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

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Body Language and Homespun inhabit public spaces

When Howard Schultz bought Starbucks in 1983, his goal for the business was to provide “a third place between work and home,” where people would meet, work and relax, thereby forming a sense of community in a coffee-shop setting. A similar process goes on in art spaces, which can range from elegant museums to commercial galleries to – you got it – coffee shops, and which also provide the opportunity to form a sense of community. The greater Capital Region offers many options in that range, and they all contribute significantly to a vibrant scene that I think is underappreciated both within and beyond this geography.

Get Visual aims to explore and expound upon that scene (with occasional digressions beyond), and I am pleased to be returning to it after a long hiatus. This post will be the first of many to come under a new plan to write as often as possible around my full-time job – probably just once or twice a month but, at least, regularly. Please spread the word to your interested friends.

Sang Wook Lee: Fork and Knife, 2014, silk, silkscreen
 and hand embroidered cotton thread
Two shows that recently caught my attention happen to share important characteristics, though they are distinct. Presented neither in museum nor commercial settings, these shows each occupy a type of “third place” in the exhibition realm: spaces that are devoted to significant public purposes apart from art, but which also host high-quality, curated exhibitions.

Body Language is on view through Sept. 7 at the Albany International Airport Gallery, a large, dedicated area that extends from the airport’s third-floor observation deck. Homespun occupies every available wall in the beautifully renovated Pine Hills Branch of the Albany Public Library, and will hang through Sept. 27. Each show explores the theme of identity as expressed in visual modes, and includes eight to ten artists in a full range of media.

Paul Miyamoto, Ground Work #4 
Oil on canvas, 2014
In Body Language, the human figure is a constant in the work but not the topic of it – rather, the messages the figure imparts through its gestures, activities, accessories and context become the theme of this exhibition. In paintings by Paul Miyamoto and Lin Price, small characters act out their roles within a scarcely described universe. But Miyamoto’s are humble farm workers bent to their tasks, while Price’s act out absurd, pointless motions in a suburban surround.

Also absurd are the mash-ups created by Amy Podmore, who sculpts in plaster, paper and cloth, as are the elegantly crafted photogravures of duo Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison. Sean Hovendick’s videos and Leona Christie’s drawings take oddness a bit further, to a place of broad social commentary.

Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison,
Turning to Spring, Photogravure, 2002
The remaining work in the show is essentially portraiture, including quasi self-portraits by Brian Cirmo that evoke the processes of the brain, sometimes with lovely color notes, and the way-larger-than-life ceramic heads of Sergei Isupov, which are so lovingly stained and glazed as to read as both painting and sculpture.

Sergei Isupov, In the Clouds,
 Stoneware, stain glaze, 2008
Darcie Abbatiello’s tiny collaged drawings of lost girls and women are simply heartbreaking (one is also a self-portrait), while Melanie Baker draws out a sense of subtle outrage with her careful studies of men in the economic “one percent.” Overall, the exhibition is beautifully conceived and installed. Try not to miss it.

Homespun talks about who we are by showing how we live – or how we appear to go about it. Domesticity is on display, but it is not approached head-on. Instead, the connections are more ethereal – a full-scale quilt by Barbara Todd, in stark black and white, represents a single, naive heart, while Kathy Greenwood’s large grid of meticulously canceled Betty Crocker recipe cards forms its own quilt of brilliant paint and pattern.

Kathy Greenwood, How to Feed Your Family for
 Health and Happiness No Matter What...,
 vintage recipe cards, acrylic on panel, 2014
Michael McKay deftly depicts cool architecture in hot colors, but Gina Occhiogrosso leaves only slight vestiges of her architectural sources in paintings that swirl with chaotic energy. Ken Ragsdale constructs a world in white paper, as presented here in a meticulous diorama, then bathes it in warm shades of colored lights to be photographed. Nearby, a similar white world inhabits Kim Faler’s color photograph of a hand-built interior; Faler also presents a framed photograph placed on top of patterns stenciled directly on the wall, confounding the viewer with contrasting decorative approaches.

Martin Hyers and William Mebane: Empire, 2006
28 pigment prints from a series of 100
Sang Wook Lee makes maximum use of a wide beam along the library’s staircase, and comments on his own immigrant experience by projecting a galaxy of red threads from above to form the embroidered shapes of scores of place settings – notably featuring cutlery, not chopsticks. Also deeply cultural are numerous color photographs by the collaborating duo Martin Hyers and William Mebane. Their Empire series documents countless American artifacts – elegant, banal, or crude – with equal impartiality, then presents them in a large grid. It’s really rich stuff mined from our everyday existence – like most important art.

Homespun was organized by Judie Gilmore, who does a fine job within the constraints of a space that was not designed for a coherent art display – be warned, you must wander every nook and cranny of the stacks to see all the work it offers, but the quality of that work will reward your efforts.

Ken Ragsdale: The Hundred Acre Wood, 2014, archival ink-jet
 from photo of fabricated paper sculpture (slightly cropped)

Note: The Airport Gallery is by far the most accessible of art spaces, with open hours from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily and a half-hour's free parking in the short-term lot (and, no, it is not beyond the airport’s security checkpoint). The Albany Public Library Pine Hills Branch is open Monday and Wednesday from 12 to 8, Tuesday from 10 to 6, Thursday and Friday from 12 to 6 and Saturday from 1 to 5. Both spaces are wheelchair accessible.