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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Regionals, regionals ...

Juror Karen Davis peruses the Photo Regional Salon at Albany Center Gallery
Thanks in part to the coronavirus pandemic, we now have a perfect storm of regional exhibitions that are all on view simultaneously. With three annual juried shows having been rescheduled, and a new lockdown-themed juried show now open at a prominent college gallery, it’s a boon to regional artists and their fans.

Laura Brodsky's fatherhood 2 won one
of four top prizes at the Photo Regional

First up, the 42nd Annual Photography Regional at Albany Center Gallery began on Sept. 8 with a salon-style installation of 200-plus submissions by more than 80 photographers. Karen Davis, co-owner of Davis-Orton Gallery in Hudson, then culled those submissions into a Select show that re-opened on Sept 18. It features 43 photographers (of which I am one) and includes 49 pieces, with 11 of those works receiving special recognition. Heads-up: The Photo Regional will close this Friday (Oct. 2), so you’ll have to hurry if you want to take a look. I recommend that you do.

Jill Baucom's Blackberries won one of
four top prizes in the Photo Regional
Also recently opened, on Sept. 19 (through Jan. 3, 2021), is the 2020 Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region (aka the Regional), which is the most significant show in the annual calendar locally and, now in its 84th year, one of the longest-standing shows of its kind in the nation. The Regional rotates among three venues, and is hosted this year by the Albany Institute of History & Art, which tapped MASS MoCA Senior Curator Susan Cross as juror. In keeping with Regional tradition, an accompanying catalog with an essay by Cross is planned by the Institute and will be available in a few weeks.

Amy Silberkleit - 1918 stone lithograph
Perhaps due to Cross’s high profile as a curator in the region, the show attracted more than 700 entries by nearly 250 artists across all media. Cross whittled these down to 108 works by 73 artists (of which – you guessed it – I am one), also selecting 19 among them for special awards that range from $1,000 cash to $100 gift certificates. She then planned the installation of the show in five contiguous spaces within the museum, using the variously sized galleries as venues for thematic groupings.

Deborah Zlotsky - Yours, Mine, Ours
vintage scarves

The largest of those galleries contains vast splashes of bright colors provided by works in many media – painting, sculpture, photography, collage, and textiles among them – with a large portion of those pieces being abstract. In a nearby, somewhat smaller room, again featuring the full array of media, the theme is landscape.

Yet another medium-sized gallery includes works that mostly engage in political or social commentary, again with many media represented but, in this case, weighted much more toward photography (not including my own, which are abstract, and hang in the larger gallery).

One feels the effects of 2020’s global and national upheavals in Cross’s selection of prizes, many of which went to the more topical works in the show, yet the overall effect of this Regional is what it should be: a well-distributed cross-section of the region’s best art, organized - but not dominated - by theme.

Jeff Wigman's oil on panel Arrival in Hell is included in Infinite Uncertainty.
Wigman also has work in the Mohawk-Hudson Regional and the Fence Salon.
Fortunately, another local gallery took up that thematic challenge by specifically requesting topical work for an open-call show juried by Sharon Bates, Stacey Robinson, Ellen Letcher and Julie Torres. Infinite Uncertainty opened at Sage College of Albany’s Opalka Gallery on Sept. 1 and includes approximately 100 works selected from over 250 total submissions. It closes on Oct. 10 so, again, you’ll have to hurry if you want to see it - and I recommend that you do.

It’s worth noting that seven of the 33 regional artists included in Infinite Uncertainty are also included in the Mohawk-Hudson Regional (in which four of them received awards), an overlap that underscores the meaningful relationship between the two shows. Like the Regional, Infinite Uncertainty features work across many media, a good bit of it colorfully or monochromatically abstract, but much more of it representing interpretive responses to our current social issues.

Tatana Kellner - Scream
collage, acrylic, and charcoal on paper
Each artist’s work is accompanied by statements that explain the impetus for the selected pieces, ranging from technical adaptation to using available quotidian materials during art-supply-chain shutdowns to direct commentaries on hot topics like the pandemic and BLM protests. The writings provide a telling window into the interior lives of artists, and make a strong statement about both their resilience and the power of art to buoy the human spirit in hard times.

Altogether, Infinite Uncertainty is a relatively rare instance of a carefully curated large group show at an urban Capital Region gallery featuring only regional artists. Though 33 seems like a lot of participants, the spacious gallery has enough room to accommodate multiple pieces by most of them, and numerous pieces by many, making for a great degree of depth in this presentation.

This mixed-media collage by Paula
Drysdale Frazell is in the Fence Salon
Finally, the Fence Salon show opened on Sept. 11 at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy and will remain on view there through Nov. 7, after which it will be rehung as the Fence Select, which will be juried by Tang Museum Director Ian Berry. Please note that the Arts Center is operating on a modified schedule – open Tuesday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. or by appointment.

Here, too, there is significant overlap with artists who are also in the Mohawk-Hudson Regional (I counted nine), which comes as no surprise considering the prestige of the juror and the longstanding tradition of this show, which I have often referred to as “the other Regional.” There’s also some artist overlap between Fence and the Opalka show, as well as between Fence and the Photo-Regional. I can only begin to imagine the thought processes that went on with these artists as they tried to determine which works to submit where. 

I will revisit the Fence show on this blog after it has been juried and re-hung as Fence Select.

In the meantime, please do yourself a favor and get out to see these treasure troves of high-quality, current regional art while you can.

Mike Glier's oil on canvas Swallows Hunting is part of the Mohawk-Hudson Regional.
Glier is one of three former Regional jurors who have work in this year's show.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Masterful prints at the Fenimore Art Museum

Albrecht Dürer - Agony in the Garden (Christ on the Mount of Olives), 1508
detail of a print from the Engraved Passion series

It can be easy to overlook printmaking as an art form, especially in our current digital age, where a few clicks will get you a nice image made of ink on paper. But two very different shows currently on view at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown serve as timely reminders that it wasn’t always so easy, and that it still takes vision to make easy into wonderful.

All fans of visual art know the name Albrecht Dürer, but most of us probably didn’t know that Dürer “singlehandedly transformed printmaking from a craft to a fine art” in the late 1400s and early 1500s, as postulated and amply demonstrated by the traveling exhibition Albrecht Dürer: Master Prints, on loan to FAM through Nov. 22 from Pennsylvania’s Reading Public Museum.

Fall of Man from the Small Woodblock Passion, c. 1510
The show includes more than 20 examples of Dürer’s woodblocks and copper engravings, including all 16 of the “Engraved Passion” series. Though the prints are quite small (typically about 2.5 by 4.5 inches), they are packed with detail; and, though they are monochromatic, they feature an engaging range of tones and textures, emphasized by Dürer’s signature chiaroscuro style. A few examples of work by contemporaries who influenced or were influenced by Dürer are also included here, and they provide the context to support the idea that his work transcended illustration to achieve true artistic expression in a medium generally meant for popular consumption.

Not that Dürer eschewed popularity – on the contrary, according to the exhibition wall text, “his prints circulated throughout Europe, making him one of the most influential artists of his age.” Something like today’s YouTube or Instagram stars, he gave the people what they wanted, providing his own special twists in the form of naturalistic curiosities, bravura line work, and visual puzzles. The woodblock print Fall of Man provides one example of these strengths – whereas a simple rendering of Adam and Eve with the snake would do, Dürer adds other animals such as a bear (or is it a boar?) and a peeping lion, along with his classic personal logo on a trompe l’oeil metal tag.

Joachim and the Angel from The Life of the Virgin, 1504
Dürer honed his craft and his vision during a trip to Italy in his 20s – no surprise that exposure to the culture that spawned Renaissance art would make him a better artist, too – but his work still radiates a German sensibility in its emotional restraint and controlled, almost analytical approach. Equally, the religious and moral subject matter of these images speaks of their time and place, and presumably of Dürer’s Christian devotion, but there’s much more than Biblical storytelling to their content. Another fine example is Christ Shown to the People, in which several exquisitely detailed human figures, a darkly vivid forest, and a microscopic farming scene are all crammed into a small engraving, emulating some of the best qualities of Italian art of the time.

All in all, with a little patience (and maybe a magnifying glass, available for use in the museum), this display of Dürer’s master works will greatly reward any visitor.

Kykuit Estate, Tarrytown, New York
Flashing forward to the 21st century, an exhibition of beautifully realized inkjet-printed photographs by Steve Gross and Susan Daley entitled Blue Gardens makes a strong complement to the Dürer show.

Gross and Daley work as a duo, and they built this collection of images over more than a decade (mixed in with other projects), by visiting numerous venerable parks and estates to capture their seemingly timeless outdoor spaces using digital cameras.

The resulting show of 22 prints, all of them transformed to the mellow blue tones of a cyanotype, provides both a document of these special places and a lush and pensive visual style that the pair have cultivated over many decades of photographing landscapes and gardens together. The beautiful consistency of this group belies the diversity of its subjects, ranging from South Carolina to Upstate N.Y.

Untermyer Park, Yonkers, New York
All but two of the prints are a medium size for photographs (about 11” by 18”), which is small enough to draw you in close, but still big enough to allow you to enter the space and peruse the finely rendered details of plants, statuary, architectural elements, and water features (natural or man-made). Two of the prints are much larger (about 30” by 40”), which helps them work well when viewed from a distance, and emphasizes their strong compositional effects.

In many of these pictures, the sky is a powerful presence. This may have been part of the reason for printing in blue, or just a happy byproduct of the decision to render the gardens themselves in blue, but the effect of that choice works beautifully (I have tried to imagine these images in a classic grey monotone instead, and it doesn’t seem to work at all). In any case, the skies are crucial to the work precisely because, while the rest of the subject matter is virtually unchanged from its inception a century or more ago, the ever-changing sky captured in a fleeting moment firmly anchors the images as photographs, timeless though they may seem.

Blue Gardens will remain on view at FAM through Dec. 31.

Steve Gross and Susan Daley - Crane Estate, Ipswich, Massachusetts