of work by artists who are focused on the task of creating them, and to have a chance to understand them in their own context. The gallery is doing an important service by offering this type of opportunity to regional artists and their followers.
By the way, the Schwab/Shirley show opened on July 14 but will have its reception on Friday (Aug. 7) from 5 to 9 p.m., as part of the regular 1st Friday festivities.
NOTE: In the interest of full transparency, please be aware that I am a member of Albany Center Gallery's exhibits committee, which reviews and rates submissions by artists.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
While it might seem underwhelming conceptually, this summer landscape show sets a very high standard and even gets pretty edgy with Bracken's work, where extreme texture and a narrow tonal range evoke Anselm Kiefer. Koffler's neo-Modernist woodsy scenes range from seductively vivid to pensive (in his less colorful moments). Helgeson's more eye-pleasing palette and geometry dominate the big front room, where a surprisingly diverse collection of her quasi-formulaic works are grouped in exuberant clusters. And Orlyk, painting feverishly in his well-established Impressionist style, is brilliant as always.
Additional spotlight exhibitions by Linda Cross, Thomas Locker, and Russell DeYoung in the gallery's back room and upstairs spaces extend the landscape theme and, apart from Locker's cloying Luminism, maintain the level set by the feature show's artists.
Down at the opposite end of Warren Street, BCB Art has a solo show of works on paper by Sasha Chermayeff (shown below in her studio) that ends Aug. 9. Chermayeff's father is the graphic designer Ivan Chermayeff, and the graphic influence is readily apparent in this direct, gestural work that emphasizes primary colors and pared-down technique.
There is a childlike quality to this work that may or may not appeal to serious art viewers. I found it somewhat decorative, reading a bit more as designs for textiles than as resolved paintings - but a few of the works do go beyond the surface.
A collection of folded paper accordion books added heft to the presentation; also, a group of six smaller paintings, framed and presented in a grid, worked quite well.
A counterpoint to Chermayeff's no-frills approach comes in the form of the layered and very thoughtful mixed-media work of Yale Epstein, now on view at Albert Shahinian Fine Art. The solo exhibition, titled Inscriptions II: The Eloquent Brush, opened in late June and has been extended to Sept. 13.
Epstein, based in Woodstock, is in his 70s and has a very long list of achievements, including many shows locally and internationally, dozens of public and corporate collections, and a rapidly growing list of commissions. Known primarily as a printmaker, he moves easily from press, ink, and paper to oil, acrylic, and canvas. A strong, coherent selection of all his mediums is presented in this beautiful, multi-room gallery.
Among the more impressive pieces in the show is Chronicle I, a 4-foot painting reproduced at left. Its colors, composition, and calligraphy are representative of much of the work in the show, all of which has a distinct Oriental flavor. I was told that Epstein's characters are invented but, to one not schooled in Chinese writing, they felt authentic; it's interesting to note that a number of his commissions have been for sites in the Far East.
What Epstein aims for - and achieves - in this work is an experience of cross-cultural communication that transcends both time and geography, as alluded to in his introduction to a beautifully printed color catalog that accompanies the show. It is an extremely rich body of work by an artist totally immersed in the essence of history and connection.A quite different, but equally compelling solo show of paintings is offered at John Davis Gallery through Aug 16. David Hornung combines heavily pigmented oils with encaustic to produce flat colors that are aesthetically similar to gouache, a medium he also favors. Plenty of works in both mediums are featured in this very clean presentation, where Hornung shares cheerful, allegorical scenarios that verge on illustration but remain poignantly personal (the example above is titled Remembering M).
It might be hard to pull this off if Hornung were less of a painter, but the work is no less convincing for being rather charming. I always find an encounter with paintings of such skill to be the perfect antidote to our era's emphasis on concept over craft. This work shows you can be original without abandoning strong technique.
And, speaking of original, there's a brilliant installation in the Davis Gallery's carriage house (out back, beyond the sculpture garden) by Leticia Ortega and Dionisio Cortes that conjures a stunning and relevant experience out of the simplest of materials: plastic bags of water. Titled when skies are hanged, it has been extended to Aug. 16, and is a must-see.
My final stop of the day was at Carrie Haddad Photographs, where a show titled Afterglow: Four Photographers and the Hand-Held Light will run through Aug. 30. Comprising photographic images that have been created through the use of hand-applied lighting with long exposures, this exhibition brings back an alternative technique, often called "painting with light" that was popular in the '70s.
In fact, some of the work in the show by David Lebe dates just about that far back, which is fine with me. (Side note: not all "contemporary" art needs to have been made last week to be worth looking at.) Along with Lebe, Robert Flynt and Warren Neidich work in black and white; Gary Schneider is the lone color practitioner in the group.
All four work directly with the human form (Lebe's Scribble, shown above, notwithstanding), in significantly varied ways. Neidich presents a grim grid of 12 images against a black background that emphasizes the skull-like qualities of the human head. Lebe works mostly with the male nude, sometimes adding hand-colored elements, to evoke a spiritual sexuality. Flynt crosses boundaries and genres by montaging and collaging elements into a wall-sized constellation of images pinned, flush-mounted, clipped in glass, or framed.
All of these are strong - but my favorite is Schneider, whose full-length, life-size frontal nudes (the one shown at right is titled Laura) evoke cadavers, despite the subjects' open eyes and alert expressions. They also afford the rare opportunity to examine a living stranger's anatomy, nasty bits included, which I'm pretty sure all of us can't resist doing any more than a dog can resist its rude sniffings.
So much comes down to sex and death; Schneider's work, and this show as a whole, makes that quite clear, but in a way that still feels life-affirming. And that's what good art is all about.
NOTE: Hudson's galleries have varied hours; most are open at least from noon to 5, Thursday through Monday, but to be sure, check their websites.