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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Richard Garrison at Spencertown Academy

My wife, Karen, and I took advantage of the beautiful weather on Saturday and drove along Route 203 through Columbia County (rightly dubbed "the Tuscany of upstate New York") to see Richard Garrison's very handsome solo show at Spencertown Academy http://www.spencertownacademy.org/, on view through May 24.

It's difficult to decide whether Garrison is more a visual artist or a statistician. His works in the show (titled American Color) are colorful, structural, and elegantly handmade, using traditional artistic media (mostly pencil, watercolor, and gouache on paper). Yet they are also data sets, strictly speaking, and apparently quite intentionally so.
This is not a true dilemma, but it is an unavoidable and fascinating central feature to Garrison's work and, one assumes, his mind. His method is rigorous and fairly simple - create a scheme by noting the colors of all the structural elements of the drive-thru facility of a specific fast-food restaurant (in one body of work) or by referring to the colors of the items on certain pages of an advertising circular (in another body) and then arrange the colors in a pre-drawn grid of strips or dots.

Garrison does nothing to interpret his data, apart perhaps from the unexplained way he organizes the order of the colors, leaving the viewer to draw his own inferences from the dry presentation. Still, there is a richness in his choice of source material and the information he does provide (such as locations, in the case of the restaurants, and dates, in the case of the circulars).

So, the relatively subdued and limited color palette that we see in Drive-Thru Color Scheme (Starbucks) reveals aspects of the Starbucks marketing philosophy, and these intimations take on more meaning in contrast to the far more diverse and bright coloration found in Drive-Thru Color Scheme (McDonald's). Or, you can just enjoy the colors and layouts of the drawings, without getting into such intellectualization, and you'll find them quite adequate as abstract art (see Drive-Thru Color Scheme [Taco Bell/Kentucky Fried Chicken] above).

The Weekly Ad Color Scheme drawings offer more information and more opportunity to interpret - they also look a bit more like actual statistical graphs or scatter charts than the other series, which is constructed of rectilinear strips and more closely resembles art of the Constructivist era. Still, they're sort of pretty (and I mean that in a nice way).

It's fun to glimpse the weekly ad drawings at a natural viewing distance (from where the tiny pencil notations on the source material are illegible) and try to guess where they're from just based on the colors. For example, Karen immediately caught the red/green holiday theme that dominates Weekly Ad Color Scheme (Joann Fabric and Craft Stores), which was dated Nov. 2-8 and on closer scrutiny showed that the items selected were quite specific to Christmas. I had a similar "a-ha!" experience with a camo-colored drawing that was sourced to a Dick's Sporting Goods flyer published at the height of hunting season.

Again, comparisons among the drawings in the group led to other ideas and insights, as the primaries and pastels of Weekly Ad Color Scheme (Toys "R" Us) play against the soft brights and sober blacks and grays of Weekly Ad Color Scheme (Office Max) and so on. With these, and all the drawings, one is also continually impressed with Garrison's skill and consistency in executing these precise works.

Two other works in the show are collages, made of squares of paper or cardboard cut from product packages found at the Garrison household; another pair of works, derived from a relentless application of the Spirograph toy (detail shown at right), represent a different direction that is more purely visual as well as more purely process-oriented than the rest of the work.

One of the collages, very large and bright, is a joyous constellation of color and shape that greets visitors from across the room and fairly dominates it. It shows a more playful side of Garrison, while remaining within the realm of his other methods, and fairly well settles the question - the statistician really is more of an artist.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

News about Get Visual

Hello faithful readers!

I am writing to let you know that things may be a little different at Get Visual for a while. Also, there's an improvement I want you to know about.

First, the improvement: I have changed a setting that I believe will make it somewhat more convenient to leave a comment. It will definitely make it easier to preview and edit a comment - but it will also put the comments in a separate window rather than at the bottom of the posting.

I hope this helps encourage a freer exchange of comments - please let me know if you welcome the change, or if it is not an improvement from your point of view. I'll try to make it work as well as possible for the benefit of all.

Now, here's what's different: I have begun graduate school (MBA, College of Saint Rose) and it is very time- and computer-intensive, which makes me less available to see shows and write about them. My goal is to post once a week if possible, but that may be difficult at times (like right now, for example). So, bear with me - I intend to keep up the spirit of Get Visual as much as possible while I'm in school, but the learning curve for this old dinosaur is rather steep at the moment ... and the blog may have to take a hit.

If anyone out there is interested in contributing reviews here, please let me know and we can discuss it. Meanwhile - get out there and support the arts as much as you can!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

New York City gallery crawl, Part II

(continued from previous posting - to start at the beginning, just scroll down to Part I. )
That stroll to Yossi Milo was interrupted by a side trip - strong work beckoned from the windows of Robert Steele Gallery http://www.robertsteelegallery.com/, where a show called unbound that features the paintings and monoprints of Betsy Cain graced the front room (example at right). Cain has a great sense of color and calligraphic line. Her big, bold works were like a bracing wind that pushed our weary souls forward. It's an impressive show and it runs through May 9.

Also at Robert Steele through May 9 is a smaller showcase exhibition of wall-mounted wooden constructions and silkscreen prints by Joe Segal titled Counting Lines. The work is minimalist, symmetrical and highly textural. I really liked the surface qualities of the wooden pieces and the way the silkscreens translated that sensibility into a paper medium. Two thumbs up for Steele and these two artists.

Our next and final stop was at a venerable Chelsea building that houses 29 galleries at 547 W. 27th Street, including that of Ron's friend Michael Foley http://www.foleygallery.com/, who greeted us warmly and enthusiastically. It's a pretty amazing experience to wander what is essentially a vertical flea market of contemporary art, where all floors of the building are devoted to visual expression, some divided up into as many as eight or 10 individual spaces, each with its own purpose and personality.

This is the Chelsea of legend - the grass-roots movement that opened up this off-the-beaten-track neighborhood decades ago and made it safe for art dealers and collectors from all over the world to invade is very much alive and well in the nooks and crannies of 547 W. 27th. Though Foley Gallery was between shows, we wandered freely nearby, finding that every little gallery showed something different and made us feel genuinely welcome.

One such is Tria http://www.triagallery.net/, a gallery with three co-owners that has a solo show by Frank Olt through May 9. Olt combines unexpected media, such as fired ceramic and linen, to make lovely, subtle abstract paintings (example at left). It was refreshing to see his show of modest-scale work (many as small as a foot square) when so much art lately has been too big and loud.

Another highlight came in the form of a gallery with several dispersed, oddly shaped spaces on the same floor. Called AC [Institute Direct Chapel], its "mission is to advance the understanding of art through investigation, research and education."

The positive energy was just overflowing at AC http://www.artcurrents.org/ (another form of excess, maybe , but a good one). I wish I could send you to see the installations there by Jeff Becker, Ann Torke, and Bryan Whitney, but they ended on April 11. What was wonderful about them was that they addressed this whole business of excess - Becker by creating a miniature city out of discarded plastic lids and other junk; Torke by collecting and encapsulating detritus in graceful vaselike forms; and Whitney by channeling his inner Buddha to attempt to come to grips with the too many photographs he takes and the spiritual concept of Myriad: The Ten Thousand Things. I could relate!

Finally, though not big or loud or excessive, another venue in the building occupies the whole fourth floor, and that is Aperture Gallery http://www.aperture.org/, where fine photography has a gracious home, and fine photography books have a champion publisher.

The current show at Aperture, through May 7, is a very powerful and difficult body of work - difficult because the subject matter is so very sad. Titled Intended Consequences: Rwandan Children Born of Rape, the large exhibition features color portraits and interviews by Jonathan Torgovnik (example above) of Rwandan women and their children born as a result of the atrocities of the 1990s.

Sensitive and respectful, the portraits show these women's pain while preserving their dignity, but they do push the boundaries between art and activism / art and journalism toward a place that can leave you uncomfortable. I found the experience somewhat too emotionally draining, and was thankful for the comfort of Aperture's firm leather couches to regain my composure.

It was one heck of a day of looking around at New York art. If you go - wear sensible shoes.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New York City gallery crawl, Part I

Nothing defines our time like the phrase "culture of excess," and there's nothing like a trip to New York City to put excess in the forefront of your mind.
New York has too much of just about everything (except maybe open space), and that includes art galleries to choose from. This is overabundantly clear in Chelsea, where it seems every storefront, former garage, factory building and hole in the ground is filled with art.

Wandering around there for a few hours on a recent visit, I thought a plan of attack might have its merits, but found pretty quickly that a nearly random approach was probably as good a way as any to cope with the overwhelming sensation of too-muchness. It's like being in a grand bazaar, where everywhere you turn there are tantalizing choices - you just make a decision and trust that what you got was as good as the stuff you missed, and anyway, what else can you do?

So my friend Ron and I started at a place that has terrific architecture and blue chip art. Jim Kempner Fine Art http://www.jimkempnerfineart.com/ features a sculpture garden behind a high, solid steel wall and a tri-level gallery space inside. The work shown was priced up to $700,000 (that would be Robert Indiana's crassly commercial Hope sculpture at right). I saw little that I really liked, however, and sensed an unmistakable atmosphere of pure desperation at the gallery- after all, this is post-meltdown New York.

Our next stop was similarly posh, though a more welcoming space, and it was filled with name artists, including Warhol, Basquiat, Lewitt, Arman and other dead people. Apart from the Lewitt, it left me with a morbid sensation of impending doom - so I declared an instant moratorium on anything that wasn't from a living artist, and preferably not so damn overpriced.

Immediately, things got better. Bruce Silverstein http://www.brucesilverstein.com/ provided a nice palate cleanser in the form of a three-part photo show, by E.O. Hoppe, Andre Kertesz, and Cloud 9, which presents nine cloud pictures by Alfred Stieglitz, Imogen Cunningham, and Edward Weston. Despite the unmistakable deadness of all the artists, it was a fresh presentation of dazzling black-and-white images, especially those by Kertesz. It runs through April 25.

We next stopped in at Paul Kasmin Gallery http://www.paulkasmingallery.com/ , where a group of very brightly striped paintings (see left) by one of those Young Brits we're always hearing about was on view. Ian Davenport will be showing there through May 2 and is worth a look if you like that sort of thing. The paintings left me somewhat cold, but the young gallerina's smile was so warm it made my day.

With a new bounce in my step, it was on to more down-to-earth settings and stylings. A John Waters solo photography exhibition at Marianne Boesky http://www.marianneboeskygallery.com/ had all the humor and grunge of his films; and in the gallery's project room were some really sensitive portraits by Kaye Donachie, which were somehow still campy enough to hang with Waters. Nice place.

Right nearby was an installation at Gladstone Gallery http://www.gladstonegallery.com/ by a Polish artist named Miroslaw Balka that was inspired by, and just about as pleasant as, the Holocaust. I sort of wish I'd given that one a miss.

But what happiness to have not missed the fantastic installation just down the block by Tony Oursler at Metro Pictures http://www.metropicturesgallery.com/, though I am sorry to have to report that it ended on Saturday.

Oursler is well known for making video projections on three-dimensional objects to create a new kind of sculpture; sound often adds a creepy and/or humorous element to his work. The three-room installation at Metro had a walk-through forest of tree-sized burning cigarettes (that also burned backwards - unburned?), a huge, talking five-dollar bill, and tiny houses with running theatrical/domestic dramas projected into them, along with quite a few other pieces both large and small. All of it was pretty damn brilliant.

Next up was a purposeful stroll to Yossi Milo Gallery http://www.yossimilo.com/, one of the best contemporary photography galleries anywhere and a must-see for shooters like Ron and me. We were not disappointed - the current exhibition by Myoung Ho Lee, titled Tree, is a wonderful series of tree portraits, created on-site by suspending a huge canvas backdrop behind the tree and then shooting it within but isolated from its surroundings.

Lee uses impeccable large-format color photo technique, and then applies equally sophisticated digital skills to remove from the image the visible traces of the bars and cables that hold the canvas. the resulting pictures are fictional, or illusionistic, but also touchingly real.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

MHRI at ACG

In the news business, that headline is what we call alphabet soup. In this case, it refers to the Mohawk Hudson Regional Invitational at Albany Center Gallery, a tradition - now in its 22nd year - of choosing artists from the vaunted annual juried show for a more in-depth showcase exhibition.

This year's MHRI features three emerging artists who are curiously well matched. Allen Bryan, Philip J. Palmieri and Matthew Peebles have little in common in terms of background, influences, schooling, etc., and they work in diverse media: photography, painting, and sculpture, respectively. But they share a certain skewed view of reality - one that it wouldn't be a stretch to call surrealism.

Bryan makes lovely, illusionistic photographs that take good advantage of the possibilities of the digital medium without abandoning the traditional photographic values of composition, clarity, and print quality. By collaging together bits and pieces of scenes he has shot for about two decades, Bryan creates new, ever-so-slightly unbelievable scenarios that mix different eras, types of space, and lighting.

These impossible images remain believable, though, because Bryan carefully balances the colors, textures, and points of view in his fragments to create a harmonious whole. Or is it? That is, these relatively quiet, uninhabited scenes of interior/exterior spaces are visually cohesive but psychologically jarring - not disturbing, just slightly creepy.

Relatively large (around three feet across), and seductively hued, Bryan's nine panoramic pictures in this show suggest family ritual, forgotten and abandoned places, time-disconnection, and unseen drama. Dated from 2007 to 2009, they progress from almost perfectly illusionistic to clearly not spatially right - allowing Bryan to reach further into his bag of tricks while slyly letting the viewer in on the process.

Palmieri is a physician who specializes in infectious diseases. His oils on canvas are modestly sized (all but a few in the show are about 16x20 inches) and depict people with bandages. Many of these are self-portraits - this, the artist said at a gallery talk during the Regional last year, is because he's readily available.

Whether of himself or other subjects, the people Palmieri represents are not in context - their injuries are not explained or even shown, their expressions are neutral. But the figures, naked except for their gazes and those white bandages, are both mute and eloquent. The few examples where more of the figure is shown, and more context fills the background (a landscape, a chair and pillows), end up being less evocative than the ethereally empty ones, where we can let our imaginations and emotions respond more freely.

A separate group of five smaller works, where Palmieri has painted figures on pages of outdated medical texts, were for me more of a gimmick - a bit sensationalistic, a bit voyeuristic. I think he needs to push the boundaries of that idea into new territory before it will hold any real interest.

Peebles shows six sculptures in the exhibition, four of which are small enough to be contained in foot-tall bell jars. The other two are figurative, approximately life-size, and freestanding. Peebles is a joker, and the two larger pieces are, in effect, one-liners. One shows a fellow who has melted out of his clothes, forming a pink pool of goo at his own feet; the other depicts a character who dances maniacally in Homer Simpson pajama pants - but has morphed into some kind of lumpy groat. I didn't quite get it.

The four smaller sculptures, while still sort of jokey, are easier to take seriously as art. In their glass enclosures, they naturally draw you in to examine them closely, and the detail with which they are rendered makes the effort worthwhile.

All but one of these specimens feature a life-size hand that exists in a Lilliputian world. In one, the hand has grown bark and functions as a super-spooky hanging tree. In another, it is naturalistic but still under construction, rearing up next to a miniature metal scaffold with tiny tools scattered on its wooden planks. The third hand holds a children's playhouse aloft, rope ladder dangling.

These works are skillfully rendered in a near-realistic style that is almost like three-dimensional comic-book art - colorful and expressive, but tightly rendered. The technique applies perfectly to Peebles' fourth vitrine, under which a peaty dome forms an environment with a cozy Hobbit-like interior and an archaeological treasure-hunt of an exterior, complete with human and dinosaur bones and other funky artifacts.

It's a nice departure for Peebles, and a nice metaphor for the show, for which the gallery's director goes on an annual treasure hunt at the sprawling Regional exhibition, then brings back some bits that we can explore more fully. The show runs through May 9; a reception will take place during 1st Friday festivities on May 1 from 5 to 9 p.m.

One more thing - in the interest of transparency, it should be mentioned that I am a volunteer member of the Albany Center Gallery exhibits committee.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Matthew Hamilton at Lake George Arts Project

What is it about wood? The substance in all its forms makes up most of what Matthew Hamilton draws and paints, as revealed in a strong solo show at the Lake George Arts Project's Courthouse Gallery in Lake George Village http://www.lakegeorgearts.org/ through April 17.

Hamilton has an MFA from the University at Albany and has been showing in regional exhibitions for about 10 years, but he first came to my attention about two years ago when a couple of his wood paintings appeared in the Fence Select show at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy. What struck me then were three things: the meticulousness of Hamilton's technique, his idiosyncratic way of building a composition, and that weird wood thing. I also noticed that the pieces had sold, not all that common an occurrence around here, but not a surprise in this case.

I say that despite the extreme oddity of these images - they are hardly your first idea of art that pleases - and despite the fact that I didn't find them particularly appealing myself. It can be that way with good art - you may not like it at first, but in time it will win you over.

Hamilton has achieved something increasingly difficult in these times. He has created a style that is uniquely his, and he has done it not by employing some bizarre medium or new application but rather by the old-fashioned route: maintaining a high standard in the persistent pursuit of his obsession.

The show at LGAP provides an ample glimpse into Hamilton's world, with five pencil drawings and 10 acrylic paintings (all on paper, ranging in size from 9"x12" to 38"x50"). All but one are dated 2008 or 2009; the earlier one (2007) is a useful example of the evolution of his style, as it is a color piece but with a very narrow palette. Apart from the monochromatic pencil drawings, which are very good, Hamilton has grown increasingly confident with color.

Three of the 2008 paintings in the show straddle this transition to stronger colors, beginning with the one titled Hybrid Junk Tree 2 (shown at right), with its white background and relatively subdued range of colors, and ending with the much looser Ancient Hybrid Junk Tree, which features a pink background and strong shades of red, blue, and green, along with forms that resemble ice crystals and molecule chains, augmenting the wooden subject matter.

In between is Giant Hybrid Junk Tree (shown at top of posting), which has Hamilton's characteristic linear composition, empty background, and Rube Goldbergesque chains of objects.

Aside from Goldberg, I see elements of influence from surrealist Salvador Dali and the Imagist school of Chicago artists (Hamilton did his undergraduate studies there); in his statement, he also cites Brueghel, Van Gogh, and Philip Guston.

All artists show their influences; the smart ones recognize them; and the best ones transcend them to strike out on their own. I believe Hamilton is in that last category, and I look forward expectantly to what he will do next.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Patricia Johanson lecture at HVCC

Patricia Johanson, one of the many internationally-known artists who live in the region, gave a fascinating talk at Hudson Valley Community College on Wednesday, and a good crowd of students and local artists were in attendance. (That's Johanson at right.)

The 2008 Stephen L. Hyatt Memorial Lecture focused on Johanson's astonishing environmental projects, quite a few of which have been realized in places as far flung as California, Utah and the Brazilian rainforest.

With a background that includes a serious and successful early career as an abstract artist and extensive knowledge of botany, landscape design, and water treatment, Johanson combines an impressive array of concerns into the creation of large-scale public works projects that function as eco-parks, restore wetlands, treat raw sewage, co-exist with industrial sites, and - oh yeah - are also massive works of art.

Derived primarily from drawings produced during a remarkably fecund period of brainstorming in the 1960s (that's one above), her ideas take shape through extensive research and collaboration with planners and engineers. The projects then get worked through as newly made drawings (that's one at right) and result in complex sculptural installations that can incorporate extensive plantings as well as industrial plants, but appear to be fun-filled environmental parks for people to enjoy (see photo below).

Here are some quotes from her talk:

It's not about my art - my art is just the framework ... for these ecological communities.

It's all about strategy.

Any way a person wants to look at a work of art and anything they see in it is important and true.

[This is what I'm looking for:] What's the truth of each particular place?

What is the work of art becoming?

There's a lot of art, but there's also a lot of life, and the colors of both work together.

[That purple is created by] nature color mixing with art color on-site.

There's nothing intrinsically bad out there.

Another one bites the dust

It's official: Amrose Sable Gallery will close its doors on May 24th after three years of showing the best in local art on Hudson Avenue in Albany.

Gallery Director Elizabeth Dubben says she is not closing the business; she will continue marketing art online with a new blog and an expanded website, and she is on the lookout for alternative spaces. But the closure still feels like a loss, and it is all too familiar a feeling in this market, where it seems a commercial gallery just can't survive beyond a few years.

John Hanson's tasty antiques/design store/art gallery Dusk just closed in Troy (ironically, the last show there was a solo by Dubben) and the wonderful, whimsical Firlefanz Gallery lasted about three years on Lark Street before shutting its doors in 2006.

There's always hope for something new, and one can wish for the healthy continuation of other initiatives such as the grass-roots UAG on Lark and the well-curated program at Clement Frame and Art in Troy - but it's a little hard to be too optimistic in these times. Dubben and Hanson are talking about joining forces, though, and that's something to look forward to if it takes shape.

Meanwhile, another 1st Friday is upon us (details at http://www.1stfridayalbany.org/), and Amrose Sable will participate by hosting the irrepressible Wendy Ide Williams in a solo exhibition (image below); the reception is from 5 to 9. The gallery's followup (and final) show will be by Robert Gullie.

The gallery's new hours are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 5 to 8; and Saturday and Sunday from 12 to 3. Support it while you can.