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Saturday, July 25, 2020

Recycled and Refashioned: The Art of Ruby Silvious at AIHA

Tea Shirts - watercolor, gouache, ink on used tea bags by Ruby Silvious
It's no secret that the greater Capital Region has long been home to a rich community of visual artists. The reasons for this are many, including location, job opportunities, cost of living, and numerous colleges and universities with strong art programs being nearby.

Most of these local artists succeed at various levels, and some are well established in other markets (such as New York City), but it's rare that one breaks out in a big way - so when that happens, it's cause for celebration. I therefore commend the Albany Institute of History & Art for doing justice to our latest local hero, Ruby Silvious, with a terrifically likeable five-year survey of her work.

I was lucky to have had the chance to visit Recycled and Refashioned: The Art of Ruby Silvious before the pandemic shut it down in late March, and I'm delighted that the museum, which has just re-opened to visitors, extended the show's run through Aug. 30, because this is a show literally everyone should try to see.

Like most successful artists, Silvious is incredibly hardworking, as evidenced by the striking quantity and range of the work in this show. But her impressive output doesn't come at the expense of quality - indeed, Silvious seems to get better the more she produces. So, while the number of works on view can be a little overwhelming (multiple viewings are advised), the repetition of many examples in her major themes serves to underscore the wonder of this artist's intensive daily practice.

That daily practice itself is a unifying theme here, as is an abiding interest in clothing (hence the fashion reference in the show's title). While Silvious employs numerous techniques, including drawing in ink, painting in watercolor and gouache, printmaking, collage, sewing - and more - the re-use of materials is an overriding methodology in her work. In addition to the used tea bags that are her claim to fame, Silvious paints on eggshells, acorns, pistachio shells, paint chip samples, leaves, stones and, yes, even paper. She also refashions packaging material into origami bras and fanciful shoes, and combines hundreds of miniature monoprints into grand kimonos.

Perhaps my favorite item in the show (among more than 200) is a ziggurat-like coil of small daily illustrations, itself featuring more than 100 separate images, which was made by drawing on an old adding-machine tape. Like a journal, it neatly and humorously represents the artist's little pleasures and worries, often recording food items (it's clear Silvious likes snacks in addition to hot beverages) and sometimes augmented with wry comments, written in flowing block letters. As I circled this looping chain of charming notations, I was dizzied as much by their seeming endlessness as by the rotating motion of my path.

Another favorite element of Recycled and Refashioned is a display of 11 artist books that date from 2015 to 2019, in which almost all of Silvious's various approaches are represented, with a few added ideas that aren't in the rest of the show (such as embroidered thread drawings of female nudes). I'm a huge fan of artist books, and I love the way Silvious gives herself the freedom to use that medium any way she likes, even hiding one of them inside a used candy tin.

In the same small gallery with these books are 18 small framed tea-bag paintings on the theme of museum goers. These incorporate tiny renderings of famous works of art, as viewed by figures outlined in black ink. I couldn't tell for sure whether the little paintings were somehow copied (say by digital printing) or actually painted by the artist - but either way, they work to draw us in to join our miniature fellow museum goers.

Though Silvious has omnivorous tastes in subject matter (I noted landscapes, architecture, other art, tea - of course, fruits and vegetables, flowers, birds, and people), her biggest obsession does seem to be fashion, and her biggest pieces in the show are full scale and (it seems) wearable, including two paper dresses and four kimonos. The origami bras number around 20, and there are 40 individual shoes made of paper, each a joyful explosion of feminine energy.

Still, the heart and soul of this exhibition is embodied in the paintings on tea bags - more than 60 in frames and more than 75 unframed in vitrines that I counted back in March. Additionally, it was recently announced that a series of 14 new tea bag paintings that Silvious made while under quarantine have been added to the show (and to the permanent collection of the Institute) since then.

There is a very nicely produced video in the first gallery that shows Silvious's process of making these paintings - from steeping the tea to the final multicolored work of art - and it brings home just how home-grown her art really is. The fact that it has carried her on fellowships to Japan, France, Italy, and all over the world in three published monographs, just shows how universally appealing this simple discovery became.

If it was just about the great ideas - re-using everyday materials, modifying junk-food wrappers, combining hundreds of prints into a kimono, or trimming a leaf with scissors - Silvious's work would be interesting. What makes it lasting is the strenuous dedication to craft, and the personal investment of her inner self that Silvious has brought to the unassuming process of making art from daily existence. This show represents a significant achievement by a local artist who's earned it. Let's celebrate that.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Galleries are re-opening! (Part III)

Installation view of Willard Boepple show at Pamela Salisbury Gallery
photo by Peter Crabtree
When I heard galleries were starting to emerge from the pandemic darkness and open their doors again to visitors, I beat a path to Hudson, which has the busiest gallery scene in our region. A friend there had made me aware of a large show by Rodney Alan Greenblat at Hudson Hall, and we were able to wangle our way in even though it was early in the week (it's open afternoons on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays by timed entry to avoid overcrowding, with guided group tours at 4 p.m. each day).

Lemon Eye Home Rainbow Device
by Rodney Alan Greenblat
Though I was already a bit familiar with Greenblat's painting, this was a revelation in that the show features several very big sculptural pieces from decades past, along with a profusion of very recent work, most of it in two dimensions. Being highly productive hasn't hurt Greenblat at all - the quality is remarkably consistent - and he is clearly having a whole lot of fun, not surprising from an artist whose greatest success involves creating children's books, cartoon characters, and video games.

Many of Greenblat's pieces include a sort of avatar called Lemon Eye, whose cheerfulness seems undiminished by wisdom. I think we can all use some of that right now, and I absolutely loved the show, which is entitled Something to Look Forward To. It continues through Aug. 23.

Pamela Salisbury Gallery was my other primary target on this mission, because it used to be John Davis Gallery, which was always my favorite in Hudson (not meant as a knock on the many other worthy galleries there!) and which I hadn't seen yet under the new owner's management.

Fence 5.2.20 BB, 2020 - screenprint by Willard Boepple
Pamela proved to be as gracious as her predecessor, and the space is virtually unchanged (phew!). So is the quality of the work on view, in this instance four separate solo shows that maintain a high standard and will satisfy anyone's need for rich colors. I particularly liked the screenprint variations in a show by Willard Boepple that is presented on two floors in the main gallery. Boepple also offers a terrific series of neo-Constructivist sculptures, some of them in small-scale 3D-printed versions that are quite charming. Boepple is a colorist of the first order, and this show is not to be missed.

It Won't Rain, 2020
watercolor on paper by Maud Bryt
In the gallery's rear carriage house, a multi-level barn-like structure, Maud Bryt, Richard Kalina, and Ying Li each have a floor to spread out in. Of those, I was most drawn to Bryt's subtle, suggestive watercolors that reflect actual sites and landscapes, but feel more like interior journeys. All four shows will run through July 26.

I also visited Carrie Haddad Gallery, where Jeri Eisenberg, Louise Laplante, Allyson Levy, and Lori Van Houten are joined in a group show entitled Natural Worlds. Though unified by the theme, this group of four is very disparate in style and media, offering a likely match in taste to a broad range of art lovers. My choice would be Eisenberg's ethereal enlargements of flowers and leaves (see image at end of this post). The show continues through July 26 has been extended through Aug. 9.

Shelter, 2020 - gouache by Jenny Kemp
The Lake George Arts Project's Courthouse Gallery just reopened on Saturday, July 11, with a solo show of paintings by Jenny Kemp, a favorite artist of mine for years, who I recently reviewed as part of a group show at Carrie Haddad. Her Lake George exhibition features a hefty swath of brand-new work, and continues through Aug 14.

The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls has announced it will re-open on Saturday, Aug. 1, by appointment only. Visits will be limited to seniors and high-risk individuals from 10 a.m. to noon, then will allow the general public from 1 to 5 p.m., Thursday through Sunday each week.

The National Bottle Museum in Ballston Spa has re-opened, and its Jan Rutland Artists' Space currently features a show that had just been mounted when the shutdown hit. A is for Abstract in the Adirondacks! is open from 10-4, Tuesday through Saturday, through Aug. 1.

Also in the northern zone of the Capital Region, Schuylerville's Laffer Gallery re-opened on June 13, leading the charge with a typically classy three-person show featuring Robert Moylan, Tracy Helgeson, and Regina Wickham. A Cultivated Vision will continue there through July 26.

Acacia No. 3, 2018, Japanese Kozo paper infused with encaustic by Jeri Eisenberg


Saturday, July 4, 2020

Galleries are re-opening! (Part II)

Vanderbilt Estate, Hyde Park, New York, part of the Fenimore Art Museum's 
Blue Gardens: Photographs by Steve Gross and Susan Daley
As New York State’s Phase 4 of reopening kicks into gear, many major museums are getting there, too.

After months of utter drought, the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown has led the charge, and is open now (as of Friday, July 3), with a slate of new shows, and reduced admission rates.

Next up will be the three biggest draws in the Berkshires: MASS MoCA, the Clark Art Institute, and the Norman Rockwell Museum. They issued a joint announcement that they’d be open with reduced capacity (per Massachusetts guidelines), controlled by timed-entry reserved tickets, beginning next weekend (July 11 for MASS MoCA, July 12 for the others).

A quote from the news release, credited to the museums’ three directors, hits just the right note:
“We strongly believe in the restorative power of art and cannot wait to share our galleries and grounds with our guests.”

Amen to that!

Additionally, the Albany Institute of History & Art has announced it will reopen on July 25 (better late than never). Watch this space for an upcoming review of the outstanding solo exhibition by Ruby Silvious that I viewed at the Institute shortly before the pandemic shutdown.

Meanwhile, according to the Glens Falls Post Star, the Hyde Collection “may open” in August, and a recent Daily Gazette report notes that Skidmore College’s Tang Teaching Museum has no projected reopening date. Neither does the Williams College Museum of Art, which plans to resume operations when the college restarts in the fall, but will remain closed to the public even then.

These are among the best museums around, and will continue to be greatly missed until they find a path to reopening. Let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later.

Until then, though, we have a lot of fresh exhibitions to get out and see this summer. Make the most of it, and please support these vital regional institutions.