Early in Thanksgiving week, on the third floor of Albany International Airport, a boy and a girl are glued to the window of the viewing deck.
When a Boeing 737 glides onto the runway, the children hop and wriggle with joy.
“Grandma and Grandpa are here!” they shout.
A few minutes later, another family arrives at the window, and their kids scurry back and forth, their eyes on the runway.
Before they depart, the young daughter stops in her tracks and stares at the wall.
“Look at the flowers,” she says, pointing to delicate pinwheels of color pinned to a white board.
“They are made of paper, handmade paper,” her mom replies, as she stops to read the label.
“That’s really cool.”
WHERE: Albany International Airport Gallery, third floor, Albany International Airport, Albany
WHEN: Through March 9; gallery open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: www.albanyairport.com, 242-2243
Every year, 3 million people pass through the doors at Albany International Airport. Half of them board planes and the other half are waiting for travelers. And for 15 years, since the Art and Culture Program took off, looking at artwork has become part of the experience of traveling.
Pride of place
On Nov. 13, US Today announced the results of a contest in which readers voted for “The Best U.S. Airports for Art.”
Albany International proudly ranked No. 7, and shared top-10 honors with the biggest airports in the land, including O’Hare, Denver and Philadelphia.
On the first floor, who hasn’t glanced at the gigantic fabric figures of a man and woman clad in T-shirts and baseball caps that loom over the ticket counters? “American Gothic,” a parody of U.S. travelers and their attire, was made by Benjamin Entner.
And how about the fantastic fish that transform a circular window into an aquarium on the second floor, where you wait to board your plane? That’s “Flying Fishes,” a digital print on vinyl by Lillian Mulero.
“Our audience is not your traditional artgoers. We think of ways to engage people who are waiting,” Sharon Bates, founding director of the Art and Culture Program, told The Gazette a few years ago.
The fabric figures and the fish are site-specific installations. They hang around for a while.
But the “flowers” that captivated the little girl are part of a new winter exhibit in the airport’s third-floor gallery.
Like every exhibit that has been presented here, “Second Nature” can be probed at whatever depth the viewer dwells.
“Nature is a word often used to describe things that we have not manufactured or meddled with. But today, it’s hard to identify what we haven’t modified — by choice or chance,” the wall text tells us.
Eight on display
There are eight artists in the show: Roberley Bell, Katie DeGroot, Adam Frelin, Jenny Kemp, Jason Middlebrook, Laura Moriarty, Karen Stack and Jill Parisi, and their works are arranged so we encounter each of them more than once as we explore the gallery, adjoining hallways and runway viewing deck.
At the top of the stairs, we see a sculpture by Bell in which a bird figurine sits atop a white globe-like form of handblown glass.
Under the bird, a greenish substance, like guano, drips over the globe.
Is this our deep doodoo, the proverbial “canary in a coal mine” warning of ecological disaster?
Or is simply a bird perched in triumph, one of those creatures that persist even though they “sow not, neither do they reap nor gather”?
In the gallery, other Bell sculptures remind one of Victoria Palermo’s candy-colored forms made of dripping rubber. But these forms are more vaselike, with wire stems that twist out and upward from the vessels.
In the hallway, Middlebrook’s “Getting Off the Grid Is Hard to Do” is mixed-media with a mixed message.
Around a rough log cabin, the mountains are denuded, the land blank and fruitless. And yet, in a hopeful sign, there are trees, bright striped patterned ones. Maybe they’ve learned to live another way, like the upside down trees at MASS MoCA.
In the gallery, you’ll find more Middlebrook, in tall, flattened triangles of real wood with linear patterns on them. Fascinated by the records of time found in trees, the Hudson Valley artist makes these sculptures from planks of locally sourced maple and walnut.
DeGroot’s watercolors of enlivened tree limbs appear in two places. On the viewing deck, each trunk or limb is isolated, and like a portrait, seem to take on a personality. In the gallery, where they appear in pairs, the trees reach out to each other with their smaller branches as if they were in conversation but can’t quite connect.
(Another tree painting by this Fort Edward artist was selected for the 2013 Mohawk Hudson Regional and can be seen at The Hyde Collection through Dec. 31).
Moriarty’s works are all about geology and she uses beeswax to make them.
In the gallery, chunks of wax in different shapes and colors are exhibited like sculptures in their own right. But these millefiori-like forms, made with heat and compression in imitation of earth-making forces, are actually like large crayons that she scrapes glacier-like along paper.
On the wall, a scroll of paper covered in this stream of colored wax ripples horizontally across three walls. Like the layers of the Grand Canyon, there is a feeling of time exposed across the millennia.
Next to Moriarty’s work, the sounds of rushing water, tweeting birds and whipping winds emanate from a mini theater where one can sit on a bench and watch Adam Felin’s 10-minute video “Terranauts,” set in Los Angeles.
It’s quite absorbing, but we won’t spoil your viewing by revealing any more.
Near the gallery doors, Parisi’s handmade paper is wafer-thin, as fragile and temporal as the fuzz on a dandelion.
What she makes is both recognizable and mysterious, as life forms are mirrored and imagined.
Exquisite detail and colors, both earthy and unearthly, are created with lithography and etching.
Like specimens on display in a museum, there are four glass cases of Parisi in the gallery.
In one, paper circles, from the size of a penny to a poker chip, float above a white board on pins.
In another, gaily colored shapes look like a collection of mermaid’s purse, those black egg cases from sharks and skates that are common objects on East Coast beaches.