Left photo: Rebecca Murtaugh’s ceramic works are exhibited in the Music Room of Hyde House as part of Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region at The Hyde Collection.
Right photo: Pablo Picasso (Spanish, active in France, 1881-1973), Visage, (Face of Marie-Thérèse Waller), 1928, lithograph. Anonymous Loan, © Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York, Estate of Pablo Picasso, Paris, France.
Works from Picasso, Braque and Léger share the same space as works by local artists at The Hyde Collection.
Starting Saturday, the juried “Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region” exhibition will join “Picasso, Braque & Léger: Twentieth Century Modern Masters” in The Hyde’s galleries.
“It’s not an accident that it’s paired with ‘Artists of the Mohawk Hudson.’ I thought that it would be something of a challenge for our contemporary regional artists. I spoke to a number of them who are really excited that they are hanging next door to ‘Picasso, Braque and Léger,’” said Jonathan Canning, director of curatorial affairs and programming.
The “Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region,” has a long-running history of bringing together works from contemporary artists within a 100-mile radius of the Capital Region. It’s been going on for more than 80 years and this time around it focuses on a timely topic: the changing environment.
“I went through and looked at everything before even taking notes just to get a concept of what was there,” said juror Victoria Palermo. The Glens Falls artist explores light and color through both two and three-dimensional works. She has long-term teaching appointments at both Skidmore and SUNY Adirondack and has exhibited across the country, including in previous “Artist of the Mohawk Hudson Region” exhibits.
As the juror, it was interesting to be on the other side of things this year, said Palermo. One of the first things she noticed when looking at the entries was that the artists seemed to be contemplating the natural landscape, whether they were celebrating it or worrying about its future or depicting the impacts of climate change and a sense of general anxiety.
The latter becomes clear the moment one opens the doors to The Hyde. A large metal installation complete with neon text, a taxidermied opossum and Persian text greets visitors.
“This piece, which I immediately saw as being here, just puts people on notice that there’s something different going on,” Palermo said.
If the opossum doesn’t, then the neon-lit sign that says “Sway” or the Persian sign that says “Explore” or the 3-D printed prayer beads might give visitors another hint. The so-called beads actually reference physical rather than spiritual notions, with depictions of the Liberty Bell, the North Korean hydrogen bomb and electricity.
The piece, called “White Wash,” from the “Mirage Series” by Daniel Buckingham, starts off the exhibition, which is grounded in the Feibes & Schmitt Gallery, though many other works included in the show pop up around the museum, some in the most unlikely places.
As Palermo sees it, there’s an arc to the exhibition.
“It seemed like a major theme is going to be having to do with this perception that we live in an environment that is about to change. We could be the last generation to know it the way it is now. I see some of the idealized landscapes as attempts at memorializing this thing that may change very soon. So there’s work that looks like a traditional landscape with variations of that in various mediums or processes. Then there’s other work that refers to landscape but there’s something clearly amiss. There’s an indication that things are not quite right,” Palermo said.
Some of those idealized landscapes include Anne Digory’s “Into the Blue” and Sara Pruiksma’s “Dig Your Hands In.” Both memorialize the lush landscape seen in the shores of the Adirondacks and the vegetation around the area.
In the second stage of the exhibition, artists are drawing from this sense of anxiety that things are going wrong with the landscape and the world around them.
“These two are sort of indicative of anxiety,” Palermo said, referring to Sara Ferrell Okamura’s abstract works “Sinking Psychopath” and “Cyclops Convention.” The latter is bright orange with four large eyes running against the edge of the canvas. “Sinking Psychopath” shows a yellow-gold crown barely floating above a dark blue mass.
Nearby, a black-and-white piece shows two innocent-looking bunnies huddling in the foreground while a power plant shoots out a plume of exhaust into the air. Called “Sonata In Gray — Bunnies and Power Plant,” the piece by T. Klacsmann echoes the notion that something in the otherwise idyllic landscape isn’t right.
One has to look a little closer to spot that notion in Laura Christensen’s “Lake House.” The altered found photograph, which is framed in a wooden shadow box lined with velvet, reveals a house that’s clearly underwater, with fish swimming above and behind it.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Palermo said.
In the third stage of the exhibition, the works look to the future to ask “Where do we go from here? How do we rebuild?”
A sweeping abstract with bright amoeba-like shapes by Gina Occhiogrosso starts off the section.
“Something like this suggests recombining, but it’s abstract so it may say something totally different to someone else,” Palermo said.
Further along, a series of four woven portraits by Cyndy Barbone of women candidly smiling or laughing sticks out from some of the more colorful works around it.
“Her work used to be much more colorful and she changed her processes to eliminate color dyes because she read about all the water that’s involved in the water-dying processes. So she’s just working in monotones,” Palermo said. The piece is aptly named “Our Generation Should Be Different.”
The rest of the exhibition can be seen throughout the entire building, including the stairwell of the Museum’s education wing, the Rotunda Gallery and Hyde House. Rebecca Murtaugh’s coral reef-like ceramic works can be spotted in the latter. The contemporary sculptures are grouped together among historical portraits and furniture, drawing the visitor’s eye to the unlikely juxtaposition. Two of the sculptures have holes right through the center, making for a sort of lens through which visitors can see the historical works.
“We’re celebrating artists of the region. One of the advantages here is you are close enough to be able to get into the city to see art to inspire you and then live here in the quiet without the distractions so you have time to make art. Part of The Hyde’s job is to bring in the best that we can to inspire artists,” Canning said.
With “Picasso, Braque & Léger: Twentieth Century Modern Masters,” that is certainly the case.
The exhibition features more than 100 prints from the three cubists, though the majority of the exhibition features Picasso’s works.
“This is all one man’s collection and he’s only been collecting for the last ten years. It’s amazing. Just the quality of the prints and some of the history of the prints and who previously owned them, it’s an amazing collection,” Canning said.
Walking into the Wood Gallery, viewers get a sampling of all three artists’ work; the brightly colored prints from Fernand Léger, some of the early cubist works from Braque and works by Picasso that seem simple upon first glance but point to the artist’s understanding of composition and his ability to strip everything back to only the essentials.
The pieces are suggestive of faces, with only an eye and a curved line suggesting the shape.
“This isn’t as childlike as it seems when you first look at it,” Canning said.
His more complex etchings of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” which are also included in the exhibition, are far from rudimentary and the positioning of the two points to the artist’s foundation.
Each artist in the exhibition worked with publishers, poets and writers to create works to pair with a text.
“They were cubists together and they were searching for different things and their styles go off in different directions. What unifies them in the show is their interest in art books in working with poet and writers and being commissioned by publishers to do something more than illustrate a text, to provide imagery that is art of the level and quality of the poetry or the text of the book,” Canning said.
Braque worked with poets, sometimes having them read aloud to him for inspiration. Léger reluctantly worked on “Les Illuninations,” for a collection of Arthur Rimbaud’s poems.
Picasso worked on “Metamorphoses,” but he was also inspired by stories like the myth of the minotaur, which can be seen throughout the exhibition.
“La Repas Frugal,” the earliest print by Picasso, completed in 1904, features two gaunt figures sitting at a table. The woman looks out toward the viewer while the man looks into the distance out of the frame.
“It has a motif here, this figure of the blind man who looks out of the composition. Picasso was terrified of going blind,” Canning said. Not too far away, in the Whitney-Renz Gallery, Picasso depicts images of the blind minotaur.
Many of the prints in the exhibition are rare and have incredible, winding stories as to how they got there.
That includes the stunning lithograph “Visage (Face of Marie-Therese Walter).” In it, Picasso zeros in on the strong profile of Walter, which he echoed in other works throughout his career.
“When the collector bought this one it was still in its brown paper wrapping. Until the collector started exhibiting it seven years ago or so it had never been exhibited before. It had been presented to the printer and then just [stored away],” Canning said.
Other works, like “Fox,” by Braque, point to the friendship of the artists. Fox refers to the cafe where Braque and Picasso would often meet and discuss their work.
“There was a period where he and Braque lived within blocks of each other in Paris and every day they talked to each other about what they’re doing. So it’s very hard to distinguish an early Picasso cubist print or painting from a Braque. They influenced each other. They respond to what they’re doing,” Canning said.
While the two artists are credited with creating cubism, they approached it from different perspectives. Picasso came at it from the human form and was inspired by African masks, whereas Braque came to it through landscapes, inspired by Cezanne’s work.
Later in their careers, the two artists go off in different directions. Braque becomes interested in using the motif of a bird, which to him symbolized freedom, to create both negative and positive space. Many of his compositions from that time period are included in the exhibition, including “Bird in Flight,” from 1958.
Léger was more focused on color. Inspired by the effect of the neon lights on the faces of passersby in Times Square, he started thinking of color as a separate form of composition. In “Metropolitan,” and “Fetes de la faim,” bright bursts of yellow, orange and blue are separate from the lines and the figures in the work. They don’t necessarily fill in the expected sections of the piece, but rather create new compositions.
“Léger really provides the color and that’s in part an influence of him coming over here in World War II. People talk about how Lichtenstein and pop artist Warhol and others were influenced by Léger,” Canning said.
That sentiment gets at another reason Canning wanted to bring “Picasso, Braque & Léger” to The Hyde Collection. With the Feibes & Schmitt Gallery, which is a relatively new addition to the institution and dedicated to contemporary art, visitors are seeing post-war abstract works, which Canning said can sometimes be difficult for The Hyde’s audience.
“By bringing in ‘Picasso, Braque and Léger’ they start to see its origins,” Canning said.
Between the two exhibitions, The Hyde is doing what it does best, said Canning.
“We’re really representing our mission here because we’ve brought in the best and we’re encouraging the best locally. That’s our job,” Canning said.
“Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region” opens on Saturday and runs through Dec. 4. “Picasso, Braque & Léger” will be on exhibition through Jan. 5, 2020.
There will be an opening celebration for both exhibitions at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The event will include the presentation of awards by Palermo at 2:30 p.m. followed by a presentation by Bill McKibben, an author and environmentalist.
For more info visit hydecollection.org.