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Friday, September 17, 2021

All Together Now at The Hyde, the Tang, etc.

Installation view of Summer Bomb Pop at The Hyde Collection; from top, left are
works by Myron Stout, Sarah Braman, Mindy Shapero, Robert Reed, and Steve Roden
Though summer is on the wane, a constellation of shows that began to emit from Skidmore College's Tang Teaching Museum in the spring will continue well into the fall, and so could nicely serve as a buffer to the inevitable end of our warmest season.

All Together Now is a wonderfully conceived project in which Tang curators, other art venues' curators, and Skidmore students collaborated to bring elements from the Tang's collection into other spaces, where they interact with related works from those museums' collections. It's my impression that this concept was birthed by the COVID-caused closure of the Tang to non-Skidmore viewers for more than a year (it reopened to the public on July 10th), and a desire to bring some of its holdings into the community during this shutdown. It also fostered some cool collaborations, and fed fuel to the fire of those students' educations, which is a core mission of the Tang.

The resulting eight exhibitions, six of which are still on view, cover a lot of ground, from sculptural wooden hat forms, to 19th-century photographs, to contemporary abstract paintings. Among the collaborating institutions are The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, Yaddo and The National Museum of Racing in Saratoga Springs, and the former Brookside Museum (now the Saratoga County History Center) in Ballston Spa. Two of the shows have closed - one at Saratoga Arts and one at the Tang; and two are not easily accessible - at Yaddo and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center; so I recently visited the four that remain, including one at the Tang that opened on July 10 (the prior one closed in June).

From left, works by Augustus Thompson, Bridget Riley,
Richmond Burton, and Man Ray are grouped in
Summer Bomb Pop
all Hyde photos by Arthur Evans
The grand tour, taken up with a culture-vulture friend riding shotgun, proved to be exhausting but awesome. We started at the northernmost point, where recent works of art from the Tang's holdings are blended with selections from the Hyde's Feibes & Schmitt collection of 20th-century abstraction in the museum's main gallery. (The Hyde has several other worthy shows also currently on view, but we'll focus on just this one for now.)

Summer Bomb Pop: Collections in Dialogue is rich in significant stand-alone works, or in tasty juxtapositions if you choose to view it that way, with a smattering of explanatory labels that delve into the history of some of the works and artists on view. Most of the labels are student efforts, but several are by prominent art critic Dan Cameron, and add worthwhile insights.

The show's title (taken from a 2008 painting by Chuck Webster that leads the installation) is a clear message that this should be fun - and it delivers. I was surprised after immersing myself in what seemed to be a great big show, that there are only 26 works in it, but many are both large and complex, and they powerfully command the spacious gallery with scarcely a false note.

Sarah Braman - Fall Friend
Introductory wall text states that Summer Bomb Pop intends to "stimulate compelling new conversations in American abstraction," which it has achieved by careful selection from both collections, resulting in a satisfying representation of well-known names (Man Ray, for example) and fresh discoveries (at least to me). Some of my favorites included Augustus Thompson's 2014 acrylic painting Untitled (Like a Kingsnake), Ellsworth Kelly's 1980 shaped oil painting Diagonal with Curve XII, Blue #611, and Sarah Braman's 2012 sculpture Fall Friend, which Cameron describes as "motivated by an urge to spruce up the visually drab ... Minimalist Art movement of the 1960s."

What struck me most about this show is that so many young artists today are continuing and expanding on the Modernist traditions of abstraction, even as postmodern art has long since dived into a maelstrom of other modes of expression, including video, performance, environmental art, and all manner of identity politics, along with anything else you can imagine. I had no idea minimalism and abstraction were still so alive and well, and I am delighted to find that they are, and playing so nicely at the Hyde with their estimable forebears.

Four Greens, Upper Manhattan Bay, 1957
Our next stop was the Tang itself, where we were greeted by a mind-boggling collection of well over 100 postcard collages by Ellsworth Kelly, all lovingly matted and framed in soft white. Grouped more or less chronologically (or thematically), and covering nearly 50 years of playful exploration by the artist, they are drawn from a total of 400 such works still held by Kelly's surviving spouse, Jack Shear, who has generously loaned them to the Tang.

Front Street, 1978
Simply entitled Ellsworth Kelly Postcards, this is one of the most exciting art shows I've seen in years. Not only are the images almost universally witty, visually sharp, accessible, and clearly related to Kelly's more "serious" art, they provide a window into the artist's process that few exhibitions do, which is quite a gift to contemplate.

All but a handful of the works on display retain the diminutive scale of a standard postcard (typically 3 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches), and most combine very few elements to create a powerful transformation of the mundane into the - dare I say? - transcendent. One is particularly struck by how precisely Kelly has again and again fitted two disparate elements into a cohesive whole. Simple? You try it!

Images des Antilles (Stephanie de Monaco) 1984
It may seem easy to play around with paper every day for fifty years or so but, I promise you, it's very hard work and, in my opinion, represents a triumph by the artist over the vexing problem of life itself. 

Walking through the Postcards show, I tried to imagine old Ellsworth toiling away at a little desk upstairs while everyone else was at the beach or drinking by the pool. He was a very soft-spoken guy (we met once, briefly), and modest, despite his wealth and success; these tiny creations mirror that personality.

I went away elated, and deeply impressed at Kelly's persistence. I will be going back to this one.

Working our way south, we next stopped in Saratoga Springs at the National Museum of Racing, a very expensively built and beautifully managed operation I'd never before visited (sorry, but my interest in horse racing is basically zero). We were there to view a small but significant installation of Eadweard Muybridge's photographs of animals in motion, part of the Jack Shear collection at the Tang, which were paired with three of the  Museum of Racing's horse paintings by Henry Stull.

Four photo sequences by Eadweard Muybridge are shown
with a painting by Henry Stull at the Museum of Racing
When Muybridge was commissioned by Leland Stanford in 1870 to use stop-action photography to prove that a galloping horse will have all four of its hooves off the ground at once, the expectation was that this would happen when the animal's legs were all extended in a great leap forward. Instead, the proof was achieved - but with the surprise result that the four hooves would only be off the ground while gathered under the horse's belly.

The concise installation at the Museum of Racing, entitled Muybridge and Motion, perfectly illustrates the impact of this revelation by showing a Stull painting from before 1870, in which a race horse is depicted with its four hooves extended, and two Stull paintings from after 1870, where the horses are depicted correctly with their hooves gathered underneath. All three paintings are prime examples of such art, and enjoyable to examine. While the Muybridge photographs on view do not include his original experiment, they do include a similar sequence, a nice smattering of other horse studies, a nifty sequence of fallow deer on the run, and a couple of grids that show the motion of common birds in flight (a pigeon and a red-tailed hawk).

A wooden hat form
made in New York City
Our final visit was to the Saratoga County History Center in Ballston Spa, where a very engaging display of hats and hat forms is spread onto shelves and in vitrines. The five wooden forms (also known as blocks) are from the Tang collection, while the 25 hats, covering an impressive range of styles from the newsboy cap to ladies' elegant bonnets, are from the History Center's collection.

A nice printed booklet accompanies the show, which is entitled The Social Lives of Hats, providing solid descriptions and well-founded historical notes, all of them researched and written by Skidmore students. I must comment on the hat forms as really cool objects, works of art in themselves, even if by accident. But I may be biased, as I happen to possess a couple of similar wooden forms my uncle rescued from the streets of Manhattan decades ago.

The shows I've reviewed remain open through the following dates (more details are here):
  • Summer Bomb Pop at The Hyde, through Oct. 31
  • The Social Lives of Hats at the SCHC, through Oct. 31
  • Ellsworth Kelly Postcards at the Tang, through Nov. 28
  • Muybridge & Motion at the Museum of Racing, through Jan. 2
An installer poses hats and hat forms at the Saratoga County History Center