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

Monday, October 31, 2011

LOL at Albany Airport Gallery

At left, Granny Panties for My Ex-Girlfriend by Benjamin Entner;
at right Self Portrait by Spring Hofeldt
In a way, the Albany International Airport Gallery is like an ongoing Whitney Biennial of the Capital Region. Curator Sharon Bates mounts just two shows a year, usually around a pithy theme, and she often populates these shows with work by artists she's spotted at other venues around the area, in a sort of sifting and consolidation process.

The downside of this approach is that regular viewers of local galleries and museums will encounter things in these shows that they've already seen before, sometimes quite recently. But those are not the viewers the Airport Gallery targets; rather, Bates creates for an audience of travelers, many of whom are not from around here and will never venture beyond the terminal as they seek ways to kill time between flights.

And, in more than 10 years of honing that aim, Bates has adopted a formula that really works - even achieving national recognition for excellence in cultural programming at airports. So, it's no surprise that the new show at the Airport Gallery, titled LOL, is fresh, funny and - yes - surprising, despite including some familiar work.

OMG by Brian Kane
While being humorous would seem to be a prerequisite for inclusion in this exhibition, there are many kinds of humor, and not everything here evokes giggles or guffaws. But some of the artists do purposely go for the laugh, particularly Tim Davis, whose sly, slapstick video sequence titled Upstate New York Olympics features such hilarious pursuits as Lawn Jockey Leap Frog and Snowman Jiu Jitsu, in which the artist is seen nonchalantly launching himself over little statues on display in yards of every economic demographic, and violently assaulting unsuspecting Frosties, ninja fashion. I like slapstick and, yes, watching Davis did make me laugh out loud, as it did the Three Stooges-loving friend who accompanied me.

Other work had a more sardonic appeal, such as Roger Bisbing's meticulously detailed, miniature construction titled Shaker Air, in which stoic wooden furnishings are arranged in the configuration of a 737 jet. Created specifically for LOL, this work's humor depends on your understanding of Shaker life, and the fact that the airport is on Shaker land.

Also thoughtful and evocative is Michael Oatman's installation titled Cesare Lombroso's House of Pizza, in which a slightly tongue-in-cheek narrative explores the unlamented stereotyping of the mustachioed Italian pizza man. Sixteen silkscreened variations of the character are arranged in a grid to illustrate the cultural phenomenon, but it's hard to get to exercised about a happy pizza guy when, well, happy pizza guys are such a good thing.

This is how you repay me? by Gregor Wynnyczuk
Oatman also collaborated on Forest Freshner with Brian Kane, in which the artists made an oversized version of the classic pine-tree car freshener, shaped and scented like a new car, and photographed it being hung in the great outdoors. Kane's solo contribution to the show is equally witty and Pop-inspired: a big, red word balloon that says "OMG!," just like every tween alive.

Also notable for dry wit and impeccable technique are the drawings of Andrew DeGraff, an illustrator who likes to tilt at iconic figures, and who makes you smile but also makes you think. His We are All Descended from Homeless People is, rightly, the poster image for the show; and his The Lord's Typewriter and The Selection of Darwin are wonderful comments on scientific and religious objects of worship, which also happen to be beautifully crafted works of art.

Equally beautiful are the three small paintings in the show by Spring Hofeldt,  which are more playful than funny, but which are so well painted they make you want to see many more. Her self-portrait distorted by a glass vessel in front of her face shows that not all postmodern feminist artists take themselves too seriously.

Two of the other three women in the show cover domestic topics (Minna Resnick on the family vacation; Joy Taylor on garden tools and personal accessories) in fun or self-mocking ways, but don't completely avoid the heaviness that seems to curse so many women artists since the awakenings of the '60s, and which doesn't plague the men quite so much, leaving them free to go completely off the wall.

Technically far more crude than Hofeldt or DeGraff, but just as clever, are the found-art musings of Gregor Wynnyczuk, who elevates kitschy paintings to the level of existentialist philosophy by placing black vinyl text on top of them, then adding evocative titles, such as What's gotten into you lately? and I'm not like the others. But his indirect take on personal issues is dwarfed by Benjamin Entner's 7-foot-long Granny Panties for My Ex-Girlfriend, which just dives right into the outrageous way relationships make us feel.

The other artists in LOL are Torrance Fish, Linda B. Horn, Steven Rolf Kroeger, and Owen Sherwood. The exhibition, which is accessible to the non-flying public from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day, will remain on view through Mar. 25, 2012.

Rating: Highly Recommended

Forest Freshner by Brian Kane and Michael Oatman

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Myth in Metaphor: The Etchings of Steven Hazard at Clement Art Gallery

I don’t know Steven Hazard personally, but his show at Clement Art Gallery in Troy says a lot about what sort of person he must be. Like many artists, he is obsessed – but unlike most people, artists included, he appears to be singularly devoted to his obsession, giving his entire existence over to creating a very particular world in carefully rendered and heavily layered imagery.

At his home studio in Albany, Hazard makes etchings, which he frames himself and takes on the road to sell at craft fairs and such; these travels have allowed Hazard to make a living, but have largely prevented him from pursuing traditional gallery shows. Myth in Metaphor is the first local show I can recall that features more than just a few of his works.

So this is a welcome opportunity to take in the scope of Hazard’s output – especially because, despite the small scale of the gallery, it’s a comprehensive collection that spans from the 1970s to the present. Then again, for me the show is perhaps too complete – Hazard’s images are so dense that it is a challenge to take in very many of them at once, and the result is that the experience is somewhat overwhelming.

The show includes a great deal of text, most of it written by Hazard to explain the complexities of his ideas and images, some of it taken from other sources. One such quote says his prints “often represent the sensory overload ... of the modern world,” which mirrors my own reaction; I would add that they also draw from the ancient and medieval worlds to further populate this Bosch-like, crammed universe that Hazard so relentlessly depicts.

Apart from the many etchings on view (both framed on the walls and stacked unframed in bins), the show features several pencil drawings, which provide a bit of respite from the dark, layered prints. One of the drawings, titled Four Elements and dated 1999, provides the template for a same-size print also on view. At about 20x34 inches, it is large for Hazard and, being in graphite rather than ink, it is both lighter in tone and more richly detailed. One could spend hours just exploring this single piece in all its intricacy.

Another drawing, Article of Faith, is dated 2011 and features softer marks in a couple of colors on textured, grey paper. While its content is similar to the other work on view, it has a lighter touch, and its use of a rabbit as the main subject makes it more approachable than many of the more forbidding subjects presented here.

Those consist of the human figure, animals, mythological characters, machinery, architecture and landscape – sometimes all in one picture – and all of it elaborately staged to tell a story in actions and symbols.  The many black or brown single-plate etchings shown here are augmented by quite a few colorful multiple-plate etchings, as well as some lovely hand-colored etchings.

Hazard displays great skill with drawing, spatial perspective, and visual invention, and his well of creative ideas seems bottomless – but I find the technical quality of his prints to be wildly inconsistent: some are crisp and clear, others very muddy, and many are too heavily inked, which causes a lot of blocking up in the finer details. In work such as this, where it’s not just about the lights and darks, or the shapes and lines, but where every bit of information carries intent and meaning, that matters.

Note: Myth in Metaphor: The Etchings of Steven Hazard closes on Weds., Oct. 26, so you must hurry if you’re planning to see it; also, the gallery will publish a catalog of Hazard’s work by December, adding to the lineup of quality publications it has brought out for its artists over the past few years.

Rating: Recommended

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Are We Having Art Yet? Bill Griffith at BCB Art

Irreverent, absurd, existentialist - Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead embodies these traits as only a character born out of the San Francisco underground comics scene of the 1970s could. Yet in 2011 he is going stronger than ever, in syndication to about 200 daily newspapers, out in a new book, and now appearing in an inspired exhibition at BCB Art in Hudson.

Titled Are We Having Art Yet? Selected Drawings 1978-2011, the show presents numerous original inked versions of daily strips, several inked originals of a 1990 Zippy calendar, a few pencil renderings of early Zippy covers, and signed inkjet prints of other Zippy material. All the work on the walls is in ink or pencil – i.e. no color – and was, of course, created for reproduction, so it has that special quality of blacks and whites, of hatching and cross-hatching, that gives all graphic art a certain eye-appeal.

But, rather than let the monotony of monochrome get overwhelming, Bruce Bergmann, the gallery’s owner, has placed most of the work along a bright yellow rail, backed by a garish band of the same yellow with a pattern of big, red polka dots. The design scheme is taken from Zip’s costume, but it also imparts a properly carnivalesque atmosphere to the exhibition. Yes, it says, you may be in an art gallery, but you don’t need to take anything too seriously here.

An art calendar drawing by Bill Griffith
As these are comic strips, naturally the show is a hoot; but what makes it really special is that all the strips are specifically art-related. It is certainly a comic fan’s delight – but it is also an art critic’s paradise. Griffith went to art school and attempted a career as a painter before stumbling into comics in 1969, and he loves to send up the posturing of serious artists and pundits. Jokes about Picasso, Giacometti, Pollock and Magritte here coexist with jokes about Ingres, DaVinci, ancient Greece and cave art.

With the irrepressibly idiotic Zippy as his guide, Griffith has no fear, and the results are hilarious.

For most, including myself, Zippy is an acquired taste. His bizarre appearance, politically incorrect moniker and – above all – chronically off-the-wall pronouncements are not going to be for everybody, even those of us who are used to edgy stuff. But he grows on you – his sweetness, his persistence, his inability to grasp basic reality – it all adds up to irresistible charm.

Whether you like the humor or not (and in the case of these strips, it helps to be conflicted about modern art), seen up close in the original, the drawings show that Griffith is no pretender – he’s got the chops to draw anything well, and he’s got the graphic sense to know what to draw and what to leave out. It’s clear, crisp communication.

While much of the work is simplified, and much of the content goes in the direction of one-liners, some of these drawings also have a great deal of complexity built in, and with lengthy perusal will yield new secrets. Mostly, though, it’s about the humor of absurdity and, in this particular selection, the absurdity of the art world. Which works real well for me.

Rating: Highly Recommended

Friday, October 7, 2011


Some day we will all be bragging that we were here for the first MoHu festival. Let's get out there and make it real!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Ten Years: Remembering 9/11 by Marie Triller

In the inevitable push-pull between form and content that lies behind all photographic imagery, the work of Marie Triller falls squarely in the middle of the argument. But it’s a pretty big middle and, as seen in the just-published collection titled Ten Years: Remembering 9/11 ($29.95, John Isaacs Books), her work covers much of that range.

Triller, who earned an MFA at SUNY New Paltz and works as a high school art teacher, has had a quiet but persistent presence on the Capital Region art scene for decades, and for much of that time she has exhibited expertly made, digitally captured color photographs that represent human culture, often from travels to distant places such as Belize, Ireland, and the American Southwest. One might argue that these pictures were clearly documentary in purpose – and that would be true – but it is equally true that they were intended as personal artistic expression. The pictures presented in Triller’s new book are no exception to this duality.

Beginning with a full-bleed cover shot of a motorcycle gas tank embellished with an exquisite painting of a New York City skyline dominated by hovering ghosts of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the book teases the eye as much as it plucks at the heart strings. Immediately, the parameters are shown: This photographer use color, shape, composition, and point of view in ways that your everyday documentary photographers do not.

Perusing the sequences of images inside, which are organized into nine chapters of equal length, one gathers a cumulative sense of the deeper meaning behind the work. The result of 10 years’ worth of anniversary visits to the site of the WTC attacks, these 97 pictures were culled from thousands, then thoughtfully sequenced to offer Triller’s interpretation of the chapters’ themes: Memory, Security, Expression, Reflection, Community, Courage, Place, Justice, and Spirit.

Triller explains in a short opening essay to the book that she avoided the press photographers’ territory in “the pit” at Ground Zero, choosing instead to focus on “the periphery, the crowds who gather each September 11 morning, and who tell a truer story of that bright, dark day.” I think Triller would say that, through these pictures and this book, she is attempting to share that story – their story – with the rest of us.

But a photographer – an observer – cannot set himself completely aside from the story he photographs. And, so, Triller’s book is the record of her experience of that story, filtered through her eyes and her lens. What I see when I look at these pictures is a wonderfully sensitive, open set of eyes, guided by an equally open heart, which is thrilling and impressive; I also see a highly trained and critically honed eye, which is delightful – and impressive.

Which moves me more? In this work, each depends on the other. The picture of a dark-skinned woman clutching a bouquet of multicolored roses is pure visual candy – made bitter by the knowledge that she has brought them not to celebrate a love, but to remember the loss of one. On the page opposite, low-angled sunlight hides a man’s face in shadow under a red-white-and-blue hardhat; the picture is as balanced as a still life, as the man bows his head reverently, the hat emblazoned with signatures of other surviving rescue workers.

There are American flags visible throughout this collection, hanging gigantically on buildings, stitched onto clothing, and everywhere in between. This is inevitable given the book’s source material, but it is also, perhaps, a sly nod to two seminal photography books of the past century: Walker Evans’ American Photographs and Robert Frank’s The Americans, both of which used the presence of the stars and stripes as a visual cue woven into the fabric of the books’ layout schemes.

Triller uses the same technique, placing a photo with a prominent flag at the start of the book and often beginning each section of the book with one, too. But her tale is not a patriotic or political tract – it is all about the people who come each year to remember the tragedy of 9/11 at its epicenter and who are presented here with their raw emotions on full display. Included among them are many in uniform, in family groups, in work clothes, business dress or biker attire. Many also have their own creative or political message to share, duly recorded by Triller’s camera.

The photos are presented without titles or captions – we are meant to take them in visually and draw our own conclusions about what they may mean. This is one of the book’s great strengths. It’s difficult to approach a subject so charged without succumbing to the temptation to preach, but it may be even more difficult to craft a narrative with images alone, as Triller has done very successfully here.

Text is provided in the form of a foreword by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Triller’s introduction, and a thoughtful afterword by Eleanor Heartney – all are brief, leaving the pictures to do the real communicating. They do it eloquently, and beautifully.

Note: There will be an exhibit of 11 of Marie Triller’s 9/11 photographs at The College of Saint Rose’s Massry Center for the Arts atrium gallery, 1002 Madison Ave., Albany. The show opens on Sunday, Oct. 16, and will run through Sunday, Dec. 11. Triller is an alumna of the college.