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Friday, February 27, 2009

My bad

You already know that you can't trust everything you read on the Internet - now you can add this blog to the list of unreliable sources therein. Please allow me to correct some of the information on the Troy Night Out posting shown directly below this one.

First, it turns out that I was right when I said I might be wrong about what is showing at the Fulton Street Gallery ( Rather than a two-person show by Katy Wright and Gail Nadeau, there is a lovely installation of fiber art at Fulton Street this month. Fiber: Strings and Vines (that's the show card above) features nine artists and it looks terrific in the spacious, well-lit gallery. Wright and Nadeau will indeed appear there - but not until the next Troy Night Out on March 27.

Meanwhile, the three women artists I said would be on view at Martinez Gallery (Canier, Marlowe and Wen) have ended their run; Martinez is now presenting a group show of gallery artists titled ReCollections.

I apologize for any confusion, and I promise to be more accurate in the future.

By the way, the group drawing show at Clement and Elizabeth Dubben's paintings at Dusk did both live up to my high expectations. Sadly, I can report that this is the last show at Dusk, which will close when it does. But I think it's safe to say we haven't seen the last of Dusk curator John Hanson, who is already cooking up something for the future. More on that when there is more to tell.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Troy Night Out (February edition) and ARiThmetic at ACG

Here comes another Troy Night Out, the gallery walkabout that takes place on the last Friday of each month, and it looks like it's going to be a good one.

At the top of my radar is a new show at Clement Art Gallery, where Jon Gernon is the able curator. Titled On The Surface: Drawings, the show features eight artists, of whom several are familiar to me and several are new names. Among the familiar, there's Sergio Sericolo, who won the prestigious NYFA fellowship a couple of years ago and whose work is sophisticated and complex. Charles Steckler does stage design at Union College and is a gloriously mad noodler with pen and paper. Gina Occhiogrosso's work is on the serious side, sometimes feminist, but with a light touch. Gernon himself is in the show, most likely with neo-Dutch still lifes. The others are Leslie Anderson, Joy Taylor, Carol O'Neill and Banjie Getsinger Nicholas.

Another show I won't want to miss is at Dusk Antiques, where John J. Hanson Jr. has been putting together tastefully chosen shows for a year or two, and this time is presenting Amrose Sable Gallery director Elizabeth Dubben's paintings. The twenty-something Dubben is also the curator of this year's Photo Regional invitational, which opens next week at Sage College of Albany's Opalka Gallery, so she's getting her share of exposure. No doubt folks will want to see what the curator paints, and I am sure they won't be disappointed.

Other venues that have shows opening include Fulton Street Gallery (where possibly conflicting information leaves me uncertain what will be there, but it may be a two-person show by creative photographers Katy Wright and Gail Nadeau); and the Flavour Cafe, which is featuring a show titled Journey through the donut garden by Benj Gleeksman. This last I think is worth a try on the basis of the title alone - I know nothing about the artist or the venue - but don't say I didn't warn you if it turns out to be cheesy. Could be great - I've no idea.

Major galleries with existing shows that will also be open for the evening from 5-9 are the Arts Center of the Capital Region (see my review of Mutatis Mutandis several postings ago); the PhotoCenter, where Best of 2008 continues (and I have two pieces there); Martinez Gallery, which celebrates three outstanding Capital Region artists - Caren Canier, Willie Marlowe and Leigh Wen - who show internationally; and Terra Nova gallery, where some pretty involved fabric collages by Francelise Dawkins are on view, along with photos by Jeff Sotek.

Switching from Troy: Not to be missed is another fine show at Albany Center Gallery, which began on Feb. 17 and will have its reception on March 6 in conjunction with 1st Friday. Titled ARiThmetic, the show includes the work of four artists, William Bergman, Benigna Chilla, Maria Hall and Nat Friedman, at least one of whom is a mathematician. There are drawings, prints, and sculptures in the exhibition, and they deal with complex mathematical processes while, to a non-mathematician, they appear to be wonderfully elegant and resolved works of art.

Chilla showed more than once at the gallery in the good old days of Les Urbach, and this big helping of her new work reprises a recognizable theme from long ago: patterns generated by overlapping screens or grids. These works evoke Sol Lewitt before he added color, and they sing beautifully. Friedman is the math guy, and his prints and stone sculptures have real soul, evoked in textures and form. Hall makes geometric pieces in metal, which can be decorative but are also very bold. Bergman, he of the infernal-machines, offers new works that are far more pure (a pair are pictured above, at right), as well as one of the calculus-derived wood constructions he's known for.

Altogether the show is strong medicine, the theme of which makes you wonder just how much you're missing when you look at and enjoy art but take all the thought and research behind it for granted. Kudos to ACG Director Sarah Martinez on guiding this exhibition into existence.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Empire State Plaza Art Collection

There are certain things we are all inclined to take for granted, and in the winter months, the Empire State Plaza Art Collection is one of those things. Fortunately, I had a reminder recently when some job-searching business brought me into the bowels of the Plaza, and my travels through there were made less soulless by the presence of some great art (such as a tasty study in color and geometry by William T. Williams similar to the one pictured above).

It's easy to remember this collection in the warmer months, when events on the Plaza bring thousands of folks there, and the huge sculptures placed among the even huger buildings draw our interest, along with that of the local media, who can always be counted on to run photos of kids playing on the big yellow one by George Sugarman.

But it's also easy to forget that underneath the Plaza are fabulous riches in the form of smaller sculptures and abstract paintings by many of the most prestigious names in American art. Among my favorites there are Isamu Noguchi's three Studies for the Sun, Gene Davis's colorfully striped Sky Wagon, and a painting by Adolph Gottlieb called Orange Glow.

But on the day of my visit, I stopped to contemplate a painting I'm not actually that fond of, and in reading the label for it I found it more intriguing than at first glance. Alfred Jensen's Kronos (detail at right) is awkwardly daubed with blobs of paint straight out of the tube in a complex system of parallel lines and rectangles, and I have always thought it was sort of crude, almost naive. But Jensen was working with ancient mathematical and astronomical ideas - not exactly a naive artist, even if those are "primitive" sources - and his piece takes on a rather mysterious monumentality when you think about the challenge he posed himself in making it.

If nothing else, it took my mind off my own troubles for a while, and that's as good a use for art as any, if you ask me. Looking around the Concourse, I saw the usual foot traffic of a business day, including some who were clearly walking for exercise (they made laps) and perhaps a few visitors or even tourists. As usual, nobody but me was paying much attention to the art.

I know a lot of workers object to the abstract nature of most of the Plaza Collection, and some may even have applauded the crazy person who slashed and defaced some of these paintings quite some years ago (at huge expense to the state for restoration); but I still believe that these are (mostly) wonderful works of art, and I hope it is possible that they win people over day by day as they are exposed to them.

As for those of us who actually love abstract art, let's not forget to visit the Concourse once in a while for a potent dose of it in a collection that is not just there for free viewing at all hours but that, as citizens of the state of New York, we also happen to own.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Best films of 2008

With the Oscars about to be awarded, it's time to try to sum up a year of movie watching with my list of personal favorites. Once again, I have failed to see all the Oscar-nominated films before the ceremony, which is inevitable if you live outside New York City or Los Angeles, as certain films have not opened here yet (Waltz with Bashir, for example).

But that's OK, because the Oscars are pretty far off the mark this year, perhaps as usual, but definitely worse than average, and I probably won't even bother to watch the show. Like many film lovers, I may instead choose to spend those hours in a theater watching a movie.

So, before getting to the list, I will explain my little system. First: I am not a movie critic and do not consider myself one. I dropped the only film course I ever took in college as soon as I realized that turning movie watching into homework assignments ruined the fun of movies altogether, and I never looked back. Readers of this blog will know that I "reviewed" Slumdog Millionaire here, but that was an exception brought on by the desire to protect unsuspecting viewers from going to it uninformed of its vapidity (recently affirmed by the APs Christy Lemire, who said, "It didn't even make my top 10 list," and The New Yorker's David Denby - you can read Denby's take here: ).

So, rather than review movies, what I do is go see them with the hope of being entertained, enlightened, etc., and then I give each film a rating from zero to four stars, usually within the first hours after seeing it, less often after thinking about it for a day or two. A film gets a low rating for obvious reasons; unlike critics, I only see the movies I want to see, so the really bad ones get weeded out - the lowest rating I can recall ever having given is two stars, which means it had some merit but I wouldn't recommend it. An example of that would be The Aviator: I gave it one star for Cate Blanchett's performance and one for its quite handsome production values. Otherwise I found it to be pretty worthless, despite my high esteem for the director, Martin Scorsese.

A two-and-a-half-star movie is one I did not regret going to see and therefore would recommend. A three-star rating means I would recommend the film without hesitation. Three-and-a-half stars mean I would enthusiastically recommend the film, though it may have some minor flaws. And four-star films are as near perfect as you're going to find. A good example of this, from my point of view, is the film Kinsey, which was brilliant but almost completely overlooked by the Academy. I found it very richly compelling, beautifully filmed and acted, and gave it my highest rating. Extremely rarely, I will change my rating upon discovering weeks later that I either overrated a film I can now barely recall or underrated one I still can't stop thinking about.

One more thing: I have yet to see some of the past year's more important movies, most significantly The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (can't overcome the Forrest Gump comparisons, despite its 13 Oscar nominations); Frost/Nixon, the next film I hope to see; The Wrestler, which has resurrected the marvelous Schenectady-bred Mickey Rourke and is the other next film on my list; Doubt (saw the play in a first-rate Capital Rep production, no need to see the movie); and Gran Torino, which I would probably like but sounds like another typical Clint Eastwood movie - I'd rather see Eastwood's more offbeat efforts, such as the astonishing Letters from Iwo Jima.

And now, without further delay, my list of the best films of 2008:

**** Frozen River - Local interest adds intrigue to an already mesmerizing portrait of upstate rust-belt bleakness, with deft handling of American Indian ethnic issue and stunning performance by Melissa Leo, who deserves (but will not win) a best-actress Oscar.

**** Man on Wire - Simply enchanting

**** Revolutionary Road - Very sad but pitch-perfect in every detail. You don't like DiCaprio? He's exactly right in this film; and Winslet is quite amazing.

***1/2 The Visitor - If you missed it, put it in your Netflix queue. Emotionally disconnected professor learns from illegal immigrants what life is all about. Great music and another Oscar that should, but won't, be won (for Richard Jenkins).

***1/2 The Counterfeiters - Of many Holocaust-themed films that came out last year, this Austrian effort is the most unique, exploring the mind and heart of an avowed criminal who also happens to be Jewish and survives the camps by successfully forging British pounds for the Germans. The star, an ugly man, is riveting to watch.

***1/2 Happy-Go-Lucky - Irresistible

***1/2 A Christmas Tale - Very badly named, this French film stars Catherine DeNeuve as an icy matriarch whose family is falling apart all around her. Very complex, very original style, wonderful ensemble cast.

***1/2 Milk - No surprises here, but a sensitive, inspiring portrayal of a courageous leader. Sean Penn will win the Oscar for best actor (though I probably shouldn't be so sure, as Metroland's critics are unanimous for Mickey Rourke).

***1/2 The Reader - Another very original take on the impacts of WWII, with the performance of a lifetime by Kate Winslet (who will win her belated first Oscar for it). A bit slow going through the middle, but otherwise first-rate.

*** In Bruges - A bloody riot, featuring Colin Farrell at his best, and it makes you want to go straight to fookin' Bruges.

*** Roman de Gare - A French mystery about a writer of French mysteries. Keeps you guessing.

*** The Boy in the Striped Pajamas - Holocaust again, this time from the point of view of the innocent son of a death-camp commandant and his little Jewish friend. Major twist ending.

*** A Secret (Un Secret) - OK, a pattern is developing: French again, Holocaust again. This time the portrait features an intriguing extended family of well-to-do Jews and their crisscrossing alliances and dalliances. C├ęcile De France is so hot in this movie that Ludivine Sagnier, the femme fatale in 2003's Swimming Pool, is cast as her ugly-duckling rival.

**1/2 Red Belt - David Mamet goes martial arts. Has great moments, the impossible to fail acting of Chiwetel Ejiofor - and a totally ridiculous plot.

**1/2 WALL-E - The most amazing animation ever done, and a story that starts out edgy - even subversive - but ends up cloyingly romantic and religious. A real disappointment.

**1/2 W. - Surprisingly evenhanded portrayal of our 43rd president by the upredictable Oliver Stone. Josh Brolin is brilliant as George W. Bush, and Richard Dreyfuss finds glee in portraying the despicable Dick Cheney. Thandie Newton defines wooden acting as Condoleezza Rice.

**1/2 Slumdog Millionaire - You already know how I feel about that one.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Celebrating spaces

Capital Region art lovers got together on two distinct occasions last weekend to celebrate past and future art spaces in Cohoes and Albany.

Friday's event in Cohoes was a studio opening for three painters and a writer who are sharing a second-floor place at 188 Remsen Street. Jon Gernon, Robert Gullie, Erik Laffer and Michael Conlin are the lucky foursome occupying the cozy space that sits above a bakery in the busiest block of the commercial strip. Much of the rest of Remsen is filled with vacant or boarded-up storefronts, but there is a surge of warmth and activity in the area of The Remsen Street Studios that is breeding optimism among those who love Cohoes.

The scene at the studios that night was encouraging (very crowded - nothing like this photo, except for how nice the space looks). People were saying they hoped Cohoes would develop into another Troy, only better because it's all going to be concentrated right along Remsen. I'm sure there are folks in Troy who will be flattered, if a bit puzzled , to hear their town cited as an example to follow, but I get the point. Troy's walkability and friendliness to artists has earned it the nickname the Brooklyn of the Capital Region (from me, anyway), so it would be OK with me if Cohoes became the Troy of Albany County.

At any rate, I wish the four Musketeers the best of luck in their endeavors and offer congratulations to them on having made a promising start to a potentially scene-setting venue and workspace.

Speaking of scenes, it was quite a mob that turned out on Valentine's Day at the Woman's Club of Albany to help Cathy Frank and Ed Atkeson mark the 30th anniversary of the opening of the legendary Cathy's Waffle Store and raise awareness of (and funds for) the Club's building fund.

A delicious brunch, great coffee served by Jack Hume and helpers, and Cathy's own awesome desserts (waffles among them) were all enjoyed by proles and pundits from across the land and the ages. Performances by Ruth Pelham (who created a new singalong song for the occasion) and David Formanek (assisted by Roxanne Storms, both of the seminal Workspace Loft band Standing Offer) added spice and a touch of insanity to the proceedings.

An exhibition of art and artifacts from the heyday of Cathy's (1979 - 1984, I think) ringed the big upstairs room at the Club (a good venue for any occasion, in case anyone is looking), invoking nostalgia and many laughs. Lots of photos and video were shot at the event - see some at youTube: - and a promise was made to hold the party as an annual affair, which is sure to be placed high on the list of events not to be missed every year by those who came (and those who wish they had).

I remember how Cathy's was a focal point for good food and great art (or vice versa) at a time in Albany's history when not so much of that was available as now. Now, 30 years later, we have a lot more venues, a lot more restaurants and probably a lot more artists. Various galleries and spaces of all sorts have come and gone (notably Firlefanz Gallery, which occupied the same Lark Street location that the Waffle Store had been in) and a few, such as the Arts Center in Troy, have remained against pretty tough odds.

The Lark Street torch is now carried by Upstate Artists Guild, which always draws a huge crowd on 1st Fridays, and just off the block by Amrose Sable Gallery, to name two variations on the theme of scene-setting spaces. Cathy's wasn't the first, but it will always be remembered as one of the best. Nobody shares the love better than Cathy and Ed, and it will be great to look forward to sharing Valentine's Day with them every year for many to come.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Mutatis Mutandis at ACCR

Like all arts and cultural organizations, The Arts Center of the Capital Region has seen some pretty hard times lately. When the former Rensselaer County Council for the Arts changed its name and relocated to the spiffy building it now occupies on River Street in Troy in January 2000, things looked fabulous for the multi-media presenting and educational center. It had received a $1 million grant from the state and was swimming in goodwill from many directions.

At its peak, in 2002, the ACCR had a full-time staff of 11 (plus two part-timers), including a gallery director who curated most of the exhibitions. Now, there is less than half that staff (five full-time, one part-time) and no gallery director or curator. So it is significant that the talents of Rachel Seligman, director of the Mandeville Gallery at Union College, have been tapped as guest curator of the current exhibition in the ACCR's main gallery.

Mutatis Mutandis: Appearance and Identity is a title that evokes both the exotically unfamiliar (that's how I see Latin, anyway) and the all-too-familiar (identity and all its permutations). I just can't understand the ongoing fixation in our culture with identity, and its infiltration into art exhibitions is almost unbelievably complete. How can this be so fascinating to so many people? Why is that?

Here's my take on identity: Each of us (with a very small minority of exceptions) is either one gender or another. We all have a certain age, which can put each of us into a category. If we are American-born (or born into some other nationality) then that is a part of our identity. If we have immigrated or emigrated, then that new nationality gets added on. Racially, it gets trickier, but if you're not white you usually either clearly identify with some other label (such as Asian or black or Hispanic) or you consider yourself biracial, an increasingly popular choice that I think makes a lot of sense.

After all that, there's sexuality - straight, gay and bisexual are the major options and then there are a few extreme minority alternatives. Beyond that, we can identify by professions or trades, or by virtue of activities, such as artmaking or sports or collecting stamps; that is, you are what you do. There are also family groups we go in and out of, and friend groups that change, too. Then there's religion, or no religion, as a further mark either acquired at birth or chosen.

Bottom line for me: Not that interesting! Whatever somebody's identity is, that's really for them to figure out and live with as happily as they can, not for everybody else to be a spectator of. What I find interesting is what someone does, how they think, how they see things, how and what they express - not who they are.

So, now that I've gotten all that off my chest, let me consider the Mutatis Mutandis exhibition. The other key word in the title is "appearance," and the fine little catalog that was produced to go with the show has an introductory essay by Seligman that gets right to the point of that:

What we look like helps determine who we are and how we are understood by others. ... But appearance can and does get changed. ... The artworks in this exhibition are portraits, created by artists who significantly mediate the way we view their subjects, and through that mediation, they offer an examination of the forces that shape our assumptions and biases. Their explorations of identity reveal the fluid ever-changing nature of identity, the ways we construct and shift our identities and how appearance is a tool in the construction and repeated remodeling of identity.

This excerpt from a much longer introduction supports my own impression of the exhibition after viewing it for the first time - that it is primarily about transformation. In a way, all art and perhaps all of life is about transformation, a topic I think we can all readily sink our teeth into. To make an image of something is to transform it. To live from one minute into the next is to be transformed. One doesn't need to think about it or focus on it to believe that our appearances and our identities can change or evolve. Still, the most significant philosophical question always remains, and we are always trying to nail it down: Who am I?

Does the work in this exhibition engage these topics successfully? I wish I could answer with an enthusiastic Yes!; instead, I give a shrugging sort of, I guess. The best pieces in the show are well-crafted and have both originality and that sense of inevitability: Clive Smith's series of 30 nearly identical portraits of his spouse, titled with and without Jennifer for 33 weeks talks intimately about a relationship that one wants always to be the same - reliable, secure - but that still slips and slides through the fingers. His skill as a painter, dedication to the weekly face-on depiction of Jennifer, and the honesty embodied in the three blank spots where she wasn't with him, combine to hold the viewer's interest in the serpentine series.

Jason Horowitz's three rather large and sharp color closeup photographs of selected details of the subjects' heads are attention getters, but they are also quirky enough to be enduringly fascinating. I found most of the other photographs in the show to be derivative or weak, except one diptych by Melinda McDaniel that consists of fragments of a black-and-white self-portrait pinned to birch panels, resulting in a mosaic-like sculptural effect in very small scale that draws you in to examine it closely. Several of her other works do that more literally, by means of big magnifying glasses that each focus in on a tiny color self-portrait with an applied, carved, wooden Pinocchi-nose. A clever enough idea, but not one that I feel bore repeating so many times.

The inclusion of a single object by Japanese artist Yasumasa Morimura is really a tease. In it, he has portrayed a fairly convincing version of himself as a nude Marilyn Monroe, posed on a red background, and mounted to an accordion-folded fan. Lyle Ashton Harris's two Warholian self-portraits as black stereotypes are old hat; AJ Nadel's Polaroid transfers, too.

The show continues through March 22, as does a fine solo installation by Katharine Kreisher in the cozy President's Gallery, titled Everything in its Place; and the faculty/student exhibition Portraits and Self Reflection, placed upstairs (where I thought the best work was by a student, Linda Bacon).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Connie Frisbee Houde at C+CC

Connie Frisbee Houde is much more than a photographer, and she's also more than a reporter, though she is darn good at both. It would perhaps work to call her a cultural anthropologist, but to my mind intention is the main thing, and I think Frisbee Houde's intention is to wage peace in the world. So, can I call her a peace warrior?

The exhibition The Forgotten: Afghanistan & New Orleans ties together two diverse locations that have seen devastation under the Bush administration and continue to struggle against that devastation while much of the world ignores their condition. Frisbee Houde has filled the somewhat labyrinthine galleries of the Chapel + Cultural Center at Rensselaer (that's RPI before the rebranding with pairs of photos that juxtapose oddly similar images from the two locales.

Taken during multiple trips to both places, and with text printed directly on the borders of the digitally printed pictures, they make a strong effort to inform without preaching. Some of the pairings are really visually arresting, and all of the images are well seen. Still, this is an exhibition that I would categorize as educational more than artistic - again it's that intention thing. Frisbee Houde has shown work as art (most notably in last year's Mohawk-Hudson Regional at the Albany Institute), but this time the emphasis is clearly on the content.

It's an age-old stratagem to combine images and text to get a point across, and Frisbee Houde has been doing it for years. This may be the most integrated presentation she has put together as a wall-mounted exhibition (she has also done a lot of slide shows over the years, where her voice provides the words) and I found that it works well to communicate her message: That we should not forget those we have allowed to suffer unnecessarily, and while some are very far away in strange and exotic cultures, others are right under our noses.

It is not the job of artists, reporters or anthropologists to offer solutions. Rather, they find facts, ask questions, point out problems. Frisbee Houde does all this very well, and with the quiet conviction that makes you want to listen and - this is a reach, I know - take action.

The show hangs through Weds., Feb 25, and the gallery's hours are extensive. See it if you can.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Carol Hamoy at Opalka Gallery

Here's one I missed. I have it from a good source that Sunday afternoon's reception for Carol Hamoy: Psalmsong and other works at Sage College of Albany's Opalka Gallery was well attended by members of two distinct (if overlapping) communities: artists and Jews. This makes a lot of sense, especially when you consider that this show brings together two strong lines in the exhibition record of the Opalka, namely visual art and Jewish cultural history.

Over the years, Opalka Director Jim Richard Wilson has done a remarkable job of putting together a series on local Jewish communities, and the art shows here have included some of the region's best each year. It's a beautiful space, well suited to the ethereal Hamoy installation now on view through Feb. 21.

That said, here's my disclaimer: I have visited Psalmsong and it is not my cup of tea. Still, I would especially recommend it to people interested in Judaism, spirituality, women's issues and contemporary installation art.

And get ready for the Opalka's next offering, the 31st Annual Photography Regional, which is set to open on March 6. Curated by Elizabeth Dubben as an invitation-only show of 13 artists, most of whom push the envelope beyond tradition, it is sure to raise some enjoyable controversy. I'm planning to be there to see a challenging show and contribute to the dialogue - I hope you'll join me.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Albany Patroons, and other loose ends

Although basketball is not a visual art, I am a fan and a player, and I am very happy to be able to say that I attended what was very possibly the last game ever for the Albany Patroons and the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) on Sunday night at the Washington Avenue Armory in Albany.

But first, for you art lovers, here's an aside worth pursuing:

A photographer I know, Bill DeLanney, has a show at Fulton-Montgomery Community College that is nicely introduced in this blog entry by former Gazette colleague Bill Ackerbauer:

I first met DeLanney several years ago when, still new at this, he came to me for a critique. I loved his work then, and now so does just about everybody else (such as restaurateur Angelo Mazzone, who filled his Aperitivo dining rooms with DeLanney photos). I haven't seen the show at FMCC, but it will surely be as strong as everything else DeLanney does. Check it out if you can; it's there through March 13.

And now back to the Patroons.

My enthusiasm for Albany's professional basketball team goes back to the '80s, when I had a gallery not far from the Armory and began attending games after work. The team had a run of great years back then, in which a number of players went up to the NBA (one, Mario Elie won multiple NBA championships post-Patroons, including one as a starter with the Houston Rockets) and a string of three coaches also became NBA stalwarts (the late Bill Musselman, George Karl and Phil Jackson).

In those days, the Armory regularly packed in upwards of 4,000 people for games, and the place literally rocked. While last night's attendance was announced at a perhaps generous 1,788, there was still enough energy in the house to bring back a taste of the good old days, and the Patroons fed off the crowd to mount a strong comeback to nearly win a terrifically tough game. Instead, they went down fighting, losing the championship-deciding game 109-107 in overtime to a very talented Lawton-Fort Sill Cavalry team.

It was a great show for a die-hard group of fans - and, I hope, not a swan song for professional basketball in Albany or for the CBA as a whole. For an excellent full report on the game by the Times Union's Tim Wilkin, go to

And now, back to art. Last week, I rode down to New York with my friend John Hampshire for his second exhibition at Chelsea's Phoenix Gallery ( Because John is a friend, I will not be offering a critique of the show - but I can say without conflict that he is one of the regional artists to watch, and his work at Phoenix is a good example of why that is. John employs a mind-bogglingly complex system of markmaking (in both black-and-white and color) to create images that are both peculiarly abstract and highly realistic. He presents one color painting and four black-and-white drawings in this show, through Feb. 28.

Another exhibition I saw on this trip was a total knockout: Recurrence: Aaron Siskind at Bruce Silverstein ( is a tour-de-force of exhibition design that features a dazzling array of vintage Siskind prints in several rooms that make the most out of Siskind's full black-and-white palette (shown: Vermont 1987, four gelatin silverprints).

The work is presented in groups, some in a grid arrangement, some stacked or lined up, but always to great effect in keeping with the show's intention of exploring the theme of recurrence in Siskind's work.

The pictures are all matted in white, but the framing color varies from group to group - some are white, some a lighter shade of grey, some a darker shade of grey and some black. Also, the gallery's walls are variously painted white and shades of grey to complement this presentation, and it works extremely well.

I comment on the design of the show, because too often a strong collection of work fails to connect with me as a viewer because of insufficiently thoughtful presentation. It is also possible to go too far, getting cute or overbearing with labels and such; so I really appreciate and commend a gallery when they know how to do it just right. This was my first visit to Silverstein, but it surely won't be the last. The show has been extended through March 7, as has the concurrent exhibition by Shinichi Maruyama, which I also wholeheartedly recommend.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Metroland at 30

This morning, Metroland, the Capital Region's alternative newsweekly, celebrates 30 years of publishing. What a time in the history of newsprint to mark a 30th anniversary. Nationwide, dailies and weeklies are going smaller, calling it quits, going into bankruptcy or laying off massive numbers of employees.

The causes are skyrocketing newsprint prices (exacerbated by decreasing volume); plummeting advertising dollars (thanks to the Internet); and an economy that is either in a recession or a depression depending on whom you ask (let's blame Bush for that).

So it is in that climate that I join Metroland in celebrating its 30 years of continuous weekly coverage of the arts in our region (along with shorter terms of important alternative news coverage and other reporting and features - the publication began as an entertainment monthly in disco-dominated 1978).

Judging from last week's issue, the new Metroland is smaller than it had been and has lost the nicer white pages it used for the cover and some inside spreads - but it has made up for that by adding color printing throughout. Though the slightly diminished tabloid (it's lost a half-inch in either direction) seems really tiny when folded in half, as I usually carry it, issue No. 5 of Volume 32 is packed with the kind of stuff we have come to count on from our free weekly: thoughtful columns by Jo Page, Paul Rapp and Dan Savage (yes, Savage Love is a favorite); edgy cartoons from Tom Tomorrow and Jen Sorensen (Slowpoke); off-beat political and business coverage; and reviews, reviews, reviews. Last week's issue also includes a full-page guide to Troy Night Out, and several pieces of color art accompanying various forms of coverage of other art-related events.

With the Times Union having recently consolidated its arts coverage into two main sections a week (Preview and Unwind) and The Daily Gazette following suit (this is its first week of reconfigured sections), Metroland at 30 is a major player again.

I'll admit, I didn't see this coming. As a two-time former Metroland contributor (from 1987-91 and 2001-05), my experiences with the paper are too numerous to sort out - but as recently as 6 months ago it wasn't holding my attention at all as a reader. Suddenly that has changed, and I find the tabloid feels as vital as it did back in the day.

The two art reviewers in current rotation represent a high mark for local critical coverage, and though I am not a huge fan of the academic writing style favored by one of them, I know the community at large clamors for whatever the media will offer in this field and is grateful for Metroland's constancy. Sean Stone, now a long-tenured arts editor, is guiding important information to the Art Murmur and Art Beat columns, and the weekly Night & Day calendar feature also regularly promotes gallery and museum offerings.

For all this I wish to thank founder Peter Iselin, editor and publisher Stephen Leon and the editorial staff, writers and photographers of Metroland. Congratulations on a long war well fought - may you battle on for 30 years to come.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Arts advocacy alert

Today is the annual Arts Day at the Capitol. For information on how you can participate, go to
and click on the links.

Now more than ever our voices need to be heard as the budget slashers eye the arts as a taxpayer-pleasing target to cut. Get out and tell them exactly why that is wrong, wrong, wrong!

The arts are an engine for local and statewide economies; have already been cut and cut and cut in the last couple of decades when times were good and other programs got more and more and more; and we need SOMETHING to feel good about, now, don't we?!?!?