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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith at Mandeville Gallery

This contemporary take on the Sisyphus myth, titled Sissy and the Plutocrats is, at six by eight feet, the largest painting in the Jaune Quick-to-See Smith show at Union College. All the paintings reproduced here are oil and acrylic on canvas.
A fine, small show of paintings and prints by the Native American artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith fills Union College's Mandeville Gallery, situated in the extraordinary Nott Memorial in the center of the college's campus green. Smith is internationally known for the skillful way she combines primitive, symbolic imagery with modern painterly style, and as an articulate voice for women and Native Americans.

Shock and Awe
I'll admit I was not familiar with this artist before hearing about this show, but it lived up to expectations in a number of ways. First, Smith is a mature artist who knows her way around a canvas, and who maintains a sense of humor while addressing socially- and politically-charged issues. Second, the selection presented here is limited in scope while still being broad enough to satisfy a first-time viewer. So it clearly communicates her vision and messages without being overwhelming.

The space is circular, which suits this presentation particularly well, as Smith establishes and returns to certain themes repeatedly. One can comfortably walk around and around, taking in the imagery and relating it from one piece to the next without concerns for order or hierarchy.

Theatres of War (lithograph)
There are nine paintings and six prints in this selection, and it is immediately clear that, for Smith, printmaking is a serious pursuit, not a cheaper substitute for painting. One of my favorite pieces in the show is a lithographic riff on a war shirt that evokes Jim Dine's Bathrobe series as well as other modern or Pop art styles, but remains clearly a Smith invention. (seen here at right).

Other work brings the wunderkind Haitian-American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat to mind, not a bad thing at all, because Smith infuses his neo-primitive, graffiti-inspired style with her own distinctive and powerful set of cultural symbols. One of those symbols, seen in the top, left area of the painting reproduced at the beginning of this review, is the rabbit, which seems to exist as a stand-in for Smith herself, or for her people in general. At times rendered into a flat cartoon, at others more expressively drawn, this character seems to know who it is and where it stands in the context of the picture, not to mention in the world beyond the picture.

In this way, Smith exudes her own confidence and convinces us that the things she cares about are worthy of our attention. The show ends on Nov. 30, and the gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. See it if you can.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mary Pat Wager at Albany Center Gallery

A visitor contemplates one of Mary Pat Wager's reliefs at ACG.
photo by Mike Wagner
In the great tradition that Albany Center Gallery has become in its 35+ years of existence, the current retrospective by sculptor Mary Pat Wager is a big, sprawling show of important work covering a span of several decades. Wager is a familiar face on the regional art scene including at past ACG shows, but this major exhibition is still a long time coming and a welcome sight.

Featuring scores of works from 1978 through 2014, Collections: A Retrospective was independently curated by Jackie Weaver and includes wall-hung and free-standing pieces in steel, wood, copper, bone, bronze, stone, brass, glass, paper, and more, usually combining several of these materials in one piece. It's organized clutter, marvelously inventive, sophisticated-yet-direct assemblage by an inveterate collector (some would say hoarder) of stuff.

Yes, Wager loves stuff, and she lovingly turns it into art. It's almost that simple, and would be if she were less of an artist. But where craft fair or roadside sculptors are entertaining, Wager is deeply engaging. Her direct involvement in metal casting, often represented by free-form melted bits she's scavenged from the process, is just one source of the profound connections Wager forges with her materials and thereby shares with her audience.

If you love pure form, if symbolism turns you on, or if you just kinda like steampunk, see this show. I like it because I see fascinating conjunctions and droll juxtapositions throughout; I like it more because I see a very clever eye at work; and I want to go back because that's only the beginning of the fountain of
creativity on display here. But you better hurry, because it ends on Nov 21. Albany Center Gallery is open from noon to 5 pm, Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, call 518 462 4775.

Solitary Confinement, 2014 mixed media by Mary Pat Wager
all other images are sculptures by Mary Pat Wager

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Theme and Variations: Gail Nadeau at FMCC

An installation view of Angelus at FMCC
The show Angelus by Gail Nadeau at the Perrella Gallery of Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown raises a lot of wonderful questions. The very talented Nadeau works in digital media as well as traditional forms such as silver-based photography and oil paint, and all are present in this 60-piece installation.

Is it a retrospective? Well, there are images from 1985, 2014 and in-between. But, no, it’s not a retrospective. Is Nadeau a photographer, a painter, or what? Well, she does show photographs here, and very painterly mixed-media pieces. But, no, I wouldn’t call her either a photographer or a painter. Rather, I think printmaker would be the correct term.

Diamond Studded Dress with Rock
Are digital prints really art? Well, that depends. In this case, Nadeau presents a lot of digital prints, and 48 of them are of almost exactly the same composition – yet I feel that this display would convince even the most die-hard skeptic that this digital work is indeed art. And how is that? Well, let me tell you …

Among the intriguing selection of images in this collection are a handful of traditional black-and-white photographs (output as inkjet prints but, trust me, you won’t see the difference) and one rather large color photograph, which is the template for most of the other prints in the show. There are also a few  pieces that read as collage paintings, which use an inkjet print of a mixed-media image as the underpainting of the final creation.

The black-and-whites and the colorful combines all include female figures, from babies to girls to women to possible fairies or angels, and all are wearing flowing dresses. Nadeau explains in a quite readable artist statement her fascination with the dress as a touchstone and a symbol; then she treats it as her theme.

Using the one, simple composition from her original color photograph of a white christening gown suspended on a thin hanger flat against a wall, with a spray of wildflowers on the floor nearby and part of a framed picture on the wall, Nadeau riffs endlessly in a digital environment, adding color and texture, changing contrast, and slightly altering the compositional elements.

The Disappearance
The result is (perhaps surpri- singly) completely absorbing. Many of the images are very small (in fact, the largest are just 12 by 13 inches), but they are power-packed. The intimate nooks of the Perrella provide numerous spots for small groups of framed prints as well as single ones, and the gallery’s most prominent wall holds the show’s coup-de-grace, a stunning grid of 30 unframed prints with black borders.

The tininess of Nadeau’s smallest prints (they are about 3.5 by 4.5 inches) demands close inspection, and it is always richly rewarded. One group of three, at a distance, seems largely monochromatic; but up close, their muted tones reveal sparks of bright color. Many of the prints do use black, but often with such elaborate textures that they glitter like silver. Others use big spots of primaries like yellow or blue, thereby reaching out to grab us from across the room.

This body of work is about process, as is all true printmaking, and it is also about transformation. It is not to be missed.

Note: Angelus has been extended - it was to end on Oct. 31, but will now remain on view through Nov. 14. Gallery hours are M-F, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment 518-736-3622 Ext. 8977.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

In Brief: Ramersdorfer and Van Alstine at LGAP

A view of Confluence of Opposites III at Lake George Arts Project
featuring Storm Warning II, left, and Sisyphean Circle, right, by John Van Alstine

The idea of a show of only sculpture shouldn't seem at all radical, but it is uncommon enough that it bears noting. And when such a show is presented by equal partners in a domestic relationship, each with significant international showing experience, at the best little public gallery in our region, it is noteworthy indeed.

Inner View - To the Bone alabaster and marble
by Caroline Ramersdorfer

Caroline Ramersdorfer and John Van Alstine are not opposites at all, despite the flowery title of their well-wrought exhibition; rather, they share similar characteristics that are more significant than nationality or gender or material or technique. Both work in three dimensions but really emphasize a frontal view of their carefully assembled compositions; both combine strict geometry with naturalistic forms; and both work in dramatic, abstract gestures.

Ramersdorfer, a native of Austria, now lives with Van Alstine in Wells, N.Y., and the sweetness of this pared-down selection reflects the comfort that it is virtually in their own backyard (by Adirondack standards, 30 miles is a stroll). A total of 11 works fill the Lake George Arts Project's modest space, but not too tightly, and are bathed there in spectacularly directed light that alternately rakes the textural surfaces of Van Alstine's raw stones and infiltrates the layers of Ramersdorfer's polished marbles.

This fine exhibition offers a chance to see a unique grouping of works (three are borrowed from private collections) without distraction in this quiet space in the heart of Lake George Village. I recommend you take a foliage drive and stop in - it will be up through Oct. 17.

Inner View - Layers V, detail - marble by Caroline Ramersdorfer

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Catching up with the Albany Institute

A view of the Small + Seductive installation
We’ve all been there – you’re aware of a show you know you want to see, and it has a long run, so you leave it till later because you know you have plenty of time to catch it before it closes … and then, inevitably, time goes by and, in the best of circumstances, you catch the show on its last day – or, more likely, miss it forever.

Pink Hat - Gayle Johnson, gouache on paper
That’s how, on Sunday, I caught the last day of a fine show of five photographers at the Albany Institute of History & Art, and then took the opportunity to peruse an ongoing exhibition called Small + Seductive, which continues through Sept. 28. Featuring about 50 works of art (a few of which are multiple-piece series) by 37 artists, Small + Seductive is the third in a recent series of shows from AIHA’s collection of contemporary art. The first of that trio included only photographs (full disclosure: two of those were mine) while the second was made up of large-scale work in more traditional fine art media.

From Here to Eternity - Wendy Ide Williams
ceramic sculpture
This latest exploration of the archive is, as the title suggests, made up of smaller works, all but a few of which are from the late 1980s on, and consists mainly of paintings, sculpture, and prints. Like the other two shows, Small + Seductive provides the viewer with an excellent overview of the Institute’s collecting proclivities and a good cross-section of many of the region’s most beloved and influential exhibiting artists. It is also very helpfully labeled with descriptive information and “According to the artist” statements from the living as well as some of the dearly departed.

Wall text explains that most of these works were acquired by the Institute via annual purchase prizes from the Mohawk-Hudson Regional, though others arrived by donation – and even commissions – from artists, collectors, and supporters of the museum’s mission. Still others were acquired during the transition out of the art field by the Schenectady Museum and Planetarium and the concurrent de-accession of its art collection.

Catskill Creek - Judy Alderfer Abbott
oil on board

In addition to revealing the taste of Directors past and present, this selection shows the overwhelming influence in this region of the fine art program at the University at Albany. Though I didn’t take a head count, it’s clear the majority of artists represented here either taught or studied at the U (some have done both), and many of them continue to teach and show hereabouts, extending that legacy on and on.

While many of the artists have just one piece in the show (whether they have others in the collection is left unsaid), several are represented by multiple works. Among them is Gayle Johnson, a painter who died tragically young, but who left behind vibrant portraits in gouache, twelve of which hang here in a grid. Richard Garrison also shows a grid of colorful paintings on paper (16 of them), while an elegant vitrine displays six of a slipcased set of ten etchings by Thom O’Connor.

Untitled - Dennis Byng, cast lucite
Among the three-dimensional works are a busily and evocatively painted ceramic shrine by Wendy Williams (it looks more like a fountain to me), discreetly aligned with a powerful painted-concrete head by her husband, Allen Grindle. Larry Kagan, a prominent sculptor with a solo show set to end on Sept. 14 at The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, is represented by a tiny framed metal relief of a flag; and the great Dennis Byng has a brilliantly decadent-looking cast plastic cube on a pedestal across the room.

Painting dominates the show, fittingly enough for one of the Hudson River School’s best repositories, and landscape features in many of the paintings. Three excellent small views by Marjorie Portnow and a fascinatingly detailed image of a forested Catskill Creek by Judy Alderfer Abbott were gemlike discoveries for me. Other strong landscape paintings include a photographically distorted wide-angle by Tom Nelson and a Fauvist composition by Carol Caruso that depicts a favorite place, the Albany Rural Cemetery.
Albany Rural Cemetery
Carol Caruso, oil on canvas
A few other paintings run far afield from realistic rendering: A mesmerizing field of strips and dots by Peter Taylor; a lush, expressive interior by Richard Callner; a slightly nightmarish fantasy by Robert Cartmell. There are a few stabs at abstraction in addition to Taylor’s, and a couple of real challenges to the status quo in terms of materials, but most of the work here stays well within the bounds of traditional and modern art, as you would expect from one of the nation’s oldest museums.
Equally, from such a venue, you would expect the contemporary art collection to be of high quality – and it does not disappoint at all in that regard. So, catch it while you can – even if it’s on the last day (again, that would be Sept. 28). And get ready for the must-see show up next at AIHA: the 2014 Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region, set to open with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 26.
View of Shaker Creek - Richard Callner, watercolor and gouache on paper

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Body Language and Homespun inhabit public spaces

When Howard Schultz bought Starbucks in 1983, his goal for the business was to provide “a third place between work and home,” where people would meet, work and relax, thereby forming a sense of community in a coffee-shop setting. A similar process goes on in art spaces, which can range from elegant museums to commercial galleries to – you got it – coffee shops, and which also provide the opportunity to form a sense of community. The greater Capital Region offers many options in that range, and they all contribute significantly to a vibrant scene that I think is underappreciated both within and beyond this geography.

Get Visual aims to explore and expound upon that scene (with occasional digressions beyond), and I am pleased to be returning to it after a long hiatus. This post will be the first of many to come under a new plan to write as often as possible around my full-time job – probably just once or twice a month but, at least, regularly. Please spread the word to your interested friends.

Sang Wook Lee: Fork and Knife, 2014, silk, silkscreen
 and hand embroidered cotton thread
Two shows that recently caught my attention happen to share important characteristics, though they are distinct. Presented neither in museum nor commercial settings, these shows each occupy a type of “third place” in the exhibition realm: spaces that are devoted to significant public purposes apart from art, but which also host high-quality, curated exhibitions.

Body Language is on view through Sept. 7 at the Albany International Airport Gallery, a large, dedicated area that extends from the airport’s third-floor observation deck. Homespun occupies every available wall in the beautifully renovated Pine Hills Branch of the Albany Public Library, and will hang through Sept. 27. Each show explores the theme of identity as expressed in visual modes, and includes eight to ten artists in a full range of media.

Paul Miyamoto, Ground Work #4 
Oil on canvas, 2014
In Body Language, the human figure is a constant in the work but not the topic of it – rather, the messages the figure imparts through its gestures, activities, accessories and context become the theme of this exhibition. In paintings by Paul Miyamoto and Lin Price, small characters act out their roles within a scarcely described universe. But Miyamoto’s are humble farm workers bent to their tasks, while Price’s act out absurd, pointless motions in a suburban surround.

Also absurd are the mash-ups created by Amy Podmore, who sculpts in plaster, paper and cloth, as are the elegantly crafted photogravures of duo Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison. Sean Hovendick’s videos and Leona Christie’s drawings take oddness a bit further, to a place of broad social commentary.

Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison,
Turning to Spring, Photogravure, 2002
The remaining work in the show is essentially portraiture, including quasi self-portraits by Brian Cirmo that evoke the processes of the brain, sometimes with lovely color notes, and the way-larger-than-life ceramic heads of Sergei Isupov, which are so lovingly stained and glazed as to read as both painting and sculpture.

Sergei Isupov, In the Clouds,
 Stoneware, stain glaze, 2008
Darcie Abbatiello’s tiny collaged drawings of lost girls and women are simply heartbreaking (one is also a self-portrait), while Melanie Baker draws out a sense of subtle outrage with her careful studies of men in the economic “one percent.” Overall, the exhibition is beautifully conceived and installed. Try not to miss it.

Homespun talks about who we are by showing how we live – or how we appear to go about it. Domesticity is on display, but it is not approached head-on. Instead, the connections are more ethereal – a full-scale quilt by Barbara Todd, in stark black and white, represents a single, naive heart, while Kathy Greenwood’s large grid of meticulously canceled Betty Crocker recipe cards forms its own quilt of brilliant paint and pattern.

Kathy Greenwood, How to Feed Your Family for
 Health and Happiness No Matter What...,
 vintage recipe cards, acrylic on panel, 2014
Michael McKay deftly depicts cool architecture in hot colors, but Gina Occhiogrosso leaves only slight vestiges of her architectural sources in paintings that swirl with chaotic energy. Ken Ragsdale constructs a world in white paper, as presented here in a meticulous diorama, then bathes it in warm shades of colored lights to be photographed. Nearby, a similar white world inhabits Kim Faler’s color photograph of a hand-built interior; Faler also presents a framed photograph placed on top of patterns stenciled directly on the wall, confounding the viewer with contrasting decorative approaches.

Martin Hyers and William Mebane: Empire, 2006
28 pigment prints from a series of 100
Sang Wook Lee makes maximum use of a wide beam along the library’s staircase, and comments on his own immigrant experience by projecting a galaxy of red threads from above to form the embroidered shapes of scores of place settings – notably featuring cutlery, not chopsticks. Also deeply cultural are numerous color photographs by the collaborating duo Martin Hyers and William Mebane. Their Empire series documents countless American artifacts – elegant, banal, or crude – with equal impartiality, then presents them in a large grid. It’s really rich stuff mined from our everyday existence – like most important art.

Homespun was organized by Judie Gilmore, who does a fine job within the constraints of a space that was not designed for a coherent art display – be warned, you must wander every nook and cranny of the stacks to see all the work it offers, but the quality of that work will reward your efforts.

Ken Ragsdale: The Hundred Acre Wood, 2014, archival ink-jet
 from photo of fabricated paper sculpture (slightly cropped)

Note: The Airport Gallery is by far the most accessible of art spaces, with open hours from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily and a half-hour's free parking in the short-term lot (and, no, it is not beyond the airport’s security checkpoint). The Albany Public Library Pine Hills Branch is open Monday and Wednesday from 12 to 8, Tuesday from 10 to 6, Thursday and Friday from 12 to 6 and Saturday from 1 to 5. Both spaces are wheelchair accessible.