One of the best exhibits you can see this month is not in Albany. It’s not at a college, and it’s not at a museum.
“Con.Struct,” which opened last month in the Arts Center Gallery at Saratoga Arts, has the muscle of the Mohawk Hudson Regional, an attribute that could have something to do with its heavyweight jurors and the strong presence of regional talent — with artists like Kenneth Ragsdale, Charles Steckler, Deb Hall, Robert Gullie, Ralph Caparulo, R. Jane Bouchard and Arleen Targan.
Collaborating artists Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, who selected the works, are big names in the art world, known for their staged photographic images and sculpture that explore and lament human detachment from nature. Their works have appeared in solo and group shows around the globe and are in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art and George Eastman House.
WHERE: Arts Center Gallery, Saratoga Arts, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs
WHEN: Through Saturday, Sept. 29. Gallery is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO/: www.saratoga-arts.org
In 2000, The New York Times declared their book “The Architect’s Brother” one of the 10 best photography books of the year. In 2013, the artist-couple will be in the International Biennial of Photography in Bogota, Colombia.
Robert teaches photography at Skidmore College, and the couple live in Saratoga Springs. “They just moved here,” says Elizabeth Dubben, director of exhibitions at Saratoga Arts and former director of Albany’s Amrose Sable Gallery. “We were very happy with the submissions for this show.”
While “Con.Struct” is in a much smaller space, there are 37 works by the same number of artists, which is more artists than this year’s Mohawk Hudson Regional at the University Art Museum, with 30 artists and 65 works.
Unlike the Regional, artists who submitted to “Con.Struct” didn’t have to live within a certain distance, but the works were juried in person so they had to be transported to Saratoga Springs. All media were considered, including installation art, digital and video.
Unreal places and situations
The biggest difference is that this annual juried show always has a theme.
Last summer, it was music. This year, they called for artists “who use their ideas, concepts and perceptions to build realities that otherwise would not exist without their mind’s eye.”
In “Con.Struct,” artists imagine unreal places and situations. If you plopped any one of these artworks on a table in the middle of a group of people, each person could create their own crazy story about it. In other words, each artwork tells a story, but the real narrative comes from the viewer.
Hall’s “Tomorrowland,” an archival digital print, is a dystopian landscape, a souvenir from a dim future where America’s scenic vistas have been infiltrated by industry, where factories sprout on the shoulders of a snow-capped mountain.
You might think “Mad Men” when you see Newbold Bohemia’s color image “Life’s a Picnic,” but look again. The beautiful blonde in the lace-trimmed party dress holds a baseball bat in her manicured hands, and the food and picnic basket are in violent disarray.
Murder might also be on the mind of Meaghan Carney, who offers a black-and-white photo with a film-noir feeling, as a pair of female legs in seamed black stockings emerge from under a chair and above is another grainy photo that could be the torso of the deceased.
There’s a robust serving of sculpture on the wall and on the floor.
Sharon Kingbury’s “Gaggle,” made of rusty metal shapes standing upright in a tight cluster, reminds one of a crowd of people (overpopulation?) from which one cannot escape.
“My Kitchen Is Closed” by Bouchard, in which a vintage pink toy stove hangs from the wall by a rusty hook, its door dangling open, carries multiple messages about female sexuality and gender roles.
Paul Chapman tricks the viewer with an optical illusion in “What Lies Beneath.” As you approach, you see a simple 3-foot-square wooden structure, but gaze inside and you are plunged into dizzying depths, as if you were looking down from a pier into the ocean.
“Toy Pony,” a neat hobby horse made of rusty old metal objects like tools, gears, toy tractor parts and a bicycle basket, is the largest sculpture, about as big as a real-life pony. Jenny Horstman of Fort Ann, who worked as a professional welder for 30 years, finds her materials in scrap yards. Are those bed springs that she used to make the pony’s tail?
Photography dominates this show.
Mark Bolles’ image of a green, mysterious skull-like form looks like something from a sci-fi movie and becomes even more interesting when you see the title, “Kemp Ridley Skull,” and recognize the remains of a sea turtle.
You might think about aliens from “Star Trek” when you see Tom O’Brien’s “Futropolis Species: Homo Nanoelectronica,” a fantasy image of the face of a human or robot with a cold stare and an ageless metallic “skin.”
Remember Michele Bachmann, last year’s Republican presidential wannabe?
If your politics leans to the left, you’ll chuckle at “Michele Bachmann Renovates the Everglades,” a large photo depicting oil rigs and helicopters, a field of soldiers’ tombstones and a cutout of Michele herself, with perfectly drawn eyebrows and a crisp peach-colored blouse, untouched by it all.
If you walk this show clockwise from the reception desk, when you get to the very last wall there is the sensation that you’ve fallen deeper into a dream world, perhaps the vision-inducing slumber called REM.
This is where you’ll see an opulent, cryptic assemblage by Steckler and the painting “Mr. and Mrs. Adam Angerstein” by Philip J. Palmieri, an artist who has four paintings in the aforementioned Regional, which closes today.
“My Soul Has Grown Deep Like the Rivers,” by Daesha Devon Harris, a vintage photograph of an African-American woman submerged under glass, as if she is underwater, is mesmerizing.
Harris’ photography show, “I’ve Got a Home: Inside a Community of Color,” documenting Saratoga Springs’ African-American residents, appeared last year at the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs.
And finally, there is “Opulent Mermaid” by Gullie, an artist who turns up at almost every Mohawk-Hudson Regional or Photography Regional.
Apparently, Gullie is going in a new direction.
This 2012 image is like a page from a fairy tale, as the mermaid figure, her fishy body encrusted in pearls, stands in a palatial room with ornate furnishings, including a pair of gilded armchairs occupied by a bear and a lion.
According to Dubben, you’ll be seeing a lot more of Gullie in a new art space at Albany International Airport.
“We partnered with the airport recently,” she said.
It’s called The Annex, and it opened in the late spring as part of the airport’s Arts & Culture Program, in the second-floor space where the Departures gift store used to be.
The current exhibit, “Robert Cartmell: In the Studio,” curated by Dubben, runs through November.
The Gullie show opens in December.