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Saturday, November 23, 2019

Quick Take: Ken Ragsdale at LGAP and Upstate Invitational at Laffer Gallery

Ken Ragsdale - A New Crop 2018, digital photograph
Two shows worth a look are going to end soon - maybe you can find a way to squeeze them in around the holiday crush.

Ken Ragsdale: Memory as Process Revisited, at the Lake George Arts Project's Courthouse Gallery through Dec. 6, is a mini-retrospective of one of the Capital Region's best-liked artists. Ragsdale is popular for several reasons, but that doesn't mean his work isn't challenging.

This collection of about 20 pieces includes a few earlier works, among them a charming tiny drawing from 1984, but the core of the show is a strong series of more recent, large framed photographs made in Ragsdale's signature style, in which he creates elaborate sets in white paper, then bathes them in washes of colored light before recording them with a camera. Ragsdale is drawing from visual memories of his childhood in the rural Northwest to create strikingly concrete (yet dreamlike) scenes of subtle, slow destruction.

This show is a great opportunity to get a sense of Ragsdale's process while enjoying a larger group of his work than has been exhibited in the area in quite some time.

Audrie Sturman
Vine 4, clay
In Schuylerville, Eric Laffer has accomplished the nearly impossible feat of keeping a fine art gallery going for about eight years, and his effort shows no signs of flagging. The Laffer Gallery is a beautiful space that consistently hosts strong shows of work by mostly regional artists, with a mix of painting, sculpture, ceramics, prints, and photography. The artists in the gallery's 7th Upstate Invitational, currently on view through Dec. 1, were selected by juror Laura Von Rosk from last year's annual juried group show at Laffer, an interesting arrangement whereby Laffer has delegated curatorial choice within his own space (this year's juried show, selected by Jon Gernon, will open on Dec. 7).

The featured artists, Fern Apfel, Robyn Morgan Giddings, and Audrie Sturman, hang well together, as all place great emphasis on form and color. Giddings and Apfel are painters with direct or indirect elements of paper collage, while Sturman is a ceramic sculptor working at a notably large scale for her medium. Sturman's many tower-like structures in this show are muscular and brash, with great textures and brightly glazed or painted surfaces.

Robyn Morgan Giddings
Stuffed 2, mixed media on canvas
Among the three, I am most impressed by Apfel, who I've followed for a long time, and who seems in recent years to have burst through into a marvelous world of abstraction. In her layered images, old-time ephemera are given new life with the vibrant colors of today. Nearly photographic realism contrasts with built-up areas and edges of paint to create complexity in these compositions.

Giddings' flat, often patterned painting approach emphasizes simplified interior elements (usually furniture) and combines them with photographic prints depicting items of clothing or flowers. I found this work rather decorative, and indeed it seems to be quite intentionally and unashamedly so. Overall, the Invitational is a highly appealing display in a very sophisticated, yet welcoming space. If you love art and haven't been to Laffer Gallery yet, you are long overdue.

Fern Apfel - The Monkey Applauds, acrylic and pen on board

Saturday, November 16, 2019

2019 Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region at The Hyde Collection

Mixed groups of individual works are a staple of this year's Mohawk Hudson Regional.
The Annual Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region has rotated to The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls this year and, as ever, it is a must-see show for followers of the local scene. Now in its 84th year, the Regional will be on view at the Hyde through Dec. 4.

Charles Geiger's oil on linen Cactus
received the top award at this year's Regional.
Juried by Victoria Palermo, a longtime standout artist from the Adirondack region, this year's edition has a curated feel - Palermo didn't aim to select the best or most representative artworks so much as she sensed an overall direction of the submissions - a huge haul of more than 1,500 works by 365 artists - and pulled together a sweeping version of how she saw that vast body.

The main theme is climate, though numerous works unrelated to that theme are also included. A total of 92 pieces by 83 artists made the cut (many more artists than usual, but still maintaining a high level of quality). One result of that selection is that very few artists are represented by more than one piece. Instead, the show is largely organized in ensembles that build relationships and contrasts among the individual artists' works. While this approach can set your head to spinning, and may always not honor each artist sufficiently, it does make for a stimulating and rich presentation.

Rebecca Murtaugh is represented in the Regional
by a group of five ceramic sculptures.
The 2019 Regional is installed throughout the Hyde's many galleries (except the central one, where a fine traveling exhibition of prints by Picasso, Braque, and L├ęger holds pride of place through Jan. 5), an arrangement that can be disorienting at first, but which rewards persistent wandering with many strong experiences. A press release explains that artworks centered on the environment are exhibited in Feibes & Schmitt Gallery, the stairwell of the Museum’s education wing, and Rotunda Gallery. Submissions selected for the exhibition that aren’t related to climate are in Hoopes Gallery and Hyde House.

Jane Feldblum's mixed-media Winter Garden
is displayed on an antique chair at the Hyde.
In particular, the pieces in Hyde House are placed among the museum's impressive, historical permanent collection, providing sometimes intriguing, sometimes confounding collisions of style, material, and period. Past Regionals have included similar pointed installations, both here and at the Albany Institute of History & Art, providing a nice twist that I always enjoy. For a historic house museum to make space for such intrusions, even to the extent of displacing specific objects from its collection, is truly generous.

It's worth noting that Palermo's selections seem to include more three-dimensional work than most Regionals (no surprise there, as she is a sculptor herself), and far fewer photographs than usual (a bit confounding, as I have no reason to think she is biased against that medium). The photo-based works she chose lean toward the abstract, colorful, and process-oriented - just one is a straight, black-and-white landscape print.

John Yost's three-monitor video portrait
re-creates the look of 19th-century photography.
There are also several videos, always a plus when presented right, and the Hyde did a good thing by projecting three of these in rotation on a big wall opposite handy benches. An additional video submission (shown here at left) is tucked into a very quiet nook, but it won the Hyde purchase prize, so it's clear they meant no harm there.

Scott Brodie's acrylic on canvas
Project Lamentation Discard:
Decommissioned after Electric Shock

is oddly sentimental.
I also feel compelled to point out that the complex installation of this sprawling show feels natural, whereas the last Hyde Regional felt over-curated to me. We live in a time of curation - restaurants, clothing stores, cruise lines and so on all use the term now for carefully chosen and organized experiences. In the art world, too much curation can feel like a subjugation of the art itself. Call me old-school, but I still want the artists to lead, not their interpreters (including critics like me).

But curation is, of course, necessary. And, properly done, it can avoid the pitfall of undermining the individual pieces for the sake of a more overarching vision. I think this show reaches far, but still gives the individual artists enough room to breathe, enough space in which to be taken in directly by the viewer. That said, the viewer will need to take the time and effort to allow that interaction to happen.

Ryan Parr's oil on canvas Green Wall
transforms its subject using scale and perspective.
Among the chosen are many familiar names from past Regionals (including 2016 juror Michael Oatman), but many new names appear as well. This may not be the point of such a traditional format, but it sure feels right.

I was struck this week to realize that I've witnessed nearly half of the rather long history of the Regional (including a period in which I submitted regularly and was included often). In light of that extended view, I can state without a doubt that this Regional represents quite a robust peak in local artistic output. Perhaps, as the main theme might suggest, artists are inspired by a sense of urgency. Or maybe this is just a good place to be if you want to pursue art, which is never an easy task. Whatever the reason, it is cause for celebration.

Go, enjoy the show and, in particular, keep an eye out for more from this very impressive lineup of creators, who also just happen to be your neighbors.

This group of prints and paintings, organized around the theme of landscape,
is part of the 84th Annual Regional at The Hyde Collection.