“Occupy your office. Occupy your body. Occupy everything, because while dreams can save us, we can only have them together in public.”
Nato Thompson, juror for the 2012 Mohawk Hudson Regional at the University Art Museum, is a social activist. He fervently believes in the power of art to influence society and culture, and his passionate “Occupy Everything” essay in the catalog is a call to action.
For more than five years, Thompson has been chief curator at Creative Time, the New York City non-profit that has championed artists and their social messages since the 1970s. Before that, he was at MASS MoCA, curating exhibits like “The Interventionists: Art in the Social Sphere.”
This year’s Mohawk Hudson Regional strongly reflects the juror’s point of view.
“The Regional is not about ‘the best,’ it is about what is of interest to the curator at a particular moment in history,” museum director Janet Riker asserted in a press release. “The art world today is a pluralistic environment, with many different voices and viewpoints.”
2012 Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region
WHERE: University Art Museum, University at Albany, 1400 Washington Ave., Albany
WHEN: Through Saturday, Sept. 8. Museum open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
HOW MUCH: Free admission. Parking is $5, exhibit catalogs cost $5
MORE INFO: 442-4035, www.albany.edu/museum
Thompson picked 30 artists from the 300 who submitted images, videotapes and installation proposals, and from that pool of 1,400 entries there are 65 artworks.
Compared to last year’s show at the Albany Institute of History & Art, with 163 works by 85 artists, this Regional is a sliver of local talent. And until this show, the 2009 Regional, also at the University Art Museum, was the smallest ever, with 35 artists.
But Thompson’s Regional has attitude. It’s stimulating and intelligent, with artworks about the environment and science, freedom and militarism, gender roles and more. And while it may buzz your gray matter, it won’t bang you on the head. You are free to think your own thoughts.
The journey begins with “Blue Line” by Tatana Kellner, a 6-inch wide ribbon of bright blue crocheted plastic made from recycled New York Times home delivery bags, that snakes and curls into the museum lobby.
The band of blue, 350 feet long, moves up the lobby wall and into the main gallery, passing banners of workers in white Hazmat suits. On the second floor, there’s a Kellner photograph of “Blue Line” in our nation’s capitol, making a cerulean track up to the Washington Monument.
In Colin Boyd’s installation, the wooden skeleton of a headless animal as big as a horse moves its legs with the aid of a wheel and pulley contraption, as a light casts its shadow on a white canvas screen. “American Bison” could be about wildlife that has been lost or replaced by genetically manipulated species or animals preserved in protected habitats.
In addition to her “Blue Line,” on the first-floor wall, Kellner offers “Into the Woods,” a series of seven clipboards on which she has taped ticks removed from her dog. The tiny spots of red, the blood-engorged insects we have all come to fear, create starlike patterns on glossy white backgrounds.
On another first-floor wall, there are three fascinating digital photographs by Sarah Haze of Albany made from images of botanical specimens viewed through a microscope.
In Thompson’s Regional, other things are broken or fall apart.
There are Chris DeMarco’s photographs of the rust-and-concrete remnants of U.S. Army buildings in Sandy Hook, N.J.
In “Slump,” a series of 28 gouache-on-paper images by Gina Occhiogrosso, roadside billboards lean over, collapse and crumple.
There is only one artist who uses a brush and a palette of oils, and that is Philip Palmieri of Loudonville.
His five portraits, with single-name titles like “Tia” and “Phil,” seem reminiscent of Old Master paintings in their soulful expressions and eyes. “Tia” even wears a white ruff collar, in the style of 16th- and 17th-century Europeans. But each sad face bears a bandage, covering a wound to the eye or head, and we can’t stop wondering what happened to them.
Last year, there were six video works, the most ever in a Regional. This year, there are five video installations or perhaps six, if you count a computer screen that flips the viewer through pages on Facebook.
(I’m still not quite sure what to make of this video art invasion of the Mohawk Hudson Regional. But the video in this show is first-rate, although, to view every second of it requires almost 30 minutes, which could subtract from time spent viewing nonvideo works.)
Fifteen artists were honored with juror’s awards, which included a cash prize from $100 to $1,000 provided by various sponsors. Those artists are:
Yaminay Nasir Chaudhri, Tatana Kellner, Chris DeMarco, Abraham Ferraro, Sanford Mirling, Sarah Haze, Allen Yates, Pooh Kaye, Linda Pinkans, Warren MacMillan, Colin Boyd, Bennett Campbell, William Jaeger and Mimi Czajka Graminski.
Artists Mark McCarty, Mandi Coburn, Allen Bryan and Alana Sparrow received gift certificates for $100 to $200 from sponsors.
Three artists were honored with purchase awards:
“American Bison” by Colin Boyd was selected by the Albany Institute of History & Art; “Spring Cleaning” by Pooh Kaye, was selected by The Hyde Collection; and a series by Allen Yates was acquired for the University Art Museum.
Among the video artists, Pooh Kaye, who ruled last year’s Regional, is back again with “Spring Cleaning.”
Playful and lighthearted, with perhaps a nod to our monkey and ape relatives, a young red-haired actress covers her head with leaves, rolls in a field and moves along while hidden in a turtlelike shell of twigs.
“A Pakhtun Memory” by Yaminay Nasir Chaundhri transports us to a street in Pakistan, where we observe a performance of music and dance that is interrupted by military police. “In this country, it’s difficult to celebrate happiness,” says the English translation at the bottom of the screen.
Nathan Meltz created “After the Day After,” an extremely clever and absorbing piece about a post-apocalyptic world in which animated characters that look like robots but act like human beings respond to the emergency.
And then there’s the Facebook piece by Sandra Wimer of Delmar. Three years ago, Wimer started posting pictures of what she ate for breakfast as her “daily status.” Then, she added photos of flowers in her garden. On a screen, we see these changing duets of morning glories and muffins, brown-eyed susans and banana slices; observing the pairing of colors in nature with the patterns of dishes and the textures of foods.
Whatever you think of the artwork, this year’s Regional is an opportunity to see an exhibit juried by one of today’s top young curators.
In 2004, when “The Interventionists” was the big exhibit at MASS MoCA, and Thompson was the museum’s 32-year-old assistant curator, he told The Gazette that the show “has been burning in my soul forever.”
Witty and satirical
The exhibit was witty and wildly satirical, with artists creating shelters for the homeless, conducting experiments about racial stereotypes and collecting and comparing trash from cities around the world. In one part of the exhibit, visitors were invited to bring in their food to be tested for genetic modifications in an on-site laboratory.
In a time when government seems bloated and stagnant, when many citizens are too apathetic to vote, Thompson’s mission of social awareness through art is inspiring not only to artists but to its viewers.
“Without the public, our minds lose juice. They become dried figs, ‘raisons’ in the sun,” writes Thompson.