Saturday, February 4, 2012

Goodbye - for now

A month ago, on Jan. 5, I took a new full-time position that is completely different from my past careers. I am now a tax collector for the state of New York, a job that uses some of my native talents (such as the gift of gab), along with some of my recently learned skills (e.g. accounting), and serves a vital purpose in a difficult economy. It's not by accident that a key issue in the current political debate is that of fairness - and nowhere is fairness more critical than it is in the levying and collection of taxes.

The upshot of all this for me - and this blog - is that I am overwhelmed by the new training, work, and schedule, and am not finding the energy or time to continue writing reviews as I did so regularly for the past three years. Not wanting to do it half-assed, I have decided that, for the time being and foreseeable future, I will not be posting to Get Visual.

These three years have been a wonderful experience for me, and I have loved being able to reach an audience - whoever you are - with these opinions, descriptions, and reports on the visual arts scene of the Capital Region (and beyond, as the subtitle says). After having self-published 185 posts covering at least as many shows, my perspective on the offerings of our region has broadened, and my life has been immeasurably enriched by the opportunities to interact with artists, presenters, commenters, and other writers who care about these matters.

I hope that this experience has also been rich for the blog's readers, many of whom have been kind enough to provide feedback that is largely positive about what Get Visual offers to them. As the traffic here has increased steadily from a trickle to a regular stream of about 4,000 page views a month, I have been amazed at the reach of the Internet as a medium for genuine sharing of visual ideas. It's humbling, and I have taken the responsibility as seriously as any professional journalist, though my role is a voluntary one and, therefore, that of an amateur.

If circumstances allow, or when the spirit moves me, I may come back here to post again. But, for now, this is goodbye. As ever, thank you for reading.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Janairo on Criticism

I'm a daily reader of the print version of the Times Union, Albany's daily newspaper, and I think their arts coverage is very good and continually getting better. This is probably due to the leadership of Features Editor Michael Janairo, whose occasional column on local culture is always fresh and thoughtful.

On Sunday, in the special section they call Unwind, Janairo wrote a wonderful primer on how to be a critic. It so well captures the crucial elements of intelligent criticism that I decided to recommend it by providing this link to its online version at the TU's Arts Talk blog. Check it out, and let me know what, if anything, you would add or take away from his bullet points.

And, to all Get Visual's readers, best wishes for a prosperous and visually rewarding 2012!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Best Shows of 2011

Cocotte Reading - from Pissarro's People
It's a time for looking forward and a time for looking back. As I check last year's Best Shows post, it amazes me how much things have changed as well as how much they have remained the same, at least for Get Visual.

At this time a year ago, I was crowing about how much traffic had increased on the site during its second full year. Well, this third year has seen the traffic rate double, tallying about 40,000 page views in 2011, with a peak of just under 5,000 for the month of November. Admittedly, a good number of those are probably just folks in Uzbekistan trolling for Norman Rockwell images to steal - but, hey, I'm not choosy!

George Rickey - Four Squares
from Sculpture in the Streets
Meanwhile, the product has remained consistent - 59 posts (last year had 54), representing at least that many exhibitions in a region that is so rich in fine venues; a milestone in the form of our first review written by a guest, that being Sara Tack's fine effort on the Michael Bierut show at The College of Saint Rose's Esther Massry Gallery (still there till Jan. 11, by the way), which went viral by our standards to draw 1,200 visits and counting; and the addition by host platform Google Blogger of easy captioning for images, making the posts more browsable.

Our regional cultural scene has also held up well despite the odds and the never-ending economic crisis that continues to hurt the arts more than any other category. This year we witnessed the birth of MoHu (still a work in progress, but a welcome addition to the overall energy); the near eviction of Upstate Artists Guild (still in intensive care but, hopefully, out of the woods); the death of Nadia Trinkala; and a wave of leadership changes at such institutions as the Williams College Museum of Art, The Albany Institute of History & Art, The Arts Center of the Capital Region, the Berkshire Museum, Fulton Street Gallery, Albany Center Gallery, Union College's Mandeville Gallery, and probably more that I don't know about or can't recall.

cant and wont - from Victoria Palermo: RAUM
The bottom line: Once again, we saw so many great shows in the past year that a simple Top Ten list will not suffice. However, because I now use a rating system, my job here is a bit easier. So, I will do a list this time - and then augment it with some excellent also-rans. Eight exhibitions that I reviewed received the coveted Must See rating; one exhibition that was rated Highly Recommended, in retrospect should have been a Must See; and two others would have gained that rating but were not reviewed due to conflicts of interest - they will round out this year's Top Eleven, which follows, arranged in the approximate chronological order of the exhibitions. Links are provided to the original Get Visual review where available.

Arm - from Mark McCarty: Skin
One more "by the way": Last year's list did not include The Jewel Thief at the Tang Teaching Museum, because I hadn't seen it yet - but, as predicted, it did rate a Must See; however, it is not on this year's list because it belonged on last year's. Also, as hard as I try to get around to every worthy exhibition and site, there are always some I miss. If you know of a show or venue that should have been noted here but wasn't, please feel free to mention it in a comment.

The Top Eleven
Also outstanding:
It's worth pointing out that Sage College of Albany's Opalka Gallery made the list three times - that's because the Opalka has made a rare commitment to mounting solo shows by outstanding regional artists who may have been unjustly overlooked. It just happened that three of those shows came in the same year.

All in all, it was quite a year for most of the Capital Region's exhibiting venues - a good sign that the future remains bright in the region. For all of them, and all of you - here's to an outstanding 2012! And thanks for reading ...

Yinka Shonibare - Black Gold I - from Environment and Object: Recent African Art

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday time at the Albany Institute

Young Washington - lithograph by Alex Katz
The holidays are a great time to visit the Albany Institute of History & Art, both because the museum shop there overflows with fabulous options for cards and gifts at Christmas, and because the museum's educational/artistic vacation offerings for kids are always first-rate. But I'm here to talk about the exhibitions - and in that department this season has something for everyone.

For the history buff, there's First in the Hearts of his Countrymen: George Washington, which is described as "a visual exploration of America's fascination with Washington's image, ... and how Americans have used it to convey a sense of patriotism and shape a national identity." For the kid in all of us (especially we Boomers), there's Kid Stuff: Great Toys from our Childhood, which features all the toys you'd expect and ample room to try them in. And for the lover of all things shiny, there is A Gather of Glass, filling four freestanding cases with a few centuries' worth of glittering objects from the museum's collection.

George Washington was at the top of my list on a recent visit but, on my way up to the third floor galleries to see it, I could barely resist the siren call of all those nostalgic toys in the main second-floor space. I stopped, took a few hungry glances around and then, with my editor's voice ringing in my ears, got back on the assignment. Though the Washington show is long on historical context and a little thin in the serious art category, it held my interest with a densely packed tour of all kinds of artifacts, including statues, plates and pitchers, printed fabrics, postage stamps, medallions, engravings and more, all bearing the image of that towering figure.

Among the real curiosities are a cast metal savings bank representing the father of our country, an 1812 broadside printed in Albany that proudly proclaims having been "executed with American materials," and a walking stick fashioned out of a branch cut from a tree that grew near GW's grave. There are also several serious works of art, including a decent oil portrait based on Gilbert Stuart's famous one; two large, color lithographs commissioned by the Lorillard Tobacco Co. in 1975 in anticipation of the nation's Bicentennial and then donated to museums across the  land; and a very fine framed bronze bas relief profile of Washington by Charles Calverley.

items in A Gather of Glass
Naturally I was most drawn to the contemporary artworks in this show. The two big lithos, by Alex Katz and Audrey Flack, speak to history in at least two ways, by their own purposely representational content, and by their recognizably 1970s stylistic approach, now more than a generation in the past. A more recent work of art by Michael Vinson Clark, in which he paints whimsical background patterns on three color postcard reproductions of his own interpretation of the Stuart portrait, fits right in with them due to its overt Pop references. The show runs through May 20.

Back to Kids Stuff, there was enough personal history there to render me wholly unobjective about the experience. I think my sisters and I must have had at least 80% of the toys on display, from Hot Wheels to Barbie to Spirograph. My friends with children tell me things haven't changed much: their kids have Lincoln Logs, Slinky, Silly Putty and the rest as well. Go and enjoy, whatever your age (it runs through March 4).

A Gather of Glass is a delight. From functional bottles to Tiffany art pieces, its objects tell their stories, and ours, and sharply underline what a rich trove the Institute's collection is. The show continues through June.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dualities: Martha Bone and Bart Gulley at Architecture for Art

Painting by Bart Gulley from Black and Blue series
On a recent visit to Architecture for Art in Hillsdale, Bart Gulley and I discussed dualities as I perused his two-person show with Martha Bone in the two-floor exhibition space. It was our first meeting and my first time at AforA, so there was a lot to take in and digest. AforA director Liane Torre was also on hand, explaining the unlikely genesis a year ago of this brick-and-mortar setting from a longer-term, ongoing web-based project of the same name.

Gulley's work first caught my eye in the 2011 Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region at the Albany Institute of History & Art (see review here); he makes Modernist paintings and collages with great purity, having evolved from a more Expressionist style in what appears to be a reductive maturation process. The work is crisp, clear, and somewhat dry at times, but seethes with a passion beneath the expertly rendered surfaces.

Bone's installation is, according to Torre, her first exhibition of any kind, and it is an engaging and impressive debut that effectively occupies the space it was designed for. Her explorations include a wide variety of materials - plastic cable ties, rubber hose, fabric, hand-built pottery forms, and ink on paper - yet come across in a surprisingly coherent manner (an example is shown at the bottom of this post). I look forward to seeing more from her in the future.

Paper collage by Bart Gulley
So, what of the dualities? Gulley mentioned his own distinction (or lack thereof?) between a landscape-oriented approach and a tabletop arrangement. I noted that his work sometimes hovers in a grey area between image and object. Then there's the issue of graphic design (Gulley's longtime profession) vs. fine art, as well as the given duality of the mission of AforA itself. This, too, suits the topic of Gulley's painting, as it is both architectural and abstract.

As is often the case with artists immersed in various media, collage is a touchstone for Gulley. While the upstairs space holds mostly paintings (and the Bone installation), the much smaller and warmly cluttered downstairs space (think museum shop) has a powerful series of five large collages in it that are every bit as accomplished as the bigger paintings. Based on our discussion, I would venture to say that Gulley values the collages more than the paintings - with good reason, as they have the advantage of being more personal and direct in their physical presence.

Altogether, each feeds off the other. The paintings could not exist without the collages (which often act as sketches for them), but the collages gain credibility from the fact that their maker is also a highly skilled painter. Yet another duality; perhaps we'll get to discuss it the next time we meet.

Rating: Highly Recommended

Note: Martha Bone and Bart Gulley remains on view at Architecture for Art through Dec. 18; the gallery is open Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. and is located in the heart of Hillsdale on Route 23. If you go, plan to enjoy the drive, as it is particularly lovely country around there.

Wall installation of ceramic, fabric and rubber by Martha Bone

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Victoria Palermo: RAUM at John Davis Gallery (and other Hudson shows)

cant and wont - platinum cured silicone rubber

Here's a heads-up for serious followers of contemporary art: There's less than a week left to see the exhibition Victoria Palermo: RAUM at John Davis Gallery in Hudson, and you don't want to miss it. If Palermo is new to you, this is as good a time as any to start following her work; or if, like me, you've followed her career for decades, you will be deeply gratified to see this amazing new work.

Palermo (no relation to Blinky), has always worked intimately with color - painted onto found sticks, poured onto paper from a nail-polish bottle, printed in patterns like wallpaper or, in this case, infused into the jellylike body of sheets of pure silicone rubber. Equally, Palermo works with form - her work relates to abstract approaches, but never completely leaves the referential realm - and she is as much a designer as she is an artist. In other words, she has always carefully constructed her pieces, even though there is also a degree of expressive freedom in them.

more or less
The earliest pieces I know of hers verged on expressionism; this new work, instead, pulls from the purity of Modernist architecture to develop miniature worlds of space and light - and, of course, color. Her nine freestanding works in this show are all on the scale of a model, and are presented near eye level on pristine stands crafted of white panels set on top of galvanized steel legs.

This elevated point of view is effective, helping us to get in close and experience the little spaces from inside and out. Moving around them, their varying degrees of transparency and translucency create ever-changing blends of color. One can also imagine that different lighting, especially the cycle of natural light through a day, would add to this engaging process.

Like many artists today, Palermo gives her works curious titles that, like the pieces themselves, hover between the literal and the fantastic, such as no beginning no middle no end, and cant and wont (apostrophes purposely missing). Some of the titles are more playful, as are some of the pieces they label, like bookish, plaidish, and in candyland. Speaking of candy, this work tantalizes the sense of taste by closely resembling jelly candies (I'm waiting for one to be titled Turkish delight); forget the nearly irresistible temptation to touch these gooey, wiggly structures - you'll struggle with the temptation to take a bite.

domino theory
In addition to the sculptures, Palermo has created a number of relief pieces in the same material that are mounted in frames under glass, an effective and less expensive alternative approach that retains the physical fascination of the other work but lacks the changeability of the full-round pieces (one is shown at left); the show also includes a few acrylics on paper that read more or less as sketches of architectural ideas related to the sculptures.

Take note: Victoria Palermo: RAUM ends on Sunday, Dec. 4. The gallery is open Thursday to Monday from noon to 5 p.m.

Rating: Must See

Also showing in Hudson (through Dec. 11) is a five-woman collection playfully dubbed Hudson River School of Women at Carrie Haddad Gallery. Haddad's annual landscape show has no surprises, but this is a worthy showcase of regular gallery artists who are all very good painters of landscape themes (the tongue-in-cheek title does not announce any real school here).

Jane Bloodgood-Abrams (an untitled piece of hers is shown at right) comes closest to the Hudson River School style, in that she favors mystical skies and sunsets; her larger paintings are rather misty (which may bother others like me who don't see as clearly as they used to), while the smaller ones virtually glow from within.

Juliet Teng works in a style that recalls the great American painter Wolf Kahn; like his, her treed landscapes are recognizable but stretch the boundaries of natural color to interesting places (a piece of hers is shown below). Similarly, Tracy Helgeson sometimes reverses color from sky to ground to trees, but Helgeson's palette is narrower than Teng's, relying largely on neon pinks and reds, where Teng ranges through the whole spectrum.

Perhaps the most intriguing of this group is Laura Von Rosk, whose style over the years remains consistent, but who grows subtly stronger over time (or else I am growing subtly more receptive to her style over time). These small, intensely hued and highly polished works on panel play a little game with viewers, by representing sweet, folk-artish fantasy landscapes in all seasons, but always clearly referencing strong female forms in mounds and V-shapes. Also represented in the show, by just two large, textured paintings of birches, is Susan Stillman.

Rating: Recommended
Pink Trees - oil on canvas by Juliet Teng

Another fine show in Hudson is a retrospective of works on paper by D. Jack Solomon at the Hudson Opera House, a nice public space in the open central foyer of a large performing arts center. I have written at length about Solomon's work here, so these comments will be brief - suffice it to say that this selection of 25 years' production is a very fine representation of the artist's evolving styles.

Comprising samples from several large bodies of work dating from 1986 to 2011, 25 Years in the Hudson Valley - On Paper offers some wonderful surprises even to those of us who already know him, and firmly supports my opinion that Solomon is one of the area's most important painters. The show runs through Dec. 10; the gallery is open daily from noon to 5 p.m.

Rating: Highly Recommended
Restoration - mixed media on paper mounted on wood by D. Jack Solomon

Friday, November 25, 2011

Kiki Smith and Whiting Tennis at the Tang

Two artists of both shared and contrasting sensibilities are presented in solo shows at Skidmore College's Tang Teaching Museum through the end of the year. Kiki Smith is by far the more famous and influential of the two; her show did not originate at the Tang, having been brought in from the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington in Seattle. Whiting Tennis, who hails from Seattle himself, is the subject of a Tang "Opener," whereby the museum's curators make a point of introducing an artist not previously broadly exposed in this area. So we have the known and the unknown side by side; the Seattle connection may be intended or not.

I Myself Have Seen It: Photography and Kiki Smith includes a very great number of photographs, but it also features sculptures, drawings, prints and mixed media, all of which are what the artist is widely known for producing. She is considered a feminist, in that her work runs counter to male-dominated viewpoints regarding the female body in art, and she is clearly very much of her time - a child of the '60s and '70s, wild and undisciplined in many ways.

The installation of I Myself Have Seen It is highly structured, however (see view at the top of this post), prominently featuring a narrow ledge at the bottom edge of the gallery's walls that supports an array of countless 4x6-inch color prints in minimal plastic box-frames, running like a subtitled narrative below the entire text of the exhibition. On the walls are many larger, properly framed photographs, as well as the other works, in great big groups and sequences.

Smith's imagery is process-oriented, often derived from ongoing sculptural installations, and it is gritty, grim, even gruesome by turns. Bodies are depicted nude, distorted and dismembered; faces are expressionless. This is not easy work to confront and, despite a lyrical patina to some of the colorful photographs that belies Smith's overall deathliness, difficult to enjoy.

In contrast, Tennis, who has his own flirtation with deathly imagery in the form of gallows- or coffin-like forms, is like a breath of fresh air. Where Smith is grim, Tennis is playful. Where Smith seems to carry the scars of a brutal childhood, Tennis seems to be carrying on the joy of childish exploration. Like Smith, Tennis is comfortable working in a variety of media; unlike her, he seems to have mastered his techniques, whereas Smith appears to be locked in a never-ending struggle with them.

Tennis shows a curious mix of influences: Pablo Picasso, Philip Guston, and Ed Ruscha all come easily to mind when viewing this collection. One room, which contains just five pieces, all dated 2011, represents all these influences and more. A painting titled Droopy (shown at right) is loosely brushed in narrowly limited shades of grey (Guston); another painting with collage (shown below), similarly structured but far more colorful, picks up the Cubist vein (Picasso); and an all-white wall relief that accurately depicts a streetscape has uninflected observation at its core (Ruscha). Then there is a perfectly formed geometric octagonal prism atop a crusty, wooden found table - going in another direction entirely, yet still in harmony with the rest.

Two crowded groups make up the highlight of this show in the sense of revealing Tennis's process. On one wall, a constellation of 36 drawings, prints, paintings, and constructions mirrors the type of installation used in Smith's exhibition downstairs. These works are variously cast, painted, printed, texturized, stamped, or shaped. Tennis is one of those artists who doesn't worry about how he makes it, he just has to make it however it needs to be made.

In another space, a large display of objects on shelves (shown at the bottom of this post) provides potential hours of perusal - there are 108 little sculptures in it, all around 6 inches tall, all handmade. It's an impressive display of ingenuity and skill, but also of freedom.

A lot of the work in Tennis's show is from the past year, showing an artist who seems to have really hit his stride; it's a pleasure to discover this work, which is exactly the experience intended by the Opener series.

Ratings: Smith - difficult to recommend; Tennis - Highly Recommended