Viewing “Opener 34: Ruby Sky Stiler—New Patterns, ” one of several exhibits at the Frances Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, one gets the sense that they’re stepping into a time that is both past and future.
The works on view, all by Stiler, are layered with references to art and cultural movements that seem to span centuries. Stiler, a Brooklyn-based artist, works in a visual language that cites modern textile patterns, alongside Greco-Roman sculpture and Art Deco.
Throughout the exhibit, Stiler considers the figurative nude and how it has been viewed in the past as well as today. Stretching along each wall of the gallery space is a sculptural mural, with strong black lines creating nude figures. One is reclined with a paint palette; another is facing away from the viewer, legs crossed and arms holding up a black line that connects with the next figure on the wall.
At the center of the gallery is a large L-shaped bench, with a waved blue top from which viewers can contemplate the exhibit. Called “Bathers” it references the bodies of water often seen in modernist paintings of nude figures bathing.
Relief paintings are dotted throughout the exhibit space, with intricate backgrounds that meld together an impressive array of designs and textures. However, they never drown out the central figures in the works.
One, called “Father and Children,” seems to be playing with the themes found in centuries-old paintings like “Madonna and Child.” However, in Stiler’s version, a father figure holds one child in his arms, his hand cradling the child’s feet. His other arm is wrapped protectively around another child standing beside him.
According to the exhibit text, Stiler wanted to include the subject of father and child in her work because of the lack of depictions of men being defined in relationship to their children.
Elsewhere in the exhibit, there are self-portraits, their backgrounds a vivid mash-up of black and white patterns, with the figures depicted in delicate pastel-shaded patterns.
The faces seen in each of the relief paintings cull characteristics from various art movements — the sharply curved cheeks, the flat noses and the black half-circles for eyes — yet Stiler’s work doesn’t feel derivative; a balancing act that’s difficult to accomplish.
Upstairs at the museum is a show that touches on another type of intersection, that of art and science. Titled “Radical Fiber: Threads Connecting Art and Science,” the exhibit opens with a colorful piece of fiber art that sprawls across the gallery floor, with tendrils suspended from the ceiling. The work is made up of yarn and other materials crocheted to look like sea anemones, corals and other creatures one might find on a coral reef.
Called The Saratoga Springs Satellite Reef, it’s part of a global Crochet Coral Reef project and it was made using contributions from many community members, in the broader Saratoga area and beyond.
Next to the vibrant, winding reef that starts off the show is an almost entirely white reef, referencing coral reef bleaching, which has become more common in recent decades, caused by changes in temperature and pollutants, among other factors. It’s a sobering reminder of the need for collaborative solutions.
The rest of the exhibit certainly explores that need by presenting works as both fine art and scientific tools, and presenting questions like “Can a crochet hook and yarn uniquely explain the complexities of non-Euclidean geometry?” and “Why does the 1804 Jacquard loom relate to modern computing? How did the accidental discovery of synthetic mauveine dye in 1856 pave the way for modern pharmaceuticals yet also generate toxic environmental impact?”
It’s a cerebral exhibit that viewers should carve out some time to meander through.
Next Thursday at noon there will be a curator’s tour of “Radical Fiber” with Rebecca McNamara.
Then, at 7 p.m. artist Laura Splan will lead a yarn spinning workshop, using fiber made from laboratory llamas. She’ll also lead a discussion around scientific and conceptual themes in her work, which is on view in “Elevator Music 42: Laura Splan—Rhapsody for an Expanded Biotechnological Apparatus” in the Tang’s elevator.
“Radical Fiber” is on view through June 12. “Opener 34: Ruby Sky Stiler—New Patterns” is up through May 15. For more information visit tang.skidmore.edu.