The visual arts scene around the Capital Region was vibrant and varied in 2019.
From the creature comforts found in “Chew” at the Opalka Gallery to the discomforting works in “Like Sugar” at the Tang Teaching Museum, food had its moment on our gallery walls.
However, it was not to be overshadowed by the likes of “Hamilton,” which swept through our theater scene and led to the Albany Institute of History and Art’s “Schuyler Sisters and Their Circle,” a show that’s impressive in both breadth and depth.
Reporter and “On Exhibit” columnist Indiana Nash offers a look at some of our favorite exhibitions from around the greater Capital Region this year, along with excerpts from our stories about them:
At the Clark Art Institute
The bitter and brilliant come together in "Ida O’Keeffe: Escaping Georgia’s Shadow" . . . We get a chronological look at Ida’s varied career—she did everything from still life painting to experimental landscapes and abstractions—and how it was hindered rather than helped by her family ties. . . . "Ida O’Keeffe: Escaping Georgia’s Shadow" is a long-overdue exhibition, which highlights an artist who never got the recognition she perhaps deserved in her lifetime.
At the Francis Young Tang Teaching Museum
The saccharine smell of molasses and brown sugar has been wafting through the second floor of the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum for the last few weeks.
The scent is an inadvertent part of “Like Sugar,” an exhibit that puts the commodity in a historical, social and visual context that’s not so sweet. Right from the start, viewers are hit with advertisements with ridiculous slogans about the commodity, like “Sugar sweetens dispositions,” with an image of a grumpy child next to it. Crude-looking pieces of equipment used to make sugar are placed next to these bright, and very white, advertisements.
In the next room, there’s a large, chipped kettle drum that was once used to process sugar. Tools that were used to make sugar from sugar cane are nearby in a display case, all looking similarly beaten up. But then, there are photos of delighted families circled around birthday cakes, brought together by the sugar-filled confections.
At the Arts Center of the Capital Region
One can walk into the gallery at the Arts Center of the Capital Region and simply enjoy the vibrant linear works on display.
Or they can dig deep and “crack” the code.
In “Huelitic Code: Language Through a Prism,” Capital Region artist Michelle Bowen uses color to illustrate language. Picking 26 hues to stand in for letters — “R” is a light pink, “N” is teal, “V” is grey — the artist asks viewers to take the time to look beyond the hues in front of them.
Stripes of pinks, tans, reds, and yellows come together in her paintings to represent words like “democracy” and “love,” highlighting the way that language impacts the way we think.
"When viewers 'read' my work, they are forced to build a new relationship with language, and they are also forced to admit its vulnerabilities ... an important step towards change," Bowen’s website reads.
At Collar Works
We're often asked to keep a distance from visual art.
We're asked to see and not touch.
In "feel me," the latest exhibition to open at Collar Works in Troy, we're asked to do the exact opposite. . . .“feel me,” demands active participation, it demands one to think and experience the works rather than simply view them. It’s unlike any exhibition around the Capital Region (and most likely in other major cities at this time) and it is every bit worth the visit.
At The Hyde Collection
This was a tie between two shows, both of which were on exhibit at the same time: “Artists of the Mohawk Hudson Region” and “Picasso, Braque and Léger.”
“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.
“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 focused on Picasso’s works.”
At the Opalka Gallery
“Chew” combines the contemplative with the cheery to celebrate food, a topic that has long since been an inspiration for artists (think Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans” or Georgia O’Keefe’s still lifes). . . .
At the heart of the exhibition, the act of dining is explored through a distorted setting that plays with perspective. In Isabel Chun’s “Table for Two,” an actual dinner table and chairs are set up next to a semblance of one that looks as though it’s been flattened against a wall. It makes the piece seem reminiscent of a scene from “Alice in Wonderland” and draws attention to how the outside world disappears when people sit down to enjoy a meal together (sans cell phones, of course).
The exhibition gets playful again with cloth Super Soakers mixed with La Croix cans. In Mimi O Chun’s “Sparkling Soakers,” the artist juxtaposes the two intensely marketed products, comically recontextualizing them both.
At the Albany Institute of History and Art
If the objects at the Albany Institute of History and Art could talk, we’d know a lot more about the lives of the Schuyler sisters than we see in “Hamilton.”
Over a hundred objects from the lives and time period of Elizabeth (Eliza), Angelica, Peggy and from their family members are included in the latest exhibit to open at the museum, which offers a sprawling and detailed look at the Capital Region’s connections with Hamilton (both the historical figure and the musical).
Period dresses, petticoats, family furniture, Hamilton’s writing desk, portraits, books, fans, letters, and more all come together to weave the story of the Schuyler sisters.
At the Norman Rockwell Museum
Familiar favorites join the unknowns and the unexpected in “Norman Rockwell: Private Moments for the Masses.”
Featuring family photographs, self-portraits, sketches and personal ephemera, the exhibition opens on Saturday at the Norman Rockwell Museum. It’s a part of the museum’s 50th anniversary and thus, the exhibit is just one way that NRM is focusing on its founding artist this summer. The exhibit also celebrates the recent re-release of “My Adventures as an Illustrator,” Rockwell’s autobiography originally published in 1960.
“The show focuses on the idea that Rockwell as a close observer of human nature and the world around him, wound up incorporating a lot of his own personal experiences into his paintings,” said Stephanie Plunkett, the deputy director/chief curator at the Norman Rockwell Museum.
At the University Art Museum at UAlbany
Artist Nicole Cherubini’s work in “we are here,” is heavy on texture. Combining everything from clay to fiberboard, acrylic paint, buckets and other found objects, Cherubini’s work is both fantastical and familiar. . . . Upstairs, the works of Carrie Schneider play of off that idea of being engulfed in the work of art in front of you, so much so that the rest of the world melts into the background. “Rapt,” the title of the exhibition combines a few of the Hudson-based artist’s series, including “Reading Women.”
In a large, bright photo, the first we see in the series, a woman sits by a window, rabbit in her lap and head bent over a book. A row of portraits is lined up next to “Diana reading Anne Carson (Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse, 1998).” In each, the figures are similarly engrossed in a book. Some are languidly slouched on couches and chairs, others hold the book in one hand and a cigarette (or in Diana’s case a bunny) in the other.
At the Albany Airport Gallery
Airports are places of uneven pacing. Sometimes we’re rushing around to get to our gate and other times we’re waiting for hours on end for a connecting flight. The only time we really look around is in the latter instance when we’re grounded and the abundance of time has driven us to wander.
The latest exhibition to open at the Albany Airport Gallery, “Patterns of Engagement” reveals some unexpected things one might not notice about the airport and will give one a different appreciation for all the comings and goings of what can seem like such a transient place.
The idea behind “Patterns of Engagement,” was to get contemporary artists to respond to the people around and the character of the Albany International Airport. . . .
It’s a unique approach for the Airport Gallery and it made for a more interactive exhibition than the gallery has seen in several years.
That’s especially true for Chris St. Cyr’s work, which invites viewers to take a much closer look at some of the seemingly familiar sights around the airport. He’s one of the eight artists included in “Patterns of Engagement” and used his graphic design background to create a scavenger hunt by photographing spots around the terminals accessible to both employees and the public and turning them into kaleidoscopic patterned images.