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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Carrie Haddad and other Hudson galleries

Kahn & Selesnick, Oak-Man Falls 2015, archival inkjet print
I drove over to Hudson last Sunday to meet a friend for a pizza at Baba Louie's (it was delicious) and check out the Photography show at Carrie Haddad Gallery. Haddad typically focuses on painting, but her gallery (the longest-standing in Hudson at 25 years old) has always shown photography as well, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to enjoy a contemporary showcase for the medium.

Gain Peachin,untitled collage 2015
We were not disappointed, as the exhibition featured a wide array of traditional and postmodern styles, ranging from Jerry Freedner's bucolic Catskills landscapes to Newbold Bohemia's tacky domestic dramas and Gail Peachin's clever, tiny cutouts.

K+S, Charlotte - Apricot 2015
The show includes 12 artists but gives the lion's share of space to the duo Kahn & Selesnick, whose elaborately detailed fantasies have evolved from neo-antique sepia prints to richly colored inkjets. Just a few of K&S's new works are monochrome, and those work very well, but here we see mostly color among the 20 images presented and, frankly, it is a bit distracting. That's because the pictures still evoke timelessness, yet the coloration in most of the prints is noticeably 21st-century.

Among the black-and-whites, we get shades of steam-punk macabre (think Joel Peter Witkin), while the color images of various individuals floating in a shallow pond surrounded by flora and ephemera lean more in the direction of a nursery rhyme.

Stephanie Blumenthal, Light Blue Square 2015, archival inkjet
My favorite work in the show is by Stephanie Blumenthal, who alters highly detailed black and white pictures of bare trees and vines by overlaying blocks of color, with solid black highlighting on the naturally calligraphic gesture of the vine forms. This crossing over of media (that digital tools do so well) is a rich vein in contemporary photography, and will offer continued opportunities for artists to innovate for decades to come.

What I particularly like about Blumenthal is the simplicity or her approach, creating a pure marriage of three strong sensibilities: lushly detailed photography, color-centric painting, and calligraphic line. The resulting series of pictures (which augment each other effectively) takes the viewer to a place of deep observation that is at the heart of all the arts.

Eric Lindbloom, Pine Woods #28 2003, gelatin silver print
I also loved seeing several small, square silver prints by Eric Lindbloom, not only for the nostalgia factor but because they are so beautifully seen and crafted. These date back a number of years (from 1999 to 2009), as does with much of the rest of the work in the show, for which I will register a mild complaint. It's one thing to do a retrospective, or to bring out previously unseen art from the past - but in my opinion it's a no-no to present stale art in a feature exhibition.

The other photographers included in Photographs (which has been extended through Feb 14) are Birgit Blyth, Jeri Eisenberg, Lisa Frank, David Halliday, Robert Hite, and Joseph Maresca.

Michael Theise, Safe-Keeping, oil on panel
While in town, we decided to check out a few galleries we hadn't seen before. One of them, Peter Jung Fine Art, is open only by appointment or chance; the lights were on, so we jumped at the chance to stick our noses in. And what a place! Three floors of comfortable, neatly organized space bristling with antique and contemporary paintings (plus a few photographs) of very high quality, warmed by the very personable Jung, another longtime Hudsonian (he arrived in '92). Though he emphasizes 19th-century landscape paintings, Jung was also featuring the recent trompe l'oeil work of Michael Theise, among many other living artists.

We extended our immersion in painting with a stop at Gallery Gris, where a solo exhibition of abstract oils By Kylie Heidenheimer that was scheduled to end on Dec. 21 was still hanging. The gallery specializes in color abstraction, which is a weakness of mine as well, so I greatly enjoyed this new discovery. Heidenheimer and the other gallery artists (whose works we glimpsed in the back room) are first-rate examples of the genre, and co-owner Todd Gribben was a gracious host. I will be back.

Kylie Heidenheimer, Sweep 2015, oil on canvas

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Folk Modern at Albany International Airport Gallery

Installation of found-object assemblages by Jack Metzger, 2006-2015
all photos with this post are courtesy of Arthur Evans
The creative process can be deceptively simple, but I find exposure to it is almost always uplifting. There's a delight in seeing how a person, whatever their flaws, can draw from within themselves the strength, imagination, and skill to produce something new and wonderful to behold.

Giselle Potter, Bark 2014 gouache on paper
Folk Modern, the current exhibition at Albany International Airport Gallery (on view through May 8), explores how eight regional makers (perhaps a better word in this case than "artists") have delved into that creative impulse and, as such, is a celebration of it. Emblematic of the special qualities of this process is the work of Jack Metzger (pictured at the top of this post), a shop owner who seems to just really like to collect odd, old stuff and mess around with it. His installation in the show reveals a discerning eye, a sense of wit, and a reverence for the integrity of a good, mysterious object. It's also great fun.

John McQueen, Teeter 2012 (left) and Sitting Pretty 2011 (right)
media include metal, wood, cardboard, wax string, willow
The mounted text that introduces the show makes the point that "the wall between folk and fine art has been crumbling for some time, and inhabitants of both sides have been finding much common ground." Indeed, one would honestly have to admit that, without peeking first at a resume, there's no way to tell which of these people is on which side of that fading divide.

Not unexpectedly, a good range of media are represented here - painting, collage, sculpture, installation, and illustration - and there's enough work by each participant to get a sense of who they are individually, though the show works well, too, as a whole.

Steve Rein, installation of paintings dated 2013-2015, lettering enamel on wood

Common ground links one artist to the next. Like Metzger, Steve Rein incorporates found material into his work, starting with scavenged anonymous snapshots and reinterpreting them in enamel on found bits of wood. Formerly a sign painter by trade, Rein seems to exemplify the "outsider" artist who uses non-traditional materials that come easily to hand (but, in fact, he has an art-school pedigree). He also seems almost too productive, as though compelled by external forces - his installation in the show includes more than 40 individual pieces, overwhelming the viewer.

Anima Katz, Bottle of Negrita Rum 2014, oil on canvas board
I found the work of neo-primitive painter Anima Katz easier to concentrate on. Her intricately textured works are the result of a distinct personal drive (begun when she was 52 years old) to emulate the great artists she admires. In this exhibition, she presents heartfelt homages to many of them in the form of portraits of the artists amid carefully copied miniatures of some of their best-known works. The result is a curiously original form of imitation that transcends mere reproduction.

Nancy Natale, Look at America 2011, found and invented elements
with encaustic and tacks on birch panel
Nancy Natale is just about at the opposite end of the spectrum from Katz - from a distance, her paintings look like art-smart abstractions of stripe, color, and shape. But, when you get closer you see that they are constructed of many inch-wide rectangles of found material, nailed in place and slathered with colorful encaustic. Natale's source materials include the banal - food packaging - and the more cerebral - book spines - but it is all part of a rich blend that resembles a pieced quilt more than an intellectual studio exercise.

Matt LaFleur, Gift World 2015, site-specific installation
Susanna Starr's work also reveals a relationship with traditional textiles, in this case by transforming patterned doilies into large, wall-hung slabs of wood veneer. Her painstaking cutting re-creates the intricacies of lace in an unexpected material that is nevertheless still aesthetically appealing and safely domesticated (see image at the bottom of this post). The other artists included in the show are Matt LaFleur, John McQueen, and Giselle Potter.

Note: Albany International Airport Gallery is open to the public - not behind security - from 7 am to 11 pm daily. Parking in the short-term lot is free for the first half-hour - if needed, the staff of the airport's DepARTure shop will stamp your parking ticket to allow a longer visit free of charge.

Susanna Starr, Dresser Doily 2005, hand-cut mahogany wood veneer





Friday, January 8, 2016

Tidbits for 2016

Ellsworth Kelly in his studio in 2012 (photo stolen from the New York Times)
As 2016 yawns and stretches into existence, a few items on the local art scene have caught my attention:
  1. The recent death at age 92 of Ellsworth Kelly. Almost universally regarded as a giant of 20th-century art, Kelly lived and worked in our region (Spencertown, Columbia County) for a great many years. I recall one encounter with the man, about 1984, when he stopped in to peruse my modest gallery on Washington Avenue in Albany. We knew he was a client of the hairstylist upstairs, but had never seen him. So, one day a middle-aged gentleman came in from the stairway area and looked around with what seemed to be a very practiced eye. I tried to engage him in conversation - no luck. Then I asked if we could place him on our mailing list (we did that with all visitors), but he demurred. When I more or less forced an introduction, he only gave one name: Kelly. I do recall that he did not seem impressed by what he saw, but neither did he seem disgusted. Personally, I love his work for its purity of form and color, and for its spirit of adventure. I also like the fact that Kelly was a supporter of local ventures, donating a print or two to be sold at Albany Institute fundraisers and employing local artists as assistants. He will be missed.
    an early Robert Mapplethorpe Polaroid self-portrait
    from the Jack Shear Collection
  2. Jack Shear photography collection donated to the Tang Teaching Museum. Shear was Ellsworth Kelly's longtime partner, and on Feb. 6 the Tang will open an exhibition selected from 500 significant and historical photographs he recently donated. It's a very truncated who's-who of 20th-century photography (with a notably gay-centric twist) that is sure to draw a lot of viewers and perhaps a snippet of controversy. Remember when the political right wing went nuts because the NEA had supported an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe pictures in Philadelphia? This show will definitely make it clear we're over that.
    Mazing Cave - collage by Michael Oatman
  3. This year The Hyde Collection will host the Annual Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region (popularly know as the Regional), and the judge will be a truly local artist for the first time in memory - Michael Oatman. Oatman, a professor at RPI, has shown regularly in prominent venues such as MASS MoCA and the Tang, as well as in New York City galleries for over a decade, so his credentials as a judge pass muster. Yet he also has regularly and recently participated in local juried shows such as the Regional and the Arts Center's Fence Show, which sets him apart from the typical Regional juror. This may bother some people, but I think it's appropriate - and a great choice of juror for this always intensely interesting local showcase.
    a photograph by Dan Burkholder
  4. The Photography Regional, our other most closely watched local juried show, will be held much earlier than usual this year, as co-host Fulton Street Gallery in Troy has scheduling conflicts for the more usual late-springtime slot. According to a recent announcement from co-host The Photo Center of the Capital District in Troy, the show will open on Jan. 29 as a two-week salon with all entries hung at both locations; then the judge's pared-down selection will be presented more formally at Fulton Street beginning Feb 20. This year's judge is Dan Burkholder, a Palenville-based digital photographer known for lushly detailed and subtly colored imagery.
  5. Beyond local: Oscar season is heating up, and I am struggling to catch all the films likely to gain lots of nominations. So far, the best film from 2015 that I've seen is Spotlight. I don't plan to catch the Star Wars film (sorry if you're a fan) - neither have I ever seen Titanic or Avatar, the other highest grossers of our time, so at least I am consistent. Am excited to see Carol as soon as possible, and have heard The Big Short is also very good, though I'm afraid it may give me unpleasant MBA-school flashbacks. More to come on the best films of 2015 in a later post ...
The movie Spotlight deserves special notice for the brilliant ensemble work of its cast.