Get Visual is the proud recipient of a grant from The Christos N. Apostle Charitable Trust

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Radical Kingdoms at Mandeville Gallery

Extensive open hours may not be the best reason to like a gallery, but it's a factor in my positive assessment of Union College's Mandeville Gallery in the Nott Memorial, where a show intriguingly titled Radical Kingdoms is on view through June 18. It's great that you can go see it any day from 10 am to 6 pm.

Juan Fontanive - Passerine 2016
mechanized flip-book
But a more substantive reason to like the Mandeville is its eminently able leader, Julie Lohnes, who deftly organized the show around a theme of botanical and biological illustration by contemporary and historical artists, drawing connections from the past and linking traditional scientific illustration to more expressive modern iterations of the style.

A visit to the Nott is always a step into the past, as it is a unique structure that exemplifies the state-of-the-art design and engineering of 100 years ago, and that makes this show a particularly comfortable fit for the unique space that the gallery occupies on a circular, second-story balcony. Lohnes has chosen works by five contemporary artists, augmented by examples of work by ten historical illustrators drawn from Union College's archives that range from an anonymous 19th-century printmaker to the uber-famous John James Audubon.

Portia Munson - Dahlia Target 2015, photograph
Several gorgeous 2001 re-prints of Audubon's work are the stars of the historical group - but they can't outshine the best of this selection of current work by George Boorujy, Juan Fontanive, Portia Munson, Amy Ross, and Anne Siems.

Boorujy presents painstakingly detailed, large-scale images of plants and animals that appear both highly realistic and fantastical. Artist statements are peppered through the installation, and his are among the more engaging, as he describes his interest in nearby wildlife that may surprise the average New York City urban dweller, calling himself a "large social primate" living in "an enormous colony."

Amy Ross - Lovebirds #3 2016, collage
Fontanive is represented by a single, very small work, which is an electrified metal contraption that continuously flips through an accordion book of appropriated bird illustrations (see image above at right). The sound and the movement of this work of art unobtrusively capture and hold the viewer's attention. It's an excellent example of the post-modern approach to creating a new kind of art experience from a familiar kind of image.

Amy Ross is also a filcher of old illustrations who uses her thievery to produce a fresh result. In this case, the old images are reconfigured into delicate hybrids by means of collage, or reimagined into masterful watercolor originals. Her six pieces on view are perhaps the most seductive work in the show.

Anne Siems - Hare and Snail 2016
acrylic on canvas
Complex combinations are also at the heart of Portia Munson's deliciously colorful scanner photographs (one is shown above at left), in which she builds arrangements of flowers and dead birds into beautiful inkjet-printed mandalas. Munson hails from Catskill, and her work has been seen in recent years at the Albany International Airport, MASS MoCA, and other local venues - and it's always a pleasure to see more of it.

Anne Siems is a German-born artist now based in Seattle, whose work retains a Grimm-ness reminiscent of her homeland. In her three paintings on view here, she combines pure painterly concerns with storytelling imagery that is just a little bit unsettling. Her small piece titled Little Nest is subtle and particularly appealing, as it places an egg-filled bluebird's nest on a white ground, with brown rivulets of paint, rather than branches, holding it aloft.

Overall, this show is a breath of fresh air. You'll be glad if you make a point of checking it out.

George Boorujy - Florida IV (wrack line) 2014, ink on paper

Sunday, February 26, 2017

#Oscarsoirrelevant

Lucas Hedges, left, and Casey Affleck both received Oscar nominations
for their roles in Manchester by the Sea. Neither will win. Affleck won Best Actor.
OK, I admit it - if I really thought the Oscars were irrelevant, I wouldn't be writing about them. But, wait, I am more precisely writing about movies, not the Academy Awards, and movies are definitely relevant. So, as the title of this please implies, I do think the Oscars are relatively irrelevant.

This evening, as is my annual habit, I will not watch the awards show on TV - I will go to the theater and watch Oscar-nominated fare instead, and I will crane my neck around the standing and departing patrons to read the credits when they roll. In this way, I refresh my lifelong love of movies and rejoice in the fact that we can still go see them in a dark, public place.

Most would agree, 2016 was a pretty good year for the movies. A look at the nine "Best Picture" nominees shows an unusually broad selection that includes small-story indies, big budget sci-fi, a star vehicle or two, even a foreign film (Lion is foreign, right?). In sharp contrast to last year's controversially white slate of nominees, three of these films feature nearly all-black casts. Less unusually, a shameless paean to Hollywood is also on the slate (and it will sweep the awards tonight). Add note: It did not!

More important, these films are actually quite good (or reputed to be so - I have seen just six of them thus far). What do I mean by good? No doubt I've said it before in this space, but I will repeat the age-old formula for a worthwhile movie: A good story, well told. Yes, that is still the measure. And, while it's always possible that this will include a lot of car chases or senseless violence or CGI, these nine films generally don't rely on spectacle to hold the viewer's attention.

Instead, they feature a lot of really great acting, by (again) a very diverse slate of all ages and types, many of whom received nominations for awards (in addition to a number of outstanding performers in films that themselves did not garner a "Best" slot). The fact that the young and the beautiful will win the major awards (as always) doesn't diminish the positive value of a nomination for the never-fails Jeff Bridges or the ever-enchanting Isabelle Huppert or the otherworldly Ruth Negga (who also happens to be young and beautiful, but she still won't win).

So, nice going, Academy!

Now, here's why I have not seen three of the Best Picture nominees (Note to readers - I forgive you if you hate me for my biases. Then again, if I didn't have them, would I be worth the pixels?):

  1. La La Land - First of all, I hate the title. Second, you may remember 2014's Best Picture Birdman, which was brilliant, worthy, and my own second pick of that year (right, Boyhood got robbed) - and which had one serious shortcoming, which was Emma Stone. She sucked in Birdman, and I am not convinced that she would be worth seeing in La La Land. The press calls her likable - sorry, I find her totally unlikable. La La Land is the Titanic of 2016 - the movie everyone will look back at and say "they nominated that for HOW many Oscars?!?" (BTW, I still have never seen Titanic.)
  2. Hacksaw Ridge - This is probably an excellent picture, and I liked Andrew Garfield a lot in The Social Network (where he plays the first guy that Mark Zuckerberg screwed out of a lot of money). But I couldn't bring myself to go see a film that is, basically, the story of a religious fanatic. Yes, a really nice guy, sincere, selfless, etc. But I couldn't shake the feeling it would get all pious in the end. Atheist angst got the best of me there. 
  3. Fences - Liked the preview, love August Wilson. But do I need to budget my precious movie-going time to what is, essentially, a stage play presented onscreen? Will catch it on DVD once the library picks up a copy. Expect to love it.

As for the rest, it's very easy to point out the best: Manchester by the Sea absolutely kills. You know when smart people tell you a film is too long, or too sad, that it must be a great one. This film is perfect.

Also excellent: Lion, Moonlight, and Hell or High Water. Why? Check the formula ... they all fulfill it. So, why not perfect?
Lion skews ever so slightly commercial, by making all the characters way too pretty to be real, and by purposely playing the emotional notes.
Moonlight is a fascinating film that has the courage to try a difficult approach - dividing the story into three parts with different actors for each. A fantastic effort that falls the tiniest bit short.
And Hell or High Water is a bit too reminiscent of the Coen Brothers to be considered truly original, which is what it seems to want to be. But it is a fun ride.

As for the rest: Arrival is very good - an understated almost-actioner that uses subtlety rather than sensationalism to make its points. But it stretched my credulity rather too far.
Hidden Figures - yep, it fulfills the formula once again - but I felt played by its Hollywood style. Too cute for its own good.

OK, gotta go to the movies! Have a good night.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Caroline Ramersdorfer at Opalka Gallery

Installation view of Gravity & Light at Sage Colleges' Opalka Gallery
all photos provided by Opalka Gallery
A world-class sculptor is on view at Sage College of Albany's Opalka Gallery  - so please go see the wonderful retrospective solo show Gravity & Light: Caroline Ramersdorfer Sculpture, 1985-2016. It opened on Dec. 2 and will be there through March 5, so no excuses.

Ramersdorfer has great international credentials, both in her development and in the exposure of her art - yet, she is also local, having a home and studio in the Adirondacks town of Wells, which she shares with an equally prominent sculptor, John Van Alstine (see my brief review of their two-person show at Lake George Arts Project in 2014). A native of Austria, Ramersdorfer studied art in Paris and Florence and then learned marble carving in Carrara (where else?), and has produced commissioned work for permanent installations in places as fur-flung as China, Iran, Egypt, and Abu Dhabi.

One extraordinary feature of this exhibition is its inclusion of numerous maquettes and sketches for some of Ramersdorfer's major projects, and they are as skillfully crafted as their larger progeny, while also being charming in their tininess. The beautifully produced catalog of the exhibition features lavish illustrations of each foreign installation (plus one on the Sage campus in Albany), telling the story of these remarkable and ambitious creations.

But no number of pictures can substitute for the experience of sculpture in the flesh (so to speak), and this installation of about 30 years of work is an unforgettable opportunity to visit with each piece, large or small, move around it, and see how it works in three-dimensional space, as the artist intended.

The gallery's open floor plan and high ceiling augment the uncrowded arrangement of the show, which presents about 50 individual works (counting models, sketches, and very small finished pieces) in grouped relationships, in cases and on pedestals, or freestanding. It is not strictly chronological, but the earliest work is seen in the far, back corner of the gallery, set off just a bit by a dividing wall, which allows for a sense of discovery in going backward in time to sculptures that evoke very early times with arrow and axe forms in stone and wood.

Ramersdorfer's newer work is thoroughly modern; however in some instances the primitive shapes remain, such as in a large piece sited near the entrance, called Nexus_Open, which reprises the axe handle and blade in polished and rough marble.

Inner_View 5 2002, marble and steel
Mid-career work, some of it much smaller in scale and carved in alabaster, marble, and other stones, explores simple geometry such as cubes, but also incorporates organic forms that suggest body parts or even microscopic life. These pieces can be flowingly beautiful, as in the 2006 carved marble Wave Wing, which marries an open cube with the form described by its title in a delicate game of balance.

Most of Ramersdorfer's later work is part of an ongoing series titled Inner View, which uses layering to develop complex visual and spatial relationships among planar carvings with molecular and geological structures. These stacked sculptures pull the viewer's eye into their center, mesmerizing and fascinating with the play of light and shadow on and between their surfaces.

It is innovative and masterful work by an artist at the peak of her powers.

Inner View_Open 2009, marble