“Humor Me,” an exhibit on view at the Schick Art Gallery at Skidmore College, is a welcome reprieve from the distressing news cycle of the last few years.
At times darkly funny and other times droll, it features work by two regional artists, David Greenberger and Betsy Brandt, along with works by artists from further afield, including Kiah Celeste, Amy Cutler and Nina Katchadourian.
The latter has one of the most striking senses of humor in the show, which shines through in her series “Lavatory Self-portraits in the Flemish Style,” which she photographed in airplane bathrooms.
“While in the lavatory on a domestic flight in January 2011, I spontaneously put a tissue toilet seat cover on my head and took a picture of myself with my cell phone,” Katchadourian wrote in an essay.
The image reminded her of Flemish portraits and she crafted other headdresses to mimic that style. Each is shown in glinting frames along a vivid red wall that stands out from the rest of the show. The poses are instantly recognizable and it’s not until closer inspection that viewers realize the figure is wearing paper or scraps of fabric (or in one case plastic).
The series is quirky, self-aware and just plain fun.
Bright paintings filled with meandering, loopy shapes are on view nearby. Some reference flowers, berries and tiny tendrils while others are more whimsical. Tying each of Brandt’s paintings together is the use of color; it’s both joyful and riotous, a rejection of all things drab.
The humor in these works doesn’t necessarily elicit laughter but it’s there nonetheless.
Curator Trish Lyell, who is a teaching professor at Skidmore and Schick Art Gallery assistant director, has always been intrigued by humor, which can be quite difficult to define.
“When people think about humor sometimes they think about laughter or they think about jokes, which is certainly in there but serious humor, if you will, is a very elusive thing. I find that artists with humor often get at the serious business of whatever their ideas might be in ways that disarm, that don’t take themselves too seriously, necessarily,” Lyell said.
Greenburger, who is known for the Duplex Planet series, certainly falls into the latter category. The exhibition features a series of his drawings, many of which are text-based and include amusing personal reflections.
Viewers may particularly identify with one that reads “The amount bitten off vs. the amount chewed.” It’s written underneath a composition of a large mass of swirls, representing the “amount bitten off,” which bumps up against a much smaller series of lines, reflecting the “amount chewed.”
Another drawing features cutlery with phrases like “ear infection,” “chickenpox” and “skinned knee” written on the handles. The accompanying text reads “Some childhood troubles.” Against a pink and white background the phrase “I will not make fun of nature when out on a walk,” is repeated in another work, reminding one of a grade-school punishment.
There’s subtle humor in Cutler’s lithographs, which feature depictions of women that are puckish and endearing, though a few of her works take on a darker tone.
“Millie,” one standout piece in the exhibit, features a woman with a boat strapped to her shoulders, with oars for arms. The blue-leaf pattern seen on her dress extends to line the inside of the boat, further connecting the woman and the boat. There is nothing else in the composition and the lack of context is confounding, yet it allows the viewer to imagine perhaps far-flung narratives of their own.
Nearby, in one playful work by Cutler, a pile of decadent destroyed cakes rests on the base of a birch tree, with an upsidedown treehouse perched in the branches above. Hints of figures hidden behind surrounding trees, each with a cake in their hand, are seen throughout the forest, poised to add their cakes to the pile.
Dotting the exhibition floor are abstract three-dimensional works from Celeste. Each is a combination of recycled objects and rather than using a binding agent to hold them together, their stability relies completely on the interdependence of the objects.
It makes precariously positioned works like the “Gall Blass” (perhaps a spoonerism of “Glass Ball”) all the more impressive. A series of croquet balls are balanced on planes of glass and granite, seeming to defy gravity.
“Humor Me” is a curiously uplifting show and will be on view through April 25. The Schick Art Gallery is located on the 2nd floor of the Saisselin Art Building. Hours are 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Friday and noon to 4 p.m. on weekends. For more information visit skidmore.edu/schick.