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

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Running at 64

Last outdoor run of the year: Struggling a bit, but still holding up (a tree)
photo by Dick Bennett
Well, it looks like ol’ Father Time has begun to catch up with me, making this year’s running season a bit of a setback. For a couple of months I was plagued by minor injuries – or perhaps they are better called “conditions.” Left-hip sciatica that made half of my leg numb (hard to run when your leg can’t feel), a nagging pain in my right big toe (arthritis, gout, or a strained tendon?), and the occasional basketball-induced sprained ankle conspired to reduce my usual training to a mere trickle for most of the summer.

Before all that first-world agony, I had an OK start to the season, running my usual slate of 5k races in April, May, and June at a reasonably decent pace for springtime. That amounted to one race each month, with two top-three age-group finishes being the results, more or less in line with past years.

Finishing the Dunkin' Run 5k in 28:19
photo by Joe Putrock
But then the problems began, and I struggled to recover – though I’m glad to report some minor success in the end, with moderately acceptable showings in my last two races of the season. That included a surprising 2nd-place age-group finish in my home race, the Dunkin’ Run 5k, for which I received a rather ugly medal – a fitting representation of the overall season, during which I never broke 28 minutes for a 5k, a mark that was so routine just a year ago as to be unremarkable. Now, all at once, it’s unattainable.

But that’s OK. I’ve seen age suddenly overtake many of my senior-league basketball cronies, when guys in their sixties and seventies who for decades have appeared impervious to wear and tear seem to lose their sharpness and skill almost overnight. You never know when it’s going to hit, or how hard – but it absolutely will come.

This awareness of the universal fragility of our mortal body has made me that much more grateful that I still can get out for a good run on a beautiful fall day, and can still walk onto (and off of) a basketball court under my own steam. Cherish those moments!

And I truly do … with hoops season in full swing, my team is off to an impressive 6-1 start, and my injuries (for now) have subsided, leaving me able to play at my best most of the time. Though it’s not the same as a beautiful long jog in the open air, it’s still a good run, with all the attendant healthy benefits. As for racing: There's always next year!

On another note, somewhere amid the physical limitations of the summer, I managed to get up on water skis for a few minutes, which was terrific fun. It was the first time I'd tried that in at least twenty years, and will probably be my last, as I was sore for days afterward! Here’s proof of the feat, offered up for your amusement (video by William Laviano).

Hope you have a great fall and winter! See you next year. 

Sunday, October 30, 2022

In Memoriam: Frank Giorgini

It is with great sadness that I report on the recent death of a dear friend, the world-class ceramic artist and Udu drum maker Frank Giorgini, of Freehold, NY. He was 75 years old and had been undergoing treatment for cancer.

Frank and I first met in the mid-1980s when we both were teaching classes at the Harmanus Bleecker Center in Albany under the auspices of the Albany Institute of History & Art and the inimitable guidance of Monica Miller (also a wonderful artist). One of my favorite memories of that time was when we shared a two-person show at the Bleecker Center that featured Frank’s Udu drums and my photographs, all of it dusky and formal, a lovely pairing of sculpture and black-and-white pictures.

Frank was probably best known for his handmade and commercially manufactured clay pot drums, which are treasured by percussionists all over the world for their unique, earthy sounds and robust shapes, some exquisite examples of which are held in the permanent collection of musical instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Frank used to proudly state that he was the only living person whose product was in that collection, though I suppose other living artists’ instruments may have been added after the fact. If not, then there are now none who can make that claim.

But Frank had equal impact in many other aspects of ceramic production, both in the commercial realm as a tile maker and in the fine art realm – though, in his case, the line between the two was fuzzy at best. Many will recognize his tile and mosaic installation in the Whitehall Street station of the Brooklyn BMT subway line, which was commissioned and installed in 2000. Entitled Passages, it traces the history of Manhattan backward in time using numerous airborne gulls as a unifying element (you can see many pictures of it here).

A detail from Passages
photo by Warren Sze
Nature and animals constantly featured in Frank’s personal work. Whether exploring the personas of humble blackbirds in his shimmering raku-fired tiles or adorning a decorative Udu with undulating lizards, he understood and celebrated these creatures as equals. As humans, we were fortunate that he also treated us with the same respect.

Most artists, no matter how talented, need something more in order to be successful – whether it’s a lucky break, an enthusiastic patron, or a trust fund. In Frank’s case, it was his congenial personality. Everyone liked Frank, and I can imagine no one who would have turned down an opportunity to work with him or support his vision.

One way he shared that vision was through teaching. He published books and instructional videos on tile making, and worked as an adjunct professor at Parsons design school in New York. Probably most important to Frank were the summer workshops he held at his Catskills home and studio for people of all ages and abilities who wanted to spend a little time in the country and learn how to build and fire an Udu drum.

Those two-weekend-long instructional experiences took place around Frank’s birthday, and always culminated in a grand potluck supper followed by a Bacchanalian bonfire, which naturally would be ringed by a large, happy throng of Udu-playing revelers. Though I never made an Udu drum, I stoked that fire nearly every year for decades, and danced around it with the best of them. Those Udu Fests will surely be among the most vivid – if slightly blurred – memories for many of Frank’s friends and fans.

Frank also was the proprietor, along with his partner, the great chef Ana Sporer, of Ruby’s Hotel, a delightful garden-to-table restaurant in Freehold that is expected to return to serving dinners after a period of mourning. As bartender and host at Ruby’s, Frank welcomed guests with his consistent good humor and, after dinner, he often shared a taste of his homemade limoncello, created using a recipe from his Italian ancestors, and as strong as it was sweet.

Above the restaurant was a gallery where, for many years, Frank mounted excellent shows of the best regional artists. The gallery was named in memory of another Frank, a close friend of the restaurant’s family and a supremely talented artist himself, who died way too young just before he was to have been the exhibition space’s inaugural director. I hope that the Broderick Gallery, too, will resume activities after a time, in loving memory of both Franks and their dedication to the joy of making and experiencing great art.

That and so much more remains as the legacy of one very fine person who also happened to be a brilliant artist, and a beloved friend to many.

The world was a better place with Frank Giorgini in it. May he rest in peace.

Note: If you’d like to get a taste of the amazing sound of the Udu drum, check out this extraordinary improvisation by Jacob Cole, a former workshop participant who posted it in Frank’s memory.


Ana and Frank at Ruby's

Saturday, April 23, 2022

New photo show at The National Bottle Museum

Photography 101 will be on display through May 28
in The Artists' Space Gallery at The National Bottle Museum
Just a quick announcement for fans of local photographers ... 

The indefatigable Fred Neudoerffer has organized a collection of many well-known shooters for an old-school display of straight photography in The Artists' Space Gallery at The National Bottle Museum in Ballston Spa that opens today.

I am among the 18 artists included, and am happy to be in their company in this lovely space (the above image, provided by Fred, shows three of my submissions just to the left of the framed poster).

There will be a reception for the artists from 5-7:30 pm on Friday, May 6. Come celebrate with us!

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Not to be missed

Penny Dreadful by Nina Chanel Abney is among works by 59 artists at The School
Longtime Times Union art critic (and fellow fine art photographer) William Jaeger has written a powerful review of the exhibition This Tender, Fragile Thing at The School in Kinderhook.

I won't have time myself to review the show, which will end on April 30, but I wanted to pass along Bill's endorsement before its too late.

The show is a re-examination of a prior exhibition mounted by The School in 2005 that highlighted Black Power-related materials from the gallery's collection, and features the work of 59 significant artists, including photographs by prominent journalists. The School is a vast, pristine space, and admission is free - but it is only open one day a week, Saturday, from 11 to 6, so plan accordingly.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

The Best Films of 2021

Adrien Brody, center, joins a stellar cast in Wes Anderson's film The French Dispatch
Last year at this time, I expressed concern that the pandemic would impact film production in such a way as to give us a weak crop of movies in 2021. Turns out, my fears were unfounded. Indeed, 2021 was a really solid year for the movies, as evidenced by the current Oscar races.

Not that the Academy has gotten it right (do they ever?), but its picks for Best Picture consideration are (mostly) quite worthy of the attention they're getting, and the nominees in the major acting categories include performances from a large range of films not in the Best Picture race, broadening the Academy Awards' coveted exposure for those performers and their latest films.

I've seen seven of the ten Best Picture nominees, with hopes to watch two of the remaining three: CODA, which I am hampered from seeing by my lack of Apple access, and Don't Look Up, which I intend to catch via one or another friend's Netflix account (I'm skipping West Side Story, because I'm not much of a Spielberg fan, and I wonder why anyone thought a remake of that classic was even a good idea).

Benedict Cumberbatch is a strong Oscar contender
for his performance in The Power of the Dog
Of the others, a couple clearly fall short, a couple truly belong at the top, and the rest are worthy also-rans. But my pick for the best movie of the year, The French Dispatch, got no nominations at all, which is completely insane (and I'm not alone in this thought - see Richard Brody's commentary, in which he argues it should have won eight Oscars). But, hey, film is a popular art medium, and we're all entitled to our opinions. What's important is that we see the movies and enjoy them, and that we dare to have opinions of our own. To wit, here's my lineup of the films from 2021 that I've seen and enjoyed the most, starting with my top pick:
  • The French Dispatch - Usually, when a movie includes more than one or two Oscar-winning actors, you can bet it will be a bomb. This one, directed by the incredibly creative Wes Anderson, has half a dozen, along with several others who've been nominated multiple times without winning - yet it somehow balances all that talent into a hilariously raucous, uniquely bizarre homage to/satire of The New Yorker magazine. I can't wait to see it again.
  • Penelope Cruz in Parallel Mothers:
    Still mesmerizing after all these years
    Drive My Car - Well received, and deservedly so, this Japanese masterpiece simmers for a full three hours, but never flags. Despite its foreign pedigree (and the inclusion of - count 'em - eight different languages), this film is a true contender for Best Picture and (I assume) a lock for Best International Feature. Proof that you can still succeed in this business without CGI, pyrotechnics, bankable stars, etc., Drive My Car sets a new standard for art-house filmmaking.
  • Parallel Mothers - The latest collaboration between director Pedro Almodóvar and his top muse, Penelope Cruz, it tells the story of the titular mothers brought together by cruel chance, but also beautifully threads together parallel stories of historical significance in post-Franco Spain. Featuring Almodóvar's usual droll humor and high style, Parallel Mothers produced a Best Actress nomination for Cruz but, inexplicably, no International Feature nod for the film itself.
  • Wife of a Spy - Technically a 2020 release, this film never made it to local theaters, but I was delighted to watch it twice via a reasonably priced Kino Lorber streaming rental. A beautifully filmed and sensitively acted story that offers a unique perspective on the early years of WWII in the Japanese city of Kobe. Won best director prize at Venice in 2020. 
  • The Hand of God - The Italian director Paolo Sorrentino won the 2013 Best Foreign Film Oscar for The Great Beauty, his brilliant homage to Rome and lost love, and his latest film, also nominated in that (recently renamed) category is a worthy bookend, this time taking a look at Naples. For me, it falls short of The Great Beauty as a work of art, but it holds together better as a story, which weaves soccer fans' fervent worship of Diego Maradona into Sorrentino's own coming-of-age. If you loved Cinema Paradiso, or anything by Fellini, this film is for you.
  • The Power of the Dog - Considered a front-runner for Best Picture (along with CODA), Jane Campion's elegiac Western is so beautifully photographed that it can be easy to forget how grim it actually is. Outstanding ensemble performances hold up a relatively thin storyline, which is understandable given that it's based on a text from the 1960s. Compare it to Brokeback Mountain or There Will be Blood to understand why I didn't rate it higher.
    Newcomers Alanna Haim and Cooper
    Hoffman are both terrific in Licorice Pizza

  • Licorice Pizza - Yet another off-the-wall romp by a director named Anderson (this time, it's Paul Thomas, rather than Wes), this totally enjoyable movie makes about as much sense as its title (which refers to a well-known record store, but is never explained in the film). Just plain fun, with solid lead actors and a bunch of whacked-out cameos, particularly Bradley Cooper as a psychotic Jon Peters.
  • Belfast - Gorgeous black-and-white cinematography and equally gorgeous stars make this film almost irresistible, while at the same time running counter to its disturbing  Irish troubles storyline. The disconnect can be explained by the fact that Belfast is director Kenneth Branagh's personal memoir, but it's still perplexing. That said, I'm a photography junkie, and I really enjoyed the film.
  • King Richard - This movie got somewhat mixed reviews, understandably so, because it makes Richard Williams look like a better man than he really was, thanks to a remarkable and Oscar-worthy performance by Will Smith. Flipping the script on my basis for a decent drama (a good story, well-told), this great story, fairly well-told, remains astonishing even though we witnessed it in real life. I still shake my head in wonder at the mere fact of the Williams sisters and their visionary father.
  • The Card Counter - A taut thriller that features a career performance by Oscar Isaac as a professional gambler with severe PTSD from having served in the prison at Abu Ghraib. Also features a strong performance by one of my all-time favorites, Willem Dafoe. Overlooked by the Academy, but well worth viewing.
  • Hive and Dreamland - Two honorable mentions: The first is a rare feature out of Albania, which realistically portrays the true story of a group of war widows who overcome extreme patriarchy to develop a successful international condiments trade; and the second is a Bonnie and Clyde-style period piece directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, a son of Albany who appears to have a very promising future in the business. Both are available on DVD.
  • Just one more: For pure fun (and nostalgia if you're a late Boomer or early Gen-Xer), smoke a little weed and watch Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Jason Reitman updates dad Ivan Reitman's 1984 classic with a terrific young cast and lots of vintage special effects that I promise you will find hugely entertaining. Available on DVD. 
Hidetoshi Nishijima and Toko Miura star in Ryusuke Hamaguchi's Drive My Car

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Robert Blackburn & Modern American Printmaking at The Hyde Collection

Still Life (aka White Jug), c.1950, color lithograph
all works by Robert Blackburn
The name Bob Blackburn is unlikely to ring a lot of bells with the average art viewer - but a show currently on view at The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls through April 24, could change that.

Girl in Red, 1950, color lithograph
Organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, and ably curated by Deborah Cullen, Robert Blackburn & Modern American Printmaking, is a show with a story that blends 20th-century American art history with African American history (in other words, highly relevant), while revealing a tremendous talent that was largely overlooked - but not necessarily due to the artist's skin color.

Because Blackburn dedicated himself largely to producing lithographs, etchings, silkscreens, and woodcuts for other artists, his devotion to his own career as an image maker took a back seat. He describes this choice himself in a quote on the gallery wall (one among many that perfectly accompany the works of art in the exhibition), saying "I was torn between building something which I thought had value and doing my own work."

In fact, he succeeded at both, by establishing printmaking workshops that forever changed the way postwar artists used those media, thereby significantly affecting the trajectory of contemporary art, and producing numerous powerful original works in the same media on his own time. Many viewers will be thrilled to see prints here by artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Charles White, and Grace Hartigan - and those are great! - but I'll focus my comments on Blackburn's work, which makes up about half the show.

Refugees (aka People in a Boat), 1938, lithograph
It's immediately clear upon entering the gallery that Blackburn had tremendous ability as an artist. The first image, a lithograph he executed at the age of 17 in 1938, shows an already accomplished skill level, and a mature vision in step with the times. Entitled Refugees, the piece shows the influence of prominent socially conscious work of the period, such as that by Diego Rivera or Rockwell Kent, but stands on its own as a Depression-era cry of concern.

Little One, 1960s-1971, lithograph
Later works move on from figuration into abstraction. Blackburn pointed out his thinking on this process saying, "illustration was one thing and creating vital space is another." Indeed, "vital space" is what he delivers in print after print, whether injecting that into the work of others through collaboration, or in his own masterful pieces.

I had so many favorites around the two large galleries devoted to this collection that I hardly know where to begin. But I will say this: the medium was only a starting point. Blackburn mastered many, and he innovated in them all. So there are prints in almost every technique (including cutting-edge forms) that fulfill Blackburn's creative promise while amply demonstrating his technical contributions.

Woodscape, 1984, color woodcut
Among the characteristics that pervade the work, and which help it hold together as a singular body, are Blackburn's brilliant color sense, his compositional daring, and a playfulness that I honestly envy, all of which he maintained over more than 60 years, before illness slowed him down. Undoubtedly, the man worked day and night, and the artists he collaborated with provide quotes in praise of his constant willingness and easygoing personality - it seems they all loved being around the positive energy of Bob Blackburn.

It also seems Blackburn had no quarrel with his relative lack of recognition or fame, further underscoring the sweetness I feel when viewing his personal output. But make no mistake - that work is serious, and important. For each of the pieces I've selected to reproduce here, there are ten more in this wonderful exhibition that are just as good. Try not to miss it.

Blue Things, c. 1963–1970, color woodcut 

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Short Take: refract at Albany Center Gallery

Works by, from left, Royal Brown, Naomi Lewis, and Benjamin Jose
are part of refract at Albany Center Gallery.
photos provided

The five artists in Albany Center Gallery's current show, refract, don't appear at first glance to belong together. Their media vary from video to watercolor to cast iron; their imagery from space-age to delicacy on the page. But a theme does emerge from the selection, which was organized by the gallery's associate curator, Jennie Tang. It has to do with the approach these artists take to their subjects.

Owen Barensfeld's Is It big Enough?
combines images to make a statement
This concept is best explained by the gallery's written material, which states that the five artists employ "different methods of repetitions, patterns, juxtapositions and distortions" to broaden our understanding and experience of everyday visuals. Here, those visuals have become abstracted and transformed, built of mere suggestions, or created directly out of the simplicity of a grid.

The show, like many at this venue, is spare, featuring just 29 works in all. Nine of those works are by Naomi  Lewis, whose whisper-soft graphite drawings pull you in close, and whose patterned images of bees fill their surfaces expansively, often emphasizing negative space to great effect. Equally wed to overall pattern, Trevor Wilson painstakingly builds large images out of tiny squares in grids of graphite or colored pencil, the results feeling almost equal parts human and machine.

Owen Barensfeld and Royal Brown come from opposite positions to meet in a middle zone of spaceships and technology. While Brown creates colorful models of imaginary craft out of the most mundane of found objects (empty spray cans and such), Barensfeld transforms mass-media images of bomb blasts and moonshots into objects of contemplation. Both have something to say: In Brown's case, it's a literal message of love amid fantasy; Barensfeld's seems to be more about the mesmerizing terror of industrial power.

From left, works by Trevor Wilson, Owen Barensfeld,
Benjamin Jose, and Royal Brown are part of refract
Benjamin Jose seems to be the odd man out in this group. His constructions of mismatched materials struck me as being more in the realm of formalism and surrealism than anything else here, and his messages less clearly stated than the others'. That said, his highly refined use of such disparate substances as wood, steel, and leather holds its own kind of fascination.

refract will remain on view through Friday, March 4, so it's now or never if you want to catch a look. I'm glad I did.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Gina Occhiogrosso: Surfacing at the ACCR

The New Natural, oil and acrylic ink on pieced and sewn muslin, 2021
During a recent talk at her exhibition in the main gallery of The Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy, the painter Gina Occhiogrosso discussed the dichotomy of pessimism and optimism. “Most of my friends would say I’m pretty negative,” she said, while surrounded by a room full of her buoyantly colorful abstract works, effectively silencing that notion.

We are living in a time when it seems impossible to be hopeful – yet that is in a sense our only hope. Occhiogrosso understands this, and while her artistic practice remains primarily a rigorous pursuit of the purely visual, with regular forays into the topical (examples include feminism, global warming, and the pandemic), the results are clearly meant to uplift.

Migration, acrylic paint and ink
on sewn cotton, 2017
This exhibition, entitled Surfacing, is her first solo in the region in about 15 years, and it represents a sort of homecoming – for five years in the early 2000s, Occhiogrosso was the director of this gallery, and she spoke of having dreamed of one day showing there herself. Dream fulfilled, the nearly three-dozen works in this display are a comfortable fit, with a few very large colorful installations on the biggest walls in the back, a couple of much more intimate pieces set up on pedestals in the middle of the space, and paintings ranging from modest to grand in scale arrayed on the walls and columns.

Not a retrospective, Surfacing is comprised mainly of recent works, and seems to want to be about re-emerging from the isolation of the pandemic. If so, then it reveals a rather glorious private world of shimmering shapes and radiant colors – hardly the doom and gloom one might expect from an artist stuck inside for a couple of years.

Cascade, oil and acrylic
on pieced and sewn polyester, 2019 
A few earlier works show how Occhiogrosso moved into her current style, and a few works - such as the two pedestal-mounted accordion sketchbooks - range well outside of that style, providing enough context for the artist's thoughts and process to allow us to more fully understand and appreciate her primary body of work. Those pieces are consistently created by making a painting on white fabric, then slicing it into geometric pieces, rearranging and sewing those pieces back together into a square or rectangular working surface, and then painting over it again to create the final image.

In this way, Occhiogrosso allows randomness and intuition into the mix, forming a means of abstraction that doesn't depend entirely on self-expression. It's a process that works perfectly for an artist who, on one hand, entertains doubts (don't we all?) and, on the other hand, has clear ideas about what she wants to make, and a fierce commitment to working toward those goals.

Inside Out, oil and acrylic
on pieced and sewn muslin, 2020
In a review I wrote last year about an exhibition at The Hyde Collection, I commented that I was very pleasantly surprised to see how many top-flight contemporary artists are still working in the abstract mode (you can see it here). This show by Occhiogrosso is a perfect example of that phenomenon, and I am no less delighted by it here. Her command of shape and color is second to none, and she revivifies the form by means of her process of cutting and sewing back together, which evokes the early Modernism of the Dadaists (who loved a good collage as much as anything) as well as today's feminist embrace of traditional women's work.

Additionally, Occhiogrosso addresses universal and personal concerns in her two accordion books, one of which elegantly depicts a flooded urban world with parallel colored-pencil lines, while the other represents the details of a domestic interior in sketchy black ink (both very skillfully drawn, I might add).

Altogether, the show is a must-see for fans of local art - Occhiogrosso is a native of Niskayuna, currently living in Troy - and just a real treat for anyone who may feel a bit deprived of color and joy in the midst of winter, or in the grip of a (let's hope) post-pandemic haze. 

Surfacing will remain on view at the ACCR through March 11; the gallery is open every day but Sunday, including Tuesday through Thursday evenings till 7.

Morgan Avenue, pen on accordion sketchbook, 2020

Monday, February 7, 2022

Drive My Car (at Nippertown)

Hidetoshi Nishijima and Toko Miura star in Ryusuke Hamaguchi's Drive My Car.
Editor's note: In a reprise of their first collaboration in 2020, in which Jan Galligan and David Brickman discussed the film 1917 in a post at, they now take a look at the highly regarded Japanese film Drive My Car, beginning with Brickman's ruminations:

One thing I like about Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car is that it asks a lot of questions. Is this movie about love, death, family history, or life itself? 

I think the creative process is the hub of the wheel in this film, around which all other themes revolve. The main character, stage actor, and theater director Yūsuke is, above all, an artist, and the film spends a great deal of time exploring his creative process, strange though the process may be.

I like how the narrative represents the power of art to comfort us amid the stress of living our lives. Even the stoic driver is ultimately moved by this power, though at the same time it nearly tears Yūsuke apart – certainly a valid point regarding art.

Few films or stories can bring those concepts home the way this one did for me.

To read the rest, click here.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Go out and see a movie - Please!

Constant companion and I caught a 4 p.m. matinee of the latest Pedro Almodóvar film yesterday at Spectrum 8 Theatres in Albany - and got a private showing, as no one else was there. Admittedly, when the mercury hits single digits, it takes fortitude to leave the house, but we love movies and enjoy seeing them the old-fashioned way, so we bundled up and headed out.

Parallel Mothers is a great movie, by the way, with plot twists, first-rate acting, a deeply felt perspective on the legacy of conflict, and the wonderful, colorful Spanish settings that Almodóvar always delivers. But we left the theater feeling a bit depressed by the experience. And it didn't help to see from the street that the drinks establishment next door was chock full of patrons.

With everyone streaming at home from a hundred platforms, spooked by the Omicron variant, and just plain self-absorbed, it's hard to have much hope for the future of the small movie theaters that dependably screen the sort of movies we love: independent, foreign, plot-driven, devoid of car chases and explosions.

I've chosen to have none of the home-based means by which the majority of us now enjoy films. No cable, no Netflix, no Amazon Prime - just antenna-fed TV and DVDs from the library, augmented by online rentals from Kino Lorber, a foreign-film distributor that fills the gaps left by the Spectrum. That leaves plenty of money in the budget to pay for tickets.

Currently, the Spectrum (an eight-screener on a main thoroughfare in the city) is showing several new releases that will contend for Oscars, including Licorice Pizza, Drive My Car, The Tragedy of Macbeth, and Nightmare Alley. I hope to see all of those before they leave the big screen, and will make an extra effort to do so. 

Going out to a movie still fills me with anticipation, freshens my step, and then fulfils that latent desire to be enveloped in the dark, alone or with friends, wrapped up in a story, with brilliant images, resonant sounds, and anonymous fellow theatergoers who sometimes have a word or two of comment during the credits.

I used to regularly run into friends at the Spectrum, and even made a new friend on occasion as we paused in the lobby to share our responses to a good film. Now, it's usually just the staff, who somehow still have jobs, but these days clearly seem to have not enough to do.

The Spectrum is part of a national chain (Landmark), which has theaters all over the United States, most of them in far larger markets than ours. I suppose those venues are making enough money to help keep this one open. But it's not something I would want to count on for long. 

So, please, if you value the presence of a great independent movie theater in your region, and wouldn't want to see it close, get up off the couch, grab a coat and the keys, and go support it. You'll be glad you did.

Note: I'm in Albany, so the Spectrum on Delaware Avenue is my go-to cinema - but there are several other small, independent movie theaters in the Capital Region that equally deserve your support, including the Criterion in Saratoga Springs and the Movieland 6 in Schenectady, both of which are owned by Bow Tie Cinemas, a national chain with 38 venues - coincidentally, the same number as Landmark.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Pieced Together at APL

Henry Klimowicz - Large Collections of Like a Lichen #2
cardboard and glue 2021
Perhaps one of the best-kept secrets on the local gallery scene is the Pine Hills Branch of the Albany Public Library, where expertly curated exhibitions of regional artists have been mounted about twice a year for quite some time.* And the current show, Pieced Together, is one of the best yet.

Organized by staff at Russell Sage College's Opalka Gallery, Pieced Together features 11 artists united by the theme of assemblage, an often overlooked art form that came into its own during the height of Modernism, in particular among Dadaists, often in the unassuming clothing of paper collage. Most of the work in this show follows fairly closely in that tradition, while some of it feels more connected to later periods of contemporary art that grew out of Modernism.

Altogether, this is a particularly lively collection of very accomplished work by well-established local favorites and a few relative newcomers, including one recent Sage graduate, Chloe Harrison, whose delicate matboard constructions show promise, while confirming her self-described fledgling status.

Beth Humphrey - Mutual Aid, 2020
spray paint, gouache, crayon, film on paper
Highlights from the show are many, even if one must perform something of a treasure hunt to find them all in the two-level space which, though not designed for art exhibitions, still serves well to showcase the work. Installations here always exploit the big central staircase, this time featuring two of my personal favorite artists of recent times: Beth Humphrey, who presents a constellation of small framed works on a mid-level wall that delight with their shapes, colors, and layerings; and Kenneth Ragsdale, who offers a suspended wire laden with playful, oversized folded-paper objects from his own quirky personal vocabulary of memories and imaginings.

Paula Drysdale Frazell - Nap Time, 2015
acrylic paint and fabric on canvas
Another recent favorite artist, and one who I think deserves - and will get - more attention as time goes by, is Paula Drysdale Frazell. Her mixed-media works are less related to cut-paper collage than they are to painting and, in a sense, quilting, as they combine paint, fabric, and printed paper (such as maps) in colorful and playful compositions that draw from childhood memories and other family stories. Her works are both charming and thought provoking, making for a tricky balancing act that she handles comfortably.

Three of the artists in this show are strictly collagists of the cut-and-paste variety, forming a core for this selection, and being easily appreciated by any of us who have ever tried that medium (myself included); they are Niki Haynes, Juan Hinojosa, and Michael Oatman, all of whom have appeared in other local shows recently, and whose work remains fresh and fun.

Juan Hinojosa - Lava, 2020
mixed media on panel with plastic,
soda can, wall paper, jewelry, ribbon
Hinojosa is easily the flashiest of this group, delving into consumer culture with abandon, embracing the brightest of colors and materials and, in the case of two works in this exhibition, utilizing metallic surfaces as a background. Eye-catching, to be sure, but for my taste a bit superficial.

Haynes, in contrast, hews to the mystical. Here, she presents a group of six small collages that coolly spook you with eyes that are watching from on high. Her technique is almost alarmingly simple, but it takes a lot of experience to get to simplicity and have it work so well, and Haynes has it.

Oatman throws us a curveball by installing a body of 26 comic-book collages he made in 1983, during the summer after his first year in college. I'd glimpsed these somewhere before, and was delighted to see them again, as they are witty, well crafted, and totally consistent with the work he is making today, nearly 40 years later. It takes courage to reveal early work, and in this instance I think it pays off.

The other artists in the show, which opened on Oct. 1 and will run through April 17, are Fern Apfel, Danny Goodwin, Henry Klimowicz, and Melinda McDaniel.

*Full disclosure: I recently joined the board of directors of the Friends and Foundation of the Albany Public Library, which has some input into programming at the branches, including arts programming.

Michael Oatman - three examples from the collage series A Boy's History of the World in 26 Volumes (+1), 1983
photo by Michael Oatman

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Catch these while you can ...

What better way to start the new year than to catch up with an art show or two that you meant to see but got too busy to get to during the holidays.

There are a few good choices in the region that will end soon, including a great opportunity to take advantage of free admission at a world-renowned museum.

Return 2 Earth 2017, mixed media
by Alisa Sikellianos-Carter
First up, in order of ending date, would be the Annual Members Show at Saratoga Arts in Saratoga Springs, set to close on Jan. 8, closely followed by the annual Upstate Artists show at The Laffer Gallery in Schuylerville, which ends on Jan. 9. Both include a large cross-section of regional artists and are located not too far apart, providing a good opportunity to double up.

Two shows that will end on Jan. 14 also feature a great many regional artists: Gallery Mixtape, Vol. 1 at Collectiveffort in Troy, where a selection of BIPOC artists are showcased, and the Annual Members' Show at Albany Center Gallery. Well over 100 artists (myself among them) present one piece each at ACG, making for a super-eclectic viewing experience that is always popular with viewers.

An example of 20th-century Japanese
printmaking at The Clark
A solo show by one of the region's outstanding mid-career artists, Alisa Sikellianos-Carter, will re-open on Jan. 9 and run through Jan. 16 at Union College's Mandeville Gallery in Schenectady. Sikellianos-Carter, who was one of the three jurors of the 2021 Mohawk-Hudson Regional, works in large-scale mixed media with a healthy and entertaining nod toward Afrofuturism.

Perhaps most intriguing, an exhibition of 20th-century Japanese prints from the museum's collection will remain on view at The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., through Jan. 30 - and admission to the museum will be free for the entire month. Competing Currents promises to be a highly pleasurable lesson on a unique corner of recent art history.

So, go forth and see some art! It will make a great beginning to your 2022.

Add note: This just in from the Albany Institute of History & Art - Fashionable Frocks of the 1920s, a fancy and fun romp among the clothing styles of the flapper era, has been extended through Jan. 9.

The Annual Members' Show at Albany Center Gallery is always a crowd-pleaser
photo by Daniel Joyce