Get Visual is the proud recipient of a grant from The Christos N. Apostle Charitable Trust

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Ruminations on the Regional

The 2021 Mohawk Hudson Regional is a bit of a head-scratcher, not because it fails to represent the region’s range of outstanding artists (which is the show’s basic mission since its inception 85 years ago), but because it does so in a very cumbersome manner.

I submitted to the show this year, and so I can’t in good conscience write the critical review I’d like to, but it’s too important an event to merely pass over, so I’ll try to take an objective approach with this brief report.

First, some history. Over the past dozen years or so, the Annual Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region (its formal name) has been rotating among three sponsoring organizations: The Albany Institute of History & Art (its original organizer), The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, and the University at Albany Art Museum. A prior host, the Schenectady Museum, changed its mission from art to science some years back, leaving the Regional to wander a bit every third year, until the Hyde stepped up to fill the role of a third regular host. During that time, the show landed at least once at the Albany International Airport Gallery, a fact I mention because, this year, it’s there again (in part).

With the Institute, the Hyde, and the University as regular hosts, the Regional was doing fine, until COVID-19 hit. This disrupted the University Art Museum’s schedule to the point that it had to cancel its 2021 position in the Regional’s regular rotation, after which it was decided that the show would be managed by Albany Center Gallery (ACG). Being physically too small and insufficiently staffed to host the show alone, ACG then recruited additional space and support for the venture from The Sage Colleges’ OpalkaGallery and the Airport Gallery.

This solution, though a compromise, offered additional perks. Now, rather than having just one big show with one juror (the longstanding tradition), there would be three shows, each with its own juror, with all of the art still being drawn from a single pool of entries. Each venue selected a juror: Hudson gallerist Pamela Salisbury for the Opalka, local artist Alisa Sikelianos-Carter for ACG, and Seattle-area artist and arts administrator Tommy Gregory for the Airport – and the stage was set for a unique event.

The resulting tripartite exhibition features 143 works by a record 96 artists (14 of whom were also in the 2020 Regional). Unsurprisingly, this horde includes a number of familiar names, as well as a goodly smattering of new or lesser-known artists, the diversity of which the organizers had said was a goal for this year’s exhibition. While I didn’t love the new format, as an artist I was excited to think that I had three chances to be chosen (alas, that didn’t happen); an additional decision by the organizers to reduce the entry fee to just $10 (from about $40 in past years) made it even more appealing.

Now, as an audience member, I have a couple of problems with the arrangement. First, in order to take in the entire selection as one show (like in all prior years), it’s necessary to find time and the means to go to all three venues, not to mention somehow keeping in mind what you’ve seen in each to meld it all together. Second, two of the venues have set rather short runs for their parts of the show (Sept. 7-Oct.9 at Opalka and Sept. 10-Oct. 9 at ACG), compared to prior years in which the Regional would typically run for at least two months (which the Airport segment does this year), putting further pressure on the viewer’s resources.

Worse yet, several of the included artists are featured in two locations, and one is in all three, making it even more difficult to absorb and understand their contributions as a whole. (I think all artists would agree that they’d rather not have their work scattered like this.) Even within the venues there are distribution problems. Nearly half the total artists (44 of them) have their works crammed into the confines of ACG, making for a salon-style installation where items are stacked and grouped, and where some individual artists’ have multiple included pieces separated from each other within the room.

While I find all that unfortunate, there’s a lot of energy amid the clutter at ACG, and many intriguing works to be found in the mix there.

In contrast to ACG, the Opalka’s more generous space seems rather sparsely filled. Salisbury selected mostly abstract art, a form I dearly love, but this segment of the show somehow comes off strangely flat. I think this is a consequence of the exhibition being divided – if these mostly worthy works were intermingled in a larger museum space with the other jurors’ choices, it would have created a much more stimulating conversation.

That more appropriate balance seems to have been struck at the Airport – possibly because the juror there is more experienced in putting together large exhibitions for mass consumption in his role as the curator for the Port of Seattle. If only the entire show had been mounted there as it once was, this might have been another great Regional. But that would have been impossible, as the formerly vast space of the airport's third-floor gallery was recently reduced to a much smaller one.

On the plus side, that space is open from 8 am to 10 pm daily, and that segment of the show runs through Nov. 8, so there’s no excuse for missing it.

Viewers peruse a corner of the 2021 Mohawk Hudson Regional at the Airport Gallery

No comments: