Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Catching up with the Albany Institute


A view of the Small + Seductive installation
We’ve all been there – you’re aware of a show you know you want to see, and it has a long run, so you leave it till later because you know you have plenty of time to catch it before it closes … and then, inevitably, time goes by and, in the best of circumstances, you catch the show on its last day – or, more likely, miss it forever.

Pink Hat - Gayle Johnson, gouache on paper
That’s how, on Sunday, I caught the last day of a fine show of five photographers at the Albany Institute of History & Art, and then took the opportunity to peruse an ongoing exhibition called Small + Seductive, which continues through Sept. 28. Featuring about 50 works of art (a few of which are multiple-piece series) by 37 artists, Small + Seductive is the third in a recent series of shows from AIHA’s collection of contemporary art. The first of that trio included only photographs (full disclosure: two of those were mine) while the second was made up of large-scale work in more traditional fine art media.

From Here to Eternity - Wendy Ide Williams
ceramic sculpture
This latest exploration of the archive is, as the title suggests, made up of smaller works, all but a few of which are from the late 1980s on, and consists mainly of paintings, sculpture, and prints. Like the other two shows, Small + Seductive provides the viewer with an excellent overview of the Institute’s collecting proclivities and a good cross-section of many of the region’s most beloved and influential exhibiting artists. It is also very helpfully labeled with descriptive information and “According to the artist” statements from the living as well as some of the dearly departed.

Wall text explains that most of these works were acquired by the Institute via annual purchase prizes from the Mohawk-Hudson Regional, though others arrived by donation – and even commissions – from artists, collectors, and supporters of the museum’s mission. Still others were acquired during the transition out of the art field by the Schenectady Museum and Planetarium and the concurrent de-accession of its art collection.

Catskill Creek - Judy Alderfer Abbott
 
oil on board


In addition to revealing the taste of Directors past and present, this selection shows the overwhelming influence in this region of the fine art program at the University at Albany. Though I didn’t take a head count, it’s clear the majority of artists represented here either taught or studied at the U (some have done both), and many of them continue to teach and show hereabouts, extending that legacy on and on.

While many of the artists have just one piece in the show (whether they have others in the collection is left unsaid), several are represented by multiple works. Among them is Gayle Johnson, a painter who died tragically young, but who left behind vibrant portraits in gouache, twelve of which hang here in a grid. Richard Garrison also shows a grid of colorful paintings on paper (16 of them), while an elegant vitrine displays six of a slipcased set of ten etchings by Thom O’Connor.

Untitled - Dennis Byng, cast lucite
Among the three-dimensional works are a busily and evocatively painted ceramic shrine by Wendy Williams (it looks more like a fountain to me), discreetly aligned with a powerful painted-concrete head by her husband, Allen Grindle. Larry Kagan, a prominent sculptor with a solo show set to end on Sept. 14 at The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, is represented by a tiny framed metal relief of a flag; and the great Dennis Byng has a brilliantly decadent-looking cast plastic cube on a pedestal across the room.

Painting dominates the show, fittingly enough for one of the Hudson River School’s best repositories, and landscape features in many of the paintings. Three excellent small views by Marjorie Portnow and a fascinatingly detailed image of a forested Catskill Creek by Judy Alderfer Abbott were gemlike discoveries for me. Other strong landscape paintings include a photographically distorted wide-angle by Tom Nelson and a Fauvist composition by Carol Caruso that depicts a favorite place, the Albany Rural Cemetery.
Albany Rural Cemetery
Carol Caruso, oil on canvas
A few other paintings run far afield from realistic rendering: A mesmerizing field of strips and dots by Peter Taylor; a lush, expressive interior by Richard Callner; a slightly nightmarish fantasy by Robert Cartmell. There are a few stabs at abstraction in addition to Taylor’s, and a couple of real challenges to the status quo in terms of materials, but most of the work here stays well within the bounds of traditional and modern art, as you would expect from one of the nation’s oldest museums.
Equally, from such a venue, you would expect the contemporary art collection to be of high quality – and it does not disappoint at all in that regard. So, catch it while you can – even if it’s on the last day (again, that would be Sept. 28). And get ready for the must-see show up next at AIHA: the 2014 Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region, set to open with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 26.
View of Shaker Creek - Richard Callner, watercolor and gouache on paper

2 comments:

  1. Glad you didn't wait until the last day THIS time. What was that date again? September 28?

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  2. George www.deeptranceart.comSeptember 15, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    Good to be reminded of this. Loved seeing Dennis Byng's piece. G

    ReplyDelete