Best of 2016: Visual Arts

"Breathing Lights," regional galleries made news
A vacant home in Schenectady is illuminated during "Breathing Lights."
A vacant home in Schenectady is illuminated during "Breathing Lights."

“Breathing Lights,” the Capital Region art project that spotlighted the problem of vacant housing across the country, was big news in 2016.

Paid for with a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, “Breathing Lights” was the largest public art project — in cost, size and scope — that’s ever happened in the Capital Region.

Artist Adam Frelin and architect Barbara Nelson, both from Troy, came up with the idea of illuminating abandoned homes in Albany, Troy and Schenectady.

In the beginning, 500 homes were targeted for illumination but as the massive installation became reality, the count was lowered to about 200 homes. This glitch was more than offset by the arts-related programming the project engendered. Young and old residents of “Breathing Lights” neighborhoods wrote poems, drew pictures and video-documented the project.

While the soft pulsing LED lights faded away in early November, the project continues. Reclamation clinics are scheduled on Jan. 28 and Feb. 8. In April, a forum that addresses Capital Region housing issues will be held at Proctors.

The exhibit “Inside Breathing Lights” runs through Feb. 17 at the Hamilton Hill Arts Center in Schenectady.
Galleries that have been at the heart of the Capital Region art scene for many years also made headlines this year.

In June, the Fulton Street Gallery, a mainstay of the Troy art community for 20 years, closed its doors.
Fulton Street was a longtime sponsor of the annual Photography Regional, and was known for its tradition of offering a popular salon, in which every entry was exhibited, before the juried show opened.

On a happier note, the Albany Center Gallery celebrated its 40th year by moving from its Columbia Street storefront to a new home on the first floor of the five-story Arcade Building on Broadway.

Gallery space increased from 1,600 to 2,050 square feet and there are 15-foot-high ceilings. The new ACG is also expected to benefit from foot traffic in the renovated Arcade, which is now home to a mix of retail and luxury living space.

The first exhibit in the new space will be the 12th annual Members Show, which opens on Jan. 6. In the spring of 2017, ACG is scheduled to host the 39th Photography Regional.

If any one museum or gallery should be applauded for connecting to its community, it would be the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College.

As presidential campaigning cleaved friends and neighbors, the Tang stepped into the fray with the exhibit “A More Perfect Union.”

In the gallery where Mel Ziegler’s exhibit of 50 American flags hung from the ceiling, the public was invited to watch the primary debates and discuss the issues. The weekend before Election Day, the gallery hosted “Dear America: History Meets Hip-Hop,” a Saratoga Art Fest Friday event that was a mash-up of historical re-enactors, dance and art.

There was new leadership in our visual art and museum world, too.

At the Clark Art Institute, museum curator and noted art scholar Olivier Meslay was hired as director, replacing retiring Michael Conforti.

Meslay came from the Dallas Museum of Art, where he was associate director of curatorial affairs, senior curator of European and American art and curator of European Art.

Sharon Bates, founding director of the always impressive Art & Culture Program at Albany International Airport, retired after 18 years and 37 exhibits. Artist Kathy Greenwood is now in the director’s chair.
In Glens Falls, Ellen Butz departed as director of the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council. Candice Frye is the new director.

In other art news, sculptor Robert Blood of Niskayuna died on Dec. 1 at age 92.

You can see his artworks at the Albany Law School, Saratoga Gaming and Raceway and miSci.

1. “Breathing Lights,” Albany, Troy, Schenectady

2. 2016 Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region (Through Dec. 31), The Hyde Collection

3. “Borrowed Light: Selections from the Jack Shear Collection,” Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery

4. “Splendor, Myth and Vision: Nudes from the Prado,” Clark Art Institute

5. “Staying Power,” Albany International Airport Gallery (through Jan. 2)

6. “Christo & Jeanne-Claude: The Tom Golden Collection,” The Hyde Collection

7. “Gravity and Light: Caroline Ramersdorfer Sculpture, 1985-2016” (Through March 17), Opalka Gallery, Sage Colleges

8. “The Gun Show.” Spring Street Gallery, Saratoga Springs

9. “Living Color: Jenny Kemp + Richard Garrison,” Arts Center of the Capital Region, Troy

10. “The Art of Seating: Two Hundred Years of American Design,” Albany Institute of History & Art (Through Dec. 31)

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