The latest exhibit to open at Opalka Gallery is cheeky, disquieting and perhaps perfect for the moment we’re living in.
Called “Judith Braun: My Pleasure,” it includes 15 paintings and a series of painted sculptures along with site-specific murals, all of which are tied together by the idea of pleasure. Some are a more sarcastic reflection of it, others are more direct.
A striking painting titled “Rose Colored Glasses” sits front and center in the exhibit and features a black figure with bright pink glasses with pink tears spreading down the figure’s face and onto their black and white checkered shirt.
Not too far away is a series of six black and neon orange carbon photocopies, with flowers and hints of faces that seem to glow. The question “What good is my cake if I can’t eat it?” is written in sprawling cursive on the top two pieces.
Framing the exhibit is the phrase “Without pleasure all we’d have is a bunch of stuff,” written in large type across the back wall. Its placement and stark nature draw the eye back to the mural, again and again, asking the viewer to consider the importance of pleasure.
Braun is an Albany native who attended the Fashion Institute of Technology and went on to receive her MFA from the University at Albany. She spent much of her career in New York City and she’s exhibited nationally including at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Chrysler Museum of Art, among other venues. In 2018, she returned to her hometown.
Many of the pieces on view in the Opalka exhibit were created since then. The paintings, in particular, began with small drawings, which Braun worked on during the pandemic, using her system of drawing called “Symmetrical Procedures,” a practice led by abstraction and symmetry. However, as time went on, the artist felt she needed to do something on a bigger scale.
The images seemed to be asserting my existence, my fears and uncertainties. To capture that urgency, the small scale just wouldn’t do,” Braun said.
Thus, Braun created larger paintings. The vivid black and white paintings on view, displayed as unstretched canvases on moveable frames, sometimes verge on optical illusion; with symmetry stretching out into strange images.
In one piece, two sets of large black and white concentric circles reflect bulging eyes, with a white teardrop falling from each. In another piece, the unsettling shadow of a figure’s head is seen through tight horizontal black and white lines. Across the way, another unstretched canvas features a shadowed hand, fingers splayed open beneath vertical black and white lines.
While there are a fair number of unnerving pieces, the show doesn’t hit on just one note; some paintings ring with a more playful tone. In “Flower Head” the outline of a face is depicted entirely in black and white flower-like shapes, with a line of flowers stretching nearly across the figure’s forehead. “Fingering” a site-specific mural Braun created using only charcoal and her fingerprints, also brings a more cheeky note to the show.
On Friday, the gallery will host the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company, which collaborated with Braun to create site-specific dances in response to the exhibition. According to ESDC, the performance will layer choreography with a selection of early 20th century and current African American jazz and blues music. Tickets are $24 and the performance starts at 7 p.m.
Then, at 3 p.m. Saturday, Opalka Director Judie Gilmore will give a tour of the exhibit.
Later this month, at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 14, Braun will lead a guided tour of the exhibition.
“Judith Braun: My Pleasure” will be on view at Opalka Gallery through April 23. For more on the exhibit and related events visit opalka.sage.edu.