SARATOGA SPRINGS – A careworn cupboard filled with nostalgic scents draws viewers into “Brighten the Corners,” the latest exhibit to open at Saratoga Arts.
The antique pie cupboard features 80 brown jars of perfume, each an interpretation of the scents of old books and records. Inscribed on each jar are the names of more than 400 pie recipes, conjuring memories of fall family gatherings and summer picnics.
Titled “The Smell and Taste of Things Remain,” by Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler, the piece validates the historical significance of both the nostalgic recipes and traces of books and records. It is perhaps the perfect step-off point to the exhibit, which delves into some of the looming concerns artists had during the 1990s, many of which seem just as pressing 30-some years later. Organized as part of the Tang Teaching Museum’s project All Together Now, it includes artwork from more than a dozen artists, all from the Tang’s collection.
One of the largest and perhaps brightest works, “Sump” by Frank Moore, spans a large portion of one exhibition wall. Framed with copper piping and a faucet, the canvas is filled with swimming frogs and fish, dodging pipes that pump out chemicals. The chemical clouds take the shape of a phallus, the United States and what looks like a dead fish. Each cloud serves as a reminder of the environmental destruction brought about by infrastructure and the faucet is a reminder that it’s possible to slow it down or shut it off entirely.
Not too far away is a striking mixed media work by Tim Rollins and K.O.S. (Kids of Survival), which features printed essays from Martin Luther King Jr.’s last public speech, underneath a layer of white paint divided up with a large red triangle, the hue representing humanity.
The exhibition also touches on the AIDS epidemic with Donald Moffett’s “Mercy,” a photograph of a white rose, mounted on a lightbox. The piece was a call to action and a plea to support those living with AIDS. It’s one of 100 that Moffett created and installed at the New Museum; each one representing one hundred thousand people who died from AIDS. The white rose has a purple tint around the edges, making it seem like the flower is bruised, though the heart of it remains pure white.
Another meditative work nearby reflects on environmental issues, giving viewers a birds-eye view of a construction site, where a large black pipe is propped above a dark grey landscape. In the installation, which sits atop a rough work table, tiny human figures are dwarfed by the pipeline and the desolate landscape. Created by Michael Ashkin and titled “No. 16,” it highlights the destruction caused by the energy industry. Though it was created more than two decades ago, like many other works in the exhibit, it seems just as relevant.
In an adjoining exhibition, titled “Spirit Rappings,” artists from seemingly disparate backgrounds collaborate in ways that are at times uncanny. The title comes from the practice of communicating with spirits through a series of knocks and taps, which were interpreted by a medium. It began in western New York during the 1840s, with the rise of spiritualism.
Perhaps the most obvious reason for the title is the collaboration between Ben Gocker, a Tupper Lake artist, and Helen Macro, a former Tupper Lake artist who died in 2016. Gocker found out about Macro’s work after moving into her former home. Macro ran a dress shop out of the basement and was a dedicated painter, leaving more than 100 paintings to the local public library, where Gocker works.
He purchased some of Macro’s paintings used them to create assemblages with them. Gocker also used objects that belonged to Macro, intertwining their histories and artistic ideas.
In one work, titled “From the Library Window,” a painting by Macro is set in the center of a sweeping assemblage, made of wood, buttons and other bits and bobs. In Macro’s painting, a figure is seen in a hat and boots walking along a road and in Gocker’s assemblage, a wooden hat and abstract face are placed above Macro’s composition. Just below it, Gocker has placed two boots, along with the words “Macro 1989.”
Further along in the exhibit, Gocker puts one of Macro’s paintings in a new context, forcing viewers to take it in from a different perspective. In “This is the Siberian Husky,” he flipped a rural landscape from Macros upside down and placed a book by that same title at the center of the work. Vibrantly colored strips of wood frame the book and are overlaid with a white fence-like figure.
The way that Gocker has recontextualizes Macro’s work no doubt alters her artistic legacy and may one day alter his. (One thing to note: a percentage of the proceeds from Gocker/Macro’s works will go to support the Tupper Lake Public Library in Helen’s name.)
The other collaboration which is less spiritual, though no less intriguing is that between Judy Glantzman and Jeffrey Hargrave. The former is a New York City-based artist whose work is in collections from the Whitney Art Museum to the Phoenix Art Museum. Hargrave also works in New York City and focuses on representing African Americans in traditional art history. His works have been exhibited at the Bronx Museum of Arts among others.
During the pandemic, the two artists started making portraits of one another.
“I come from a self-portrait orientation . . . The more I am in it, the truer it is. And the more I am in it, the less it is about me – even though in truth it is all about me . . . There are two things going on, one is to reveal myself to myself and the other is to make something visual with my hands,” Glantzman wrote of the collaboration.
Striking portraits of Hargrave both as an adult and as a child, are placed next to those of Glantzman. It’s clear that during the collaboration, they not only swapped visual ideas but also stories and perspectives.
Elsewhere in the exhibit are drawings from Glantzman and paintings from Hargrave, like a rendition of Édouard’s Manet’s “Olympia,” where the central figure is Black. Nearby is also a rendition of Manet’s “Luncheon on the Grass,” where Hargrave has replaced the naked white female figure with a masked Black figure. The works play with racially charged imagery and symbols, placing them into traditionally white contexts.
Both “Spirit Rappings” and “Brighten the Corners” will be up through August 14 at Saratoga Arts. For more information visit saratoga-arts.org.
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