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Saturday, January 31, 2009

'Then & Now' at Albany Center Gallery

The current show at Albany Center Gallery http://www.albanycentergallery.org/ is fueled by irrevence, paranoia and obsession.

Then & Now is an annual variation on a theme, in which the gallery brings back one or more artists who have shown there in the past for an update. The 2009 version features three: Channing Lefebvre, Peter Leue and Terry Slade. (Full disclosure: I am on ACG's exhibits committee and was involved in the decision to place these artists in the show.)

Though I was familiar with the work of all three artists before the exhibition, it still took me by surprise, particularly in the case of Lefebvre, whose 40 or so drawings in it are a remarkable investigation of markmaking and iconic shapes. (He represents obsession.)

Leue has provided comic relief with his "Brunhilde" and "Musical Chairs" sculptures that combine found materials with ingenious inventiveness and shameless punning.

Slade bridges the gap between the other two artists by showing both sculptures and drawings (wildly colorful, where Lefebvre's are more subdued) of real and imagined spores and viruses (there's your paranoia), as well as almost literally explosive constructions featuring luggage from loaded destinations (Gaza, Baghdad, etc.).

It is a show not to be missed, and it ends on Feb. 7, so shake a leg. This week's 1st Friday event will provide an opportunity to catch it before it's too late, but I recommend a separate visit to allow proper contemplation of the highly detailed work.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A good time was had

Last night's opening of "The Oatman-Lail NewsHour" at The Teaching Gallery of Hudson Valley Community College in Troy was the place to be for denizens of the local art scene, which is no surprise, as both Oatman and Lail are popular and well-connected.

Among the arbiters seen there in the second hour of the event were these Capital Region gallery directors: Janet Riker (University Art Museum), Sharon Bates (Airport Art Gallery), Jeanne Flanagan (Massry Center at Saint Rose), Sarah Martinez (Albany Center Gallery), Amy Williams (Arts Center of the Capital Region), and Elizabeth Dubben (Amrose Sable), along with Tara Fracalossi (Teaching Gallery director and Lail's spouse). It was a good opportunity to schmooze in a beautiful gallery that's always worth a trip off the beaten path.

This exhibition is a celebration of collage as an art medium, and features two artists who are closely tied yet produce distinctly divergent work. Lail, the lesser known of the two, tends toward sketchy, almost conceptual installations that seem blown apart. His almost entirely monochromatic pieces shown here appear to be two-dimensional blueprints for super-colossal versions of the same.

Oatman also makes large-scale installations, but they are extremely carefully planned and constructed. His contributions to this exhibition are a continuation of a style of papercut collage he has been showing a lot over the last several years, often in tandem with the installations, and they share that super-particularity of execution.

These newest works are consistent with those of the past: colorful, nostalgic, irreverent, quirky, and confounding.

Both artists' works demand more than a cursory look - their large scale and extensive layerings and details offer the viewer rewards for time spent perusing them. Oatmans's are easier to like and interpret; Lail's take more effort.

Check it out - the show runs through April 4.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Luigi Ghirri at Aperture Gallery


It was with a huge sense of fulfillment that I took in the current exhibition of photographs by Luigi Ghirri at Aperture Gallery in New York (through Jan. 29 http://www.aperture.org/gallery/).

Please let me explain. I first came upon Ghirri's work in early 1993 as I was beginning a two-year stay in central Italy. He was from Modena (like the balsamic vinegar) and I found his work in a substantial catalog that accompanied a retrospective exhibition that had just been held in Bologna. In the book, charmingly titled "Vista con Camera" ("View with a Room"), I found an eclectic, regional sensibility represented in highly refined color photographs, many of which resembled many of my own. The elation I felt in finding an artistic soulmate in my new country quickly turned to a feeling of loss, though, when I learned that Ghirri had died at 49 years old the previous year, and that the show was an elegy.

Ghirri was quite well-known in the European art and publishing fields, but he was almost completely unknown in the United States. None of his many books had been published in English, and I never did meet anyone here in the US who had heard of him (though the record shows he exhibited at Light Gallery in New York).

But now we have a fine exhibition of his work at Aperture and a beautiful monograph in English that accompanies it. "It's beautiful here, isn't it ... " is the title of the show and book, and immediately expresses the sweet openness with which Ghirri approached his life in photography and in the high plains of north-central Italy. No naif, Ghirri was a deep-thinking philosopher and theorist, whose esoterically probing writings are peppered throughout the show in perfect proportion to the 90 pictures on view.

Constructed as a room within a room, the large gallery places the viewer immediately into the labyrinth of Ghirri's roving mind, led, of course, by his all-seeing eye. A very large opening panel presents a wallpaper-like grid of simple sky snapshots, about 200 of them selected from a total numbering 365, for an entire year in which he took one picture of the sky each day. This introduction sets the emotional and intellectual tone for the show, but it does not represent Ghirri's genius for careful perusal and selection; rather, it shows his almost religious exuberance in accessing the joys and sorrows of daily life through photography.

The rest of the exhibition consists of framed pictures of generally modest size - no art-fair mural prints here - grouped in thematic runs of short or long duration, and organized somewhat, though not strictly, chronologically, from the earliest work of the 1970s through his last years. The walls are white, but in the central room, where some of the strongest work is displayed, they have been painted a middle blue, which very nicely offsets the soft colors of the works hung there.

Ghirri's subject matter is about equally divided between landscape and interior. Architecture is a dominant theme, and people are few. Unlike his contemporary color pioneer William Eggleston (who wrote the book's preface), he seems more of a quiet observer than a participant in the images, and he keeps his distance in that sense. But his observations are acute, placing him near Eggleston in the category of social commentary. Late-20th-century color practitioners Joel Meyerowitz, Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld also share his sensibility.

The early work, mostly shot in 35mm, has a sense of the absurd and a structured form. Many of these images are composed vertically, and play visual tricks on the eye. Ghirri's sly observations of cityscape and landscape as playgrounds for the fertile mind are characteristic of the movement in the '70s that eventually took on the name New Topographics.

Later work, especially several 20x24-inch Polaroids done in 1980, appears more personal and allegorical, which leads smoothly to the latest work, in which Ghirri has constructed groups of pictures that together form a portrait of their subjects - the artist Giorgio Morandi and the architect Aldo Rossi - not by depicting the men themselves but by recording the details of their studios.

These last two bodies, shot in 6x7 centimeter format and printed at 16x20 inches, are shown in the central blue room, and they remain my favorites of the show for their masterful use of color and composition and the strong and subtle ways in which they work together. As with the rest of the show, the prints are both vintage and contemporary.

Ghirri was known to take his work to a drugstore for processing, and while the technical quality of some of the earlier prints is acceptable, some others in the show are noticeably off-color and unevenly printed. But the new prints are just perfect in every way, using the latest in inkjet technology to appear exactly like expertly made C-prints.

Obviously, Ghirri was not available to plan the show or its installation, but his wife, Paola, deserves credit for a marvelous job of culling and curating. There's no doubt Luigi would be proud of the show and very pleased to be reaching wider audiences on these shores at last.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Welcome back to Get Visual

Well, it's been an interesting ride. Losing my new job at the Gazette was indeed a surprise, but I can continue to write my blog here, without interruption.

Get Visual is a regular report on things seen and heard on the Capital Region art scene and beyond. You will find, now that I have complete freedom of topic, mood, etc., that it will include content beyond that description (such as the current review of 'Slumdog Millionaire' posted below); but, for the most part, I will stick to the core content.

To see past posts of Get Visual, which are the property of The Daily Gazette, please go to www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/brickman and you can check them out. When I learn how, I will create a link for that here on the blog's main page.

Thank you for reading, and please add your comments!

david

'Slumdog Millionaire' is Crap

Whenever a foreign film becomes the hot movie to see, it is wise to be skeptical. I wish I had been more so before deciding to go see "Slumdog Millionaire," Danny Boyle's big Indipop hit, and already the winner of a Golden Globe for Best Picture (drama).

It reminds me of that Italian movie "Life is Beautiful," which won multiple Oscars, including a best-actor statuette for Roberto Benigni. No, "Slumdog" is nothing like "Life is Beautiful" - except in the way it became an undeservedly huge hit in the United States, while many other, far better foreign films got ignored.

The joke about Benigni winning the award for best actor is that he doesn't act - he is a comedian who always plays the same fellow, like Woody Allen or Charlie Chaplin, and he does it marvelously well.

Before his international success with "L is B," Benigni was a popular star in Italy; I saw several of his films in my time there in the early '90s, in which he always acted the same way. He also was in a wonderful Jim Jarmusch film quite a few years earlier called "Down by Law" - those of you who saw it may recall that he was the same in that one, too. I saw "L is B" in Europe, long before it came to the U.S., and then had to fend off several months' worth of friends' urgings to go see it after it came here. It was not worth seeing twice, and it annoyed me that they all thought it was such a great Italian film, when lots of others are better.

So, back to "Slumdog." It is not Best Picture material. It is not even the best film out of India that I've seen this year (that would be "The Pool," which deals with some of the same themes in infinitely more subtle ways).

"Slumdog" is a fairytale with paper-thin characters. It is excessively violent. It is grossly exploitative of its subject matter (severe poverty and child abuse in Mumbai). It has as its centerpiece a lowbrow, cheaply produced television show that I would never choose to watch.

"Slumdog" is not particularly well-filmed (though the music is very good) and the actors are merely adequate, which isn't saying much considering the script. Only the youngest version of Jamal (the Slumdog) and the oldest version of his brother, Salim, merit accolades for their performances (there are three actors of different ages for each, as well as three for the girl, Latika).

What's wrong with the script, you ask? OK, here I go - Spoiler Alert! - the Slumdog wins the 20 million rupees and he gets the girl. Love wins out over everything (a love based on who knows what, unless it's just her looks) and in countless ways the audience is asked to suspend disbelief.

And for what? So we can be made to endure horrific images of child abuse, social stratification, religious war, police torture, gangsters, liars, cheaters, etc. and then be expected to feel great about this one kid whose incredible luck leads him to win a stupid game show, and then take the whore as his own.

The film concludes by posing the preposterous notion that this all happened because "it is written." Then everybody has a big ol' Bollywood dance number on a train platform (it is worth noting that the two stars don't dance well, either).

And so I say, it is crap.