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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Passage at Albany Center Gallery

Nori Pepe Waiting - Moscow, Russia 2012 linocut
In case you weren't aware of it, Albany Center Gallery relocated in January of this year to a more visible, bigger, and far better retail space in downtown Albany. The current show in that space, entitled Passage, is a collection of work by eight printmakers that was ably curated by Alana Akacki, who is a College of Saint Rose graduate, a UAlbany Art Museum staff member, and a printmaker herself. It is the second show that Akacki has curated at ACG (the other was a few years ago in the old location).

Joan Dix Blair Color Code #11 2015
aquatint
There are so many reasons to recommend this show: First, because it shows off the new exhibition space better than any show that's been in it so far. Other shows in the new gallery have been exciting (the grand opening Members Show), challenging (the Mohawk-Hudson Regional Invitational), and vital (the 39th Annual Photography Regional), but all of those were rather crowded installations. This one is spare (some would say too much so, but I would not), elegant, and rather gorgeous - fulfilling my own hopes for the potential I saw for this lovely new space.

Second, it is a rare treat to see a carefully curated exhibition of contemporary prints - more often, they are big surveys or juried shows - and I think the various media that we call prints (in this case, etchings, linoleum cuts, photo-lithographs, silkscreens, color lithographs, woodcut and woodblock prints, and artist books) are often undervalued. This compendium of a good range of the many print media helps to bring the craft to the forefront, in a way that honors the makers' superb technique and incisive exploration into many types of imagery.

Nancy Haver Venice etching
Third, this show exposes a bunch of new regional artists (at least to me - only one was already familiar), and that's perhaps the best thing of all about ACG's mission over the decades. One can never know all the worthy artists in the greater Capital Region - it's that rich of a scene - and no other publicly supported gallery is dedicated to promoting regional artists like ACG is.

Passage has taken travel and memories as its theme, represented directly by literal interpretations, such as Nori Pepe's and Sandy Wimer's photo-based images, conceptually by Annie Bissett's geography-inspired work and Thorsten Dennerline's literary graphics, and abstractly by Sarah Pike and Mary Ellen Riell, both of whom evoke a sense of place with color and geometry. There are 28 pieces in all, more or less evenly distributed among the artists, though a few of them are a tad underrepresented with just two or three works included.

Sarah Pike 4 Figures in 10 Colors 2013
lithograph, screenprint
This is a show for contemplating - some of the work is bright, some is big, but none of it is loud. Pepe's four starkly black-and-white linocuts and Dennerline's three books have the most presence. This is due partly to scale (one of the books, an accordion construction snaked out on a large, low pedestal, verges on sculpture) but also to the strength of these two artists' visions.

Pepe uses her simple medium (an example is shown at the top of this post) to maximum effect - far from reproducing the photographs she takes for reference, they reinterpret the forms of the scenes in a way that makes perfect sense in solid black ink; then she prints them on fragile rice paper, contrasting their robustness with delicacy.

Dennerline's two bound books are elaborate composites of poetry (some in translation) and imagery, much of it montaged, that carry the viewer into his world. Though these are too precious for paging through, a nearby digital tablet allows the viewer to scan through all the page spreads from each book, a worthwhile exercise.

The remaining artists in Passage are also excellent, whether holding to centuries-old tradition, as with Nancy Haver's etchings (one is shown above at left), or planted solidly in the modern, as with Riell's two tasty color compositions (one is shown below). Go and enjoy - but hurry: the show ends on Sept 1.

Mary Ellen Riell Meet me At the Crossroads screen print

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