TODT displays offbeat art, lets viewers find meaning

More than 100 thought-provoking artworks are on display in "TODT: New Bellum" at The Arts Center Gal
PHOTOGRAPHER:

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Can you keep a secret? There’s an exceptional exhibit in Saratoga Springs. But we can’t reveal the names of the artists. And if you know who they are, please zip your lips.

They call themselves TODT, and they are the oldest artist’s collective in the United States. Their weird, mind-tingling assemblages of stuff from and about human society can be found in permanent collections across the country, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Since March 8, when “TODT: New Bellum” opened at The Arts Center Gallery, people seem a bit startled when they walk into the Saratoga County Arts Council on Broadway. Not knowing what to make of it, a few make a hasty retreat. Most visitors start looking and keep looking for a long, long time.

That’s because there are more than 100 artworks made of found and fabricated materials, from plastic toys and fake plants to sandals and a coffee can. Most are strange sculptures less than a foot high, arranged on pedestals or lined up on narrow black shelves that jut out from the gallery walls.

Quirky sculpture

In “Three Wish Rocker,” chicken bones are fashioned into a three-inch figure that reclines in a dollhouse-sized rocking chair. In “American Eagle,” a fabricated raptor with a smiley face head sits upon a nest of smiley face eggs. On another wall, you’ll see “Hauling Liberty,” a team of 40 miniature horses pulling a six-inch tall plastic statue of the Statue of Liberty on a wheeled wagon.

’TODT: New Bellum’

WHERE: The Arts Center Gallery, Saratoga County Arts Council, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs

WHEN: Through Saturday, April 19. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday

HOW MUCH: Free

MORE INFO: 584-4132 or www.saratoga-arts.org. For more on TODT, including images of works in “TODT: New Bellum,” go to http://todt.us

And be careful where you step, as a battlefield diorama with 1/4-inch-tall soldiers stretches 12 feet across the floor. Like a bird on the wing, we look down at the miniature landscape made of carpet remnants and masking tape, witnessing a nameless familiar scene from human history. Is it benign and childlike? Perhaps. Or look again at the cotton smoke puffs spewing from every gun and cannon and think about the lives snuffed out.

This exhibit has no labels; each artwork is numbered but not dated. There are no introductory words. Titles and prices are available at the reception desk.

Simple and direct, each work poses its own question. And each viewer must come up with his or her answers.

“They want the art to speak for itself,” says exhibitions coordinator Laura Colomb. “TODT becomes another thing, not an individual person.”

Colomb wouldn’t reveal details, offering only that “Bellum,” which means war or conflict in Latin, “explores the human condition” and “it can be negative or positive.”

TODT, derived from the Dutch/German word for “dead,” began in 1978 with four anonymous artists who challenged the tradition that a masterpiece must be the work of one.

The collective made a big splash in the 1980s, turning heads in the 1985 Whitney Biennial. In the 1990s, TODT created an installation for the Venice Biennale and was commissioned for MASS MoCA’s off-site show, “Billboard: Art on the Road.” Three years ago, TODT turned up in the Fields Sculpture Park at Columbia County’s Art Omi. They’ve even been to Saratoga Springs before, in a 1998 show at Skidmore College’s Schick Gallery.

When TODT (there are three artists now) came to town in early March, even Colomb didn’t know exactly what the show would look like, as the artists installed it themselves.

While the left side of the gallery has a war/Americana theme, on the right side, the sculptures are more about domestic life. A rock-like form pierced with orange poles and marked with red paint suggests the killing of a whale; a grasshopper with airplane wings hovers over a mini jungle of plastic plants.

“No art could be more inclusive,” writes Skidmore professor emeritus James K. Kettlewell in an essay on TODT’s Web site. “It equally enthralls a small child or a sophisticated historian of art.”

Because people bring their children to SCAC, we must issue a mild warning about fabricated dog feces, a condom and some nudity. Because those things are easily overlooked in a sea of objects and not presented in a shocking way, a PG-13 rating would probably suffice.

Affirmative response

According to Colomb, reaction to the exhibit has been “surprisingly positive,” with some visitors commenting that it’s of the best shows they’ve seen at SCAC. “Often, audiences are underestimated,” she says.

It’s good to see some edgy art at SCAC. “Sculpture hasn’t had a home here,” says Colomb, a painter and Glens Falls native who worked at the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council before completing a master of fine art degree at Boston University in 2005, and then an art residency in London.

Although we promised not to reveal the artists’ names, some of the mystery will be dispelled on Thursday when Kettlewell moderates a discussion with TODT at 7 p.m., following a meeting of Upstate Emerging Arts Professionals. On Saturday, during Saratoga’s monthly art night from 5 to 8 p.m., TODT will appear once again at a gallery reception.

Sunburned Hand of the Man, a music collective known for their New American Weird psychedelic improv, will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 12, at The Arts Center. The Saratoga Springs date is the only Northeast booking for the collective.

Categories: Life and Arts

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