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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Bring on the Madness!

Players for the #15 seed Middle Tennessee State basketball team celebrate
their first-round upset of #2 seed Michigan State in the NCAA tournament.
photo from USA Today
Those who know me know I am crazy about basketball.

Not so much as a fan: First, I'd rather play than watch; second, I don't follow any particular team; and, unlike about half of the American population, I have never filled out a bracket.

But then there is March Madness. Even the most casual observers can't avoid the annual fever that overtakes the country, as NCAA basketball goes all out for its national tournament, and everybody is talking about Cinderellas, dynasties, and bracket-busters.

Recent years have seen the Madness get better and better, as lesser-known programs build success on the regional level and then shock the college hoops world with surprising runs to the second and third rounds of the tournament (or beyond). Despite the politics behind selection and seeding, and the inherent unfairness of the bracket system that always pits the highest-ranked teams against the lowest-ranked ones, parity and upsets are becoming wonderfully common.

Sports at this level are always fun to watch, whatever the game, because you see top talent giving it their very best for high stakes. The built-in drama of the madness of March adds emotion and excitement to the experience, and generates great stories. For me, whether it's hockey, soccer, golf, tennis, or baseball - men or women - playoff sports are always worth watching (even football, which never quite holds my attention otherwise).

But hoops is the best. And here's why:
  1. Constant action (also offered by hockey and soccer)
  2. A lot of scoring (the lack of which is the chief drawback of the other two sports named in #1)
  3. Whole team involved in almost every play
  4. All players must contribute on both offense and defense
  5. Time pressure
  6. Skills, skills, skills (you can specialize in basketball, say as a three-point shooter, but nowhere near as much as in baseball and football)
  7. Sheer athletic ability (ever seen a hoopster with a huge gut?)
As I am a reluctant TV viewer (who, by personal decision, watched none at all from 1971 through 1984, and have never subscribed to cable), it takes a lot to make me sit on the couch for more than a half-hour - something like Breaking Bad, or Downton Abbey - but I'll sit there today for hours, just as I did yesterday and the day before, and the night before that getting way too little sleep for a proper Friday at work, and I'll do it again next weekend, and so on. Until the Madness ends.

Because it's that good.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

38th Annual Photography Regional

A view of the 38th Annual Photography Regional at Fulton Street Gallery
At the age of 38, the Photography Regional has come full circle. Originally conceived as a counterpoint to the Mohawk-Hudson Regional, which did not accept photography until the early '90s, the Photo Regional has always been popular with professionals, artists, amateurs, professors, and students; and it has always made a splash with audiences, and in local media.

But has it evolved?

The current iteration of the show, at Fulton Street Gallery in Troy through April 2, looks and feels eerily like the earliest Photo Regionals - it was mounted this year first as an all-inclusive salon, and then as a juror selection (following the original format); it includes a significant number of the same names that participated in it way back then; the prints and images, though mainly produced with digital technology, look a lot like prints and images of the '70s; and it is in the same city as the first Photo Regional (which was hosted by the Rensselaer County Council on the Arts, now known as the Arts Center of the Capital Region).

Frank Rapant - After the Fire 4, archival inkjet
This year, juror Dan Burkholder chose 86 pictures by 70 or so artists from 265 initial submissions. Because the show was mounted in traditional fashion as a salon, with all entries on view, the entries had to be submitted in finished form (as opposed to digitally) and this year the deadline was unusually early (the show typically opens in the early spring). These factors no doubt had an impact on what was submitted - people had to be ready in a hurry - and probably caused more than a few regular participants to miss out.

That said, I think it's a good thing to require finished entries for two reasons:

  1. It allows the judge to see and choose exactly what is being presented, likely avoiding unpleasant surprises from work that looked way better in a slide than in a frame
  2. It somewhat limits the entrants to people who are regularly making and finishing work - as distinct from those who maybe only knock out a few pictures a year to submit to annual shows - possibly raising the bar a bit
I also like the salon idea - even if it's crowded and messy, the opportunity for the public to see everything that was submitted, perhaps making their own judgments about what's best, and then see a show selected by a professional, is always rich. The annual Fence Show, sponsored by the ACCR, also follows this format, and it's a treat.

Dan McCormick - Robbie 6-27-15
pinhole camera digital pigment print 
On the other hand, this year's judge was way too nice. He included a lot of work that shouldn't have made the cut, and was therefore unable to include a lot of multiple pictures (i.e. bodies of work) by the better individual artists. The result is a show that is double- or triple-hung and runs all over the place stylistically, with just 10 or so people having more than one piece on view. I've said it before: In art, democracy is not a good thing. Even the strongest work loses its potency when surrounded by too many other, lesser works.

While the Photo Regional is always going to be broad-based and inclusive, it also should present the region's photographers - whichever ones submit the best work each year - in a properly representative context. By that I mean it should result in a show that impresses the viewer with its quality, range, and depth. Those three adjectives succinctly and accurately describe the CApital Region's photography scene, and there's no reason the Photo Regional shouldn't emphatically reveal those strengths every year.

Laura Saffares - Which Door ... come and look
The best way to represent these qualities in a regional show is to be relentlessly selective, and then to give each of the best participating artists enough space to show a coherent body of work. That's what last year's Photo Regional judges did at the Opalka Gallery (see GV's review), and what I wish this year's judge also had done. Instead, despite a nearly heroic effort on the part of Fulton Street Director Ray Felix to install the show in his gallery's limited space, it looks amateurish.

But maybe this is what the Photo Regional ought to be. After all, things have changed tremendously in the world of photographic art, including in the Capital Region, since the first Photo Regional was mounted in 1979. Back then, it was a struggle for photography to be recognized as art; now, all the major museums collect and show it. And a great many of the best regional photographers, including a number who are part of this Regional, have shown and won top prizes in the Mohawk-Hudson Regional.

So, now that the best photographers have achieved full status in the regional and global world of art, why not leave the Photo Regional to the amateurs, the students, the up-and-comers? That's the spirit in which it was born, and may very well be its perfect future.

A view of the 38th Annual Photography Regional at Fulton Street Gallery
all photos in this post provided by Nicholas Argyros of the PhotoCenter

Note: Two other excellent photography shows are currently on view in Troy. The PhotoCenter of the Capital Region (which co-hosted the Photo Regional Salon) is presenting work from North Korea and Cuba by Branson Quenzer and Juan Suarez through April 3, with a Troy Night Out reception on March 25; and The Teaching Gallery at Hudson Valley Community College is presenting color work by Monika Sosnowski and Carlos Loret De Mola through March 19.