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Saturday, June 6, 2015

Fence 50 at ACCR: Democracy in Action

Fence 50 installation view - Photos provided by the Arts Center of the Capital Region

It's been 50 years, and the Fence Show is still going strong at The Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy. I can remember in the early '80s hanging the works on the spikes of the wrought-iron fence that gave the show its name, and it retains the wide-open feeling it had then of being a show for the people.

This year's edition attracted 382 entries from a total of 237 artists, 40 of which were submitted by 33 K-12 students, and as is the tradition, all are on display in a jam-packed salon presentation (as seen in the photo above) through June 27. Such clutter would require a stepladder - and a lot of time - to properly peruse, but that's what juror Julie Lohnes (curator of Union College's collections and Mandeville Gallery) must have done in order to choose works for the Fence Select edition of the show and designate the prizes.

A detail of Fence 50
Such a democratic enterprise has its pluses and its minuses. The only requirement for inclusion is membership in the ACCR; it appears submissions were limited to two per artist, and I'm guessing there was a size limit - but otherwise, if you brought it, it got in. The result: Everybody gets to participate (yay!) but a fair amount of truly awful work is thereby presented, and even the best work pretty much gets overwhelmed by the swirling mass of media in the show (see examples immediately above and below).

Then again, if you like to keep up with the local art scene, this affords a chance for a broad overview of it, and provides a rare opportunity to see everything that was submitted along with the juror's choices (they are denoted with a little card, visible in the photo above). This can be a fun exercise, and I guarantee every visitor will not agree with all the juror's choices of what to include or exclude.

A detail of Fence 50
My own thoughts ran naturally to second-guessing Lohnes' process, as at first I scratched my head over how few works she had tagged for Fence Select (by my count - not including the students - she picked 42 works by 32 artists out of 342 submitted by 204 artists; fewer than 13% of the entries and 16% of the artists made the cut). Man, I thought, that's harsh! But after a while, the reality began to sink in of just how much mediocre stuff was there to troll through, and I was eventually nodding in appreciation of Lohnes' careful culling.

That said, as always, some excellent work seen here will not be in Fence Select, such as a haunting black-and-white self-portrait by oft-included painter John Hampshire; two fine small photographs by Dale Winsor; and Sara Pruiksma's quirky mixed-media confections. But, overall, Lohnes got it right - choosing a good variety of media (submissions ranged from functional to conceptual in all materials) and maintaining a high level of quality. I noticed she chose a lot of graphic media (photographs and prints make up more than a third of the selected works), many rather small-scaled pieces, and not much three-dimensional work, leading me to worry that Fence Select will be too sparse.

Still, it will be intriguing to return and see how the Select edition fills the gallery and to enjoy the works in it with some breathing room. That show runs July 18 through Aug. 29, along with a solo show by last year's Fence winner Marilee Sousie. This year's prize winners are photographer Ray Felix (Best in Show) and painter Catherine Chwazik (Runner-up). The students will also be represented in a select edition of 10 works by 10 artists, including top prize winner Eliza Henneberry and runner-up Nora Kane.

Fence 50 installation view - Photos provided by the Arts Center of the Capital Region

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