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Sunday, November 28, 2021

A parallel play of Parallel Plays

Sculptures and drawings by Chris Duncan are part of a four-person show at the Schick
Art Gallery on the campus of Skidmore College
all photos provided
In an odd coincidence, two shows that are separated (joined?) by about 30 miles of Northway and overlapping in schedule have the same title: Parallel Play. The term refers to a behavior that young children at an early stage of development will engage in, where they do not interact, but play at the same activity side by side.

In the case of the first of these shows, which ends on Thursday (Dec. 2), Skidmore College’s Schick Art Gallery in Saratoga Springs has gathered four sculptors and is exhibiting works by each in both two and three dimensions – the parallel between those dimensions is what’s referenced here.

The other show, which continues through Dec. 18 at the Lake George Arts Project’s Courthouse Gallery in Lake George Village, is a solo by the Troy-based fiber artist Barbara Todd, who has mounted a multilayered installation of related works, exploring a parallel within her meticulous working process.

Wind, by Mary Neubauer
(DeWitt Godfrey's Ander in background)
Both shows are excellent examples of making the most of a small but high-quality exhibition space, and well worth a drive to see. We took that drive on Saturday, and it lifted our spirits amid sunny skies and frigid temperatures. I’ll discuss the Schick show first, as it ends so soon.

Co-curated by Schick staff and Skidmore sculpture professor John Galt, this Parallel Play features the work of Chris Duncan, DeWitt Godfrey, Coral Penelope Lambert, and Mary Neubauer in a slightly crowded installation of approximately 35 works covering a healthy variety of media. A few additional works are exhibited in a display case near the entrance to the Saisselin Art Center, where the gallery is housed, and another is on an outdoor patio, underscoring the sense of a space nearly bursting its seams.

As with our exemplary toddlers, these four artists play nicely together, each pursuing strong directions while balancing into a whole that, for me, elevates an awareness of materials and processes. It’s not so common around here to see a showcase for sculpture and, though this work is mostly smaller in scale, the effect of three-dimensional objects, with their strong physical and tactile presence, is fully felt in this selection.

A DeWitt Godfrey drawing
The show’s premise, which places each artist’s two-dimensional works in juxtaposition with the 3-D ones is also effective. Three of the four include drawings (almost always the first building block of a sculptor’s ideas), while one features photographs. This last, Neubauer, derives her forms from massive weather-related databases, which could have been translated as well into graphic representations that may have felt like sketches, but as color photographs they come across more like finished works in their own right. Her sculptures firmly occupy the space around them, bulky, beautifully patinated, and displayed on custom pedestals.

Duncan, a sculpture professor at Union College, presents a total of 13 works here, revealing an artist in full command of his medium, whether paint on paper or anything you can crush or fold into a form and then embellish with color and texture. While Neubauer’s work clearly aims to discuss our changing climate, Duncan is content to express himself more obtusely, delivering emotional jabs with gloomy, calligraphic gestures and bright, shiny splashes of color.

Insipid Sun, by Coral Penelope Lambert
Godfrey is represented here by just two drawings and one steel sculpture, but they dominate one wall of the gallery and provide perhaps the strongest pairing of those two media in this show. His on-site installation entitled Ander evokes the natural growth pattern of a many-celled organism, while putting the viewer in touch with the straightforward process of cutting sheet steel into loops and then letting it rust. I always like an artist who can produce work that is both relatable and innovative, and Godfrey handily delivers on that promise.

I found Lambert’s work the most challenging in the show. She combines cast iron and welded steel with felt flocking, creating a contrast of the stereotypical masculine and feminine traits of hardness and softness. Her drawings are playful, even childlike, while her three sculptures shown here are as serious as military hardware. That said, rarely have I been so unable to resist touching a work of art in a gallery (generally a harsh no-no), in this case seduced by both color and texture.

A segment of Barbara Todd's installation at Lake George Arts Project

Barbara Todd has become a friend, but before I ever knew her, I was struck by her big, abstract quilts as seen in the Mohawk-Hudson Regional. Over the years, Todd has participated in other local group shows, but the current one at Lake George Arts Project is her first solo in recent memory, and it is a smash.

Combining miniature fabric-swatch sketches, medium-sized finished works of the same materials, and five larger quilts, her Parallel Play has been installed in three overlaying matrices of theme and variation that sing in vibrations of pure color.

Dragon Fried Fish, Albany, NY, January 12, 2014
At first glance, the casual viewer may not understand what Todd has going on here, and that's understandable - in all but a few of the pieces, there's nothing more to meet the eye than two juxtaposed rectangles of colored fabric, forming a perfect square on a background field of white. But Todd's persistence in this pursuit has a cumulative effect, as her tendency toward reds and yellows, greys and blues, builds into a secret but knowable language, like semaphore.

It could help to understand that every work (and there are several dozen, at least, shown here) is based on an actual experience, a sighting captured in a photograph that forms the starting point for the work. So what may appear to be simply a soft purple over a cool grey is also a specific time and place: Morning mist, Highway I 90 near Utica, October 8, 2016. And so on, and on.

In addition to the layers of private meaning in each linen piece, there are varying textures, weaves, and mixtures of thread that make up the colors, providing a lot more to reward close inspection than one might expect. Beyond that, Todd has developed some of the selected moments into larger quilts, made of luxurious wool fabric, which are warm and inviting, even while still having been built upon cool, color-theory bones. These five works are the stars of the show, but the overall installation glows brightest. See it if you can.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Too much Tucci?

It was the early 1990s when people began telling me that there was an obscure television actor who looked just like me. Not being much of a TV watcher, I had no idea who he was until the movie Big Night* came out in 1996, and I realized they'd been talking about Stanley Tucci. I’ve been a fan ever since.

And yes, he still looks like me - but now he’s famous, and he’s written a nice little book about his lifelong love affair with food. As Tucci puts it, he is "Italian on both sides" … so obsessing about food comes naturally. He’s also an experienced writer, with several film scripts to his credit, making Taste: My Life Through Food much more than the average celebrity memoir. And, when it comes to food, he’s got plenty to talk about.

You may already be aware of a TV series that ran last winter on CNN called Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, in which our hero goes to various regions of Italy and explores some of their local food specialties, oohing and aahing in ecstasy along the way. It's a great series, slated to continue until (I hope) all 20 regions of Italy have been covered.

Me and Stanley - He's got a better makeup
man, but I speak better Italian ... so I guess
that makes us even!

photo: Robert Blake

Between the first six episodes of Searching for Italy, and the book Taste, you get to know a lot about Stanley (or The Tooch, as I like to call him), including various facts about his family, but most of all you learn just how completely obsessed with food he is and always has been. Me, I don't resemble the Tooch in this way - which became a problem about halfway through the book, as I skipped over most of the recipes and, I'll admit, some of the slightly overlong descriptions of whatever Stanley loves to eat.

For true foodies, I'm sure this wouldn't be an issue, but I disclose to be honest and thorough. On the other hand, I am probably even more of an Italophile than the Tooch himself, so his stories that involve anything cultural fall on wide-open ears. And, boy, does he have stories, which he shares in a fluent, likeable voice that is clearly his own (no ghost writer here). Stanley seems to think of himself as great company, and for a time I thought so, too - but, after a while, that particular voice began to seem a bit self-indulgent, and I grew tired of it.

Another aspect of Taste that I found a bit of a bore was the name-dropping. OK, given that Tucci hangs out with the likes of Meryl Streep and George Clooney, it's understandable that he'd want the reader to know that ... and, maybe to his credit (I can't decide), he calls himself out on the name-dropping each time he does it. But it's still name dropping, and it's still tiresome to old, un-famous me.

The book also contains two big revelations, which ***spoiler alert*** I am about to detail. The first is that Tucci recently had a pretty bad form of mouth cancer that not only threatened his life, it took away his ability to enjoy food for two years. And that plain sucks. Luckily, treatment and endurance won out and, by the end of the book, he was back to eating almost normally.

The second revelation is even more disturbing - that Tucci has tired of acting and really just wants to feed people from now on. Aw, jeez, Stanley! As we aren't in the realm of Meryl and George (or of the Tooch's other friends and relatives), that makes us the losers. I will definitely miss Stanley Tucci the actor. Though there remains the fact that CNN has renewed his wonderful TV series ... and I can't wait to see what regions of Italy he'll visit next (my Italian-American wife is rooting hard for Abruzzo)!

*Big Night is a terrific independent film starring Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Minnie Driver, Ian Holm, and Isabella Rossellini that put Stanley’s name on the map and boasts a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.