“See me, feel me, touch me. . .”
If this year’s Mohawk Hudson Regional was looking for a theme song, it could steal a tune from “Tommy,” The Who’s 1969 rock opera.
While you can’t really touch the artworks, you’ll feel the desire, as one-third of these 35 artists create with fibers or fabric, including wool, burlap, leather, cardboard, oak leaves and wood. Throw in the clay, stoneware and ceramic pieces, and you’ve got an exhibit that tilts toward fine craft, a show in which the materials and handwork are as remarkable as the artists’ ideas and dialogues with the viewer.
This year’s Regional at the University Art Museum, juried by Matthew Higgs, has to be one of the most unusual in the history of the 73-year-old exhibit. Only three painters were selected — Gail Kort, Marje Derrick and Tom Nicol —- and there are eight photographers, a smaller number than in recent Regionals.
‘2009 Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region’
WHERE: University Art Museum, University at Albany, 1400 Washington Ave., Albany.
WHEN: Through Saturday, Aug. 8. Museum is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. From 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, July 23, selected artists from the Regional will discuss their work during a “FastTalk” slide show.
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 442-4035 or www.albany.edu/museum.
Apparently, this was Higg’s mission, to punch through the boundaries of contemporary art, to be more inclusive. “I was looking for work that was idiosyncratic, for work that displayed a strong sense of its own identity,” he says in the catalog.
A British artist and director of White Columns, New York City’s oldest alternative non-profit art space, Higgs was totally unfamiliar with our Regional art scene (as defined by a 100-mile radius surrounding Albany), which is always a desirable attribute for the juror. However, in his five years at White Columns, Higgs has taken a special interest in “regional art,” works made outside metropolises, and has reached out to disabled and self-taught artists. That he was able to curate such a different sort of Mohawk Hudson Regional is yet more evidence of the deep and diverse pool of talent in our area.
And big-name jurors bring out the artists. Last summer, when renowned sculptor Joel Shapiro juried the 2008 Regional at the Albany Institute of History & Art, the number of submissions (1,062 by 244 artists) shattered all previous records. But now Higgs has trumped Shapiro, with 285 artists submitting images of 1,242 artworks.
Eighteen artists in the 2009 Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region exhibit were honored with awards.
-- Brian Cirmo of Albany received the University at Albany Purchase Award, and Raymond Felix won the Albany Institute of History & Art Purchase Award.
-- Twelve artists received juror’s awards: Barbara Todd, John Knecht, Dorene Quinn, Brian Cirmo, Lori Lupe Pelish, Gail Kort, Marje Derrick, Justin Baker, J.C. Jogerst, Joan C. McKeon, David Bodhi Boylon and Tom Nicol.
-- Four artists won gift certificates: Laura Cannamela, Jim Flosdorf, Raymond Felix and Mark Olshansky.
From the moment one walks through the door, there is a sense that this Regional is more playful. While this is probably not intentional, for viewers, it’s an upbeat escape from dreary economic times.
Sharon Bates’ colorful, airy sculptures, four of them, from six to 25 feet tall, hang from the ceiling and rise from the floor. On the first level, but especially when viewed from the second floor, the aerial blue, green, orange and red “cages” made of decorative found metal evoke feelings of freedom and joy. Interestingly, “A Delicate Balance” is installed in nearly the same corner where Bates, a Troy artist, showed an earlier, award-winning version of “the cages” in the 2006 Regional.
Inventor-artist Abraham Ferraro of Rensselaer takes a Pop Art twist with “One Morning I Woke With a Bright Idea,” an eight-foot-wide mound of bright-colored wires and flashing lights, topped with a giant, circus-like light switch.
“You can turn the light switch on and off,” the gallery person says.
Feeling highly interactive, I couldn’t help but sniff “Sachet,” three plump, seven-foot long fabric bags scented with cedar and suntan oil that are suspended on the other side of the room. They were made by Georgia Wohnsen of Dolgeville.
The fiber/fabric feeling emerges when, hanging on the wall, one recognizes two highly detailed “story tapestries” by Lori Lupe Pelish of Niskayuna, an Oakroom Artist and nationally exhibited fiber artist. Lupe Pelish hasn’t been in the Regional since more than 20 years ago, when one of her paintings was selected for a show at the Schenectady Museum.
Brian Cirmo of Albany is also known for extreme detail, and two of his fascinating, diary-like pen-on-paper drawings share the wall with Lupe Pelish.
On the first floor, the best “low-fiber” artworks are the animated digital portraits by John Knecht of Hubbardsville (Madison County). In “The Acquiescers,” cartoonish faces, wildly nodding their heads, appear on five iPods neatly lined up across the wall. “The Vigilant” is even more compelling, with the quirky sounds, facial movements (twitching mustaches and shifty eyes) and DayGlo colors of five animated characters on flat screens hanging on the wall.
There are more surprises on the second floor, works that you might not expect to see in a Regional.
Remember crewel embroidery from the 1970s? Jennifer Hunold of Albany spins craft into fine art with “Home Sweet Home,” a blueprint for someone’s house and yard that’s hand-stitched on linen. Names of rooms, dimensions, squares and lines, even the French knot bushes, are all rendered in colored embroidery floss. Is this a commentary on our high-tech age, when images/keepsakes are digital and no longer bear the hand of a family member who spent hours making them?
On another wall, you’ll see small cut-paper landscapes by Laura Cannamela of Valatie, and small abstract images in needlepoint and Persian wool that were inspired by Bach’s “The Art of the Fugue.” Mark Olshansky, from Great Barrington, Mass., is a retired wine importer and self-taught artist.
At the top of the stairs, there are five small figures sculpted in clay by Joan C. McKeon of Hannacroix; comical caricatures of old, rough peasant women, the kind you meet in a fairytales and Disney movies. Cross-looking, with mouths open as if cursing the world, they wear aprons around their wide middles, snoods and babushkas on their heads.
Richard Garrison of Delmar takes us back to a time before cell phones and computers, when messages were written in different colors of ballpoint pen. In two 40-by-30-inch “Spirograph” drawings, we are mesmerized by row after row of colored circles.
Kort, another Oakroom Artist and Niskayunan, is well-known for her large oil landscapes of the Capital Region. “180 Degrees, Seeing Schenectady in a Dome,” is different in that the viewer is invited to stand inside a painted four-foot-deep shell, surrounded and immersed in the scene. Painted on papier-mache, the image appears to be a view of downtown Schenectady looking west down State Street, with the viewer standing atop a building on Nott Terrace. While the concept is simple, the experience was exhilarating for this viewer.
With 81 artworks in the show, there are sobering pieces, too.
In the small, second-floor gallery or alcove, “Olive,” by Kelly Jones of Castleton, is a curious and unsettling installation, although it’s difficult to determine what evokes that feeling. The animated figure of an embryonic, alien-like being with a head and arm that looks like it belongs to Popeye’s girlfriend Olive Oyl, is projected on a screen that is anchored to the wall with a web of chains.
On the first floor, in what has to be another first for the Regional, two big glass jugs of human urine are part of an installation by J.C. Jogerst of Colonie. The work is a commentary on racial inequality, and taken in context, the urine isn’t really shocking or inappropriate. Unless you read the label, you may not even notice it.