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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Carrie Haddad and other Hudson galleries

Kahn & Selesnick, Oak-Man Falls 2015, archival inkjet print
I drove over to Hudson last Sunday to meet a friend for a pizza at Baba Louie's (it was delicious) and check out the Photography show at Carrie Haddad Gallery. Haddad typically focuses on painting, but her gallery (the longest-standing in Hudson at 25 years old) has always shown photography as well, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to enjoy a contemporary showcase for the medium.

Gain Peachin,untitled collage 2015
We were not disappointed, as the exhibition featured a wide array of traditional and postmodern styles, ranging from Jerry Freedner's bucolic Catskills landscapes to Newbold Bohemia's tacky domestic dramas and Gail Peachin's clever, tiny cutouts.

K+S, Charlotte - Apricot 2015
The show includes 12 artists but gives the lion's share of space to the duo Kahn & Selesnick, whose elaborately detailed fantasies have evolved from neo-antique sepia prints to richly colored inkjets. Just a few of K&S's new works are monochrome, and those work very well, but here we see mostly color among the 20 images presented and, frankly, it is a bit distracting. That's because the pictures still evoke timelessness, yet the coloration in most of the prints is noticeably 21st-century.

Among the black-and-whites, we get shades of steam-punk macabre (think Joel Peter Witkin), while the color images of various individuals floating in a shallow pond surrounded by flora and ephemera lean more in the direction of a nursery rhyme.

Stephanie Blumenthal, Light Blue Square 2015, archival inkjet
My favorite work in the show is by Stephanie Blumenthal, who alters highly detailed black and white pictures of bare trees and vines by overlaying blocks of color, with solid black highlighting on the naturally calligraphic gesture of the vine forms. This crossing over of media (that digital tools do so well) is a rich vein in contemporary photography, and will offer continued opportunities for artists to innovate for decades to come.

What I particularly like about Blumenthal is the simplicity or her approach, creating a pure marriage of three strong sensibilities: lushly detailed photography, color-centric painting, and calligraphic line. The resulting series of pictures (which augment each other effectively) takes the viewer to a place of deep observation that is at the heart of all the arts.

Eric Lindbloom, Pine Woods #28 2003, gelatin silver print
I also loved seeing several small, square silver prints by Eric Lindbloom, not only for the nostalgia factor but because they are so beautifully seen and crafted. These date back a number of years (from 1999 to 2009), as does with much of the rest of the work in the show, for which I will register a mild complaint. It's one thing to do a retrospective, or to bring out previously unseen art from the past - but in my opinion it's a no-no to present stale art in a feature exhibition.

The other photographers included in Photographs (which has been extended through Feb 14) are Birgit Blyth, Jeri Eisenberg, Lisa Frank, David Halliday, Robert Hite, and Joseph Maresca.

Michael Theise, Safe-Keeping, oil on panel
While in town, we decided to check out a few galleries we hadn't seen before. One of them, Peter Jung Fine Art, is open only by appointment or chance; the lights were on, so we jumped at the chance to stick our noses in. And what a place! Three floors of comfortable, neatly organized space bristling with antique and contemporary paintings (plus a few photographs) of very high quality, warmed by the very personable Jung, another longtime Hudsonian (he arrived in '92). Though he emphasizes 19th-century landscape paintings, Jung was also featuring the recent trompe l'oeil work of Michael Theise, among many other living artists.

We extended our immersion in painting with a stop at Gallery Gris, where a solo exhibition of abstract oils By Kylie Heidenheimer that was scheduled to end on Dec. 21 was still hanging. The gallery specializes in color abstraction, which is a weakness of mine as well, so I greatly enjoyed this new discovery. Heidenheimer and the other gallery artists (whose works we glimpsed in the back room) are first-rate examples of the genre, and co-owner Todd Gribben was a gracious host. I will be back.

Kylie Heidenheimer, Sweep 2015, oil on canvas

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Folk Modern at Albany International Airport Gallery

Installation of found-object assemblages by Jack Metzger, 2006-2015
all photos with this post are courtesy of Arthur Evans
The creative process can be deceptively simple, but I find exposure to it is almost always uplifting. There's a delight in seeing how a person, whatever their flaws, can draw from within themselves the strength, imagination, and skill to produce something new and wonderful to behold.

Giselle Potter, Bark 2014 gouache on paper
Folk Modern, the current exhibition at Albany International Airport Gallery (on view through May 8), explores how eight regional makers (perhaps a better word in this case than "artists") have delved into that creative impulse and, as such, is a celebration of it. Emblematic of the special qualities of this process is the work of Jack Metzger (pictured at the top of this post), a shop owner who seems to just really like to collect odd, old stuff and mess around with it. His installation in the show reveals a discerning eye, a sense of wit, and a reverence for the integrity of a good, mysterious object. It's also great fun.

John McQueen, Teeter 2012 (left) and Sitting Pretty 2011 (right)
media include metal, wood, cardboard, wax string, willow
The mounted text that introduces the show makes the point that "the wall between folk and fine art has been crumbling for some time, and inhabitants of both sides have been finding much common ground." Indeed, one would honestly have to admit that, without peeking first at a resume, there's no way to tell which of these people is on which side of that fading divide.

Not unexpectedly, a good range of media are represented here - painting, collage, sculpture, installation, and illustration - and there's enough work by each participant to get a sense of who they are individually, though the show works well, too, as a whole.

Steve Rein, installation of paintings dated 2013-2015, lettering enamel on wood

Common ground links one artist to the next. Like Metzger, Steve Rein incorporates found material into his work, starting with scavenged anonymous snapshots and reinterpreting them in enamel on found bits of wood. Formerly a sign painter by trade, Rein seems to exemplify the "outsider" artist who uses non-traditional materials that come easily to hand (but, in fact, he has an art-school pedigree). He also seems almost too productive, as though compelled by external forces - his installation in the show includes more than 40 individual pieces, overwhelming the viewer.

Anima Katz, Bottle of Negrita Rum 2014, oil on canvas board
I found the work of neo-primitive painter Anima Katz easier to concentrate on. Her intricately textured works are the result of a distinct personal drive (begun when she was 52 years old) to emulate the great artists she admires. In this exhibition, she presents heartfelt homages to many of them in the form of portraits of the artists amid carefully copied miniatures of some of their best-known works. The result is a curiously original form of imitation that transcends mere reproduction.

Nancy Natale, Look at America 2011, found and invented elements
with encaustic and tacks on birch panel
Nancy Natale is just about at the opposite end of the spectrum from Katz - from a distance, her paintings look like art-smart abstractions of stripe, color, and shape. But, when you get closer you see that they are constructed of many inch-wide rectangles of found material, nailed in place and slathered with colorful encaustic. Natale's source materials include the banal - food packaging - and the more cerebral - book spines - but it is all part of a rich blend that resembles a pieced quilt more than an intellectual studio exercise.

Matt LaFleur, Gift World 2015, site-specific installation
Susanna Starr's work also reveals a relationship with traditional textiles, in this case by transforming patterned doilies into large, wall-hung slabs of wood veneer. Her painstaking cutting re-creates the intricacies of lace in an unexpected material that is nevertheless still aesthetically appealing and safely domesticated (see image at the bottom of this post). The other artists included in the show are Matt LaFleur, John McQueen, and Giselle Potter.

Note: Albany International Airport Gallery is open to the public - not behind security - from 7 am to 11 pm daily. Parking in the short-term lot is free for the first half-hour - if needed, the staff of the airport's DepARTure shop will stamp your parking ticket to allow a longer visit free of charge.

Susanna Starr, Dresser Doily 2005, hand-cut mahogany wood veneer





Friday, January 8, 2016

Tidbits for 2016

Ellsworth Kelly in his studio in 2012 (photo stolen from the New York Times)
As 2016 yawns and stretches into existence, a few items on the local art scene have caught my attention:
  1. The recent death at age 92 of Ellsworth Kelly. Almost universally regarded as a giant of 20th-century art, Kelly lived and worked in our region (Spencertown, Columbia County) for a great many years. I recall one encounter with the man, about 1984, when he stopped in to peruse my modest gallery on Washington Avenue in Albany. We knew he was a client of the hairstylist upstairs, but had never seen him. So, one day a middle-aged gentleman came in from the stairway area and looked around with what seemed to be a very practiced eye. I tried to engage him in conversation - no luck. Then I asked if we could place him on our mailing list (we did that with all visitors), but he demurred. When I more or less forced an introduction, he only gave one name: Kelly. I do recall that he did not seem impressed by what he saw, but neither did he seem disgusted. Personally, I love his work for its purity of form and color, and for its spirit of adventure. I also like the fact that Kelly was a supporter of local ventures, donating a print or two to be sold at Albany Institute fundraisers and employing local artists as assistants. He will be missed.
    an early Robert Mapplethorpe Polaroid self-portrait
    from the Jack Shear Collection
  2. Jack Shear photography collection donated to the Tang Teaching Museum. Shear was Ellsworth Kelly's longtime partner, and on Feb. 6 the Tang will open an exhibition selected from 500 significant and historical photographs he recently donated. It's a very truncated who's-who of 20th-century photography (with a notably gay-centric twist) that is sure to draw a lot of viewers and perhaps a snippet of controversy. Remember when the political right wing went nuts because the NEA had supported an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe pictures in Philadelphia? This show will definitely make it clear we're over that.
    Mazing Cave - collage by Michael Oatman
  3. This year The Hyde Collection will host the Annual Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region (popularly know as the Regional), and the judge will be a truly local artist for the first time in memory - Michael Oatman. Oatman, a professor at RPI, has shown regularly in prominent venues such as MASS MoCA and the Tang, as well as in New York City galleries for over a decade, so his credentials as a judge pass muster. Yet he also has regularly and recently participated in local juried shows such as the Regional and the Arts Center's Fence Show, which sets him apart from the typical Regional juror. This may bother some people, but I think it's appropriate - and a great choice of juror for this always intensely interesting local showcase.
    a photograph by Dan Burkholder
  4. The Photography Regional, our other most closely watched local juried show, will be held much earlier than usual this year, as co-host Fulton Street Gallery in Troy has scheduling conflicts for the more usual late-springtime slot. According to a recent announcement from co-host The Photo Center of the Capital District in Troy, the show will open on Jan. 29 as a two-week salon with all entries hung at both locations; then the judge's pared-down selection will be presented more formally at Fulton Street beginning Feb 20. This year's judge is Dan Burkholder, a Palenville-based digital photographer known for lushly detailed and subtly colored imagery.
  5. Beyond local: Oscar season is heating up, and I am struggling to catch all the films likely to gain lots of nominations. So far, the best film from 2015 that I've seen is Spotlight. I don't plan to catch the Star Wars film (sorry if you're a fan) - neither have I ever seen Titanic or Avatar, the other highest grossers of our time, so at least I am consistent. Am excited to see Carol as soon as possible, and have heard The Big Short is also very good, though I'm afraid it may give me unpleasant MBA-school flashbacks. More to come on the best films of 2015 in a later post ...
The movie Spotlight deserves special notice for the brilliant ensemble work of its cast.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Pulled, Pressed and Screened: Important American Prints at The Hyde Collection

Robert Cottingham - Orph, 1972 color lithograph on wove paper
Perhaps my biggest regret from my college experience is that I never studied printmaking. Aside from the fact that, outside of art school, it's hard to get access to a fully equipped print shop (and, so, it was an opportunity lost) I think I would have enjoyed the processes. And I'm sure I would be a smarter person now if I had learned some of those complex techniques then.

Jim Dine - Self Portrait Zinc + Acid, 1964
etching on wove paper
That's one reason I wholeheartedly urge you to see Pulled, Pressed and Screened: Important American Prints at The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, on view through Jan. 10. Organized by the Syracuse University Art Collection, Pulled, Pressed and Screened features 51 prints by as many artists and spans the decades from 1930 to 1980.

This gorgeous selection makes clear how important printmaking is to 20th-century American art and provides a wonderful window onto our history. It's also easy to love, as many of the artists are familiar names, including Grant Wood, Robert Blackburn, Jasper Johns, Helen Frankenthaler, Milton Avery, Romare Bearden, and Dorothy Dehner.

Anne Ryan - Three Figures, 1948
color woodcut on black wove paper
From those names alone you begin to get the picture - high quality, diversity, and commitment to the medium are hallmarks of the work gathered here. There are also many lesser-known but marvelous artists in the group, such as Boris Margo, who invented the "cellocut," a precursor to the collagraph that uses colorless plastic to create embossed relief. His example, titled Comet, is elegant and quietly beautiful and was one of my favorites in the show. Another discovery was a 1948 color woodcut on black paper by Anne Ryan. Titled Three Figures, it could almost have been a Klee or Miro print.

Jasper Johns - Periscope, 1981
color intaglio on wove paper
Like Ryan, many of the artists in this collection are primarily printmakers, especially several from the middle period of the show when graphic art retained a special place in a nation still establishing its values. The show is organized somewhat chronologically and somewhat by theme (hung on walls painted a perfect shade of ochre), so these more socially conscious artists, such as Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett, Ben Shahn, and Antonio Frasconi, are grouped nicely together, giving us food for thought along the way. We also get a good variety of techniques to study here, such as wood engraving, linocut, and lithography.

Alex Katz - White Petunia, 1969
lithograph on wove paper
There's always the question of whether an established painter who makes prints is really a printmaker at all, but the artists included here generally delved into the medium - they didn't just use it to reproduce their paintings, but explored it as a realm unto itself. Roy Lichtenstein is a strong illustration of this idea. In his embossed 1976 screenprint Entablature VII (reproduced at the bottom of this post) you see how the print itself is his goal - with lush exploitation of the milky white paper, metal foil additions, and unusual pebbly embossing, he has created something special that is not much like a painting at all.

Among the earlier examples in the show are many immigrants, often using the graphic medium as a people's art form and as a platform to communicate ideas about social progress. This includes Harry Gottlieb, a Romanian native whose The Strike is Won is vintage WPA propaganda; Yasuo Kuniyoshi's Aerialist, which portrays a high-wire artist as a real person; and Minna Wright Cintron's acerbic Men Seldom Make Passes, which simultaneously amuses and flirts with early abstraction. Also in this group are icons of the Depression era: Reginald Marsh, Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, Stuart Davis, and Wood.

After a period that emphasized abstraction, it's interesting to note that some of the later work in the show returns to social issues, with examples by Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol leading the way, capped off by a Vito Acconci six-part acquatint from 1979-81 that combines the flags of the U.S, the Soviet Union, and China. A lot has happened since, in politics and art, but Pulled, Pressed and Screened still packs a nice punch. Try to see it if you can.

Also, please note the Hyde is "pay as you wish" for the month of December.

Roy Lichtenstein - Entablature VII, 1976, screenprint embossing on wove paper

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Recommended viewing

Oded Hirsch - Totchka, 2010 still from video
This is the first time I'm recommending a show I haven't seen, but circumstances have forced my hand, as I've been unable to get there and time is seriously running out. The current exhibition at the University at Albany Art Museum, which runs through Saturday (Dec. 12) features two big-time artists who are represented by New York City galleries.

Brian Tolle - Out of Service, 2010
Platinum silicon rubber and crutches
Though this by no means guarantees a great show, I've got a good feeling about Brian Tolle: Bordering Utopia, which is a retrospective of fascinating-looking sculptures (images at right and below), and Oded Hirsch: Three Videos (image above), which I will be viewing last-minute this weekend.

Maybe I'll run into you there, and we can compare notes on whether we like this stuff or not, and why. Please feel free to comment here on your experience. I may come back with additional commentary of my own - this time, after seeing the show.

Brian Tolle - Alice and Job, 2006
hand-carved Styrofoam, robotics and acrylic paint

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Tick/Zellin at the PhotoCenter

Agnes Zellin - untitled photograph from Astoria N.Y., late 1970s or early 1980s
In an extreme case of better late than never, two bodies of work by photographers Paul Tick and Agnes Zellin have been mounted in a beautifully conceived exhibition at the PhotoCenter of the Capital District in Troy, on view through Dec. 13 (PhotoCenter hours are Th-Fr, 5-9, and Sat-Sun, 12-6).

Agnes Zellin - untitled photograph from Astoria N.Y.
late 1970s or early 1980s
Originally urged by their mutual mentor Mel Rosenthal more than 35 years ago, this event is the curatorial baby of Mark Kelly (creator of the former Exposed Gallery of Art Photography in Delmar), who designed and planned the installation, along with a handsome short-run book that accompanies it. Kelly has done an admirable job of presenting two collections that share many characteristics but are also quite distinct from one another.

There are many stories behind these photographs, including that of their makers, who are married to each other now. The pictures fall cleanly into the category of "concerned photography" - not quite journalism, not quite art; rather, a form of personal documentary that held sway for decades from the WPA era, through the heyday of Life magazine, and into the 1970s, when Tick and Zellin were learning their craft and prowling New York City with their cameras.

Paul Tick and Agnes Zellin
photo by Tricia Cremo
In those days, just about everybody was shooting black-and-white 35mm film in the street (a habit I understand is making a big comeback today). One feature that sets these two apart from that crowd is that they did not just grab and run. Instead, they formed relationships with their subjects and present them with an unusual depth. They also take a rather sociological stance, which comes across readily at a level of caring that many photographers lack.

It takes energy to care, and time; Tick and Zellin gave it, and this exhibition demands it of the viewer, too. The pictures are touching, many are melancholy, some are even heartbreaking. But they are neither exploitative nor facile. Tick's approach is to get to know his subjects - every one of them a bottom-of-the-gutter Bowery drunk - then capture them in beautiful portraits, which are paired with their own matter-of-fact utterances (handwritten by the photographer). The results resonate across the decades and connect directly to our souls.

Paul Tick - Untitled photograph 1978
Zellin created her larger series (there are 32 of hers, 22 of his) as a long-form essay about an ethnic neighborhood in Queens, where she clearly was part of the scene and enjoyed what appears to be easy access to her relaxed subjects. Her scenes of everyday (or night) activities are sweet and sensitive, and speak of a time and place that's becoming rare in North America, when people knew their neighbors like family.

The work is presented without titles, mats or frames, cleanly printed with white borders using modern digital technology, and it looks really good on the walls. The book is equally appealing, and I understand has sold out a first run already. Both are well worth a good, long look.

Paul Tick untitled photograph from Manhattan, 1978

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Metroland - RIP?

Today marks the third Thursday without a Metroland since the alt weekly's office was seized by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance for unpaid tax bills, and the feeling that it will never publish again is sinking in. (You can read the details in this Times Union article by Paul Grondahl.) Along with thousands of other individuals and hundreds of businesses, I miss it already.

My own connections to Metroland  are many and deep - it was founded 38 years ago by my niece Amy's other uncle, Peter Iselin, a very talented musician whose disco-inspired venture into publishing lasted a surprisingly long time. But Peter was never great at the business end of the deal, and thefre was visible evidence of that early on.

My own favorite recollection from the middle 1980s featured weekly sprints by staffers from the Metroland offices at 4 Central Avenue to cash their paychecks at the bank up the street before the account ran dry. I had a front-row seat to this competition from my shop window on Washington Avenue, and always enjoyed the show.

Things got a little better when Steve Leon took the helm. I freelanced for the paper under Steve in three stints totaling seven or eight years spread over three decades, initially as a photographer and then mainly as a writer, covering a variety of subjects including art (no surprise) and professional basketball (in the heyday of the Albany Patroons).

The rates for freelancers were pretty generous, and I always got paid, though it sometimes took a while. But then the pay lag began to stretch too far, so I asked for a meeting with Steve to clarify my need to get paid timely enough to cover my rent. That's when he showed me a ledger that revealed 120-day accounts payable for advertising that totaled a quarter of a million dollars. This was about 10 years ago - before the Great Recession stepped up and began wiping out newspapers all over the country.

After I quit the paper for the last time, I learned from other freelancers who had hung on that Metroland's debt to them had extended well beyond a year and had mounted into the thousands of dollars for many individuals. To me, this was unforgivable - the paper was essentially floating an interest-free loan on the backs of struggling journalists - yet I still eagerly grabbed and read it every week. Except, of course, in those weeks when it didn't get distributed because the delivery people were also fed up with waiting for their money.

So, when this month's news revealed the paper's tax problems with the state, I couldn't have been less surprised. Also, it rang another personal bell - I worked as a state tax collector from 2012-14. And, from that experience, I could guess that Metroland was buried in debt to the IRS as well, not to mention imaginable lines of other creditors. In another small twist for me, I also learned that another former employer of mine (The Daily Gazette, where I worked for 13 years as an editor) might have wanted to buy Metroland if the debts could have been cleared up.

Now it seems that one possibility is lost, and it's a loss for all of us. Metroland - thanks for a really great run.