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Saturday, October 27, 2018

2018 Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region at UAlbany Art Museum

Matt Frieburghaus - Water Collection, still image from four-minute video
The current edition of the annual Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region (aka the Regional) opened recently at UAlbany’s University Art Museum, and it is subtly strong. Selected by the installation artist Jean Shin from more than 1,500 submitted works, the show is spare and surprisingly tame – apart from a couple of challenging videos and VR treats, you might believe you were viewing art from two or three decades ago.

But don’t take that the wrong way – Shin’s choices are almost flawless in terms of quality; maybe this snapshot of 2018 simply says that artists today are looking forward by looking back. I for one will never tire of painterly abstraction – and here’s a ton of it! Indeed, this Regional is almost a show of paintings, with a few photographs, sculptures, prints and drawings thrown in for balance.

Shari Mendelson - Korean Bird Vessel 2
repurposed plastic and other media
Looking closer, it’s a tight selection for the fairly vast space – just 78 works by 38 artists – organized into affinity groupings that provide most of the pieces with very good company. Longtime fans of the event will recognize plenty of names, such as Susan Spencer Crowe, Stephen Niccolls, and Deborah Zlotsky, but will also be exposed to a number of new ones. Among those, I was intrigued by Beth Humphrey's petite, colorful, cut-paper collages, which float off the wall as lightly as flower petals or insect wings, and by Shari Mendelson's neo-ancient artifacts of the plastic age, which I like for their sly sense of humor and wan coloration.

Gina Occhiogrosso - A Cold Melt
acrylic ink and oil on muslin
Top prize went to Gina Occhiogrosso, a SUNY New Paltz alumna and College of Saint Rose professor who has been showing a lot  in the top local venues (e.g. Albany Airport Gallery, Albany Center Gallery) and who seems to have suddenly come into her own. The two large paintings on pieced muslin that she presents here are well worthy of the award.

Nearby are several of the show’s three-dimensional works, including David Herbert's  monumental take on the Statue of Liberty. Topical and laboriously hand-wrought of wood and string, its emptiness speaks volumes. Also topical are Susan Hoffer’s three modestly sized representational paintings of people looking at electronic screens. Her titles are ironically compelling (one is Watching Human Rights Silently Legislated Away) and her technique is both luminescent and a bit goopy, creating an odd surface tension that adds to her wry message.

Karin Schaefer - Intersectional, oil on canvas
Most of the other paintings in the show, including Karin Schaefer’s studies in blue, two beauties by Niccolls, and Zlotsky's three quasi-Constructivist pieces, along with works by Victoria Palermo, Gerald Wolfe, Claire Stankus, and Rick Briggs, are more about the color itself – but, again, that’s all right with me. Meanwhile, even some of the photographs in the show, such as Justin Baker's and Ray Felix's, are studies in color abstraction, as are Crowe's brilliant cut and folded wall reliefs.

A particular favorite piece of mine (and winner of both a Juror's Award and a purchase prize) is Laura Frare and Mary Kathryn Jablonski’s video-poetry collaboration, entitled These Last Few Days of Freezing Rains. It runs an acceptable 4 minutes, and creates a wintry atmosphere by combining visuals and images evoked by spoken words. Be sure not to miss seeing/hearing it from the start, as it cycles continuously.

David Herbert
The Phantom of Liberty
wood, string, paint, hardware
Another innovative video in the show, by Matt Frieburghaus, appears to be an animated Marcus Uzilevsky (remember the cloyingly popular 1980s artist of the linear landscapes?). I know Frieburghaus derives landscape images of water, mountains, and icebergs directly from nature, so perhaps he’s adapted one of his originals into this form as a tongue-in-cheek homage to the other artist - or else he took an actual Uzilevsky and animated it. In any case, it held my attention for a good while.

Similarly mesmerizing are the two VR (virtual reality) works presented by Jessica Ann Willis that each provide a kaleidoscopic experience in an illusory cube of space. On the wall nearby are two exquisite mandala-like paintings by Amy Cheng, and two similarly radiating rag-rug assemblages by Kathy Greenwood - yet more non-representational work in the show.

Susan Spencer Crowe - Tosca
cut and folded paper, graphite, Flashe
A few other sculptures expand the show's range - including a big inflatable car by Greg Skochko, cleverly jigsawed vintage doors by Amelia Toelke, jewel-like colored acrylic in Susan Meyer's constructions - as do photographs by Martin Benjamin, Sean Hovendick, and Monica d. Church that compassionately depict people. But, overall, the paintings clearly dominate this Regional.

Taken as a whole, the exhibition clearly demonstrates just how high a standard is maintained by the fine artists in this region, and provides plenty of food for thought on the questions of what defines a region and what defines a moment in time.

Note: This year's Regional is accompanied by a sidebar exhibition in the Museum's attached upstairs West gallery. Entitled Flow, it includes one or two pieces each by 11 UAlbany alumni whose works  received UAlbany purchase prizes during the past nine Regionals, and covers a full range of artistic media. Both shows continue through Dec. 8.

Susan Hoffer - Appealing to a Moral World Community, oil on hardwood