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Things seen and heard on the Capital Region art scene and beyond



Updated: 2017-11-22T13:30:05.074-05:00

 



Dazzled by Millennia

2017-10-31T21:44:53.444-04:00

View of the interior of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, ItalyWhen it seems that contemporary art is over-hyped, too gimmicky, or just generally full of crap, it can be a tonic to go back a few centuries - or more - to experience some of the art that has stood the test of time - and that's just what my spouse and I did on a recent trip to Italy.My relationship with Italy is 40 years long and just about as deep. Usually, when I go there, it's to reconnect: with friends and family, with familiar places both urban and rural, and with Italian life as it is lived today. Though I try to make a point of also going to new places when I'm there, it isn't my habit to check in with the art treasures of the past that made the peninsula so popular to begin with.Pattern detail from the mausoleumBut, on this trip, I broke with tradition. The new places we visited, while still lively and lovely in 2017, also featured some not-to-be-missed historical sites. So we bought the tickets and lined up to see the best of those, in Mantova (aka Mantua), a delightful city on the eastern edge of Lombardy, and in mosaic-centric Ravenna, at the Adriatic end of Emilia-Romagna. Both cities are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites, and there's no doubt they are worthy. We were well rewarded for our trips there and would gladly go back to both.Natural detail from the mausoleumI will not try to describe the mosaics we saw in Ravenna - pictures fail to do it, and so would words. The experience of seeing them for the first time was literally breathtaking. We began with the top draw - the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, a modest brick structure built around 425-450 AD that is encrusted over every interior centimeter with the most dazzling images and patterns imaginable from that era or any time since. You duck in from a bright day to an intimate space, your eyes adjust to the soft light that filters in from alabaster windows - and speechless awe is the only possible response.Detail portrait of the Empress Theodorain the Basilica of San Vitale, RavennaEqually powerful are the mosaics that adorn major parts of the large Basilica of San Vitale, also in Ravenna. These were installed over a longer stretch of time, and completed in 547 AD. The capstone piece of the group is a rectangular mosaic that depicts the Empress Theodora and her court (across the apse is a matching picture of her husband and his entourage, but the guys are nowhere near as pretty). This image could be right out of Vogue magazine - presumably designed by the Richard Avedon of the day - and it is just as astonishing as Galla Placidia's little tomb.Mosaics have special qualities that speak easily across time. Because they are constructed of tiny cut pieces of colored stone, there is a directness to them that is absent in painted images - you can see exactly how they are made; there is no mystery to the technique. But in the presence of a work like the mausoleum, you are knocked out thinking of the effort that went into creating this richly beautiful imagery: the collecting and cutting of the stones in so many colors (plus, of course, real gold - after all, this is Byzantine art); the laying out of the highly complex patterns; the planning of the naturalistic imagery, and so on. How many hands, and how many years, were required to accomplish such a construction?Detail from the Camera degli Sposi, MantovaYou think not so much of an artist (clearly, there was a large crew of skilled workers involved) as of a culture that brought this into being. The people of this culture wanted to show us everything in their world - its animals, its plants, its sky, its people ... and then added their own clever illusory patterns of stars and feathers and geometry, maybe just to show off. Unlike paint, the colors in these stones would never fade - and so they are stunningly rich and vivid today, more than 1,500 years later.But if you did want to think of an artist, our visit to the Camera degli Sposi in the Ducal Palace in Mantova would provide you with just the right one. Andrea Mantegna, a native of Pad[...]



The Healing Power of Music

2017-09-17T21:12:27.779-04:00

When the going gets tough, I usually find solace in art. Whether it's opening a well-written novel, visiting an exhibition of work that vibrates with life force, or tuning in to the sounds on the radio, these modes of human expression have got the power to heal me. Most reliable among them, though, is live music.This weekend, for the 34th year in a row, the Lake George Arts Project put on its free two-day festival of jazz, and the music did its thing, as ever, to soothe my soul and revive my interest in life's best moments. I share decades of memories with friends, strangers, and spouse from this annual gift of musical spirit, and look forward to many more. Endless thanks to John Strong and Paul Pines, who make it happen, and to the musicians who have brought their talents to this extraordinary venue year after year (including, perhaps most significantly, the days immediately following the 9/11 attacks, when we hunkered together there in shock and pain, and yet were strengthened and uplifted by the musicians' ability to carry on).Ola OnabuleI love listening to many kinds of music, but jazz holds a special place for me, perhaps because it favors improvisation and, so, is an engrossing, real-time display of creativity when performed live. The performers we caught on Saturday beautifully embodied that essence: Ola Onabule, a British Nigerian singer with style, verve, chops and a great sense of humor (best riffing on the Minnehaha's foghorn that I've heard yet); The Cookers, who quite simply and literally blew us into another dimension; and the Dave Liebman Big Band, 18-strong and vividly relevant as they celebrated the great legacy of John Coltrane.We missed the other four performances of this edition of the Jazz Weekend, so I can only wish for those who caught them that they were half as good as these three (and I'd bet they were every bit as good) - but you don't always get to do everything you want to do. Still, what we caught was more than enough to wash away the soil of the work week (and the rest of our troubles), and I just wanted to pay a little tribute here to the sweet joy we felt there.Do yourself a favor - whenever you can - drop the phone, get out of the house, and go hear some live music. I guarantee it will lift your spirits like nothing else.The Cookers[...]



A double shot of Frankenthaler at The Clark

2017-09-04T17:31:38.666-04:00

Madame Butterfly 2000 - woodcut on three sheets of handmade paperLabor Day doesn't have to mean the end of summer, especially when two summer blockbuster-worthy exhibitions of work by the great Helen Frankenthaler are still on view for several weeks to come at The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown. Not ashamed to say, I am a big fan of Frankenthaler, so I went to these exhibitions with high expectations - and I was quite simply blown away.Milkwood Arcade 1963 - acrylic on canvasAs in Nature: Helen Frankenthaler Paintings, which features 12 major works on canvas, is on view through Oct. 9 in the Lunder Center at Stone Hill, a transcendentally airy space that brings the woodsy surroundings into the galleries, making it the ideal setting for this selection. No Rules: Helen Frankenthaler Woodcuts, on view through Sept. 24, fills the Eugene V. Thaw Gallery for Works on Paper with 17 virtuosic prints, spanning the artist's several decades of experimentation with the woodcut medium.Both exhibitions take their titles from Frankenthaler quotes, and both quotes serve well to introduce the viewer to the essence of her thought processes in relation to making abstract art. The paintings can be understood as landscapes - or inspired by landscapes - but to me, that's not important, except where that concept serves to help a viewer uncomfortable with the abstract to open up to it.Summer Harp 1973 - acrylic on canvasHere's the quote for As in Nature:Anything that has beauty and provides order (rather than chaos or shock alone), anything resolved in a picture (as in nature) gives pleasure - a sense of rightness, as in being one with nature.My interpretation of that quote, along with viewing the works it is attached to, would be to crystallize Frankenthaler's pursuit of beauty, order, pleasure, and rightness in the form of abstract images that are resolved equally as well as are things in nature - and that the painter (or viewer) may feel at one with nature (their own nature, perhaps) in having the experience of the paintings.The quote for No Rules evokes quite another sensation and understanding of the artist's process and intentions:There are no rules, that is one thing I say about every medium, every picture ... that is how art is born, that is how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules, that is what invention is about. Savage Breeze 1974 - woodcut on handmade paperNow we have a person in pursuit of things distinctly other than beauty, order, pleasure and rightness. Yet these thoughts, this insistence on iconoclasm is equally crucial to the life of any artist worth her salt. Viewing the prints in No Rules, one confronts astonishing breakthroughs - just as promised. First, in the earliest prints from the 1970s, there is the freshness of completely abstract imagery, as Frankenthaler delves into a difficult new medium with a simple approach.Later, her innovations mount up: Dying pulp to insert background colors into almost absurdly large prints (don't ask where they got wood big enough); combining crazy numbers of blocks and colors into one image (the highest count in this show is 102 colors from 46 blocks, for the print shown at the top of this post); and developing textures and color effects never seen in this medium before (such as "guzzying" the block with sandpaper, dental tools, cheese graters, and gauze).Cedar Hill 1983 - woodcut on light pink handmade paperWith these works, Frankenthaler exploded the tradition of Japanese woodblock printing into shards, and put it back together as a new, powerful form of modern art, all the while retaining the best qualities of the original medium's craft, through extensive collaboration. It is a stunning achievement.As for her innovations in painting, Frankenthaler was the first to stain thinned paint directly into canvas, a technique that greatly influenced the more celebrated Morris Louis, and may also have been the spur that influenced Jackson Pollock to work in drips above a canvas placed on [...]



Passage at Albany Center Gallery

2017-08-21T08:39:17.300-04:00

Nori Pepe Waiting - Moscow, Russia 2012 linocutIn case you weren't aware of it, Albany Center Gallery relocated in January of this year to a more visible, bigger, and far better retail space in downtown Albany. The current show in that space, entitled Passage, is a collection of work by eight printmakers that was ably curated by Alana Akacki, who is a College of Saint Rose graduate, a UAlbany Art Museum staff member, and a printmaker herself. It is the second show that Akacki has curated at ACG (the other was a few years ago in the old location).Joan Dix Blair Color Code #11 2015aquatintThere are so many reasons to recommend this show: First, because it shows off the new exhibition space better than any show that's been in it so far. Other shows in the new gallery have been exciting (the grand opening Members Show), challenging (the Mohawk-Hudson Regional Invitational), and vital (the 39th Annual Photography Regional), but all of those were rather crowded installations. This one is spare (some would say too much so, but I would not), elegant, and rather gorgeous - fulfilling my own hopes for the potential I saw for this lovely new space.Second, it is a rare treat to see a carefully curated exhibition of contemporary prints - more often, they are big surveys or juried shows - and I think the various media that we call prints (in this case, etchings, linoleum cuts, photo-lithographs, silkscreens, color lithographs, woodcut and woodblock prints, and artist books) are often undervalued. This compendium of a good range of the many print media helps to bring the craft to the forefront, in a way that honors the makers' superb technique and incisive exploration into many types of imagery.Nancy Haver Venice etchingThird, this show exposes a bunch of new regional artists (at least to me - only one was already familiar), and that's perhaps the best thing of all about ACG's mission over the decades. One can never know all the worthy artists in the greater Capital Region - it's that rich of a scene - and no other publicly supported gallery is dedicated to promoting regional artists like ACG is.Passage has taken travel and memories as its theme, represented directly by literal interpretations, such as Nori Pepe's and Sandy Wimer's photo-based images, conceptually by Annie Bissett's geography-inspired work and Thorsten Dennerline's literary graphics, and abstractly by Sarah Pike and Mary Ellen Riell, both of whom evoke a sense of place with color and geometry. There are 28 pieces in all, more or less evenly distributed among the artists, though a few of them are a tad underrepresented with just two or three works included.Sarah Pike 4 Figures in 10 Colors 2013lithograph, screenprintThis is a show for contemplating - some of the work is bright, some is big, but none of it is loud. Pepe's four starkly black-and-white linocuts and Dennerline's three books have the most presence. This is due partly to scale (one of the books, an accordion construction snaked out on a large, low pedestal, verges on sculpture) but also to the strength of these two artists' visions.Pepe uses her simple medium (an example is shown at the top of this post) to maximum effect - far from reproducing the photographs she takes for reference, they reinterpret the forms of the scenes in a way that makes perfect sense in solid black ink; then she prints them on fragile rice paper, contrasting their robustness with delicacy.Dennerline's two bound books are elaborate composites of poetry (some in translation) and imagery, much of it montaged, that carry the viewer into his world. Though these are too precious for paging through, a nearby digital tablet allows the viewer to scan through all the page spreads from each book, a worthwhile exercise.The remaining artists in Passage are also excellent, whether holding to centuries-old tradition, as with Nancy Haver's etchings (one is shown above at left), or planted solidly in the modern, as with Riell's two tasty color compositions (one is s[...]



Out of Site: Contemporary Sculpture at Chesterwood

2017-08-01T20:50:47.533-04:00

Amelia Toelke Home Sweet Home, wood, auto paint, steel supportThere's simply no excuse for me to have put off visiting Chesterwood so long - in fact, for my whole life until, at last, this summer. What a place to have overlooked!Daniel Chester French's home and studio in the Berkshires is sublime. French was the sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial, and being the top dog in his field at the time, was able to create an enviable place to live and work in rural Stockbridge, Mass. The spoils of that success are now on gracious display, beautifully preserved and maintained, and the site has bridged the centuries to remain a vital resource for contemporary sculptors today.Brian Kane & Michael OatmanThe 8th Wonder, inflatableThe annual summer show of site-specific work known as Contemporary Sculpture at Chesterwood is now in its 39th year, and is a fun compendium of current ideas and approaches to outdoor sculpture. This year's show was curated by Sharon Bates (recently retired from running the Albany International Airport Art & Culture Program), who has a bit of history with Chesterwood, including having been an artist in residence there in 2016. Bates has always been a witty curator, and that is abundantly in evidence here.The show includes 14 works of art by 14 artists (with two pieces by one artist, and one piece by two) and is sited along a manicured woodland path. This path and other elements of the grounds (such as a flower garden) were among French's ongoing efforts in this "work-in-progress" of a summer studio, and it adds to the delight of the experience to think about such a classical, workmanlike artist as French in contrast to the way we make and interact with sited sculpture today.One is immediately struck by the lighthearted tone of the show upon arrival at the entrance to Chesterwood, where a monumentally scaled, gold-tone nameplate necklace announces Homesweethome from a grassy berm. This neo-Pop statement by Amelia Toelke is among the minority of pieces in this collection that was not made specifically for the occasion, but it is so apt and so perfectly sited that I'm glad she didn't hesitate to use it again.Douglas Culhane A Ghost Housewood, paint, hardwareThe rest of the works in the selection echo Toelke's postmodern attitude. Many use non-traditional materials, engage the viewer with irony, or eschew three-dimensional form altogether to engage with the setting in ways that probably would have confounded the 19th-century sensibilities of French. But that, of course, is a good thing.What French would surely approve, though, is the fact that this experience requires a lovely stroll through the woods (for which you may want to bring bug repellent). In a few cases, the works really aim to capitalize on this aspect of the installation. For example, Colin C. Boyd's prehistorical obsession finds form here in a display of ancient deer-like critters that almost look at home in these woods; and Debra Zlotsky's Just a Minute! directs visitors to study a tiny patch of the local flora, and then mark it with a string-tied red label (leaving me sorry for the staff who will have to untie the hundreds of tags already employed).Derek Parker Between the forest and the treeswood chairs, trees Derek Parker's piece was one favorite, not least because it interacts with the woods and the path and the viewers who travel it. His seven or eight wooden chairs impaled by standing trees at various heights are dotted through one area that connects two parts of the path, making for multiple discoveries, and delighting over and over like the rise and fall of a roller coaster. Roger Bisbing also engages the space and the walker with a tall, wide grid of welded steel that blocks off part of a field and woods, but also has openings you can pass through; it is almost intrusively bright in its colors, but so easy to see through as to be almost invisible.Roger Bisbing Pass Through, painted steelOther eye-catching [...]



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2017-07-24T11:31:37.084-04:00

Eugene MirabelliEugene Mirabelli, the author of Renato After Alba and several other books of fiction, is among the two or three best novelists living in Delmar, N.Y. If you think that is damning with faint praise, think again - the others from there that I know personally and have read (Paul Castellani and David Vigoda) are also terrific. Could it be something in the water?Renato After Alba, which was recently published by McPherson & Company and has received several independent publisher awards this year, is a bittersweet elegy of a novel. In it, Mirabelli gives us a new glimpse into the heart and soul of Renato Stillamare, an orphan of unknown origin adopted into a colorful Sicilian-American family who he introduced to us as the narrator of The Goddess in Love with a Horse and who became the protagonist, as a mature but vital, and rather conflicted gallery artist in Renato the Painter.Now we have Renato as an older man, struggling to make sense of the sudden loss of his wife, Alba. Mirabelli employs the skills of descriptive narrative with aplomb, but the depth and breadth of this short book (188 loosely filled pages) is a special achievement, made more effective by its ostensibly narrow focus into the thoughts and feelings of one man for one year.That the man is a ferociously talented painter, and that the year is possibly the most important one in his long life is what gives the book its kick. The tight narrative of the story is expanded by well chosen digressions into astrophysics, Italian culture, and small-business economics. But it is the quality of the writing that makes it great - with masterly craft that hides all its sweat to produce an immersive exposition of an inner life.As with all excellent books, you can open Renato After Alba at any page and get lost in its flow of words. Here, they invoke the fugue of grief:Sometimes it was me who had died and Alba who was living and I'd see her walking solitary in the quiet before sunset, walking slowly along the empty sidewalk in the little college where [our daughter] Skye and her family have their home, or I'd see her at the table in our kitchen where she had set out two or three yellow place mats, but only one dish, eating alone in the silent kitchen, and my heart would contract in pain.And, here, they recall a long-ago family conversation:"This French philosopher, Albert Camus, he thinks life is absurd," Zitti said. "Absurd and with no purpose.""We make purposes as we go along," Nicolo said. "We keep changing that purpose, but the important thing is to have a purpose, a goal. Making progress toward our goal gives us pleasure, and as soon as we get there, we discover another goal, further ahead."Aunt Marissa, his wife, said, "Always going and never arriving. I don't know if that's so good.""The purpose of life is to work," my father declared. "Work saves more souls than Jesus."Zitti continued, "Camus says that death makes life absurd and pointless.""You think your mother's life was pointless?" Candida asked him."I didn't say that. We're talking about Camus' beliefs, not mine.""Camus is absurd," Candida murmured."Maybe the poor man has no family life," my mother suggested.Zitti shrugged and opened his hands, palms up, to show he didn't know what to make of any of this. "Or maybe he says those things simply because he's French."As Mirabelli unfurls Renato's slow walk through desperation, his ever-present folly (after all, he is a man) and, ultimately, his decision to paint again, we walk with him in sympathy. This may be a book about grief - that's the peg it hangs on - but it is really, like all novels, simply a book about life and how we live it.Despite his advanced age, Renato discovers something new along this journey: That we don't just live life by accident - we choose to live it. He may have arrived on a snowy doorstep in Lexington, Massachusetts, by accident, and his wife may have die[...]



Less is More: 2017 Regional at AIHA

2017-07-01T16:43:45.975-04:00

Richard Barlow Roadside Picnic II - chalk on blackboard paint on wallThe 2017 edition of the annual Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region (popularly known as the Regional) is on at the Albany Institute of History & Art and, as ever, it is a must-see for all local fans of contemporary art.Victoria Palermo Reds - wood,poured resin and colored plexiglasThis year's show was judged and installed by Jack Shear, a photographer, curator, collector of photography, and the president of the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation. You may recall Shear's gift last year of over 500 photographs to the Tang Teaching Museum (reviewed here); now he has given the region a different sort of gift by providing an unusual, sharp perspective on the Regional, and by adding a couple of unique elements to the show that I found most welcome.First, Shear mined the Institute's collection for works of art that had been purchased from past Regionals over many decades; these pieces (more than 20 of them) were then installed salon-style at the entrance to the exhibition, providing a refreshing reprise of those past purchase-prize winners. I will describe Shear's other innovation a bit later.Niki Haynes To What End mixed media collageSo - how is the show? With just 87 works by 32 artists selected from 600 submitted by 268 artists, this Regional is unusually spare - and that's a good thing. All but a few of the artists have three pieces on view (the rest have two, except for two artists with a single, very large-scale work on view: Richard Barlow, whose 27-foot wall drawing is shown at the top of this post, and Tatana Kellner, who is represented by a 12-foot grid of 30 monoprints). This added depth allows the viewer to understand each artist's point of view much better than would be possible in a broader-based, more inclusive and, presumably, more cluttered curation.Peter Crabtree PFOA Portrait: Loreen Hackett: Activistarchival inkjet printFurther, Shear has organized the exhibition into sections that group the artists loosely under themes (nature, figure, three-dimensional abstraction) that are like curated shows within the show. This also helps the viewer probe deeper into the meanings of the individual artists' work by putting it in context; though the Regional itself is a context, these sub-themes supercede the idea of a regional identity to touch on trends that artists around here (and everywhere) are currently exploring.Within these themes, there is an additional subset of images set into a smaller gallery (with a warning outside for those with youngsters in tow) which are all photographs of people, some of them nude. Considering that Shear's collection at the Tang includes many such images, this makes sense. One might guess that photographers intentionally submitted work of this nature, or that more people who produce this sort of work submitted to the show. In any case, Shear did the expected by including these examples, some of which are in the slightly shocking realm, but the majority of which are nowhere near that turf (such as Peter Crabtree's wonderfully sensitive portraits, an example of which is shown at right above).Dave Waite Guardian - archival inkjet printAs a lifelong follower of photographic art, I can say with confidence that, regardless of anyone's predilections, the photos included here are worthy; they also represent a great diversity of approaches, which helps show just how much this medium has done to liven up post-modern art. Among my favorites are three traditional landscape studies by Dave Waite (example shown at center above), Ray Felix's light-infused nude portrait of a heavily tattooed young man, Allen Bryan's masterful digital concoctions, and Laura Christensen's witty, mixed-media transformations of antique pictures.T. Klacsmann Raptor and Automatamixed media collageI should note that not all of the photographs are in this one room - many are also[...]



Welcome Scarlet Seven

2017-05-28T18:15:03.756-04:00

An interior view of Scarlet Seven Fine Art Galleryphoto providedWhenever a new gallery opens in the Capital Region, it is cause for celebration. But then comes the inevitable question - will it last?Julie Branch - Large Fungi with Frogspilfered porcelainA large and enthusiastic crowd greeted the opening of Scarlet Seven Fine Art Gallery at 137 4th Street in Troy on Friday night (during the ever-popular Troy Night Out), giving a strong impression that this space is desired and appreciated. Owners Jon Gernon and Jillian Platt presided over the event, which featured 12 regional artists of strong reputation and diverse work. After a ribbon-cutting ceremony to be held on May 31, the gallery will be open from 1 to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday; the current show runs through June 25.The space is grand and nicely proportioned, with plenty of exposed brick, wooden floor, and a solid glass front that puts the venue on permanent street-level display, tantalizing passersby with the challenge of finding the entrance, which is way around back and neatly hidden under a giant, blank wall of brick and ivy. This may be a clever approach - if you make it hard to find, people will be inspired to put in the effort. Feeling like you've discovered something special, perhaps you will buy.David Austin - Getting Closer, acrylic on canvasAnd, yes, the point of this business is to sell the art, however vulgar that may seem to purists. Certainly, let's hope that's the result, if we like local art and nice galleries to show it in. Gernon was until recently for many years the curator at nearby Clement Gallery, so his experience in retail will be especially useful here. He is also one of the featured artists, and has found a broad-based market for his own tempera paintings, which should help this gallery's fortunes.Co-curator Platt also shows paintings in this first selection, which includes paintings by David Austin, John Hampshire, Willie Marlowe, D. Jack Solomon, Yeachin Tsai, Stephen Tyson, and Jeff Wigman; sculptures by Julie Branch and Susan Spencer Crowe; and ceramics by Randi Kish. If you're not already familiar with this star-filled lineup, then Scarlet Seven will be as good a place as any to catch up and join the folks who follow the local scene and for decades have been enjoying the world-class work it offers.We'll be keeping an eye on this latest commercial fine art venture, and wish Jon and Jillian the very best for a long, successful run.Jeff Wigman - The Three Poisons, oil on panel[...]



The Cosmic Perspective

2017-04-30T07:26:16.923-04:00

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Karen Ciancetta share a photo-opDo you think a two-hour lecture on physics would be a dreary exercise in relativity (as in how a short time can stretch to infinity)? If so, then you have never seen Neil deGrasse Tyson in action.A full house at Proctors sat enthralled on Monday night as two hours flew by at warp speed, with TV's Cosmos star Tyson guiding us on a rollicking trip through centuries of scientific, cultural, and social ideas, illustrated with slides that communicated clearly and entertained fully.Though he claims to prefer time in the lab, Tyson is a natural and enthusiastic showman who knows how to work a big crowd as if they were guests in his living room. Rarely have I experienced such a sense of intimacy among so many people. This is the Tyson charm - he may be a genius astrophysicist who regularly schmoozes with presidents and billionaires, but somehow from the stage he makes you feel like he's also happy to hang out with simple ol' limited you.Meanwhile, he's teaching you lessons that could be some of the most important ones you will ever learn.The theme of The Cosmic Perspective is to share with the general public the extra-proportional mindset that astrophysicists live with every day - as they are accustomed to seeing everything from a big-picture point of view: from biology and space travel to arithmetic, economics and war.Tyson presents each topic in a humorous, yet well documented style, referring to his PowerPoint slides as needed, but riffing like the best professor you ever had crossed with a seasoned stand-up comic. Along the way, you are asked to question whether space exploration is a good investment (clearly, he thinks so), how the periodic table can be read as a history of different nations' passion for science, and why Americans tend to be so afraid of math that our elevators never display negative numbers for the floors below ground level.Along the way, you may learn something about evolution (for example, we humans are more closely related to mushrooms than mushrooms are to green plants) about astronomy (the tiniest slice of a clear picture of the universe from Hubble will include countless billions of entire distant  galaxies) or about chemistry (the "noble" elements are called that because they don't bond - i.e. associate - with other elements).And, ultimately, you will see both how utterly inconsequential our own actions are and how easy it can be to feel empowered to try to have a positive impact on our little world.Tyson, like all scientists, owes a debt to those who came before him, and he honored many of those lights during his talk - but none so much as his direct predecessor, Carl Sagan, who he quoted at length in his conclusion, citing Sagan's elegiac book Pale Blue Dot, which really puts things on Earth into proper perspective. The book was inspired by a picture taken in 1990 by the Voyager spacecraft as it passed beyond Saturn. Tyson shared a reprise photograph of Earth, taken in 2013 by Cassini - which, in timely fashion, has begun sending back new close-up pictures of Saturn and its rings just this week, on its way toward total immolation in that planet's atmosphere.The evening ended with a lively Q&A, leading Tyson to offer advice to one questioner (and the rest of us) on how to "talk to idiots": He advised empathy, patience, and the willingness to offer information. Tyson also emphasized the value of supporting STEM education as our path to a future as a world-leading nation - a status that he amply and viscerally demonstrated the US is rapidly losing. He also pointed out that our educational system must find ways to stimulate students' imaginations, rather than teaching them how to pass tests.My one criticism of these conclusions is that, to stimulate the imagination, STEM must become STEAM - that's for Science, Technol[...]



Radical Kingdoms at Mandeville Gallery

2017-03-25T11:03:19.082-04:00

Extensive open hours may not be the best reason to like a gallery, but it's a factor in my positive assessment of Union College's Mandeville Gallery in the Nott Memorial, where a show intriguingly titled Radical Kingdoms is on view through June 18. It's great that you can go see it any day from 10 am to 6 pm.Juan Fontanive - Passerine 2016mechanized flip-bookBut a more substantive reason to like the Mandeville is its eminently able leader, Julie Lohnes, who deftly organized the show around a theme of botanical and biological illustration by contemporary and historical artists, drawing connections from the past and linking traditional scientific illustration to more expressive modern iterations of the style.A visit to the Nott is always a step into the past, as it is a unique structure that exemplifies the state-of-the-art design and engineering of 100 years ago, and that makes this show a particularly comfortable fit for the unique space that the gallery occupies on a circular, second-story balcony. Lohnes has chosen works by five contemporary artists, augmented by examples of work by ten historical illustrators drawn from Union College's archives that range from an anonymous 19th-century printmaker to the uber-famous John James Audubon.Portia Munson - Dahlia Target 2015, photographSeveral gorgeous 2001 re-prints of Audubon's work are the stars of the historical group - but they can't outshine the best of this selection of current work by George Boorujy, Juan Fontanive, Portia Munson, Amy Ross, and Anne Siems.Boorujy presents painstakingly detailed, large-scale images of plants and animals that appear both highly realistic and fantastical. Artist statements are peppered through the installation, and his are among the more engaging, as he describes his interest in nearby wildlife that may surprise the average New York City urban dweller, calling himself a "large social primate" living in "an enormous colony."Amy Ross - Lovebirds #3 2016, collageFontanive is represented by a single, very small work, which is an electrified metal contraption that continuously flips through an accordion book of appropriated bird illustrations (see image above at right). The sound and the movement of this work of art unobtrusively capture and hold the viewer's attention. It's an excellent example of the post-modern approach to creating a new kind of art experience from a familiar kind of image.Amy Ross is also a filcher of old illustrations who uses her thievery to produce a fresh result. In this case, the old images are reconfigured into delicate hybrids by means of collage, or reimagined into masterful watercolor originals. Her six pieces on view are perhaps the most seductive work in the show.Anne Siems - Hare and Snail 2016acrylic on canvasComplex combinations are also at the heart of Portia Munson's deliciously colorful scanner photographs (one is shown above at left), in which she builds arrangements of flowers and dead birds into beautiful inkjet-printed mandalas. Munson hails from Catskill, and her work has been seen in recent years at the Albany International Airport, MASS MoCA, and other local venues - and it's always a pleasure to see more of it.Anne Siems is a German-born artist now based in Seattle, whose work retains a Grimm-ness reminiscent of her homeland. In her three paintings on view here, she combines pure painterly concerns with storytelling imagery that is just a little bit unsettling. Her small piece titled Little Nest is subtle and particularly appealing, as it places an egg-filled bluebird's nest on a white ground, with brown rivulets of paint, rather than branches, holding it aloft.Overall, this show is a breath of fresh air. You'll be glad if you make a point of checking it out.George Boorujy - Florida IV (wrack line) 2014, ink on paper[...]



#Oscarsoirrelevant

2017-02-27T21:46:33.845-05:00

Lucas Hedges, left, and Casey Affleck both received Oscar nominationsfor their roles in Manchester by the Sea. Neither will win. Affleck won Best Actor.OK, I admit it - if I really thought the Oscars were irrelevant, I wouldn't be writing about them. But, wait, I am more precisely writing about movies, not the Academy Awards, and movies are definitely relevant. So, as the title of this please implies, I do think the Oscars are relatively irrelevant.This evening, as is my annual habit, I will not watch the awards show on TV - I will go to the theater and watch Oscar-nominated fare instead, and I will crane my neck around the standing and departing patrons to read the credits when they roll. In this way, I refresh my lifelong love of movies and rejoice in the fact that we can still go see them in a dark, public place.Most would agree, 2016 was a pretty good year for the movies. A look at the nine "Best Picture" nominees shows an unusually broad selection that includes small-story indies, big budget sci-fi, a star vehicle or two, even a foreign film (Lion is foreign, right?). In sharp contrast to last year's controversially white slate of nominees, three of these films feature nearly all-black casts. Less unusually, a shameless paean to Hollywood is also on the slate (and it will sweep the awards tonight). Add note: It did not!More important, these films are actually quite good (or reputed to be so - I have seen just six of them thus far). What do I mean by good? No doubt I've said it before in this space, but I will repeat the age-old formula for a worthwhile movie: A good story, well told. Yes, that is still the measure. And, while it's always possible that this will include a lot of car chases or senseless violence or CGI, these nine films generally don't rely on spectacle to hold the viewer's attention.Instead, they feature a lot of really great acting, by (again) a very diverse slate of all ages and types, many of whom received nominations for awards (in addition to a number of outstanding performers in films that themselves did not garner a "Best" slot). The fact that the young and the beautiful will win the major awards (as always) doesn't diminish the positive value of a nomination for the never-fails Jeff Bridges or the ever-enchanting Isabelle Huppert or the otherworldly Ruth Negga (who also happens to be young and beautiful, but she still won't win).So, nice going, Academy!Now, here's why I have not seen three of the Best Picture nominees (Note to readers - I forgive you if you hate me for my biases. Then again, if I didn't have them, would I be worth the pixels?):La La Land - First of all, I hate the title. Second, you may remember 2014's Best Picture Birdman, which was brilliant, worthy, and my own second pick of that year (right, Boyhood got robbed) - and which had one serious shortcoming, which was Emma Stone. She sucked in Birdman, and I am not convinced that she would be worth seeing in La La Land. The press calls her likable - sorry, I find her totally unlikable. La La Land is the Titanic of 2016 - the movie everyone will look back at and say "they nominated that for HOW many Oscars?!?" (BTW, I still have never seen Titanic.)Hacksaw Ridge - This is probably an excellent picture, and I liked Andrew Garfield a lot in The Social Network (where he plays the first guy that Mark Zuckerberg screwed out of a lot of money). But I couldn't bring myself to go see a film that is, basically, the story of a religious fanatic. Yes, a really nice guy, sincere, selfless, etc. But I couldn't shake the feeling it would get all pious in the end. Atheist angst got the best of me there. Fences - Liked the preview, love August Wilson. But do I need to budget my precious movie-going time to what is, essentially, a stage play presented onscre[...]



Caroline Ramersdorfer at Opalka Gallery

2017-01-28T17:59:42.177-05:00

Installation view of Gravity & Light at Sage Colleges' Opalka Galleryall photos provided by Opalka GalleryA world-class sculptor is on view at Sage College of Albany's Opalka Gallery  - so please go see the wonderful retrospective solo show Gravity & Light: Caroline Ramersdorfer Sculpture, 1985-2016. It opened on Dec. 2 and will be there through March 5, so no excuses.Ramersdorfer has great international credentials, both in her development and in the exposure of her art - yet, she is also local, having a home and studio in the Adirondacks town of Wells, which she shares with an equally prominent sculptor, John Van Alstine (see my brief review of their two-person show at Lake George Arts Project in 2014). A native of Austria, Ramersdorfer studied art in Paris and Florence and then learned marble carving in Carrara (where else?), and has produced commissioned work for permanent installations in places as fur-flung as China, Iran, Egypt, and Abu Dhabi.One extraordinary feature of this exhibition is its inclusion of numerous maquettes and sketches for some of Ramersdorfer's major projects, and they are as skillfully crafted as their larger progeny, while also being charming in their tininess. The beautifully produced catalog of the exhibition features lavish illustrations of each foreign installation (plus one on the Sage campus in Albany), telling the story of these remarkable and ambitious creations.But no number of pictures can substitute for the experience of sculpture in the flesh (so to speak), and this installation of about 30 years of work is an unforgettable opportunity to visit with each piece, large or small, move around it, and see how it works in three-dimensional space, as the artist intended.The gallery's open floor plan and high ceiling augment the uncrowded arrangement of the show, which presents about 50 individual works (counting models, sketches, and very small finished pieces) in grouped relationships, in cases and on pedestals, or freestanding. It is not strictly chronological, but the earliest work is seen in the far, back corner of the gallery, set off just a bit by a dividing wall, which allows for a sense of discovery in going backward in time to sculptures that evoke very early times with arrow and axe forms in stone and wood.Ramersdorfer's newer work is thoroughly modern; however in some instances the primitive shapes remain, such as in a large piece sited near the entrance, called Nexus_Open, which reprises the axe handle and blade in polished and rough marble.Inner_View 5 2002, marble and steelMid-career work, some of it much smaller in scale and carved in alabaster, marble, and other stones, explores simple geometry such as cubes, but also incorporates organic forms that suggest body parts or even microscopic life. These pieces can be flowingly beautiful, as in the 2006 carved marble Wave Wing, which marries an open cube with the form described by its title in a delicate game of balance.Most of Ramersdorfer's later work is part of an ongoing series titled Inner View, which uses layering to develop complex visual and spatial relationships among planar carvings with molecular and geological structures. These stacked sculptures pull the viewer's eye into their center, mesmerizing and fascinating with the play of light and shadow on and between their surfaces.It is innovative and masterful work by an artist at the peak of her powers.Inner View_Open 2009, marble[...]



The Art of Seating at AIHA

2016-12-24T10:18:39.468-05:00

Synergistic Synthesis XVII sub b1 chair 2003, Kenneth SmytheAmid the hustle and bustle of the holidays, there's an end-of-year chance to catch a marvelous traveling show at the Albany Institute of History & Art before it moves on after December 31.Fancy side chair, c. 1820, unknown designerThe Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Design was organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, and is a delight for anyone who has ever sat in a chair or wondered what it would be like to try to improve on that experience. Featuring 43 individual specimens in pristine condition, this collection runs the gamut from simply stated wooden rockers to gaudy stuffed confections to space-age sittable sculptures.High Stool 1971, Frank GehryThough one can easily consider these as works of art, most were production models and widely marketed when they were made. For me, this adds to the joy and intrigue of looking at the creations on view: The designers didn't just solve the problem of imagining a new and visually arresting way to support your rump - they also managed to find a way to sell it.Of course there are economic failures peppered through the show - this sort of background information is nicely summed up in printed labels set up on stands by each chair - but there are no functional failures presented: Every chair in this selection is stunning, and they all appear pretty nice to sit on, too, though naturally that is severely prohibited here (though, if you're like me, you will struggle to resist the urge to try).House of Representatives ChamberArm Chair 1857, Thomas Ustick WalterI'll admit bias - I am a fan of design (particularly modern design), so I ate this collection up like a fresh Christmas stollen ... but, objectively speaking, the items shown in The Art of Seating are all first-class pieces in gorgeous original condition or expertly restored, and they are simply beautiful.And, there are other good reasons to visit the museum now - Joan Steiner's Look-Alikes - vivid and impossibly clever dioramas that are the basis for her successful picture books - are on view through Jan 29; and Rock & Roll Icons: Photographs by Patrick Harbron will be there through Feb. 12. The Look-Alikes are scattered throughout the museum, making a perfect treasure-hunting activity for kids of all ages; and Harbron's show includes a lot of nostalgic artifacts such as guitars and concert posters, along with his excellent photos of the stars, which will please a certain age-range of former kids.Note: The AIHA is closed on Christmas Day and on the observed holiday (Monday), but will be open from Tuesday through Saturday, Dec. 27 to Dec. 31, from 10 to 5 each day and from 10 to 8 (with free admission after 5) on Thursday.Large Diamond Lounge Chair, c. 1952, Harry Bertoia[...]



In Brief: Screenprint Biennial at ACCR

2016-12-16T11:46:08.751-05:00

Christopher Cannon, Runaways on Hunt Street screenprintOn a recent shopping excursion to River Street in Troy, I abandoned my spouse and ducked into the Arts Center of the Capital Region, where a gallery full of dazzlingly rich colors greeted me. The 2016 Screenprint Biennial, on view through Dec. 23, is also hosted at Collar Works in Troy, and is just terrific. After it closes, a selected portion of the show will be mounted in January at the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Norwalk, Connecticut. I'd say, if you miss it here, it might be well worth the trip to Norwalk. But try to catch it here if you can.Jeffrey Dell, Dreamland III screenprintOrganized by printmaker and RPI lecturer Nathan Meltz, the show handily demonstrates that a blue-collar medium that grew up in the golden age of advertising and was adapted into a fine art in the '60s and '70s is still wonderfully alive and well.Also called silkscreen, the squeegee-centric process is conducive to a great variety of applications, including the use of hand-cut templates, highly detailed photo-based matrices, and printing on fabric. It is also relatively cheap to do (requiring only well-ventilated space, a big sink, and some drying racks - no printing press needed). This leads to endless possibilities, many of which are explored in this second edition of the East Coast Screenprint Biennial (as some sources refer to it), which debuted in 2014.Among the applications on view at the ACCR (sorry, I still haven't seen the Collar Works part of the show) are gag hair product packages, rough-cut monoprints, a fanciful stuffed-fabric landscape, and 2D work ranging from the flat and cartoonish to the photo-realistic to the elegantly abstract. The one thing it all seems to have in common is that irresistibly rich color that comes from pushing juicy ink through a fabric screen.Kudos to Meltz and the two hosting organizations for taking on this project - I eagerly look forward to the 2018 edition.[...]



2016 Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region at The Hyde Collection

2016-12-10T09:47:47.983-05:00

Installation view of MHR-80all photos provided by The Hyde CollectionAt  this year's 80th annual Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region, hosted by The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, the show's the thing.Part of MHR-80's Salon sectionJuror Michael Oatman, a true local artist who lives in Troy and teaches at RPI (sorry, the rebranding as Rensselaer didn't take), has stepped up as curator - and not just any curator, but a particular post-contemporary sort of curator who uses the art and the venue to build a whole that seeks to be greater than its parts.Jean Egger Quash, 2016electric object, earplugs, and videoIn this case, the parts consist of 126 works by 106 artists - an almost stupidly broad and shallow swath of our region's best creators - and the whole very smartly includes not only the Hyde's contemporary Wood Gallery, but also its weirdly curved basement space, its world-class historic house, and its lovely grounds. The result, featuring boldly painted walls of bright orange, deep green, and warm grey, is striking, fresh, and - well, a little distracting from the art itself.The show is installed according to a set of six organizing categories drawn by Oatman from "the history of display": site, vault, salon, cube, mirror/grid, and landview. I have to admit, I'm a little baffled by the concept, and not convinced that it succeeds here, but I give Oatman credit for trying the experiment in front of so many interested audience members. However, they (like me) probably just want to see who got in and what their latest work is like - rather than to receive an academic history lesson in the form of a contemporary art exhibition.Brian Cirmo, Cat’s in the Well, 2016oil on canvasSo - who got in? A satisfyingly long list of people, including many names familiar from past Regionals, and plenty of new ones, too. Among my favorites were Daesha Harris, Victoria Palermo, and Stephen Niccolls (all known from prior juried shows); also Anna Roecklin, Matt Crane, and Gyula Varosy (all new to me). In the spirit of the Regional (which, by the way, is one of the oldest continuously running shows of its kind in the country) the selection is very geographically diverse, a feature of the Hyde regionals that I've noted in the past.Elizabeth Panzer Nasturcium Op. 3, 2015photographA quick review of the numbers shows that no more than 20 of the selected artists have more than one piece in the show - which makes for rather chaotic viewing, despite the organizing principle and a very thoughtful layout. I'm used to looking at a lot of art, but I'm also old-school: I like to see my art in groups that help me develop an understanding of each maker's vision. Here, instead, I felt overwhelmed by the curator's vision, and was fighting to focus.A few years ago, Oatman co-curated (with Ken Ragsdale, who is conspicuously absent here) the wonderfully stuffed An Armory Show at Sage College of Albany's Opalka Gallery, using a similar approach to this installation. There, however, each artist had a lot more examples of their work included so, despite the chaos, one could delve in. This show feels much cleaner, but is also a tease, especially if you are seeing an artist here for the first time.Danny Goodwin 3-D Cardboard Box Prototype, 2015archival pigment printArtists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region continues through Dec. 31, and the Hyde is offering "pay as you wish" for the month of December, so it's a good time to go check it out and save a few bucks on the standard entry fee. Don't be put off by my quibbles - the annual Regional exhibition is a must-see, and this one is absolutely worth the effort.If you go, be sure not to miss the "interventions" by artists in [...]



Future Perfect at UAlbany Art Museum

2016-11-26T14:30:07.050-05:00

A group of drawings by Alexander Ross as seen in Future PerfectThe exhibition Future Perfect: Picturing the Anthropocene at the University at Albany Art Museum is a grand compendium of ideasthat handily meets its purpose to "explore and inform," but falls a bit short simply as an art exhibition.Curated by Associate Professor Danny Goodwin, Director Janet Riker and Associate Director/Curator Corinna Ripps-Schaming, the show features significant individual pieces or bodies of work in a variety of media by 12 artists, augmented by 11 additional artists whose prints, drawn from the museum's permanent collection by participants in a class project, create a sidebar exhibition within Future Perfect.Three sculptures by JoAnne Carson confrontthree photographs by Miljohn and HeltoftThe anthropocene is the label now affixed to our current geological era, so named to reflect the changes to the earth's climate and ecology that human activity has caused. Much of the work that has been selected to represent this concept here leans toward the futuristic, including animated science fiction film projects by Colin C. Boyd and Jacolby Satterwhite, and colorful, cartoonish critter paintings by Alexander Ross.Other improbables, in the form of fantastic plants, are presented in sculptures by JoAnne Carson and silver-print photographs by Miljohn Ruperto and Ulrik Heltoft. But not all the work shown in Future Perfect is obsessed with the future. I found the more interior-looking artists in the show were more effective.An altered photograph by Letha WilsonSeveral altered landscape photographs by Letha Wilson and three freestanding resin-bound sculptural montages by Amy Brener are both elegant and thought-provoking - the fact that these two groups are installed together suggests the curators also see a connection between them. I really liked seeing four leaning painted planks by Jason Middlebrook, an artist I first encountered in a 2007 solo show in this same space; and a quasi-narrative photo series by Dana Hoey that uses naturalistic subjects to evoke a chilling future.A photograph of salamanders by Dana HoeyThe best part of the show for me, however, was the students' effort to make a statement along one long wall, where they sequenced photographs and prints in a way that clearly communicates a point of view and clearly articulates unanswered questions. This part included outstanding works by both widely known and local artists such as Marilyn Bridges, Michael Marston, Robert Smithson, and Ken Ragsdale.Future Perfect: Picturing the Anthropocene, which runs through Dec 10, has featured a busy schedule of related events, including weekly programs in the gallery, since it opened in July; the next event is a poetry reading and discussion at 7 pm on Nov 29 - check here for more details.Colin C. Boyd works on an animation project on-site at Future Perfect[...]



Breathing Lights

2016-11-09T22:06:00.543-05:00

A Breathing Lights house in Schenectadyphoto by Cindy Schultz, stolen from the Times UnionOn  a recent Saturday night I took a truncated bus tour of a few of the Breathing Lights houses in Albany, offered as part of Historic Albany Foundation's annual Built fundraiser. It was good to finally get out and see some of the illuminated vacant houses, and I plan to go again soon - on foot for the real experience - and hopefully in all three participating cities (adding Schenectady and Troy).In case you have been living under a rock, Breathing Lights is the local winner of a $1 million grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies, part of its national "Public Art Challenge," and comprises a collaboration among three city governments, several nonprofits, and numerous neighborhood organizations. It is the brainchild of UAlbany art professor Adam Frelin, in partnership with architect Barbara Nelson, and consists of a very elegant, broadly distributed installation of glowing panels in the windows of more than 200 vacant houses, which represent less than 10% of these three cities' unoccupied housing stock.photo: hyers+mebaneThe installation is (obviously) very ambitious, but it is also simple, which I can't help but like. And it passes the "Is it art?" test quite easily, as the work transforms the subject matter and gives viewers a new experience of something old. All the better that this new experience comes directly out of one's own presumably familiar local raw material. (Those who know my personal photography of some of these same neighborhoods will understand this approach is not unlike my own as an artist.)But Breathing Lights is also so much more than an art installation. It seeks to help correct the widespread social and economic problems of vacant and deteriorating inner-city housing in our region, by raising awareness as well as energizing the grass roots of these communities. And this is where I start to get a little uncomfortable with it.So, I'll ask a few more questions:Is it the job of art to make our world a better place?Should art be a community organizing activity?What would be the best use of $1 million for art in the Capital Region?1. My answers to these questions are not off the cuff - when I was a young artist growing up in the turbulent '60s and '70s, I wished that art could make the world a better place. I thought it could open people up, make them more sensitive to their surroundings, maybe raise their conscious levels and even change their harmful behaviors.from Breathing Lights websiteBut, as time went on, I recognized that big business and politics, and education and religion were the forces that made things go, and that art in American society was an afterthought, a decoration, an entertainment. Yes, art can make you think, it can make you feel, it can make you understand. But I decided it can't change the world, and neither should it try to.Instead, it is the job of art to be the best it can - as art - to reach the viewer and then to let the rest of the process go as it may.2. When I see artists out there working with kids and community members, I get thinking about time and money. Many artists and arts organizations are struggling financially, and they often turn to the relatively abundant cash cow that is education for financial relief, and to build an audience.So a dance company, for example, does a lot of reasonably well-paid school visits throughout the year, designed to enlighten the kids as to the wonders of dance and its creative potential. Or an arts center offers classes in pottery and jewelry making and drawing and creative writing, thereby bringing [...]



Quick take on The Accountant

2016-10-24T09:40:33.764-04:00

(image)
Anna Kendrick and Ben Affleck star in The Accountant
OK, so it didn't get the greatest reviews, and it's a Hollywood action thriller (not my thing), but I couldn't resist the topic, so I went to see The Accountant this weekend - and it was fun. Too violent, yes, with a plot full of holes, but entertaining and in some ways really well done. (BTW, if you're still wondering why this art reviewer couldn't resist the film's topic, see my profile.)

Ben Affleck stars as a sociopathic killing machine with autism, who also happens to be a CPA, and who - we learn gradually - operates according to his own moral code (just like all Hollywood sociopathic killing machines). But how often do you get to see a leading man with autism? (Pretty often, now that I think of it, considering Rain Man, A Beautiful Mind, Good Will Hunting, The Imitation Game ... .)

Anyway, I laughed at all the accounting jokes (reasonably accurately presented), felt compassion for the kids with autism (not too unlike my 6-year-old nephew), and grimaced from behind my fingers at all the shootings. Affleck does a heck of a job realistically presenting the low-affect of the man on the spectrum, a formidable challenge for any actor (i.e. to un-act), and Anna Kendrick is perfectly cast as the lovable geek who ultimately inspires a lot of the accountant's mayhem. Other stars include Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow, and J.K. Simmons.

The Accountant asks the question "Do you like puzzles?" and gives you two of them - first, a goodly number of plot twists purposely placed, and then the aforementioned holes that you can spend a few hours trying to fill in. Highly recommended to anyone in the profession, if only for the Crazy Eddie Antar reference. Or to folks who get off on brutal gunfights.

Add note: The Accountant's final scene is played over a song written and performed by local music hero Sean Rowe, and it's going to make him famous. You can check it out here.

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Affleck's accountant files a tax return, and makes an emotional connection.




Paul Mauren at Albany Center Gallery

2016-10-30T10:16:37.863-04:00

The local art mafia came out in force last Friday night for Paul Mauren's exhibition Where Things Go at Albany Center Gallery, and with good reason. Yes, many of the seeming hundreds of guests were this longtime College of Saint Rose professor's colleagues, counterparts, current and former students, friends and fans, but the show alone is an event worthy of major excitement.Paul Mauren - Speak to Me 2016, assembled mixed materialsMauren, a stalwart of the regional arts scene (and beyond) for several decades, has operated under the radar for the most part. Still, he has built up a presence through steady inclusion in important shows - going back to the 1979 Mohawk Hudson Regional, a 1981 solo at Emma Willard's Dietel Gallery, and the seminal Water Works exhibition, held in 1982 in an Albany public bath house that eventually met the wrecker's ball.More recently, Mauren has been featured prominently in numerous Regionals, in the striking An Armory Show at Sage's Opalka Gallery, and in countless annual and biennial Saint Rose faculty shows. Almost as consistently, though, Mauren has shown at ACG.A few of those highlights:Mauren was chosen for two Mohawk Hudson Regional Invitationals at ACG - the first in 1994, when Les Urbach still ran the show there, the last in 2005, with Sarah Martinez at the helmIn 2007, Mauren was included in the first show at ACG's current space - titled Then and Now, it featured a who's who of local artists, from David Austin to Deborah ZlotskyAnd now this, his first solo exhibition in nearly 35 years, which fits the space like a gloveIt is truly fitting that such an artist would provide bookends to the 10-year Columbia Street run of this beloved institution, and help send it on its way to its next space, just two blocks away, in the freshly renovated Arcade Building, where it is slated to reopen in January.Where Things Go runs through Nov. 4 (and there will be an artist talk at the gallery on that last evening during 1st Friday). Full disclosure - it was my idea to invite Mauren to do this show, simply because I wanted to see more of his intriguing, wall-hung sculpture. And I am not disappointed. But don't take my word for it - just go and be dazzled.Paul Mauren works on the installation of Where Things Go at Albany Center Gallery[...]



Steve McCurry Photographs at MWPAI

2016-09-23T10:45:46.399-04:00

Steve McCurry - Holi Man. Rajasthan, India 1996, color photographMy  friend and fellow photographer Ben met me recently at the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute in Utica to see the Steve McCurry exhibition there and to talk shop.It was well worth the trip. McCurry is a supremely talented photographer who creates beautiful and compelling color images, often choosing them for their storytelling qualities. The show, entitled The World Through His Lens and comprising 60 pictures from three decades, will hang through Dec. 31. I urge you to find time to go see it, especially if you are interested in this sort of thing, but also if you are a human being, as this work speaks directly to the human condition that we all share.Terry Slade - Mantra for the Survival of the Earth, fused glassI'd like to add a suggestion that you go by Oct. 2 to see a joyful installation by Hartwick College painter and fused-glass artist Terry Slade, entitled Dreams and Apparitions, as Slade's work is always good fun and this is one of his most ambitious efforts yet. A large-scale piece hanging in the museum's interior sculpture court is "intended to evoke contemplation of our place as humans in the universe," making it a fine companion piece to the McCurry show that hangs nearby.Now for the shop talk: Photography is a curious medium - since its invention in the mid-19th century, arguments have percolated, even raged, as to whether or not it is an art form, and whether or not it is truthful. Well over 150 years later, these arguments have not been settled, and McCurry's work is a good example of why that is.Kashmir Flower Seller. Dal Lake, Srinigar, Kashmir 1996The press release for the show states that McCurry "creates images that bridge the gap between photojournalism and art." Fortunately, McCurry is intimately familiar with life in a war zone, because with this statement he enters into treacherous terrain. Now, he can be attacked equally by people who think they know what journalism is (count me in - after all, I worked for 13 years in the newsroom of a daily paper), and by people who consider themselves experts on art (yep, that's me, too). Does a mere photographer need that kind of stress? And for what?The "for what" part I can easily answer - with this show (which I assume will be touring in some form) McCurry is seeking to leap from the pages of National Geographic to establish himself in the art realm. Other photojournalists have tried the same thing - notably W. Eugene Smith and Sebastiao Salgado (both of whom worked exclusively in black and white) - but it is a tricky leap to make.Woman at a Horse Festival. Tagong, Tibet 1999This is because the difference between art and journalism is one of intention. If an image is intended to tell a story about the subject, or to document that subject, and if it is intended to be published in a newspaper or magazine (or, heaven help us, on the web) then it is properly labeled as journalism (and bound by certain rules). If, instead, the image is intended as personal expression - and therefore bound by none of the rules of journalism, such as the separation of truth from fiction - then it can be considered art.I question whether it is possible for McCurry to present pictures taken initially as documents (and, indeed, published as such), and then change his intention after the fact to offer them as art. Call me a purist (or whatever else you want to call me), but I don't think there is a way to "bridge the gap" between disciplines with such distinctly different purposes.Sharbat G[...]



Masterworks at AIHA

2016-08-24T22:52:01.882-04:00

This 1817 map of the proposed Erie Canal is part of Masterworks: PaperWith trips to all the summer shows winding down, I'd like to recommend a really worthy exhibition closer to home. Actually, this is a pair of exhibitions with the unifying theme of a deep exploration of the collections of the now-225-year-old Albany Institute of History & Art, entitled Masterworks: 225 Years of Collecting and Masterworks: Paper.Thomas Cole - Button Wood Tree, ink over pencil 1823These shows were mounted during the past year to celebrate the Institute's anniversary and its own history, with the larger, more inclusive exhibition featuring a thoughtfully constructed timeline of the organization, punctuated with compelling artifacts and objects such as grandfather clocks, a book of wool samples, paintings from three centuries, marvels in glass and silver, a fire bucket, travel posters, etc.The richness of the AIHA's holdings is well displayed here, and would be difficult to exaggerate. Though I am biased toward contemporary art, I can enjoy a sumptuously festooned French-style bed as much as the next guy, along with almost absurdly decorative cast-iron stoves, Americana in the form of elaborately incised powder horns, ceramics from near and far, and plenty of earlier fine art.Tea Caddy with paper filigree 1804The Paper show has had a shorter duration, due to the fragility of its contents, but the restriction to one material still allows for so much diversity that its designers created no fewer than 16 distinct sections for it, with titles such as Landscape on Paper, Weather on Paper, Certified on Paper, and so on. Though this organizing principle has merit, I have to say it didn't really work - in fact, the Paper show is so crowded that navigating through it is a confusing chore - but it is so stuffed with marvels that it's worth every effort.Among my favorites (shown at left) is an architectural rendering of Albany's "first skyscraper," an elegant bank building on State Street that still stands (though in rough shape), where it is now overshadowed by the much taller, nearly new building next door that I happen to work in. There is also a great range of first-rate works of art in the show, including nearly every paper-based medium - even painstaking cut constructions, along with every sort of print, watercolors, photographs, and drawings by some major names: Charles Burchfield, Jacob Lawrence, Ellsworth Kelly, and contemporary artists Harold Lohner and Phyllis Galembo.Alice Morgan WrightThe Fist, painted plaster 1921Meanwhile, back at the 225 Years of Collecting show, there are many, many more great artists, most significantly the heart and soul of this collection - its Hudson River School paintings - but also a spate of other excellent works representing social realism, Cubism, Surrealism, Pop, even post-Modern work.If you're going, you need to hurry, as Masterworks: 225 Years of Collecting ends on Sept 4. For Masterworks: Paper. there's a bit of breathing room - it continues through Oct. 16. And there's a bargain to be  had: Through the end of 2016, Saturday admission to the AIHA is just $2.25. Go and discover - or remind yourself of - the treasure in our midst.[...]



Swan Song

2016-08-01T07:52:23.228-04:00

Installation view of Staying Power - photos provided by Albany International Airport GalleryIt's entirely appropriate that the final exhibition organized and installed by outgoing Director Sharon Bates at the Albany International Airport Gallery expresses the value of its title, Staying Power. Bates has the same qualities as the 11 venerable artists she has assembled for this excellent, elegant show - and she will no doubt amply demonstrate that in the next chapter of her life, when she sets forth in retirement as a full-time artist.Barbara Takenaga - Tadanori Meets Hiroshigeacrylic on linen 2013Her swan song is a paean to perseverance, a celebration of agelessness, a fascinating collection of excellence and diversity. The artists presented here have but two things in common: They are all located in the greater Capital Region; and they all have been at it for quite some time. Oh, and they're all darn good. Naturally, I have my favorites among them, but I am reluctant to sully the unified purpose of this show by picking and choosing.Instead, here's an overview:Margo Mensing - J. Robert Oppenheimercut security envelopes on paper 2005One feature of the show (which will hang through Jan. 2, 2017) is a series of video interviews with the artists that has been placed on monitors in several spots throughout the gallery, as well as in a larger projection room. It underscores the purpose of the show to not only display the work these artists have created, but also to plumb their minds and their motives, as they discuss matters within the lifelong pursuit of an artistic career.Before entering the gallery proper, one can stop to watch a few minutes of several of these artists telling about their first memories of making art, a great way to prepare for the exhibition's thematic feel. Elsewhere they discuss success, failure, fame, etc. It's not necessary to hear the commentary to understand what's on view, but it adds depth to the experience.Susan Spencer Crowe - Sweeet, cardboard, encaustic, 2015-2016Bates founded the Art & Culture program at the airport, and led it for 18 years, typically organizing shows with themes both quirky and grand, so this last one from her is cut from the same cloth - perhaps leaning toward a final statement, but really more open-ended - just as the included artists are working in a flow of continuity from their pasts to their futures. Many of the exhibitors include prior as well as current work, while some have only current work in the show. It's a testament to the vigor of ongoing artistic exploration and expression, and to the simple fact that art knows no age.Paul Katz, 10 sculptures from the Prelude series and a paintinggesso, oil, sand on found objects and canvas, 2010-2016The installation is scattered throughout the gallery's far-reaching spaces, held together by the glassed-in central apse that allows visitors to gape down upon the TSA's security screening zone and to see through and across to most of the rest of the third-floor exhibition area. As in a shopping mall, one walks around the perimeter with the big gap in the middle - unlike shopping, however, here one has the opportunity to be absorbed into experiences far more original than mass consumption.Examples: Jeanne Flanagan shows a series of drawings that delve into identity as represented by her own enlarged fingerprint; Bruno LaVerdiere, also working in series, reiterates a decades-long obsession with spiritual dwellings as expressed in clay sculptures and p[...]



Studio Visit: Terrance DePietro and Nicole Lemelin

2016-07-19T20:44:36.761-04:00

A view of the studio shared by Terrance DePietro and Nicole Lemelinphoto by TDPA unique pleasure comes from visiting artists in their studios, as it is a privilege to step inside the process of a creative mind and get below the surface of the work itself. So, a few weeks ago, I took advantage of an opportunity to hang out with Terrance DePietro and Nicole Lemelin (and a few other guests) at their shared work/live space in rural Palenville, N.Y., and it proved to be time very well spent.DePietro: Intuitions Rising from the Crevice of The Cloveoil on canvasDePietro and Lemelin joined forces a few years ago, while he was long established in Palenville and she was still living in her native Montreal, and they now have integrated their lives and art practice in a surprisingly seamless way. I had seen very little of either artist’s work before this foray to the Catskills, so I spent hours just taking it all in, punctuated by interludes of conversation and Niki and Terry’s kind hospitality.Lemelin: In Luna's Womb - oil on canvasThese two mid-life painters share sensibilities so close that at first I had a little trouble telling their work apart (and that includes the vast majority of the work that was created before they even knew each other). But there are discernible differences (of course), even though the two are consistently driving at the same ideas. And, by “driving,” I mean working in a very directed and persistent manner.DePietro: A Leap of Faith - linocutI’m sorry to say it’s often easy to take art for granted – we are blessed with so many talented artists in our midst today that there isn’t enough space to show them all or time to see them all. Yet a studio visit will typically reveal a level of commitment that would rival that of any Fortune 500 CEO – with none of the rewards, by the way. It’s always impressive to me.Lemelin: Presage of Transformation - watercolor and inkDePietro and Lemelin exemplify this single-minded pursuit as well as anyone I have seen. The fact that, in their case, the pursuit has now become double-minded just adds to the potency of the message. And that message is – what? I see a bright thread of humanism and spirituality in everything the two of them produce, whether it is representational, purely abstract, surrealistic or expressionistic.DePietro: Pristine Happiness of the Static Action of Artdigital monoprintSome would quibble about a lack of consistency among these various modes – and here it is compounded by past and current involvement in many media by both artists, especially DePietro, who seems to do it all: Painting, photography, drawing, printmaking, digital. Lemelin also paints, draws, makes prints – and adds sculpture to the mix.Lemelin: Bluemajic - oil on canvasBut there remains a clear vision within this vast, diverse output. And all the more clear because it is remarkably shared by two individuals. DePietro and Lemelin are visionaries who revel in their experience of humanity and nature. They delve, they experiment, they cull and refine. They work. The results are complex, not easily digested in a quick scan, and not easily explained. I see historical references, geology, dreams and nightmares here. I see joy and despair. I see struggle and triumph and the imperceptible march of time. I see nature reflected and refracted.It’s powerful stuff – I’ll be going back.DePietro: Above On and Below - photograph[...]



Summer shows to see

2016-06-26T11:56:11.657-04:00

Venus with an Organist and Cupid by Titan is on view at the Clark this summer.Summer has arrived and it's usual for a spate of blockbuster shows to open at our region's major museums. But, alas, this year is a disappointment - there's no Van Gogh and Nature (which smashed box-office records at the Clark Art Institute last year); there's no Modern Nature: Georgia O'Keeffe and Lake George (which put The Hyde Collection - and Glens Falls - at the center of the art world's focus in 2013); and there's no Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera (which exemplifies the drawing and staying power of a well-formed exhibition, as it went on tour from Stockbridge's Norman Rockwell Museum in the summer of 2010 and, since then, has generated over 12,000 page views on my review of it here).The closest thing we have this year to a summer blockbuster is the Clark's Splendor, Myth, and Vision: Nudes from the Prado (which opened on June 11). However, in our age of ubiquitous Internet pornography, it is almost quaint in its outdated immorality, and rather uninspiring compared to the usual star-studded summer fare offered by Williamstown's queen of art museums.Instead, we seem to have a season of prints: The Hyde is presenting Dürer and Rembrandt: Master Prints from the Collection of Dr. DorranceKelly (set to open on July 10) and the Fenimore Museum in Cooperstown has Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in Bohemian Paris (which opened on May 28), featuring posters, prints and drawings - but no paintings.We also have a summer of outstanding contemporary art, in venues as diverse as the Albany International Airport; The School in Kinderhook; libraries in Albany and at Union College; small galleries in Lake George, Hudson, and Schuylerville; and the vast MASS MoCA in North Adams, where conservative skeptics are won over every day by consistently excellent selection and installation of today's most challenging living artists.Here are my recommendations for summer viewing, in approximate descending order of scale:Explode Every Day: An Inquiry into the Phenomena of Wonder, MASS MoCA through April, 2017. I could recommend this show on the basis of the title alone - but it includes a grand swath of international artists, at least one of whom I know I love, so there's reason to believe it delivers on the promise. And there are nine (count 'em) other current exhibitions there as well. Just plain go.Dürer and Rembrandt: Master Prints from the Collection of Dr. Dorrance Kelly, The Hyde Collection through October. When it comes to classical European printmaking, Dürer and Rembrandt are widely considered to be the best in history, and this collection is described as "one of the most distinguished private collections of prints" in the US. Should be a terrific show.Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in Bohemian Paris, Fenimore Museum through Sept. 5. Lautrec was known for his color lithographic posters advertising Parisian entertainments, and these will be the centerpiece of the show. This summer the Fenimore also features exhibitions of early Ansel Adams photographs (from when he made the prints himself) and a traveling show of Whistler lithographs from the Speed Art Museum - so this is the perfect combination destination with the Hyde for lovers of works on paper.Splendor, Myth, and Vision: Nudes from the Prado, Clark Art Institute through Oct. 10. Williamstown is a heckuva lot closer than Madrid, so why n[...]



The Horror in Orlando

2016-06-18T07:37:35.254-04:00

(image) Deeply saddened and disturbed by the heinous attack in Orlando this weekend that left so many people dead and wounded. My heartfelt sympathy and support go out to the victims and survivors, their families and friends, and everyone else touched by this senseless tragedy.

The arts would barely exist without the cultural and creative contributions of non-conforming people, whether LGBT or just differently thinking. The America we know to be great is a place of tolerance and diversity, not a place of hatred. Tolerance and openness are the backbone of artistic expression, and it is the soul of America to respect and protect freedom of expression. This is our highest priority as a nation, as a people, and as a world leader for more than two centuries.

May we find a way out of the dilemma that places the right to purchase firearms higher than the right to a reasonably safe and secure pursuit of happiness. May all victims of gun violence rest in peace.