Sunday, January 30, 2011
Lefebvre's process is not unlike that of a curator, or perhaps even a photographer, whose intention is to direct our attention to the delights they have discovered, as opposed to the attention-getting tricks of an artist whose primary goal is self-expression. A printer by trade, he draws from a vast personal collection of printed material, ranging from antique lithographed catalog pages to contemporary hand-marbled Florentine paper, which he carefully arranges in very simple rectangular collages.
The show contains about two dozen of these, matted and clip-framed, all the same small size (maybe 5 by 8 inches each), and arranged around one much larger framed piece. Many more of the small ones are available to peruse by flipping through them in a display bin.
Lefebvre has always had a light touch in most of his work, which over the decades has included simplified landscapes, color-field paintings, more elaborate collages, fetishistic three-dimensional objects, calligraphic abstractions, and – most recently – systematically hatched abstract drawings. But this body of work shows the lightest touch of all, with many of the pieces combining as few as two elements in simple overlays. These “appreciations” could also be called observations – he has seen what happens when two or more shapes or patterns are combined, and is sharing that with us.
The centerpiece of the show, however, goes far beyond this approach, to produce what could arguably be called a full-fledged work of original expression, though it, too, is comprised entirely of cut-and-pasted swatches of other people’s designs. The chaotic collision of colors and patterns that occurs in that piece transcends anything the source prints’ creators likely would have envisioned. I found the effect totally gratifying (its hallucinatory quality is reflected in the far simpler piece reproduced at the top of this post).
Lefebvre had a large collection of drawings in a group show at Albany Center Gallery two years ago (you can read my very short review of it here), but he hasn't had a solo exhibition locally in quite a bit longer than that. This subtle presentation will not be for everybody, especially those who demand that their artists demonstrate specialized or arduous techniques, but it will grow on those who give it a proper chance (it's there through Feb. 24).
Thursday, January 27, 2011
I will start with those I've seen, in descending order of my rating, then go on to explain why I haven't seen the others (yet).
- Winter's Bone - Nice that it got nominated, since it was by far the best film of the year. An intensely good story, incredibly well told (and beautifully photographed). I also think the unaffected and mesmerizing Jennifer Lawrence deserves the Best Actress statuette, but it's likely the Academy will consider her nomination to be the prize, and award the Oscar to someone more famous.
- The King's Speech - Like Winter's Bone, I loved this film and gave it my highest rating (4 stars). But the fact that such a modestly styled and historical presentation grabbed 12 nominations really underscores what a weak field we're considering. Firth and Rush together made this movie an extraordinary experience - if the world were just, they would share the Best Actor award.
- True Grit - OK, we're down to my 3.5-star rating here, which ain't bad, but it's only No. 3 on the list! Coen Brothers darkness tinges a rollicking Western with a couple of hoot-worthy characters played by Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld. Both are terrific, but the kid is totally awesome. An incredible discovery. I enjoyed the film heartily, and wished I had popcorn to munch throughout.
- The Social Network - No surprise that this got a lot of noms, as it's got a super-relevant topic and very snappy dialogue by Aaron Sorkin. I gave it 3.5 stars, but ultimately found it less memorable than those listed above.
- The Fighter - An unoriginal story presented in a slightly novel way, with very, very good acting that elevated this film to a 3-star rating. I always expect greatness from Christian Bale, and here he comes close to the mind-bending tour-de-force that he accomplished in The Machinist (look it up, and Jennifer Jason Leigh is just as good). Melissa Leo was better in Frozen River; Mark Wahlberg may have been overlooked here.
- Inception - OK, the Academy gave like a hundred nominations to Titanic, so nothing surprises me anymore. This was a boring action film disguised as an intellectual thriller, starring CGI (and some actual people who did nothing to distinguish themselves, unless you count delivering laughably stupid dialogue with a straight face). I only gave it 2 stars, which means I wouldn't recommend you waste the time to see it.
Now, for the Best Picture-nominated films I haven't seen, in the order I may see them in:
- Black Swan - I have shied away from this film, despite having loved Darren Aronofsky's previous work, because I'm worried that the crazy ballerina character (seen in photo above at right) will give me unpleasant flashbacks to a couple of past girlfriends. Also, the mixed reviews. But I may buck up my courage and catch it while it's still in the theater. One more thing - am I the only person who's sick and tired of Natalie Portman already?
- The Kids Are All Right - Gets points for correct spelling of alright. Lots of people have urged me to see this film, and I like the actors just fine. But, a long time ago, lots of people urged me to see a Lisa Cholodenko film called High Art, and it also had some pretty good actors in it, but it was so horrbly written that I shut it off after 45 minutes. Finding this available from the library will probably take several months, but maybe some day I'll see it and find out that this time they were right.
- Toy Story 3 - Predecessors were wonderful, and this probably is, too. Didn't see it because I'm old and don't have kids. Also, it sort of bothers me that it has grossed $415 million to just $6.3 million for Winter's Bone. Could it possibly be 65 times more worthwhile?
- 127 Hours - Didn't go because I don't crave such a harrowing experience. Probably won't ever crave such a harrowing experience. Also, I get the impression that the guy James Franco plays is so arrogant that half the audience is glad he has to cut off his arm. Yeeeesh!
Overlooked: Babies. I can't understand why this French-made documentary isn't nominated in its category. Of the five feature-length documentary nominees, I've only seen one - Restrepo - and it was amateurish in comparison to the lyrical, beautiful, nearly wordless human nature film Babies. See it and be charmed by who we are.
Friday, January 21, 2011
It’s been almost 30 years since I first met Willie Marlowe, but she never ceases to amaze me. Demurely Southern, with a deliciously acerbic undertone, Marlowe is quiet but frank, extremely reliable, and remarkably committed to her work. For the many years she taught at Sage, she was also strongly committed to the students – but there was never any doubt that painting came first, clearly manifested in a relentlessly constant studio practice, which in turn set a fine example for her devoted students to follow.
Wingspan 2010 modular installation, acrylic on paper mounted on wood panels, 80" x 110"
Friday, January 14, 2011
This Alice-in-Wonderland scenario is what it’s like to experience The Jewel Thief, organized by Skidmore College’s Tang Teaching Museum curator Ian Berry in collaboration with Yale University administrator and sculptor Jessica Stockholder. Publicity for the show aptly describes it as “immersive” and it’s true that one can feel a bit like they’re drowning in a sea of so much art; also describing it as experimental, the show’s organizers clearly want to lead viewers into a place where they can experience abstract art in a new way.
The more than 100 works in the exhibition by 60 or so artists include a significant number from the Tang’s permanent collection, while the rest were borrowed from artists, collectors and commercial galleries; some of those were designed and installed specifically for this show. Almost every common medium is abundantly present: painting, drawing, sculpture, and textiles, as well as decorative media such as wallpaper, furniture, and light fixtures. Printmaking is represented by just a handful of items, and photography is entirely absent (unless you count the one color photograph by Anne Delaporte, which is entirely covered in gold leaf and therefore invisible).
The historical sweep of the show is also broad, with at least one piece from every decade going back to the 1950s – but it is by no means a survey (nor intends to be), and the great majority of the works date from 2000 or later. The show is perhaps best summed up as an amusement park designed by two connoisseurs of abstract art who had access to tons of great material and could think of nothing more fun to do than to present it all to the rest of us in a fresh way.
This is accomplished by various stratagems. Take those blocks, for instance. As you approach the Tang’s main gallery from the museum’s entrance, you confront the first of them: a 13-foot cube painted on most of two sides in camouflage (following instructions by Jim Hodges), it shares dominion over the space with a large, permanent staircase, a temporary structure of metal bleachers (one of the show’s viewing platforms), and a seating group by the artist James Hyde. One has room to move around the cube, and is free to climb either staircase for a view from above, but the siting of it sends an immediate message that this is a show that may mess with your perceptions – or your preconceptions.
If, like me, you should choose to squeeze past one corner of the big cube toward the gallery entry (not birth-canal tight, but suggestive enough), you would find that entrance somewhat blocked by a second cube 10 feet high, which, like the other, is festooned with art (a surprisingly great many pieces in this case). Several other blocks follow in an angled line through the big room, ending in one just two-feet cubed, with a single small sculpture perched upon it (and too low for my middle-aged back’s comfort).
Once inside the room, you begin to discover other curiosities about the installation. A large wooden platform fills one corner, with a series of colorful and sharp-angled other platforms of varied heights stepping up to it. This, you soon learn from the helpful staff, is a sculpture by Stockholder – and, yes, you are expected to walk on it if you wish. A couple of other sculptures sit upon it already, which surprised me at first, but it is not the only instance in the show of one person’s art being mounted atop another person’s.
The rest of the room features different kinds of floor and wall treatments, from a Batcave-like space created by Liz Larner to cradle some of her porcelain works (and, no, you are not expected to enter it) to the aforementioned swatches of bright geometry on walls and floor. Pictures are hung salon-style throughout the room, in lines and groups and crowds that sometimes go up quite high. This is true outside the main gallery as well, and that’s where the scaffolds and steps come in so handy. (Mental note: I must try to remember to bring a step ladder to the next big museum show I visit.)
A printed guide with color thumbnails and identifying information for each artwork accompanies the show (which, wisely, has no labels), resulting in a treasure-hunt atmosphere for those who pick it up. This became a big part of the fun, because, believe me, not every work of art was immediately easy to spot. Also, as it turned out on my visit, the last page of the guide had become (temporarily?) obsolete, as several works had been removed from an upper “bridge” in the museum to make way for a new show’s installation. My guess is that they will be replaced after the upstairs exhibition’s packing crates are safely out of transit.
You may have noticed that I am not saying much about the specific artworks in The Jewel Thief. This is not because they are unworthy of comment – indeed, there are many wonderful works on view, by people most of us already know about (examples include Andy Warhol and Joan Mitchell) to folks I’ve seen in other Tang exhibits (such as John Torreano and Allan McCollum) to relative unknowns, and even a couple of locally shown artists (Victoria Palermo and Christopher Harvey). Some of these artists are represented by just one piece, while a few have as many as five or more on view – but in any case, this is a show that seems meant to be perceived as greater than the sum of its parts, and it makes the parts themselves seem relatively undeserving of specific comment.
Now, smarter people than me have addressed the issue of curator vs. artist for a good long time, and I don’t expect to add much to that discussion here. In fact, I think there was a panel discussion about that subject presented last fall as part of the programming around The Jewel Thief (the show opened in late September). So, suffice it to say that this show brings the issue up – big time.
I have to wonder: Do any of the artists in the exhibition feel used? Or do they feel exalted by inclusion in such an important and interesting event? I suppose some artists have smaller egos and are genuinely happy to be part of the greater whole (after all, whether they like it or not, they are merely a part of the contemporary scene, and an even smaller part of the whole history of art and culture). But I also suspect that a lot of artists, known to have big (and sometimes quite fragile) egos, may be feeling vaguely bad about it. Not as bad, perhaps, as those left out, but still …
All that arguing aside, make no mistake - The Jewel Thief is a heck of a fine exhibition, with a ton of really beautiful drawings, paintings, sculptures, installations, etc. in it. You have until Feb. 27 to take it in – be prepared, once might not be enough.
Rating: Must See
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
First, the Times Union published a feature in which a variety of local arts pundits were asked to talk about their wishes for the New Year. While most of the respondents' comments were relatively self-centered, one of them, Nippertown's Greg Haymes, saw the bigger picture and suggested that individuals from arts audiences each challenge themselves to try just one new arts venue this year.
This simple idea has great ramifications, and the good folks at the TU, recognizing that, turned the suggestion into another feature, titled A resolution for the arts. This time, they took the amazon.com approach, with the "If you liked this ... then you might enjoy this" format, and added an invitation to readers to offer more such suggestion on the TU's local arts blog (you can read those comments, including one from me, here).
So, I love that whole concept, and look forward to the next installment from Tom Keyser and Co., in which they reveal more and more great ideas for audience members who wish to branch out.
But, wait, there's more! Yet again in the TU, a recent op-ed written by Albany County Legislator Tim Nichols takes another step, more in the direction of my own pie-in-the-sky proposal. His article, titled How Albany County can sustain the arts, offers a concrete tax-revenue-based proposal for a new law that would "direct 1 percent of the hotel tax, roughly $1 million [annually], to arts and cultural organizations ... ".
$1 million annually to arts and cultural organizations? All I can say to that is HOORAY!!!!
And again: Let's do it.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
A very snowy 1st Friday kept the throngs at bay, but a good turnout of devoted fans still made it to the opening of a two-person show titled Eco Primitive Eco Surreal at Albany Center Gallery.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Curated by EMPAC's Emily Zimmerman, Uncertain Spectator includes mainly high-tech and video-based art, as you would expect, by 10 artists (or collectives) from all over the world. But does the show meet the expectation created by its theme, which is anxiety? I'm not quite sure.
First, a little about the setting. EMPAC is a gigantic, super-modern building that virtually hovers over Troy, with massive shapes and expensive surfaces that make it truly a work of art in itself. I approached from the most obvious entrance, which, with its big, curving driveway, appears welcoming enough. But a little confusion ensued.
There are lots of doors (which, despite the absence of any visible staff, open readily enough), no apparent elevator, and lots and lots of stairs. I'm fit enough, so I decided to ascend on foot. There, the adventure began, as curious sounds emanated from hidden speakers nearby, immediately alerting me to the fact that my arrival had been detected.
I'm not OCD, but I did count as I climbed - ranked 14 steps at a time between landings, five or six flights of stairs brought me alongside the curving belly of the building's main theater, which occupies its center like a massive, docked spaceship. Slightly out of breath, I arrived at the 5th floor lobby, and the apparent beginning of Uncertain Spectator.
Yet, true to the promise of its title, I was already feeling uncertain. The sound installation that had greeted me at the bottom of the steps continued to emit nifty noises, but was it part of the show? (the answer seems to be "no"); though there was some signage, labeling, and display copies of the show's catalog, along with large take-away posters by Anthony Discenza on a spotlit pedestal (an example of his signage art is shown above at right), much of the lobby space was forbiddingly dark, and still I saw no people (though at times I thought I heard people - live or recorded, it was impossible to say).
Having been directed in a message from EMPAC's PR man to retrieve a copy of that catalog from the 7th-floor box office, I dropped my coat on a bench and resumed my upward trek. After a differently paced flight of steps (I think it went 12-12-20), I summited near a tremendous desk in a cavernous upper lobby, in the center of which I recognized an electronic sculptural installation from the show. Behind the desk was a small, young woman and on top of it was a catalog with my name on it.
And so, the adventure continued. After a perusal of the Marie Sester piece I'd spotted, which hissed and shrieked at me as I moved about its white, shag rug and five colorfully upholstered chairs, a spectral-looking but friendly young man beckoned me to enter one of the dark corners of the space; there, beyond a parted black curtain, a fascinating black-and-white film by Jesper Just was showing. Its soundtrack consisted of a haunting theme harmoniously whistled by a trio of actors. The handsome man and two beautiful women of significantly different ages seemed to be performing a wordless seduction a trois in a lavishly appointed Gothic-style room, explicated by many softly lit closeups of their hands, eyes, and lips.
Worried that I'd never escape the clutches of this siren song before seeing the rest of the show, I stepped back through the black curtains, with a promise to the young man that I'd return to finish viewing the 10-minute cycle (I did). By this point, I was beginning to understand that the show was scattered about these two floors, and that much of it was in the form of projections in various screening studios, as indicated by signage leading to them.
One of the benefits of this design, aside from the obvious necessity of using available studios for such screenings, was that it introduced me to a good number of the (apparently) many theaters of different sizes in this marvelous building. I added to that exposure by checking out the interior of the main theater - it is an awesome piece of architecture, a stunningly beautiful example of acoustic design, and much warmer than you might think it would be, as it is made almost entirely of wood. My footsteps echoed sharply throughout the space - I imagine a concert there would sound terrific.
Back across the gangplank (yeah, the ship metaphor is blatant) onto the lobby floor, I resumed my search for the elements of Uncertain Spectator, and first noticed one of many slick-looking hand-sanitizer dispensers that stood vigil here and there. Were they part of the show? Alas, while there's no doubt they were anxiety-induced, this turned out not to be the case - the young woman behind the desk helpfully informed me that they were merely a vestige of the campus's response to the 2008 swine flu epidemic. Even so, I hazard that any artist who might wish to claim them as a clever installation piece would have a reasonable excuse to boast inclusion in the show.
Another unrelated art installation (made of color-coded light fixtures) guides the path to a screening room where an animated film by Jordan Wolfson features Coke bottles filled with sloshing milk that march relentlessly along dark city streets (image above at left). Anxiety inducing? Nah, just grating.
Somewhat clearer, though scarcely innovative, were two videos showing on monitors in the original lobby. One, by Kate Gilmore, depicts two simultaneous views of the artist as she laboriously squeezes herself through a tight, cobbled-together channel. The other, by Tue Greenfort, presents an overhead view of a trapped couple in a white-cube art installation as they collaborate to make their escape over the wall.
These closely relate to a nearby series of photographs from a 1968 happening by Graciela Carnevale, in which gallery goers are locked into an empty space and eventually break its plate-glass window to get out. These three documented performances essentially form a show within the show that addresses topics of control and entrapment. But how well does it express anxiety?
Also nearby is a meticulously constructed kiosk with an electronically controlled and illuminated graph by Susanna Hertrich that depicts colorful bubbles of hazards such as gun crime and cancer in relation to their corresponding degrees of public outrage. This Reality Checking Device (shown at top of post) works well, but struck me as merely a good start.
Similarly, the French collective Claire Fontaine offers a dozen American quarters that have been modified to conceal curved blades (and which I am describing based on photographs, because the piece was missing due to its container having been vandalized). The connection to the box-cutters used on 9/11 is clear, but one still looks for greater revelations.
Far more effective, in yet another dark theater, is a color film projection of a man performing monologues, by the collective SUPERFLEX. Here, the large, dark, empty projection room, the hugely enlarged, droning, anonymous interlocutor, and the pointedly hypnotic and economic/social/political content of his words conspired to transport me to a place where they may have been cause for concern. At last, this was a work of art that fulfilled both the promise of the show and the elaborate technology behind it.
This film alone, and the stunning EMPAC building, are reason enough to go see Uncertain Spectator before it ends on Jan. 29.
Also of note in Troy is the exhibition titled Daughters of Aspasia by Jeri Eisenberg and Gail Nadeau at the Photography Center of the Capital District. These two well-known regional artists extend the photographic medium well beyond traditional methods, presenting an extremely subtle coordinated effort in this show.
Nadeau's work consists of extensively manipulated and colorfully painted personal images that read almost as a diary of her real or imagined family life; Eisenberg shows four triptychs and one quadruptych of extremely soft-focus images of landscape themes related primarily to atmospheric effects (example below). It's a show well worth seeing.
Sunday, January 2, 2011
I mention this in the hope that a Get Visual reader who has not seen the ads in Metroland becomes interested in contributing reviews to that publication. Without a Metroland art critic, our local media coverage is lacking an important facet. My own past experience writing reviews for that paper (in two or three stints totaling six or eight years) is that it provides a wide-open opportunity to cover shows as the writer sees fit.
Ideally, someone qualified and interesting will get on board and publish regularly.