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Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Art of Seating at AIHA

Synergistic Synthesis XVII sub b1 chair 2003, Kenneth Smythe
Amid the hustle and bustle of the holidays, there's an end-of-year chance to catch a marvelous traveling show at the Albany Institute of History & Art before it moves on after December 31.

Fancy side chair, c. 1820, unknown designer
The Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Design was organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, and is a delight for anyone who has ever sat in a chair or wondered what it would be like to try to improve on that experience. Featuring 43 individual specimens in pristine condition, this collection runs the gamut from simply stated wooden rockers to gaudy stuffed confections to space-age sittable sculptures.

High Stool 1971, Frank Gehry
Though one can easily consider these as works of art, most were production models and widely marketed when they were made. For me, this adds to the joy and intrigue of looking at the creations on view: The designers didn't just solve the problem of imagining a new and visually arresting way to support your rump - they also managed to find a way to sell it.

Of course there are economic failures peppered through the show - this sort of background information is nicely summed up in printed labels set up on stands by each chair - but there are no functional failures presented: Every chair in this selection is stunning, and they all appear pretty nice to sit on, too, though naturally that is severely prohibited here (though, if you're like me, you will struggle to resist the urge to try).

House of Representatives Chamber
Arm Chair 1857, Thomas Ustick Walter
I'll admit bias - I am a fan of design (particularly modern design), so I ate this collection up like a fresh Christmas stollen ... but, objectively speaking, the items shown in The Art of Seating are all first-class pieces in gorgeous original condition or expertly restored, and they are simply beautiful.

And, there are other good reasons to visit the museum now - Joan Steiner's Look-Alikes - vivid and impossibly clever dioramas that are the basis for her successful picture books - are on view through Jan 29; and Rock & Roll Icons: Photographs by Patrick Harbron will be there through Feb. 12. The Look-Alikes are scattered throughout the museum, making a perfect treasure-hunting activity for kids of all ages; and Harbron's show includes a lot of nostalgic artifacts such as guitars and concert posters, along with his excellent photos of the stars, which will please a certain age-range of former kids.

Note: The AIHA is closed on Christmas Day and on the observed holiday (Monday), but will be open from Tuesday through Saturday, Dec. 27 to Dec. 31, from 10 to 5 each day and from 10 to 8 (with free admission after 5) on Thursday.

Large Diamond Lounge Chair, c. 1952, Harry Bertoia




Friday, December 16, 2016

In Brief: Screenprint Biennial at ACCR

Christopher Cannon, Runaways on Hunt Street screenprint
On a recent shopping excursion to River Street in Troy, I abandoned my spouse and ducked into the Arts Center of the Capital Region, where a gallery full of dazzlingly rich colors greeted me. The 2016 Screenprint Biennial, on view through Dec. 23, is also hosted at Collar Works in Troy, and is just terrific. After it closes, a selected portion of the show will be mounted in January at the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Norwalk, Connecticut. I'd say, if you miss it here, it might be well worth the trip to Norwalk. But try to catch it here if you can.

Jeffrey Dell, Dreamland III screenprint
Organized by printmaker and RPI lecturer Nathan Meltz, the show handily demonstrates that a blue-collar medium that grew up in the golden age of advertising and was adapted into a fine art in the '60s and '70s is still wonderfully alive and well.

Also called silkscreen, the squeegee-centric process is conducive to a great variety of applications, including the use of hand-cut templates, highly detailed photo-based matrices, and printing on fabric. It is also relatively cheap to do (requiring only well-ventilated space, a big sink, and some drying racks - no printing press needed). This leads to endless possibilities, many of which are explored in this second edition of the East Coast Screenprint Biennial (as some sources refer to it), which debuted in 2014.

Among the applications on view at the ACCR (sorry, I still haven't seen the Collar Works part of the show) are gag hair product packages, rough-cut monoprints, a fanciful stuffed-fabric landscape, and 2D work ranging from the flat and cartoonish to the photo-realistic to the elegantly abstract. The one thing it all seems to have in common is that irresistibly rich color that comes from pushing juicy ink through a fabric screen.

Kudos to Meltz and the two hosting organizations for taking on this project - I eagerly look forward to the 2018 edition.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

2016 Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region at The Hyde Collection

Installation view of MHR-80
all photos provided by The Hyde Collection
At  this year's 80th annual Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region, hosted by The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, the show's the thing.

Part of MHR-80's Salon section
Juror Michael Oatman, a true local artist who lives in Troy and teaches at RPI (sorry, the rebranding as Rensselaer didn't take), has stepped up as curator - and not just any curator, but a particular post-contemporary sort of curator who uses the art and the venue to build a whole that seeks to be greater than its parts.

Jean Egger Quash, 2016
electric object, earplugs, and video
In this case, the parts consist of 126 works by 106 artists - an almost stupidly broad and shallow swath of our region's best creators - and the whole very smartly includes not only the Hyde's contemporary Wood Gallery, but also its weirdly curved basement space, its world-class historic house, and its lovely grounds. The result, featuring boldly painted walls of bright orange, deep green, and warm grey, is striking, fresh, and - well, a little distracting from the art itself.

The show is installed according to a set of six organizing categories drawn by Oatman from "the history of display": site, vault, salon, cube, mirror/grid, and landview. I have to admit, I'm a little baffled by the concept, and not convinced that it succeeds here, but I give Oatman credit for trying the experiment in front of so many interested audience members. However, they (like me) probably just want to see who got in and what their latest work is like - rather than to receive an academic history lesson in the form of a contemporary art exhibition.

Brian Cirmo, Cat’s in the Well, 2016
oil on canvas
So - who got in? A satisfyingly long list of people, including many names familiar from past Regionals, and plenty of new ones, too. Among my favorites were Daesha Harris, Victoria Palermo, and Stephen Niccolls (all known from prior juried shows); also Anna Roecklin, Matt Crane, and Gyula Varosy (all new to me). In the spirit of the Regional (which, by the way, is one of the oldest continuously running shows of its kind in the country) the selection is very geographically diverse, a feature of the Hyde regionals that I've noted in the past.

Elizabeth Panzer Nasturcium Op. 3, 2015
photograph
A quick review of the numbers shows that no more than 20 of the selected artists have more than one piece in the show - which makes for rather chaotic viewing, despite the organizing principle and a very thoughtful layout. I'm used to looking at a lot of art, but I'm also old-school: I like to see my art in groups that help me develop an understanding of each maker's vision. Here, instead, I felt overwhelmed by the curator's vision, and was fighting to focus.

A few years ago, Oatman co-curated (with Ken Ragsdale, who is conspicuously absent here) the wonderfully stuffed An Armory Show at Sage College of Albany's Opalka Gallery, using a similar approach to this installation. There, however, each artist had a lot more examples of their work included so, despite the chaos, one could delve in. This show feels much cleaner, but is also a tease, especially if you are seeing an artist here for the first time.

Danny Goodwin 3-D Cardboard Box Prototype, 2015
archival pigment print
Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region continues through Dec. 31, and the Hyde is offering "pay as you wish" for the month of December, so it's a good time to go check it out and save a few bucks on the standard entry fee. Don't be put off by my quibbles - the annual Regional exhibition is a must-see, and this one is absolutely worth the effort.

If you go, be sure not to miss the "interventions" by artists in the Hyde House - there, two historic bathrooms have been cleverly altered, and a bedroom has been lovingly updated. There are also three large-scale outdoor pieces, one of which drew me to the back garden area of the house, where my companion and I enjoyed a stunning view of the paper mill that endowed the Hyde, and its vast supply of stacked logs. If it had been entered, we would have given it first prize.

Kathy Greenwood, Paper Dolls, 2016
digital prints, colored pencil, acrylic on paper, cotton cloth