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Monday, December 22, 2014

Abecedarius at The Arts Center of the Capital Region

An installation view of Abecedarius
When Colin C Boyd and Michael Oatman won the 2013 Emerging and Established Artist Awards from The Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy, it wasn't said that they'd be collaborating on a show there, but it certainly comes as no surprise that they did. That show, a rollicking compendium of these two artists' individual and overlapping obsessions, is Abecedarius (subtitled "A Cautionary Alphabet of 26 + 1 Works).

The Convenience Effect, a 2014 collage
by Michael Oatman in a shaped frame
made by his father, Gordon Oatman
I don't know what sort of history Boyd and Oatman have with each other, but I'm going on the assumption that this is their first co-production, as it mostly re-presents significant past works, new works both major and minor by each artist, and just one jointly made item, making it in effect a two-person show. For those already familiar with the two artists, Abecedarius is a welcome return to some really fascinating and fun stuff, augmented by some really cool new stuff. And for those new to either maker, it's a pretty broad and deep immersion - not quite a retrospective, but in that direction.

Foreground, American Bison 2012 by Colin C Boyd;
background, Over (After Durer) 2014 by Boyd and Oatman
For me, the really engaging subtext of this show is discovering the elements that Boyd and Oatman share - each has for years produced fictional histories, pseudoscience, anthropological fantasy and so on. While Boyd tends toward the really old, and populates his share of the exhibition with many archaeological references, Oatman's take on anthropology is of the more cultural variety, particularly expressed in retro-futurism.

Still, both are miners of deep troves of rich material, and both exercise overactive imaginations, the result being always intriguing and entertaining. The conceit of the show is that it presents one work of art for each letter of the alphabet (plus one more), so there's the game of finding these references (easy enough by looking at the labels), and then perhaps the more challenging game of figuring out what it's all supposed to mean.

The Branch, or the Site of Our Complete Liberation 2012
multi-panel collage by Michael Oatman
The show's labels are evocative, following the classic pattern of a children's ABC book (or a mystery series), so you start with Oatman's "A is for Alien Craft" and Boyd's "B is for Balance Scale Act" and go on from there; but, given that the works were not actually created to fulfill this structure (all have other more specific titles and they range in date from 2007 to 2014), it comes off as a fun but false construct. That said, there is a lot of fresh work in the show by both artists, and I'll take any excuse offered that allows us to see it.

Favorites include "F is for Fauna + Firearms," which offers a trio of minimally layered collages by Oatman, revisiting one of his best themes with sweet subtlety; and Boyd's "Z is for Zetetic," with a museum-of-science-worthy scale model of a conceptual spacecraft designed by the Flat Earth Society, appropriately suspended above the viewer.

As I write this, the show has just one day left and will close after Dec. 23. Can we agree for purposes of this review that B is for Better Late than Never?

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