Gil Gentile, a new exhibition and publication designer at the University Art Museum, is stepping into a local tradition over 80 years in the making.
The annual “Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region” is one of the longest-running exhibits in the area, which means it comes with history and high expectations. This year, it opens on Thursday at the University Art Museum at the University at Albany and runs through Dec. 8.
It brings together 78 works by 39 artists, chosen from over 1,500 entries. There’s a mix of mediums, from sculpture to on paper, to virtual reality, and the subject matter is just as varied.
Artist Jean Shin, who is known for taking everyday objects and transforming them into site-specific installations, will be jurying the exhibition. Shin’s work has been featured at The Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, among others.
Gentile is in charge of designing the “2018 Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region” exhibition and creating the catalog around it. It’s no simple task, keeping the artists' works balanced both physically and in the catalog. But Gentile’s varied background in the art world have more than prepared him, he says.
Growing up in L.A., in a family of architects, creating art was a frequent pastime.
“As a little kid, we would always be doodling. It was how we hung out,” Gentile said. Though he didn’t set out to be an artist, he gravitated toward it after college, working for artist Cory Arcangel.
Arcangel is famous for his video game modifications, though he also works in drawing, painting and music in his pop-futuristic style. For five years, Gentile worked with the artist, working up from studio assistant to production manager, overseeing museum installations and solo gallery shows. Afterward, he moved back to California to work at the L.A. County Museum of Art.
“That was an amazing experience,” Gentile said, “I really liked working in the private universe. But there’s only a few stakeholders. If you work for a gallery, at the end of the day it’s a really small audience. So it’s been really great [to see how] all the work I’m doing is accessible to more people, [especially] people who maybe would never interact with contemporary art.”
But working with artists like Arcangel prepared him for the Mohawk Hudson Region installation. When he worked with Arcangel, he helped to create an archive and catalog some of the work that Arcangel had created, especially after the artist’s 2011 show at The Whitney Museum.
When the position at the University Art Museum came up earlier this year, he was surprised.
“Typically, the exhibition design and the publication design are totally separate departments in other institutions,” Gentile said. Yet, they’re both aspects of the art world that he’s worked in and explored over the years, so it seemed like a perfect fit.
As soon as he started at the Albany museum in August, he did a bit of digging into the exhibition’s history.
“One of the first things I did here was go down to the basement archives to look at our older [catalogs]. My process is very research-based so I was looking at the publications from the '60s and'70s,” Gentile said.
He also learned about the catalog design processes of the first directors. One former director would have all the pieces strewn across the table and would casually, yet carefully, cut and paste them together by hand before taking everything to the printers.
“I wanted it to have that energy,” Gentile said, “I think there’s a funny thing that happens with desktop publishing software. You’re dealing with an abstraction of a catalog.”
Instead, he has been printing things out to reconfigure the layout and make it feel like there’s a human touch behind it.
“This exhibition has been going on for 80-plus years and I’m trying to have the catalog reflect that, without being retro or nostalgic,” Gentile said.
The other challenge for Gentille is the exhibition design itself. The museum has an open layout with two floors and it’s also a walkway area, with classrooms behind it. Fitting 78 works by 39 artists in a balanced way has been a delicate puzzle to solve, especially because of the size of some of the pieces.
“There’s this work [by] Greg Skochko, he’s doing this giant inflatable car. It’s 10 feet by 20 feet by 15 feet,” Gentile said.
Besides its size, another challenge is the fact that it’s a living piece in a way. The piece, called “Big Bloated Car,” needs to be inflated when it starts to look like a melted car.
“It’ll be the North Star and everything will kind of work out from there [in] an orbit,” Gentile said.
Another living piece is an immersive virtual reality work by Jessica Ann Willis. Visitors can physically and digitally explore this landscape that Gentile describes as a kaleidoscope of textures and colors, physically walking around the exhibition space but mentally in the piece itself.
“I’m struck by the [fact that] there are so many different media. [Artists are] exploring VR and sculpture and even within painting and works on the wall, there’s a lot of variety. The work is very high-level,” Gentile said. The variety of work seems joyful, said Gentile, even as the artists are dealing with serious topics.
While Gentile is moving the long-running exhibition forward in terms of using the University’s space and designing the catalog around it, there will be plenty to ground the Regional in its place in history. A second exhibition, “Flow: Works by Alumni Artists from Mohawk Hudson Region Exhibits 2009-2017,” will be on exhibition as well, bringing a bit of the tradition’s most recent history. It includes works by Brian Cirmo, Andrew Dines, Jake Fallat, Ray Felix, Katrina Foster, John Hampshire, Jenny Kemp, Ken Ragsdale, Marilee Sousie, Wendy Ide Williams and Allen Yates.
“We’re trying to have the exhibition feel like it’s really a celebration of the local community and local artists,” Gentile said.
Like “Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region,” "Flow: Alumni Artists from Mohawk Hudson Region Exhibitions 2009-2017” runs from Thursday through Dec. 8. The Museum is at 1400 Washington Ave., Albany. For more information, including the list of artists in the exhibition, visit albany.edu/museum.
All located at the University Art Museum unless otherwise noted.
Artists’ Reception: 5-8 p.m. Fri. Oct. 19
Exhibition Tours: 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Sat. Oct. 20
The Creative Life: Conversation with Jean Shin: 7 p.m. Thu. Nov. 1 at the Performing Arts Center at the University at Albany
Alumni Artists Talk and Tour of the Collections Study Space: 5 p.m. Tue. Nov. 13