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Saturday, October 3, 2015

Seeing Double: The Anaglyphs of Eric Egas at Albany Institute of History & Art

Eric Egas - Fippery, archival pigment on canvas
Stereoscopy has been with us since the birth of photography in 1839, but outside of 3D movies, few of us give it much consideration. Eric Egas is an exception.

More than 30 years of efforts to capture three dimensions in flat images are presented in Seeing Double: The Anaglyphs of Eric Egas, which opened at the Albany Institute of History & Art on Aug. 15 and runs through Oct. 25 (an anaglyph is a blue-red stereo photograph). The exhibition, in Egas's words, provides "portals for viewers to enter into a state of ambiguity" through gazing at these images both with and without the red/blue glasses provided (they also work with the images shown here - just be sure to put the red lens over your right eye).

But stereo is only part of the Egas effect. He makes variations on the classic red/blue separation, and then pushes those colors so that the overlapping images become as fascinating in themselves as they are when viewed in 3D. Egas has, over the years, increased the scale of these prints, and adopted a lush layering of pigment on canvas - in the end, they are sometimes more painting than photograph, featuring rich areas of reed, blue, green, and purple. A few images even flirt with full color rendition (while still being anaglyphs).

This turns the exhibition, with more than 50 prints, most of which are at least four feet wide, into a multi-level experience: One is encouraged to spend time viewing the images without the glasses, then with them and so on back and forth, providing transformational changes that often surprise the senses.

Smith-Dallas 1983-2008
Beyond these innate visual  effects, Egas loves to play with space, often combining, reversing, and inverting images to further disorient the viewer (but in a good way). Among the earlier, less complex examples, mirrors often appear, which in themselves take on spectacular depth in the stereo format; some of the later pieces render more elaborate subjects into labyrinthine forms, complex textures, and symbolic or surreal meanings.

Egas features a broad range of favorite subjects, including animals (alive and stuffed), people in social situations (as well as portraits and self-portraits), architectural spaces, gardens of many kinds, and a variety of tchotchkes from lawn art to flea market wares to baroque ornamentation. His sense of humor is sharp and off-beat - this is a show to be enjoyed as well as studied.

Some of the most arresting images for me are the ones with tropical subject matter - this is perhaps influenced by my personal experience  of visiting Eric at his home in Puerto Rico in 1997 (we met around 1985, when he had a show of his early anaglyphs, including some of the ones in this exhibition, at my former gallery in Albany). There's something special about seeing an overall leafy texture in the flat image, and then getting lost in the complexity of layers of foliage once you put the glasses on. It's magic.

Some of Egas's attempts end up reaching a bit too far, to where you may not even be able to see the 3D effect, but the reach is worth a try, as the entire body of work is experimental - and experiential - in nature and intent. Overall, with this very ambitious installation that nicely stretches the boundaries of the Institute's usual emphases, Egas has successfully involved us in his unique and engaging vision.

Note: Eric Egas will have an exhibition of new work at Brill Gallery in North Adams, Mass., from Nov. 7 through Dec. 12, with a public reception from 4 pm to 8 pm on Sunday, Nov. 8.

Island 2015

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Scott Brodie Retrospective at Albany Center Gallery

Scott Brodie - Waputki 2, oil on canvas 2015
There's one thing nearly all painters have in common: They love to push paint around. A power-packed retrospective of nearly 40 years of work by Scott Brodie at Albany Center Gallery (on view through Oct. 3) amply illustrates this fact, and equally demonstrates that it is true whether the image is photo-realistic, totally abstract or anything in between.

Scott Brodie, oil on canvas
And, if you think it's not possible for a painter to work in such (apparently) divergent styles while maintaining a singular voice, think again. We all evolve over time, but even in a long-term retrospective an artist should show consistency - if they don't, it's a sign of inadequate commitment to a vision. Yet Brodie's show, despite its diversity, makes clear that his vision has remained quite clear over the long haul and, in my opinion, has grown stronger of late.

The consistency comes in the way Brodie engages with color and (secondarily) form in all his paintings. The earliest example in the show is a somewhat academic but somehow still playful study of cardboard boxes from 1977. In it, one can recognize the handling of paint that remains characteristic in his latest works, such as the lush, juicy Waputki 2 (shown at the top of this post) and numerous other recent near-abstractions in the show.

Scott Brodie, oil on canvas
More closely related to the box painting are a couple of examples from the late '90s that depict colorful books. Here, as with the boxes, it is apparent Brodie is more interested in how the subject looks - or, more important, how it looks when he paints it - than he is in what it means. And, correct me if I'm wrong, but that is the essence of abstraction. Jump ahead, again, to the most recent work in the show, and you see landscapes rendered as pure form and color. No, it goes further - you see richly brushed paint exploring the forms and colors that were once part of a landscape.

Brodie's images of books are joined in the show by a couple of (literally) sweet studies in pink and grey, depicting a scatter of Sweet-n-Low packets. These, from '07, form another across-the-decades link to the boxes, but also fit right in with the new landscapes, which favor similar color schemes. Wait, did I call the new paintings landscapes? Well, there you are, then - I guess they're not really abstract after all.

Scott Brodie, oil on canvas
One finds in these landscapes an affinity with bright, hot light, whether taken from the American Southwest or the Italian peninsula, and their titles evoke their geographical and cultural sources. Elsewhere, the show provides six small acrylic studies on paper as a window onto the artist's process of abstraction. Two of the studies are clearly the basis for two larger finished oils, while the others show how rocks and bushes can become lines and colors before being presented as final, more formal compositions. Notably, this whole group is identified by compass locations, rather than place names, in the titles.

Scott Brodie, oil on canvas
Other work in the show comprises a middle period in which Brodie applied his rendering skill and affinity for dimensionally plastic paint dabs to a range of subjects that he pointedly treats equally. These include shoes, vegetables, bushes, figurines, and a hat - all lovingly portrayed, all blandly unembellished by commentary. Brodie's very dry sense of humor is most apparent in this period, and the paintings are very good - but I like it better when he gets a little more passionate.

This is a rare opportunity to see a beautifully installed collection of a lifetime of work by one of our region's foremost painters. Try to catch it while you can.

Scott Brodie, oil on canvas

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Feibes and Schmitt collection going to Hyde

By now many of you know that Werner Feibes has donated about a third of the extraordinary modern and contemporary art collection he amassed with his partner Jim Schmitt to The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, as the news has been splashed all over local media (such as here by Paul Grondahl in the Times Union). The rest of the collection is promised to the Hyde as well, and Director Erin Coe rightly declares it "a transformational gift."

I'm excited for the Hyde, proud of my friend Werner, and sad for the recent loss of Jim ... but not surprised by this bequest, as I predicted it in a 2003 Metroland review, which I wrote when the Hyde mounted a superb exhibition called Form(ation) that was drawn from the Feibes and Schmitt collection. The news also brings to mind a story:

It was my good fortune sometime around 1985 to accompany Werner Feibes on a buying trip to a New York City gallery. At the time, I was a young gallery owner myself (in Albany), struggling to find customers for works by regional artists in the $300-to-$500 range. With Werner, I was exposed to quite another art world.

I don't recall the name of the gallery, but it was on the upper East Side of Manhattan and very elegant. Werner was there to see a Jean Arp relief constructed of painted wood, about 16 by 20 inches as I recall, in black and white (of course). The gallery presented it on a velvet-draped easel in a private room, where we murmured our approval and greedily eyed this vintage gem. The asking price was $15,000. Of course, Werner negotiated a discount, then coolly wrote a check for $13,500 - and, in a flash, we were on our way back up I-87 in Werner and Jim's boxy Volvo wagon (the Arp would be shipped).

I was totally speechless (think about that, you who know me personally!). I had just seen how art dealers really operated, and how sharp collectors did, too. The money that changed hands so easily was almost equal to my entire annual income (and I worked a lot of hours to earn it), but I didn't doubt that the Arp was well worth it. Neither do I doubt that it is now worth at least 15 times as much. It was a beautiful work of art and I hope to see it again some day at the Hyde.

Werner's generosity in inviting me on that trip was genuine, but this donation is beyond generous. The collection has been appraised for several million dollars; yet Werner's comment to  Grondahl was "What the hell would I do with all that money?" Good point - the true collector thinks about value in a different way than most of us. In the meantime, Werner still gets to live with the rest of the artwork, then it all goes to the Hyde upon his death. I wish him a very long life.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

2015 Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region

Daniel Brody - Game On/Game Over, still from digital video
Every year, the annual Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region offers a good opportunity to take the pulse of the local art scene in one time and place, and this year's edition at the University at Albany Art Museum is a prime example of how that works.

Though the vagaries of who submits work each year and especially the taste of the juror will have a distinct impact on what's seen, there's usually a broad enough coverage to be reasonably representative of what artists in the orbit of Albany are doing.  And because these artists are also in the orbit of New York City, one can also get a sense of what's current there and, by extension, in the art world as a whole. This year's juror, Rachel Uffner, owns a New York City gallery, so the sensibility of the show is most likely that much more imbued with the bigger art world point of view.

Fern T. Apfel - Skyline, collage and acrylic 
If so, then the current art world, whether regional or global, is still very much about painting, especially painterly abstraction, with a strong side interest in the figurative and the decoratively patterned, and flirting a bit with representation on the Pop side of things. There are 44 artists included (out of a daunting 367 who entered the competition), which is a good number - neither too many to get a grip on in one viewing, nor too few to hold the space - and about three-quarters are represented by multiple works, which is always desirable in large group shows.

Ian Myers - Fish, oil on canvas
Noticeably in short supply in this selection is photography which, in the 25 or so years since the medium was first allowed in the Regional, usually has a strong role. Instead, the few photographs chosen are relegated to subsidiary locations in the gallery and, except for Jess Ayotte and Han Dogan, both of whom present slyly low-key black-and-white prints, and Katria Foster, whose works read almost as abstract paintings, the offerings are weak.

Then again, video has two strong entries, including Daniel Brody's digital animation Game On/Game Over, which won the top prize and is well worthy of the honor, and a concrete-poetry piece by Kyra Garrigue. It's intriguing that Garrigue's Poem: Untold Story has company in another concrete poetry work, this one formed in Morse code that was drilled into three smooth panels of birch by Colin Chase.

Monica Bill Hughes - Boob Bouquet
acrylic, ink, spray paint, and glitter on canvas
Other sculptural works are among the more compelling pieces here, including two slightly chilling scale models by Roger Bisbing and a very impressive series of five works in ceramic and wood, buffalo horn, or mammoth ivory by Robert Augstell; both Bisbing and Augstell won awards. Top awards were also taken by outstanding painters, including Monica Bill Hughes's naughty, lush still lifes; Stephen Niccolls's wonderful retro-Modernist compositions; two tongue-in-cheek works by Ian Myers; and two cleverly titled mixed media paintings by Kelsey Renko (artists who have the courage to title their works creatively get extra points from me).

Also outstanding: Charles Geiger's technically brilliant tropical arabesques; Mona Mark's scrupulously pared down exercises in monochrome; Jenny Hutchinson's meticulous, playfully layered paper-cuts; and Susan Spencer Crowe's boldly colored and formed wall reliefs.

Overall, this Regional suffers a bit from being on the wan side, color-wise, and from a lack of scale (only a handful of pieces exceed 5 feet in size). It is therefore overwhelmed by the cavernous white space of the UAlbany Museum. On the other hand, the two-story gallery's large, open central staircase allows a view of half the show all at once, which is a terrific advantage in getting the big-picture sense. And that sense is that the scene is plenty vibrant enough to survive another year. We'll get to reassess again at the next Regional, set for The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls.

By the way, this exhibition ends on Sept. 5, so if you want to catch it, you must act now.

Roger Bisbing - Lunch 1961, brass, cast bronze, and aluminum

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Van Gogh and Nature at The Clark

Vincent Van Gogh - A Wheatfield with Cypresses, 1889 oil on canvas
The National Gallery, London
Here's what's obvious: You must not miss Van Gogh and Nature at The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., which ends its exclusive run there on Sept. 13. Simply put, you will never get another chance to see such a breathtaking collection of this artist's work - gathered from all over the world - together again. Ever.

Here's what may be less obvious: The title of the show, and its claim to being “the first exhibition devoted to the artist’s abiding exploration of nature in all its forms” are off the mark. Take, for example, the brilliant painting reproduced above. The sky and mountains are not wrought by human intervention, however personally interpreted by the painter, and the wind ruffling the many plants below that sky is all natural. But what about those plants, and that landscape they inhabit? This is not by any means a natural place. It is dominated by a cultivated wheatfield, cypresses, and olive trees that were, I'm fairly certain, planted by people, in a place that was most likely clear cut centuries before Vincent laid eyes on it. Is this nature?

Giant Peacock Moth, 1889
Chalk with pen and brush and ink on paper
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Elsewhere in the exhibition, text and images do support the intriguing and meaningful notion that Van Gogh was keenly interested in and moved by natural phenomena, particularly plants and insects. It could be argued that his deeply felt and vividly expressed responses to the world around him, including forces of weather and geology, are the wellspring of his genius and his popularity. But much of what Van Gogh observed so sensitively and depicted so richly (even in this selection) was culture - agriculture most particularly, as well as architecture, industry, religion, and other human inventions.

Hospital at Saint-Rémy, 1889
oil on canvas, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
And the power of his work, the legacy that keeps the crowds coming to blockbusters such as this one, is as much about human nature - in the form of the psychology of the sensitive, spiritual, suffering artist - as it is about anything else. Frequently overheard throughout my visit to the exhibition were comments related to Van Gogh's psychological states: his anger, his ecstacy, his mental illness, his tragic suicide at 37. Many of the finest paintings in this show were made while Van Gogh was living in the mental hospital at Saint-Rémy, where he had placed himself voluntarily; in one late letter, referring to a painting that depicts a landscape in the rain (shown at the bottom of this review), he wrote, “before such nature I feel powerless.” Not to belabor a point, but the painting also depicts a dense little village across its middle.

The exhibition is also about history - Vincent's personal history, tidily summed up in wall texts that guide visitors through sections devoted to key locations and periods in the artist's career (Holland 1881-85; Paris 1886-88; Provence 1888-90; and Auvers 1890), and the history of his influences, with excellent examples of other artists' work, including a lovely Monet from the Clark's collection, works by Millet, and woodblock prints by Hiroshige (all considered major influences on Van Gogh).

Undergrowth, 1887 oil on canvas Centraal Museum, Utrecht
What many people will learn for the first time here is the stunning fact that Van Gogh's entire career as an artist spanned barely 10 years, only five of which were spent painting. He is (rightly) revered as a towering figure of modern art (Impressionism was the first modern movement), yet he was very young, and still rapidly developing, when he died. The chief benefit of the "nature" thesis presented at The Clark is that it caused a good number of minor works to be included - drawings, sketches, early paintings, and experiments - which demonstrate how incompletely formed this artist was even a year or two before the final burst of creative intensity that cemented his importance.

Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, 1890 oil on canvas
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Who knew that Van Gogh tried pointillism, or made bumbling botanical illustrations, or was, early on, apparently rather intimidated by color? That he struggled for years before finding his own mode of expression puts him on equal footing with all unsuccessful artists - that he actually found his mode and then realized it fully enough in the brief time before his death to leave a lasting legacy is an astounding achievement. Nature caused Vincent to do this, and its overwhelming forces cost him both his sanity and his life. What he accomplished along the way is one of the most valuable slices of human culture to be found anywhere. The Clark show offers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to soak up a huge chunk of it. Go and revel.

Rain–Auvers, 1890 oil on canvas
Amgueddfa Cymru—National Museum of Wales, Cardiff

Whistler's Mother

The Clark is also showcasing one of the most famous American paintings of all time, through Sept. 27. Popularly known as "Whistler's Mother," James McNeill Whistler's monumental  Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1 (Portrait of the Artist's Mother) normally resides at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, but it is here on loan as part of a reciprocal arrangement from a recent European tour of some of The Clark's French masterpieces.

We recognize Whistler's own masterpiece from the countless reproductions, parodies, and ads that have borrowed the dour central figure, which experts have said is only incidentally part of this modern composition. The Clark has provided well thought-out accompaniment in the form of numerous fine lithos and etchings, as well as several examples of the painting's many pop-cultural takeoffs. Grab the trolley or take a stroll up to the Lunder Center at Stone Hill to enjoy the view and peruse the painting's "musical notions of harmony and balance."

James McNeill Whistler, Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1
(Portrait of the Artist's Mother) 
1871 oil on canvas Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Lit at Albany International Airport Gallery

Scott Nelson Foster, Real and Imaginary Houses 12 - oil on panel
The sky was performing spectacularly at the end of a stormy day, which provided the ideal preparation for Lit, a theme show about phenomena of light at Albany International Airport Gallery that runs through Sept. 13. As with all the shows presented at this generous venue, Lit is intelligent and friendly, and features outstanding artists from the greater Capital Region as both a showcase of regional talent and an oasis of uplifting culture for weary travelers.

But you don't have to be traveling to enjoy these exhibitions - the gallery area is open to the public, parking is free for the first half-hour, and the hours (7 am to 11 pm daily) make it the most accessible high-quality art space anywhere. I was drawn to this show particularly by the inclusion of a few of my favorite artists from around these parts, but also by the theme. After all, without light, we wouldn't exist.

Lit features six artists and a collaborative: a spare number, yet enough to cover a lot of bases here, including sculpture, industrial design, two extremely different approaches to photography, drawing, painting, and projection. The work in the show is approximately evenly divided between color and monochrome, with most of the color coming from the palettes of sculptor Victoria Palermo and painter Scott Nelson Foster.

Victoria Palermo, Up and Down
Palermo alone contributes a nearly eclectic collection, including wall-hung combines of paint and colored plastic, totemic towers of rubber, and small architectural constructions that appear to be made out of jelly (actually, they are also rubber). In addition, her site-specific installation of wood, plexi and dichroic film in the staircase leading up to the gallery (shown at right) is both part of this show and an independent, longer-term project. All these works play with transparency and the fleeting effects of changing light and color; they also are exquisitely crafted, clever, and fun.

Foster contributes a number of related painting from his series on real or imagined suburban houses, including a group of six that examine a modest trailer home in different light, almost like a postmodern Monet (as with haystacks and Chartres cathedral). His color sense is as profound as his irony is subtle; he also includes five very small black-and-white watercolors of similar subject matter that are equally adept.

Kenneth Ragsdale
Lewis and Clark Go Car Camping/Arlington, digital print
Other familiar names in this show are Larry Kagan and Kenneth Ragsdale. Kagan shows three wall relief metal sculptures that astonishingly translate tangles of metal into perfectly articulated shadow portraits of iconic political figures (George Washington, Mao, and Che Guevara). Ragsdale features color photographs made from his own meticulously crafted (yet still playfully rough) dioramas of '60s-era campsites, which he ingeniously lights to create cinematic tones. One diorama is included, complete with its nifty tiny lights and color gels in place, with a wall switch you can flip to see the effect.

The revelation of the show is Yael Erel, an RPI architect whose light projections reflected off metal surfaces produce sharp, stunningly organic motifs that rotate hypnotically. Her collaborative, lightexture, which includes Avner Ben Natan and Sharan Elran, has contributed several metal and ceramic lighting fixtures to this exhibition; they are designed to cast sculpted light patterns through manipulable apertures, and may be the first example of industrial designer products to be part of an exhibition here.

In almost direct opposition to the technical approach of Erel and lightexture, yet aesthetically quite similar, Jared Handelsman presents several delicate gelatine-silver photograms, which he makes by exposing light-sensitive paper to ethereal sources such as moonlight and passing headlights. The resulting shadow pictures of natural plants evoke the quiet of a summer night.

Yael Erel, Moon Record, aluminum LED source, aluminum reflector, rotating mechanism, audio recording

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Roz Chast: Cartoon Memoirs at Norman Rockwell Museum

A New Yorker cover drawing
Credit for this and all other images: Artwork by Roz Chast. ©Roz Chast. All rights reserved.
Who doesn't love Roz Chast? Her quirky take on life, as seen in countless New Yorker cartoons and covers, is the essence of contemporary American neurosis and it makes us laugh in recognition of our own foibles (or, more likely, those of our friends and relatives).

A children's book illustration
So, one recent lovely summer day we took a trip to Stockbridge to enjoy Roz Chast: Cartoon Memoirs at the Norman Rockwell Museum - and were immediately immersed in Roz's world. And I don't just mean immersed via the scads of drawings and artifacts on view. I mean immersed as in, by pure chance, we ran into Roz's cousin Nancy, from Albany, who knew one of my sisters in Jewish youth group about 50 years ago, along with Nancy's husband, and, yes, they were depicted rather accurately in a family group portrait included in the Memoirs on display.

It used to be you wouldn't be surprised to run into one of Norman Rockwell's former child models in Stockbridge - but this was a Roz Chast show in 2015, so we got cousin Nancy instead, and it was even better.

A children's book illustration
The show, by the way, is extensive, beautifully installed, and features a lot more than framed original drawings (many of which are vivid watercolors, so you could call them paintings if you wanted to, but you might get in over your head there, considering the The New Yorker still refers to all its cartoons as drawings, and The New Yorker ought to know).

As I was saying, there are lots of other things to see, including three original hooked rugs (love 'em!), seven handmade mini-books (which can be called artists books and they are wonderful!), four early black-and-white street photographs taken in Brooklyn (not bad, either), a goodly number of intricately painted pysanka eggs (like everything else here, in the signature Chast style), and the aforementioned artifacts, such as a pair of wooden horse-head bookends and other slightly creepy souvenirs of Roz's mother's collecting habits.

Roz Chast in her studio, photo by Jeremy Clowe
There's also a chatty video that was made by NRM Media Manager Jeremy Clowe, which shows Chast in her studio and is in constant cycle on a big TV, with plenty of chairs nearby. I got shooshed more than once by folks watching the video while I talked with Nancy, so I guess they thought it was pretty good. The room with the video features a bunch of framed black-and-white cartoons deployed upon violet walls, which set them off quite nicely. As with just about everything else on view, they are expertly drawn, and hilarious.

An original page for the memoir
The show is built around 120 drawings from Chast's award-winning memoir Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, which are displayed on key-lime green walls. I mention the wall color because it sets off Chast's watercolors so well - and I must point out that her highly refined color sense is much better seen by looking at originals than in reproduction. This underlines the appropriateness of presenting Chast's work in a museum setting - yes, she's an illustrator and a cartoonist and she tells stories and she's funny, but she's also clearly an artist whose work can be aesthetically very beautiful.

A New Yorker cover drawing
I had previously read (really, devoured) the memoir in book form, so I devoted more of my time in the museum to admiring other work - the many New Yorker covers (including trial sketches), as well as a lot of other pictures and picture stories that had been published elsewhere. Just like at a good movie, I laughed, I cried, I got hungry. We left satisfied, and the drive home was lovely, though we did get a little lost.

You will love this show. If you go, plan to spend a lot of time, and definitely bring your reading glasses. Roz Chast: Cartoon Memoirs runs through Oct. 26.