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Thursday, July 21, 2011

75th Mohawk-Hudson Regional at AIHA

Escape - Susan Stuart, oil on canvas
The 75th Annual Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region, commonly called the Regional, is at the Albany Institute of History & Art this year, and it is huge. Selected by prominent painter Holly Hughes, who considered 1,020 submissions by 235 artists (a record for the Institute, though still far fewer than the nearly 1,500 works submitted by 340 artists to the Hyde Collection last year), the final cut includes 160 pieces by 85 artists.

That’s about five times as many as the 35 works by 17 artists that were in the same show at the University Art Museum in 2003 (presumably a record low). Think of it – one Regional five times the size of another. It sort of boggles the mind. Just reading a list of the whole roster is hard work, and I’ll prove it by putting that list right here:

Mr Swifty - Linda B. Horn
Fake fur, foam structure, plaster shoes
Samuray Akarvardar, Jim Allen, Fern T. Apfel, Jaimee Atkinson, Sebastian Barre, Tina Baxter, Meredith Best, Pennie Brantley, Allen Bryan, James Burnett, Paul Chapman, Yaminay Nasir Chaudhri, William Coeur de Ville, Terry James Conrad, Peter Crabtree, Katie DeGroot, Chris DeMarco, Ginger Ertz, Ray Felix, Abraham Ferraro, Jessica Fitzgibbon, Richard Garrison, Charles Geiger, Barry Gerson, Gail Giles, George Gruel, Bart Gulley, Stephen Bron Gurtowski, Michael J. Gwozdz, John Hampshire, Patrick Harbron, Theresa Hayes, Sarah Haze, Andrea Hersh, Susan Hoffer, Stephen Honicki, Linda B. Horn, Renee Iacone, Mary Kathryn Jablonski, William Jaeger, Paul John, Richard Kathmann, Pooh Kaye, Scott Keidong, Sandie Keyser, Amanda Klish, John Knecht, Ivan Koota, Phyllis Kulmatiski, Gary Larsen, Naomi Lewis, Harold Lohner, Iain Machell, Mona Mark, Paul Mauren, Gwenn Mayers, Mark McCarty, Bryan McGrath, Michael McKay, Jenny McShan, Renata Memole, Michael Mooney, Robert Morgan, Art Murphy, Nedra Newby, Philip J. Palmieri, Liz Parsons, James Paulsen, Kenneth Ragsdale, Marc Rosenthal, John Ruff, Mark Schmidt, Deborah Schneider, Lynn Schwarzer, Jon Segan, Mary-Alice Smith, Charles Steckler, Susan Stuart, Barbara Todd, Ken Vallario, Nancy Van Deren, David G. Waite, Nicholas Warner, Edye Weissler, and Wendy Ide Williams.

With so many people chosen, I feel compelled to offer a few words of commiseration to those who were excluded: Remember, a juried show is by definition subjective. Don’t give up! There’s always next year … . Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the included were feeling a little put out to be part of such a broad presentation. After all, how special is it really to be one of the 85 "elite" from the region this year?

Empire Views with the Green
Nedra Newby, Watercolor
As it turns out, not so very special at all. The show is, indeed, too damn big. Beginning in the first small room that typically introduces AIHA exhibitions, it gets off to a very promising start with a large, vertical, black-and-white video projection of a doubled rushing waterfall that greets the visitor as if to say "this Regional is bold, get ready for a wild ride." Other works in that room, from traditional oil painting to Sharpie on whiteboard, express weather in many forms, setting an intriguing tone for the show to come - it will have themes in whole rooms or parts of them, an almost necessary strategy for presenting so much diverse work, and a wise one - though it fails to deliver on the promise.

The second room takes us in a completely different direction, immediately understood as being all about color. As a shameless color junkie, I have no argument with that, and found many pleasing pieces gathered there. But, in the next (and largest) room of the museum's second-floor spaces, this crispness of organization begins to break down a bit, and some questionable decisions become apparent. (The layout, by the way, was planned by Hughes.)

WC #6 - Paul Mauren
Aluminum, wood, ceramic tile
What at first seems to be charming quirkiness of placement - a very subtle and small box assemblage by Jon Segan is placed well above eye level; three large color photographs by Mark McCarty are forced into a tall totem - turns into extreme imposition in the form of seven works by five artists being jammed into an awkward and tight group on the gallery's end wall. This type of problem recurs in the next large room, where two color photographs by Chris DeMarco are interspersed with two watercolors by James Burnett, a distracting way to show them.

I've heard this increasingly common phenomenon called "curator as artist," and I've seen it work better in truly curated shows - but, when it comes to presenting so many unwitting individuals in a juried regional, I think the artists deserve the respect of less interpretive placement. Had the two DeMarcos simply been placed side by side with the two Burnetts, we still would have gotten the point that they are closely related, without seeing them diminished.

Meanwhile, as I trolled the show for favorites and new discoveries, I found it harder and harder to respond with any energy to the art - even the works I knew immediately to be among the best seemed to have lost their oomph to the crowding and - more to the point - to the juxtaposition with other works that, frankly, should have been edited out. Inclusiveness is a beautiful philosophy, and I think it works extremely well on a youth soccer team. But, when it comes to presenting carefully made and meticulously installed artwork, less is very often more.

If the juror had gone one more round in her process, and retained only the strongest 80 or 100 pieces, all of them would look stronger still. Instead, they are made to keep company with lesser art - not just one or two odd choices, but dozens of them - and this, again, leaves them diminished. Which is a shame, because there is a bunch of terrific art in this show.

Umatilla - Ken Ragsdale, Inkjet print
Among the highlights for me were new works by familiar names: Richard Garrison's four wittily bloodless Circular Color Schemes; another set of four works by Fern Apfel that blend color-field abstraction with simple realism; Paul Mauren's wall-hung aluminum and wood sculptures; two fine color portraits by photographer Peter Crabtree; and two "non-narrative silent videos" by Bil Jaeger.

Equally compelling were works by people new to me, including: Ken Vallario's highly polished neo-Surrealist paintings; two paper collage abstractions (and a painted one) by Bart Gulley; Terry James Conrad's intriguing small geometric constructions in paper and other materials; and two luminously dark color photographs by George Gruel.

These and many other works in the show will shine through the clutter and hold your attention as you make your way through this challenging but very worthwhile presentation. Note that admission to the Institute is free on Fridays and two-for-one on Saturdays through August. There will be Artists Gallery Talks at 6 p.m. on the next two 1st Fridays: Aug. 5, and Sept. 6.

Rating: Highly Recommended

5 comments:

-S said...

Same here, the layout in some rooms was a bit of a problem to me. One of Mark McCarty's piece was on display at the 33rd Photo Regional and it makes a much stronger case with its 2 companion pieces at the AIHA, unfortunately placed vertically. Many pieces were really way way below reasonable eye level. Not going to complain too much though, my 2 photos were in the "abstract/color" space, there was good breathing room here.

s.m. smith said...

thank you for making some salient points and putting my feelings into words. it's nice to know i wasn't the only one who felt that the best work was overshadowed by a sea of mediocrity.

Anonymous said...

The color & condition of the AIHA walls in several of the rooms really worked against a good deal of the work. This has traditionaly been my favorite venue for the regional but somehow I found myself distracted from the art this year. Hughes did a great diservice to much of the work by her placement & groupings. A very dissappointing show.

Anonymous said...

I just want to mention that the Upstate Artists Guild (247 Lark St.)curated an exhibition of rejected submissions from the Mohawk-Hudson Regional this year. Salon des Refuses(July 1-22)had a reception in conjuction with the AIHA MHR awards reception. In the future, I hope the Salon show gets more awareness. Thanks to the UAG, I finally got to show my works, after all these years!

david brickman said...

Thanks for posting that information - a Salon des Refuses is a great idea. I'm sorry it has already ended - I would have liked to see the show. - db