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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Note from the publisher

Dear Readers,

It had to come to this - my grad school (MBA) demands are such that I will likely post VERY LITTLE from now until December. My hope is to review or promote a few important shows or events during this period - but even that may be impossible under the circumstances.

Thank you for all of your wonderful support and encouragement. Please do not lose faith - I will be back!!!


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fall exhibition preview

The season is upon us and we will never, ever catch up with it. But it’s worth trying, no? Here, in chronological order based on their opening dates, are some of the exhibitions that are happening in the region this fall that are on my radar. I will try (and fail) to see all of them, but I promise to review most of them as the weeks and months roll by. Meanwhile, you may want to mark these on your calendars.

Through the Eyes of Others: African Americans and Identity in American Art, which opened today (Sept. 8) and runs through Jan. 6 at the New York State Museum, explores the complicated issues surrounding race in American culture as seen in paintings and sculptures from the 19th and 20th centuries. Many of the art works and artifacts (including Black Child, the oil on canvas by Phillip Thomas Cole Tilyard shown above) were amassed by 19th-century collector Stephen C. Clark and the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York. Additional selections were culled from various public and private collections, including the New York State Museum. I expect it to be one of the top shows of the year.

Also already open, but with a reception on Saturday (Sept. 12) from 5 to 8 is Alchemie, a new show by the painter Laura Colomb. Recently named “Best Emerging Regional Curator” by Metroland for her work at the Saratoga Arts Center Gallery, Colomb’s newest body of work contains large diptychs with elements of Adirondack landscape and nature (image at right). This also marks the last solo show at UpstArt, which will close after a final group show in October, and the departure of Colomb from the area.

Opening Sunday (Sept. 13) is The Play of Light, a solo show at the First Unitarian Society by Oakroom Artist Gary Shankman. A fine painter in the Impressionist style, Shankman will show new work that includes studies of toys verging on the creepy. Reception is the following Sunday (Sept. 20) from 12:30 to 3.

The University (at Albany) Art Museum kicks of its season with Uncharted, a show with thematic ties to the exploration of the Hudson River that includes the work of 10 artists. Co-curated by director Janet Riker and staff curator Corinna Schaming Ripps, it opens with a reception from 5 to 7 on Tuesday, Sept. 15, and promises to be fascinating in a Po-Mo way.

Hudson Valley Community College's Teaching Gallery will host Is It Just Me?, which surveys the last 10 years of New York artist Jennifer Dalton's sculptures and installations that were based on exhaustive “excavations” of herself and her art world surroundings. The show opens with a reception on Thursday, Sept. 17, from 4 to 6, preceded by an artist talk at 3 in the Bulmer auditorium.

Off the beaten track, but truly intriguing, will be a reception and show from 4-7 on Saturday, Sept. 26 at the newly minted Malden Bridge Community Center. Titled Levity and Not So Much, the show features four women artists who will present drawings, paintings, sculptures and installations. Some of you might already know the work of their ringleader, Monica Miller. I do, and it is always terrific - as are her parties. Don't miss it. (The map at right will help you find the site - you can click on it for a bigger, printable version.)

Back to academia, on Sept. 27 a large collection of renowned photography by Texan Keith Carter will be on view at The College of Saint Rose's Massry Gallery. It's a beautiful, new space and Carter's sensual, unassuming work is sure to be a hit with area viewers.

Looking further ahead, another solo photography show will begin on Nov. 1 at Sage College of Albany's Opalka Gallery. Dona Ann McAdams' exhibition is titled Some Women - it features selected works by this street photographer-documentarian from 1974-2009. Expect classic black-and-white treatment of avant garde subject matter.

Still further ahead, Canajoharie's Arkell Museum plans to open Walter Wicks: Games, Gizmos and Toys in the Attic on Nov.15. The traveling exhibition showcases enlarged photographs and models by the children's book illustrator famous for the I Spy and Can You See What I See? series.

Other shows of interest include gallery exhibitions in Hudson through Oct. 11 at Carrie Haddad Gallery (Great Pretenders: An Exhibit of Art Fakery - image above right), Carrie Haddad Photographs (Melinda McDaniel, Joseph Putrock and Arnold Kastenbaum), BCB Art (Arlene Becker, Cynthia Coulter and Carla Shapiro), and the always superb John Davis Gallery (Fran Shalom paintings, plus Douglas Culhane, Erin Walrath, Grace Bakst Wapner, Jeremy Hoffeld and Barry Bartlett).

Friday, September 4, 2009

1st Friday celebrates three years

It seems impossible, but there have already been three years of 1st Fridays in Albany, and tonight's is bound to be one of the best yet. If you don't already know the drill, it is an arts walk (or shuttle ride) that runs from 5 to 9 p.m. and, though centered on Lark Street, it incorporates venues out Delaware Avenue, deep into downtown, and at a couple of key spots uptown, too. You go, meet people, hang out, drink cheap wine, and - oh, yeah - look at art.

The anniversary has prompted an expanded event, far too much for me to describe here, but it includes stuff happening as early as 11 a.m. and an after-hours music series as well. The current issue of Metroland has a big pull-out section you can check, or you can go to the 1st Friday website for more details. I'll focus on a few worthy exhibitions but, beyond that, you're on your own.

1) Assiduity - call it shameless self-promotion if you want, but I'll claim it's alphabetical. Either way, my first choice is an exhibition of 19 Albany stalwarts (myself included) at Albany Center Gallery that has taken the city's one-word motto as a theme. Essentially, assiduity means perseverance, and the gallery is proclaiming that these stubborn artists have collectively served the city with their creativity for more than 400 years. Self-promoting bloggers aside, this is a stellar lineup and a very strong show.

2) Albany Institute of History & Art - always appreciated for the best fare on 1st Friday, they're offering a champagne toast at 6 - need I say more?

3) McGreevy ProLab - this downtown venue (it's on Broadway) is sort of like Mecca for regional photographers, and they're showcasing the work of one of our favorites, Mary Spinelli. Worth a shuttle ride, for sure.

4) The National Upholstering - the best ungrammatical store name I've heard, and a sweet little spot for art, cards, and tchotchkes. This month, photographer Paul Shapiro has taken over the shop, with richly toned, handmade black-and-white prints that show a bleak but lovable America. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

5) Visions Gallery - this is uptown, in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany's Pastoral Center on Main Avenue, and they are celebrating 20 years of exhibitions (as well as 400 years of the Hudson) with a big group show revisiting many of their past exhibitors. Like the ACG show, it's something of a who's who (Gail Nadeau gets special mention for being in both), and should be very good. I've seen a lot of shows here over the years and all have been of a high standard.

6) Judy Rosen Real Estate - another Lark Street venue, this is the 1st Friday home of a group of very young artists with great chops. Organized by the capable and professional Meghan Murphy, who also exhibits, this is exactly the kind of grass-roots show that gives me hope for the future. Go support the new kids on the block.

7) And speaking of grass roots, it all wouldn't be possible without Upstate Artists Guild, which is of course going all out for this event; they created it and are still its lead sponsor. Tonight, UAG's TAG! You're It! show celebrates graffiti artists, and the featured artist room will focus on Dwell and One Unit - they know I know they rock, and so should you.

One more thing: You may have heard about the fire a few weeks ago at 40 Broadway that destroyed a popular gallery run by Samson Contompasis and his brothers, Alex and Max. Samson's work is featured in a couple of venues this 1st Friday (4 Central and Spectrum 8 Theaters) and there will be a fundraiser for the gallery at Tess' Lark Tavern beginning tonight at 8. Check with Tess' for details, and please consider a contribution or a purchase.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lina Puerta at Opalka Gallery

Lina Puerta's art brings up a lot of stuff. Her solo exhibition Natura at the Sage College of Albany's Opalka Gallery opened on Aug. 31, kick-starting the new academic exhibition season with well-crafted work that is provocative, disturbing, seductive, fun, and diverse.

Puerta is Colombian-American, and she is an unapologetic feminist - those two facts alone mean she is bound to be controversial. This show is not, however, an in-your-face political assault so much as it is a strongly nuanced personal body of work with political and social overtones, and those are, for the most part, reasonably subtle.

Fitting in with the niche she fills are the nontraditional mediums she employs - clay and fabric most significantly, but also artificial flowers, dirt, synthetic hair, and crocheted bits. Her imagery largely involves body parts (breasts, genitals, heads, hands, legs), augmented by elements from the natural world (pods, plants, trees, eggs, water), and it is all presented in neon-bright coloration.

Fountains are apparently an obsession for Puerta - this show features seven of them - and the room is filled with the sound of trickling water from the large one, set inside an inflatable kiddie pool, that acts as a centerpiece. The others are much smaller (mostly set within ceramic vessels held by vintage suitcases of varying sizes); they are quieter, and are easily among the more successful pieces in the show.

Associations with Puerta's Colombian culture are more oblique than direct here; many of the titles are in Spanish (not translated on the wall labels, but available in English, along with other details, on a stapled printout) and here and there are references to family ties (Flor de mi Abuela holds a vintage photograph) or pan-American culture (as in the installation titled Manantal de las Americas, or Spring of the Americas). Overall, though, the show presents a story both more individual and more universal than all that.

One visitor to the gallery commented to me that she thought the whole show could be analyzed from the psychological perspective, and wondered aloud whether Puerta had some sort of mental disorder, or maybe just a difficult childhood. At the very least, she said, there's a lot of therapy going on here. I'm not schooled in psychology, and I do see her point, but I've seen art far more disturbing than this by people who are not mentally ill, and, hey, who among us didn't have a difficult childhood?

Certainly, some art (maybe all of it) has a therapeutic aspect for the artist (and the audience, too), but that doesn't undermine it at all if it works as art first. While Puerta is neither the most original of artists nor the most skilled, she has a very strong personal vision that has found itself a clear avenue of expression in the mediums she employs. Most convincing is that she has been getting better and better over time - looking at the dates of the individual works on view (there are 39 altogether, dating from 2003 to 2009), I found again and again that the things I liked least were among the oldest, and the things I liked best were among the newest.

Some of those "bests" include the aforementioned suitcase fountains (one is shown at the top of this post); a rather tall fabric work titled Arbol (Tree) (shown above, right), that one sits inside of and which offers soothing comforts and psychic transportation (therapy, indeed!); and a tiny landscape on a stick (shown at the bottom of this post) that transcends its modest size to create a whole new world.

Overall I greatly enjoyed entering Puerta's personal universe of birth, sex, and death, and I ultimately found it charmingly (and a little surprisingly) hopeful. One slight problem with the show is that the gallery's spacious and bright whiteness somewhat overwhelms the work, which is mostly on a small scale - seen from across too much distance, it seems diminished. On the other hand, the work has been supremely well served by the accompanying catalog, with many excellent reproductions and useful text (but not too much of it), in both English and Spanish.

Note: Natura will be open for this week's 1st Friday festivities, but its opening reception will not be held until the following 1st Friday, on Oct. 2, from 5-9. The show runs through Oct. 23.