On Exhibit: VR, sculpture … and a ‘Big Bloated Car’

'Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region' set at University Art Museum
"Doorway" and "Compass," pieces by Amelia Toelke, are part of the "Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region" exhibit.
"Doorway" and "Compass," pieces by Amelia Toelke, are part of the "Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region" exhibit.

Categories: Art, Entertainment

The artists of the Mohawk Hudson region are looking ahead, even as they continue a tradition that’s more than 80 years old. 

Virtual reality mixes with sculpture and abstract works on paper in the latest “Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region” exhibit at the University at Albany’s University Art Museum. Of course, it’s also difficult to ignore the enormous, inflatable car on the second floor. Not only because of its size — for the curious, it’s about 10-by-20-by-15 feet — but because of the noise of the equipment allowing it to keep its shape. 

The piece, “Big Bloated Car” created by Greg Skochko, features a red Chevy of ridiculous proportions. Similar to our consumer-centric culture, it’s loud in just about every way and nearly impossible to ignore. 

It’s interesting, then, that the other bold addition to the long-running exhibition is so small, one might walk past it. Two smartphones rest upon a low, white table with two accompanying chairs. At first glance, it looks like the phones may have been forgotten, until one realizes they’re propped up by virtual-reality lenses. Yet, when picking them up and staring into the lenses, it feels like a glimpse into a new world within the found objects. 

Jessica Ann Willis, a Hudson-based artist, has created two virtual-reality works that immerse the viewer in kaleidoscopic surroundings. By moving the phone around, viewers can move around the pieces — like walking around a painting or on new terrain.

On the other side of the exhibit, those kaleidoscopic figures are echoed in “Noodlebowl” by Susan Meyer. A colorful, disco-ball-like piece hangs from the ceiling and hovers above a tangle of triangular shapes. Like a living-room set, it draws everything together. 

The works on paper are scattered throughout the exhibition, though they are no less impressive or less technologically advanced. Neon geometric figures take center stage in both “Frodo’s Ghost, On the Mountain High” and “Frodo’s Ghost, I Love,” with abstract blips arising in the background. Both pieces are created by Troy-based artist Justin Baker and work perfectly with the exhibition space. 

Beyond the sound of air filling the blow-up car, viewers also hear periodic slamming sounds, as though a large piece of wood were being thrown and the sound echoing, or maybe something speeding on a track is coming to an abrupt halt. The source is actually a film that plays out in an abandoned silo. A woman wears a hospital gown while another woman in scrubs leads her to a chair, struggling to tie her down. After the straps are secured, a helmet of sorts is brought down from the ceiling and strapped on to the struggling woman’s head, then a man dressed as a doctor enters the scene. It’s a critique on the terrifying history and present state of mental health care, and is aptly called “Mental.” 

The creator, Rosary Solimanto, is an interdisciplinary artist and activist from Pine Bush, who for two years suffered from trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic pain condition that impacts the nerves in the face. “Mental” is a reflection of her own experiences in treatment, touching on when she was given intense radiation treatments in her brain. 

Another striking piece by Solimanto is “Bionic Hand Palsy,” in both sculpture and photographic mediums. Made from forged steel and wires, Solimanto created the pieces as a reflection on her hand palsy caused by multiple sclerosis. In the haunting photo, she applies bright red lipstick with the bionic hand.     

Upstairs, a doorway of sorts leads to the other half of the exhibition. In Amelia Toelke’s “Doorway,” white doors unfold matryoshka doll-style, and it’s difficult to tell where one begins and another ends. Toelke is known for working in a variety of mediums and dimensions, sometimes turning 2-D pieces into 3-D pieces, and vice versa. 

It leads to KK Kozik’s oil paintings, which are easy for any bibliophile to get lost in. The vibrant pieces feature books stacked on bookshelves, sometimes in a neat fashion and other times in disarray. Though there are no visible titles, each book seems familiar in some way. Those aforementioned bibliophiles might find it difficult to walk away from these and continue to the rest of the exhibit. 

But it’s well worth it, as Fern T. Apfel’s pieces follow. 

The bright yellow color palette, mixed with letters, envelopes and school notes scattered throughout the work, make it look like a zoomed-in scene from an old film. “Domestic Fiction” is a clever work that even in its familiarity (who doesn’t have a pile of opened mail, half-written letters and other debris somewhere in their home?) makes itself new with the story smudged into the foreground.     

Upstairs, there’s also a glimpse into the exhibition’s recent past, with works by some of the artists who have been in the “Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region” over the past few years, including Brian Cirmo’s “Milk Drinker’s Blues” and John Hampshire’s “Labyrinth, 229.” The second exhibition, called “FLOW,” rounds out the show, grounding it in both the past and present. 

“Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region” will be on exhibit through Dec. 8 at the University Art Museum, 1400 Washington Ave., Albany. For information, visit albany.edu/musuem

Related programs at the museum

  • Exhibition tours with exhibiting artists, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20.
  • The Creative Life Conversation with Jean Shin, 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1.
  • The Creative Life Conversation with Esmeralda Santiago, 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8 (Campus Center ballroom).
  • Alumni artists’ talk and tour of the collections study space, 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 13.

Leave a Reply