It seems strange to be writing a “best of” list in 2020, during a year when it’s been difficult to focus on anything besides the seemingly never-ending deluge of bad news.
Yet, to not make a list would be to ignore the artists, curators, educators and others who marched on despite the dismal circumstances; who kept creating throughout the pandemic and a stressful election cycle. To highlight their work, we’ve put together a list of some of our favorite exhibitions of the year.
At the Hyde Collection
This Glens Falls institution started the year off strong with “Francisco Goya: The Caprichos Etchings and Aquatints” and “Dox Thrash, Black Life, and the Carborundum Mezzotint.” Both exhibitions focused on truth-telling in one way or another, through comedic scenes and works with fantastical creatures or through vivid portraits. Both captured societal changes and tried to depict the world around them as they saw it.
Later on in the year, the exhibit space featured scenes captured a bit closer to home with “J.S. Wooley, Adirondack Photographer.” Visitors caught a glimpse of sweeping panoramic views of Lake George and the surrounding areas as it looked at the turn of the century. Wooley (1867-1943) was a successful photographer who captured social scenes around the Adirondacks, especially at Silver Bay YMCA, and some of the area’s most picturesque views. It was a timely exhibit in the sense that it offered an escape from the news cycle and our homes.
At the Albany Institute of History & Art
Things kicked off with a bit of fashion and flair thanks to the Coxsackie artist Ruby Silvious. The artist is perhaps most known for her teabag artwork, and while that was on display at the Institute, there were also a variety of fashion pieces that she created from recycled materials. In one instance she made a cheeky kitten heel out of a Dunkin’ sandwich wrapper. On another, she created a life-sized bra from a gold-and-green Nathan’s Famous hot dog wrapper. In “Recycled & Refashioned,” the artist proved that she could make just about anything look high fashion. It also highlighted the range of her artistic talents, featuring fully realized compositions on canvases smaller than the size of one’s palm.
Following that exhibition, the Institute hosted the traditional “Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region,” highlighting more than 100 topical works from local artists. Juried by MASS MoCA’s Susan Cross, it offered a range of storylines and mediums, revealing the wealth of artistic talent and creativity in this area.
At the Clark Art Institute
Visitors were encouraged to wander through “Arabesque,” an exhibit that traced the swirling, serpentine lines of the art history term through cultures and time periods.
The exhibition brought together works from Alphonse Mucha, Henri Mattise, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and many others, all using the artistic device perhaps in innovative ways. It also touched on the ancient heritage of the arabesque design and how it was later seen in music and dance. An insightful and interesting exhibit.
At the Albany Center Gallery
Throughout the year, this gallery put a spotlight on the ways artists in the community were reacting to the pandemic. Most starkly, in “Portraits of the Pandemic,” Clifton Park artist Steve Derrick captured the likenesses of health care workers on the frontlines. He started creating the portraits in the spring, offering to do so free of charge for any healthcare worker around the world. The portraits are vivid reminders of the incredible challenges that those on the frontlines are facing.
The gallery also commemorated a Schenectady artist who was fatally shot earlier this year. Duane Todman’s work, including portraits, still lifes and sketchbooks, was on display in “Shining a Light: Duane Ivan Todman,” which celebrated the life and work of the 27-year-old artist. Both were powerful exhibitions that connected with people both in and outside of the arts community.
At the Opalka Gallery
“Infinite Uncertainty,” which opened in August, was marked by a sense of anxiety and a buoyant inventiveness. Featuring works by regional artists, it highlighted a variety of topics that were top of mind for many, including police violence against Black people, the pandemic and surveillance. One of the most striking and perhaps sobering pieces was a collage by Carla Dortic, that featured a small portion of the one-line obituaries of people who have died from the coronavirus that was featured in the New York Times earlier this year. The torn newsprint includes a staggering number of names, yet the artist placed it on the pad of a finger, calling attention to the tragedy of how many people have been lost to the virus.
At the Albany Airport Gallery
Though the airport was a quieter place this year, there was still plenty to see in the gallery. In “Cut & Color” artists used everyday materials and manipulated them so they appeared unfamiliar.
A sweeping mural stretched across one exhibit wall, created from well-worn fabric and transparent purple material. Created by Melissa Dadourian “I’ll stay with you,” lent the viewer a sense of comfort and conjured tactile memories. For those who, like many, were stuck at home this summer with canceled vacation or summer camp plans, a trip to the airport gallery offered a chance to take a step back and make the ubiquitous feel a little less so.
At the University at Albany Art Museum
While the museum is not currently open to those outside of the UAlbany community, earlier this year, it offered an interesting look inside its collection with “Affinities and Outliers: Highlights from the University at Albany Fine Art Collections.”
It featured 250 works from artists like Helmut Newton, whose reputation precedes them, and some perhaps lesser-known artists like Phil Frost. The exhibition was divided not by medium or artist, but by content, which created intriguing juxtapositions between the works.
At Collar Works
When it reopened to the public in the fall, this Troy gallery showcased timely 3D works in a show called “SpaceLAB.”
Curated by Julie Torres and Ellen Letcher of LABSpace, the exhibit featured sculptures and installations from regional artists, some of whose works fit together hand-in-glove. From our review: “The exhibit opens with pieces from several different artists that work so well together they create a scene of sorts. There’s a sizeable tent-like dome made from cardboard resting on a patch of artificial grass. The piece, by Thomas Lail, is placed next to a bright, fluffy lawn chair created by Becca Van K and a circle of carefully piled gilded stones by Kara Smith.”
Another exhibit highlight was Chris Victor’s “Singing, Dancing, Crying,” an installation that combined broken household objects like pencils, jump ropes, paper, dowels and more, stringing them together so that they stretched out across one of the exhibit walls.
At the Arts Center of the Capital Region
Not too far away in the Collar City, the Arts Center highlighted the richness of the artistic talent and perspective in the Capital Region.
In “Fence 20,” more than 100 works from Arts Center members were on display, from sculptures to vibrant landscapes. Overall, the exhibition was grounded in the current moment, and many works ruminated on the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps the most obvious, and the largest, was “Conversations in COVID,” which featured sculptures of the coronavirus plastered with emails and social media posts about how life has changed during the pandemic. One post says “Other jobs: we r closing down due to the corona. My job: some of u may die but that’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make.”