Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Big Tent Shows

Robert Heischman
at the Bevier Gallery at R.I.T.

December is the month of the art fairs in Miami, and the idea of a warmer climate and all that visual stimulation motivates me to go out and see what's up in our area.  I didn't have to go far, because there is a faculty exhibition at the Bevier Gallery where I teach at R.I.T. and this show has some attractive aspects.  One of my favorite pieces in the show welcomes close inspection: a carved and sanded wood plate by Rich Tannen that employs a kind of Sol Lewitt design of cubes divided into parallel lines on a subtle wavy panel of glorious simplicity.  Robert Heischman paints the streetscape of India, complete with sacred cows, while on the other side of the partition there lurks a glass block with what looks like a cast of an ancient trilobite.

installation view at MAG
of "Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation 3"

If you want to open a new avenue of art exploration you must see "Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation 3" now on view at The Memorial Art Gallery.  There are so many new things to see, and such a vital call for your attention, we are honored to have this traveling exhibition here in our midst. You can also learn a lot by noting how this exhibition is arranged: three categories, art is aligned with a point of view - 1.  Evolution and Exploration  2.  Natural Selection  3. Historical Provocation/ Decoding History.

Native american contemporary art has not been given this kind of forum often, but things are changing and a market is developing for these artists.   Some of the featured artists carry over craft traditions from the trade goods of the 19th century - updated and upgraded - an example of which I found in the works of Dawn Walden ( Anishinaube (First People)) and Jeremy Frey (Paint Basket).

I haven't been in many museum shows that include decorated heavy weight punching bags ( Jeffrey Gibson's "Everlast" ) or a chain of animals made out of packaging tape by David Hannan.  There are delectable objects in this exhibition that capture my eye like Dan Townsend's amulet "Speaker of the House/Warrior made out of mother-of-pearl oyster shell that both recalls Mayan Art and Keith Haring at the same time.

Alan Michelson at  MAG
part of the Changing Hands exhibition

The political angle of being effective as a Native American artist is explored in some powerful ways, just go see this show and find Alan Michelson's "Phoenix" made out of handmade paper, or Shan Goshorn's "Educational Genocide: The Legacy of the Carlisle Indian Boarding School" made out of a sliced up historical photo of Indian children in front of the notorious school.

I was glad to find the products of G. Peter Jemison in this show -his signature decorated shopping bags were found in a long vitrine.  Last year I had Peter come to R.I.T. to speak to students about some of the same artists that are in this show.  Buy the catalog to read the essays and you come away from this gallery experience with new respect - and you will want to see more!

Peter Jemison at MAG in
Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation 3

Monday, December 10, 2012


Tarrant Clements 
at Phillips Fine Art
thru December 22nd

Tarrant Clements has a host of new intimately scaled sculptural artworks on display at Phillips Fine Art, 248 East Avenue.  Though the gallery itself is small in comparison to other art gallery spaces in Rochester, Tarrant's  dimensional artworks hold their own because of their often colorful aggregations of wood, wire, and even some kitchen utensils!  The exhibition titled "Celestial Songs" has part of its intent to be humorous - with one foot in folk art and one foot in formalism, while another aspect of her work can remind me of early armillary spheres    ( scientific models of planetary orbits ) and other forms of assemblage.  Tarrant Clements has a genius for invention, and all the while she demonstrates a firm ambition and a nod of respect for European Modernism.

Kurt Moyer at Axom Gallery

When I first met Kurt Moyer in his studio at the Hungerford Buillding I was surprised to see reproductions of paintings by my teachers from Cooper Union, notably Robert DeNiro, Sr. and Paul Resika.  These two artists from New York City were renegades and they formed a larger group that included painters Lennart Anderson, Leland Bell, and Paul Georges - all involved with figurative art at a time when the artworld was head-over-heels in love with abstraction( in one form or other ).  So why was Kurt Moyer ( who is a lot younger than I am ) associating himself with this earlier generation of painters?

When I was a college art student my guiding lights were artists like Poussin, Titian, Corot and Paul Cezanne - who said that he once wanted to paint "Poussin from nature".  Kurt may be younger, but he seems to be attracted to the same magnets of the human form in natural settings as one can see from his solo exhibition titled "New Arcadia" at Axom Gallery.

That Kurt goes outdoors to paint from time to time is nothing new; artists have been painting en plein air for decades, and although the traditional landscape painter hasn't been in the mainstream of American contemporary art doesn't seem to stop artists from gathering their materials to see what can be accomplished.  Having models pose in natural park-like settings was a theme that was handled recently by Keith Howard in a show I reviewed a few months back at Axom Gallery, so are we seeing a trend?

Where Keith Howard's art followed along the Adam and Eve Story, Kurt's narrative is a bit more generalized.  This demonstrates again, what can be taken from classical art and how it can be re-modeled and seen freshly.  Looking at Kurt's paintings reminds me of watching students swim in Nine Mile Creek along the reservoir in Ithaca.  There is no doubt that this art has a retrospective look, owes a debt to Cezanne, and looks toward a new choreography.

 The Center at High Falls Gallery

The Center at High Falls Gallery is a beautiful open space, with a schedule of shows drawn from the many artists of our diverse community.  The exhibition season is arranged around theme shows and the spirit behind this ongoing enterprise is Sally Wood Winslow.  At the moment there is a friendly show of paintings hanging in the main gallery, with many portraits by artists like Richmond Futch.  This gallery space connects with people, and it is a real asset to the Rochester area and its vibrant art scene.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Print by: Karen Kunc at
Davis Gallery in Houghton House
"Force of Invention"
now thru December 14, 2012
Hobart William & Smith College, Geneva,NY

There are aesthetic qualities that give hand printed images on paper a certain look and the artist Karen Kunc calls this "Printedness".  The agency of the printmaker is only applauded after a protracted focus on making a plate that is then inked and printed successfully.  Delayed gratification is always a factor in learning how to make a print because one never knows what you are going to get until the last few moments on the press.  Printmaking is absorbed in process; you have to be patient - not lose your enthusiasm to bring the print to its fullest expression.  Some artists work on their own plates and make their own prints, while other artists may create the plate or plates and have master printers make the print or a numbered edition.

Let's not get lost in the technical minutia of how to make a print - but concentrate for a moment on what story is being told with the image.  If you want to speculate on the value of metaphor in visual art, I can think of no better place to start with than the exhibition at Hobart William & Smith College, curated by Nick Ruth - now at Houghton House's Davis Gallery through December 14th.   Aptly titled " Force of Invention ", this show features "the Sublime Worlds of Lenore Thomas, Sarah Smelser and Karen Kunc".  These three active printmakers share a concept - to establish a narrative in an oblique fashion - they rarely address their subject matter in a realist or photographic sense - their stories play out between the realms of abstraction and personal symbolism.  Karen Kunc and Sarah Smelser both have a more kinetic dialog going on in their graphic image than does Lenore Thomas.  Lenore's prints tend towards flat planes of color, they are more obviously landscapes or diagrams of geology topped by a pattern created by applying smoke to the surface of the printed paper.

Karen Kunc and Garden of Disasters ( detail )

There in Geneva, New York, we were in the land of the artist Arthur Dove who lived there ( in the early 20th century) and pioneered a kind of exuberant abstraction whose legacy is shared by the printmakers in "Force of Invention".  Sarah Smelser works in the mid-west as does Karen Kunc, and in their art they seem to grapple with relationships of physical forces, interactions of color and layers of space in general. Smelser tends to be a bit more diagrammatic; Kunc tends to be more theatrical and both of these artists deserve more attention - their art certainly attracted my eyes.

Closer to home, I attended the opening of "Contemporary African American Printmakers" presented by Deborah Ronnen Fine Art in the Arts Center Gallery of Nazareth College.  The present show coincides with the Rochester premiere of "Lighthouse/Lightning Rod", a production by Garth Fagan Dance and the composer and instrumentalist Wynton Marsalis.  During the opening of the print show I had the opportunity to congratulate Garth Fagan on his successful collaboration, and I look forward to a terrific evening of modern dance and music.

Taking a look at the prints in this installation - we get a more diverse grouping than was found in "Force of Invention".  A visitor looking over these contemporary prints can find realism in the style of Rembrandt and Goya in the artists Kerry James Marshall and Kara Walker respectively, and one can also find reductive abstraction in the prints of Jennie C. Jones and Martin Puryear.  One of the more surprising aspects of this showing of African American prints were the "translations" from the Gee's Bend quilters.  I remember being taken by the quilts when I saw them in a show organized for the Whitney Museum in New York City, but I did not know that prints ( color aquatints with Chine colle ) had been made to document the look of these groundbreaking works of art.

Alison Saar
in " Contemporary African American Printmakers "
Art Center Gallery, Nazareth College through December 21, 2012

When I was painting in my loft in Brooklyn during the 1980's, my neighbor across the airshaft was Alison Saar, and I could watch her work away on large scale models, rugged forms which were part of her narrative about the social predicament and semiotics of being a working African American artist ( from a family dedicated to the visual arts ).  How to grapple with a painful history of a people, maintain your dignity as a person, control the integrity of your art and contribute to society as only an artist can - through a transforming vision - that is what I get from Alison Saar.  We will all see her artwork onstage with Garth Fagan Dance as she contributes the sets for this production of "Lighthouse/Lightning Rod".

The nine artists, plus the women of Gee's Bend who contribute the quilt works constitute a wide range of artisitic expression.  Of the younger artsits, Mickalene Thomas is a rising star, and her screenprints have a jazzy surface texture especially in "Why Can't We All Just Sit Down and Talk It Over" from 2006.  Luckily, for this viewer, there is much to see and think about, that is my take away from all of this "Printedness".

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Gallery Going As A Social Medium

"Painting Tuscany"
painting by Betsy Taylor on view
at The Mill Art Center & Gallery
Honeoye Falls, NY on view to December 1, 2012

The fall season I had experienced on the way over to the gallery was quickly followed by sunny summer weather indoors at the exhibition:  "Painting Tuscany".   Maybe it sounds like a scenario from a movie, but a quintet of ladies go to Italy, painting en plein air and come away refreshed and full of treasures - both memories and paintings made on the spot.  Accompanying this show of mostly portable size paintings is an enjoyable slide show of the rustic villas and countryside that is so eye catching.  We live a vicarious thrill in the Italian hills famous for their wines, for the gorgeous light, and the romance of it all.  Rebecca DeMarco, Denise Heischman, Jane O'Donnell, Sara O'Donnell, and Betsy Taylor remind us of how seductive painting the landscape in Northern Italy can be.

Over to the Axom Gallery on another night for an artist talk by Susan Ferrari-Rowley.  Susan carried on an animated discussion about her minimalist constructions and answered audience questions.  She made mention of the visceral nature of her creative act of sculpture and her practice of incorporating light and shadow as part of her concept - in evidence whether you visit the gallery during daylight or evening hours.

Susan Ferrari-Rowley
speaks at Axom Gallery
her show continues to November 17, 2012

First Fridays gets underway this November with hordes of people strolling through artist's studios and galleries creating a social buzz that certainly beats Facebook!  Go and see for yourself.... everywhere I looked there was something of interest from the Pop-up books presented by Bill Finewood at the JGK Gallery at 10 Vick Park A -  to the color abstractions of William ( Bill ) Sellers now on view at the Arts & Cultural Council for Greater Rochester.

Among the open studios at the Anderson Arts Building, I found Kathy Clem in her new multimedia space - showing her latest images developed on her iPad - these were colorful puffy kitty-cats that somehow morph into owls and fly away into a land of digital fireworks.  In the same building, The Shoe Factory Art Co-op has "Tone It Down A Notch" a show of minimal art for a modest budget.

My favorite things on this gallery ramble were photographs by Nathan Lyons on view at the Spectrum Gallery at Lumierre, and the photos by Patti Ambrogi and Owen Butler at Gallery r.  Walk over to 100 College Avenue and the doors open to a world of wonderful photos - a cross section of Nathan Lyons and his life's work behind the camera.  I was intrigued by the dialog of photos presented in pairs which maintain an elegant poetry of visual acuity.

Nathan Lyons
courtesy of Spectrum Gallery at Lumierre

I was pleased to see R.I.T. president Bill Destler and his wife at the opening of the show at Gallery r.  Well attended gallery shows develop a buzz, and then become the thing that you must see.  Hopefully all this social whirl has an economic benefit to the city, to the galleries, and to the artists who participate.

The retrospective exhibition of photos by Patty Ambrogi at Gallery r have a spectacular particularity.  I immediately want to go there - to the places she finds through her lens.  The goblins from the deserts of Utah, to a block of stone that resembles an ocean liner - these photos are a document of color and substance, a love letter to geology and geography.  Owen Butler's black and white photography is a tribute to a man who always seems to have a camera at hand - ready for that decisive moment ( to borrow a phrase from Henri Cartier-Bresson).  The eloquence of a glimpse into the life of a lady selling dresses on a hot day reveals a deep seated humanity that is not unlike reading the pages in a great novel....bravo!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pixture Me

Daniel Cosentino
at Rochester Contemporary Art Center
all photos courtesy of RoCo

At Rochester Contemporary on East Avenue until November 18th, see the show titled: "Me Pix", Picturing Ourselves in Video and Photography.  Social media is thrown into relief through the focus of fine art.  This kind of performance art has been going on for a very long while, and every pebble thrown into the pond of experience makes ripples, some even carry over long distances and have lasting power.  I am reminded of performance pieces ( "Happenings" ) that I witnessed as a teenager  in Manhattan in the 1960's, and some people talk and write about these occurrences ( see Mildred Glimcher's new book ) - in other words they become iconic, almost mythic events in the art world,  Why?, well it is the butterfly effect and somebody has to be there to document it.

Stefan Petranek shows structured portraits of individuals presenting scorecards of their latest thoughts - the equivalent of a cartoon thought bubble - except that many of the people here are involved in scholarly pursuits, some at the university where Petranek teaches.  A geneticist holds up a chart outlining a standard model of how genes are passed along to children, it is a grid she holds in her hand as she stands in front of a grid of windows - part of the architecture - and it is interesting how our pursuits keep coming back to the same primitive forms of lineage.  Petranek keeps a large format camera filled with film to carefully portray individuals engaged in thinking about the sciences and arts ( he mentions trying to photograph E.O.Wilson, whose new book "The Social Conquest of Earth" - well worth reading - is implicated in this exhibition).

Stefan Petranek
at Rochester Contemporary Art Center

How we present ourselves, and to whom, are big questions that open up a window onto social media. The notions of privacy have been eroded, and we are complicit.  "Happenings" were a particular event witnessed by a live audience ( my earliest New York exhibitions as a young artist were engaged with a small audience ).  Now this kind of performance has become inverted.. there are many people watching but they no longer get together to experience an event in the same place together as they may have in the past.  More often than not, people may be watching video from the comfort of their own home, and networking through Facebook - and this fact becomes the focal point for Ann Oren's part of the show.
Ann's video for example has a cartoon apartment room drawn in a very gestural style into which she places her actors and actresses to present typical human interests: cleaning up, taking a bath, playing an instrument, etc. and these simple acts are all seductive in their own way.  The viewer becomes the voyeur, and this is underlined by watching a lady in her underwear perform for the camera, a bit of eye candy for the jaded exhibitionist.

Ann Oren
at Rochester Contemporary Art Center

Daniel Cosentino has spent the past few years in Kosovo, one of the youngest countries in the world, - a hot spot recovering from dislocation, war and other traumas.  Daniel teaches for R.I.T. at this outpost and he works with media in a style related to Andy Warhol's "Auditions" - video or film with long takes and little activity.

Sound is not present, image is prominent, the drama is understated - we get to experience "real time"
in Daniel's work.  Very intriguing is the revolving swivel chair that the performers use during the videos.  The artist is forced to change his perspective through the efforts of a hand cranked transmission of power and vision.  It is this physical manifestation of a metaphor that is so apt for this show.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Meanwhile, Back at the Garden...

Keith Howard
at Axom Gallery

"Fleeing Eve", oil on canvas, 2011
96" x 24"

The Axom Gallery opens their fall schedule with paintings and prints by artist and printmaker Keith Howard, in his first large scale show in the Rochester area.  I have been looking forward to seeing this new batch of paintings, to see how they have progressed over the past few years since the series has been underway.  The show represents a kind of rebirth of photo-realism, but with a twist.  The 20th Century photo-realists represented a kind of neutralized view of common everyday scenes - if you think of paintings by Richard Estes or Robert Bechtel, and now here in the 21st Century we're getting a dramatized narrative, heavily influenced by Photoshop magic and declarative theatrical staging.

Another twist to this show comes with the recognition of the collaboration between the artist, the model, and the painter - that is the equation being rendered here.  The artist has a dialog with the model, who has found her place in nature, and she responds to suggestions and the act of being photographed by creating a pose.  Once a photo session is complete the artist assembles his composition with the aid of the digital tool box.  When the composition is decided upon -the painting is completed on the other side of the globe, in China, by "master painter" Xiang Ming Lin.  So the visitor to the show is forced to deal with contemporary notions of authorship.  The visitor is also faced with a touchy subject - that of the male gaze, and the very act that is being pictured here of Eve offering an apple, or about to suffer the consequences of her actions, as in the image above ("Fleeing Eve").

So we get an emotion that emanates from the model, captured by camera and re-combined with many digital elements in a cinematic panorama which then gets transformed into paint by another hand that injects a whole other vocabulary of expression in the subtle details and delicate brush handling that completes the circle (.. and then the painting is hung in the gallery and we get to ponder it).

It is no longer unusual to have artworks completed by an atelier, -this takes place because the artist is often under pressure to complete many more works than he or she has time to produce, and/or the artist employs a craftsman with a special skill or technique. Painters hire printmakers to run editions from plates that the've made, so Keith, who is a printmaker, turns the table on these expectations by hiring a painter to complete this work.

A few blocks away from Axom Gallery, you can walk downstairs to The Oxford Gallery and check out the "Water Work".  We are talking about the creations from three artists who employ water based mediums to paint in.  Roland Stevens has a conservative approach to his watercolors which meld an abstract structure to representations of Americana- sailboats, wrecked cars, duck hunters,- I am not sure what he feels most passionate about.  This is not the case with Barbara Fox, who fixes her attention on the way light passes through glass, or creates a quiet moment with a still life of poise and balance.
Back to the gritty life on the street, Chris Baker digs heavy equipment, and his gouache paintings of box cars with graffiti are part of the urban history narrative playing out for all to see.

"Cruising on a Starry Night'
by Barbara Fox, 
at Oxford Gallery

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Museum of Natural History

The Roger Tory Peterson
Institute of Natural History

Go up a little hill on Curtis Street in Jamestown, New York and nestled in the woods is a castle designed by noted architect A.M. Stern to house a collection devoted to nature study through art.  Here is the collection of artwork by Roger Tory Peterson, along with his library and spaces for invited guests to show their stuff along with a skeleton of a giant bear, and mastodon tusks from an ancient land.

If you have ever looked for a guide book to birds, you came across Roger's book known as the Peterson Guide.  It helped everyone get to know and identify birds using a diagnostic system that diagrams the important elements that you see when a bird appears that you may not recognize.  In the mid 20th century my father commenced work on the Golden Guide which propelled a larger population of bird watchers, to gather up their binoculars for some fresh air and some sharp observations.

I even got in on the act in the late 1970's - helping my father, Arthur Singer, revise his book for a second revised edition of "Birds of North America", which was published in competition with the Peterson Guide.  You learn a lot about nature when you have to draw from it and be very accurate about what you are doing.

This fall I have been invited to be the curator of a show "A Guide to Nature" the Art of Arthur Singer with Alan Singer being held at The Roger Tory Peterson Institute. Included in this show (which runs until December, 2, 2012)  are over 70 pieces of original art and some prints which document a long career in the service of art, education and conservation.  Birds are the primary subjects here as is appropriate in a museum built by and for noted naturalists, and Roger Tory Peterson and my father were friends that depended on each other for advice and counsel.  Painting portraits of birds didn't start or end with Audubon, but continues to this day with a much wider audience, due in part to the artwork of artists like Peterson, and Arthur Singer.  This is an art that most people can enjoy, they can see for themselves, and use as an aid in the field.

Along with the art of Arthur Singer is another show upstairs that included many paintings of another great pro - the artist Stanley Meltzoff who gained an international following for his paintings of big game fish.  He was an ardent photographer who documented sea life, and painted memorable scenes which few of us could witness in oil paintings of robust color and composition.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Baltimore Bridges Art & Math

Joy Hsiao
"Menger Sponge"
at Bridges,  Art & Math, Towson University

I'm down the road in Baltimore participating in "Bridges" an exhibition and conference that attempts to cross the divide that exists for some people,  between the practice of art and the application of math. This is one in a series of exhibitions that allows an affinity group to show their latest work in a juried setting, and publish a catalog of the result.  I was a bit nervous about the prospect of having my artwork
in this show, first of all - because I am not a dedicated mathematician, and second of all I don't particularly like the idea of having my art pigeonholed.

I used to think that math and art were on different sides of the same coin, now sometimes I think they are part of the same continuum.  I came out of a fine art tradition that owes a lot- to a more emotional bond in visual art, and less of a rational, structured approach.  But then I really like the art of Sol Lewitt for example, and I can't think of a more reasoned, analytical kind of statement than his work - maybe with the exception of Mondrian.  I like the minimal aesthetic,- there is something so Zen-like in the hit you get from a Sol Lewitt painting, print or wall work. But alas, Sol's artwork is not in this show.

My interest also remains with an art that is unpredictable, that shows you something you have not seen before, with a depth and clarity that real art contains, and has you coming back for more.  In my own art practice I have added the use of imagery that is derived from the visualization of algebraic equations.
Sounds pretty dry, but in the right combinations, I get what I want from a new composition.  But will it always be thus?

At Towson University, "Bridges" - the exhibition - can be found in the University Gallery, and it is a mixed affair.  There is a lot of repetition within the show, and that is probably true for many large art shows, but seems to be a weakness here.  Does the art go beyond the expression of a formula?
Does the art grasp your attention because it offers something beyond the craft of making a precise object?  Is symmetry always necessary?  Like making a catalog of snowflakes - too much of a good thing may stifle your ambitions for an art that goes beyond.

As I look over this large exhibition space a few works speak to me, including some cut out circles of mylar in layers by Rebecca Kamen, also beautiful mahogany knots by Bjarne Jesperson, David Chappell's "Meander" ( digital prints were all over this show ), and Susan Happersett's "Fibonacci Staircase", which is a scroll in the form of an artist's book.

I would love to see an image with as much power as Durer's engraving "Melancolia" of 1514 - so for "Bridges" I take away a feeling of an art that needs more metaphor to survive, some further relationships in the art need to be developed.  Most of the work is too solitary -too insular - not much humor or room for the errant splash!

BMA Free and Clear

Purple Robe and
Anemones, 1937 -
A late Matisse oil on canvas
from the Cone Collection
Baltimore Museum of Art

Just the fact alone that I could park on the street right across from the museum entrance warmed my heart, and I hadn't even gone into the museum yet.  Anything that makes a museum visit easier helps, especially because I want to pay attention to the art and not be annoyed by the ambience.  Top it off with no admission fee, and I'm in like Flynn.

Then there is the Cone Collection, ravishing Matisse paintings, and much more.  Above is one of those disarmingly nonchalant ladies that Henri Matisse loved to paint in his apartments along the French Riviera.  Matisse makes the painting look like an improvisation, but really it is the result of a lot of practice, and you can see in the collection some works that are not nearly as effortless ( or
seemingly so ).  Matisse's subject is conventional - a clothed portrait, a vase of flowers and a patterned wallpaper, but he makes it look so easy and it never becomes trite.

Another wonderful portrait was found elsewhere in the museum, and that was of a woman playing a game called "Knucklebones", in a painting by Chardin.  The painting shows evidence of having been framed as an oval, and that mars the surface of an otherwise magical mastery of light playing off the face of a woman in a blue apron.

The Baltimore Museum is undergoing some renovations and the contemporary art wing will re-open in November.  In the meantime a temporary exhibition honored the Sondheim prize winners so if you were curious you could see what is happening on the local art scene here in Baltimore..  I was more interested in looking into the period rooms in an otherwise uninhabited area of the BMA.  The collections also have some early 20th Century works by artists like Leger which I found of interest.
Perhaps on the way out you might get stopped by a sculpted man being swallowed by a big fish from the Pacific island of New Ireland.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Down Memory Lane

Jackson Pollock
Convergence, 1952
courtesy of the Albright Knox Art Gallery

Maybe it's not a lane,  - maybe a super-highway, and I took the ride west to the Albright Knox Art Gallery and beyond.  My goal was to get down to Jamestown, New York to visit the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, but first I stopped in Buffalo to reconnoiter.  There is always something to see at the Albright Knox, and I first wanted to see the stairway with the sublime Sol Lewitt "murals" installed, as I walked up to the exhibition "Wish You Were Here: The Buffalo Avant-garde in the 1970's".

Today, I look through my visual history in Buffalo where a certain germinal element of the "Pictures" generation of artists got down to work in the early 1970's and began to feed a collaborative activity which preceded and anticipated whole oceans of artwork.

Buffalo was the central location partly because of Hallwalls, and because of academic departments of the universities that supported some radical visual investigations.  Step into the room upstairs that used to house the Clyfford Still paintings and you will find the structural cinema of Paul Sharits.  Several film projectors call attention to themselves, not hidden from view, inside the darkened room - there is the sound of shattering glass, and you see blocks of color projected onto the side wall.  The colors vibrate, nudge each other and try to defy change.  This is a movie that doesn't move, like looking at one of the colorfield paintings from the collection downstairs, maybe a meditation on Mark Rothko.

I became aware of the Buffalo connection when I was an undergrad at The Cooper Union, because my teacher -Hollis Frampton had been engaged with a group of filmmakers in western New York.  Also, I couldn't miss the photos of Cindy Sherman ( now at MOMA ) that began to show up along with the disjointed paintings of Robert Longo among others.  I learned a lot more from this exhibition than I can write about here, but it seems that an environment (Buffalo in the early 1970's) can do a lot to stimulate a group of people to go beyond the norm (and beyond what is considered beautiful) - and really change the direction of the artworld.

Some highlights for me included the paper bag masks of Rafael Ferrer, the early "movie stills" of Cindy Sherman, a striking wall work from Sol Lewitt, landmark sculptural proposals from Nancy Holt, and paintings by Charles Clough.  This artwork, when I first saw it in the 1970's made me stop and wonder, and, I think, because it was so different than what I was practicing at the time - it really had an impact.

On my way down to Jamestown, I thought more about the environment I grew up in.  I was on the road to the Roger Tory Peterson Institute.  Roger was a guest in our house from time to time, and I had never visited this repository of his artwork.  One of our remarkable grad students from R.I.T. was having a full blown opening with over 50 works of art on view, along with carved wooden waterfowl from her late father.  I responded immediately to this exhibition and to the place in which it was held.

The Roger Tory Peterson Institute is like a rustic castle built to house the artwork and library of this celebrated artist.  Around where we lived , Peterson was a household word - because he was the author and artist whose book created a revolution in understanding and identifying wild birds - beyond what you might find in your backyard.  Peterson's attention to detail, attention to diagnostic elements in describing a bird was really important in our household, because my father was trying to use his talents to update and upgrade what Peterson had wrought.  So my father was a bird artist too, and he worked at home with great patience and care for the "plates" that he began to paint for his books.  Roger was a role model.

So on the walls now, on view at The Roger Tory Peterson Institute, you may find paintings on canvas by Melissa Mance-Coniglio, and drawings that are engaging in color and composition.  She gets the details right, and the pose of the bird is often active and engaging.  I am impressed with the ease with which she captures a robin on a nest, or the colorful reflections of water as a loon races by.  There is something so familiar in the nature that is portrayed here: it is familiar - but yet has a mystery about it - a special painting made in a particular moment by someone with a certain gift.

Melissa Mance-Coniglio
at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Home of the Grid

The Mano Project
a collaborative work created
by poets C.D.Wright and Forrest Gander
and artists Rick Hirsch and Michael Rogers
at the Vignelli Center at R.I.T. in April

In my past life as an illustrator and designer, I worked on a number of publishing projects that were governed by grids created by the designer Massimo Vignelli, so I thought it was totally apt to feature a collaborative work of art that projects that familiar format in the Vignelli Center at R.I.T.  The Vignelli Center (which really should be called "The Home of the Grid") has many displays that feature the ubiquitous designs that Massimo and his wife Lella Vignelli have created over a long and adventurous career as international graphic artists.  When I was living in Manhattan the Vignelli designs were all around me on my worktable, when I went into the subway (a famous map of the NYC subway system), on the buses (watch your step!) and shopping bags (for Bloomingdales among others), and so much more.

I put a link up on this blog to the Vignelli Canon, a book with great lessons in mass communication skills and a primer for all graphic designers.  Grids help orient us in space, whether it is a two dimensional page, or a three dimensional sculpture or even a time based animation.

If you walk into the Vignelli Center during this month you will not only be in a very beautiful, tall exhibition space, but you will also find artworks by Frances and Albert Paley, and in the center of the main room a collaborative sculptural work between two poets - C.D. Wright and Forrest Gander of Rhode Island and two artists from R.I.T. - Rick Hirsch and Michael Rogers.

The Mano Project has been two years in the making - it took an initial inspiration from a poem by Forrest Gander and the creative talents of well regarded artists such as Rick Hirsch and Michael Rogers and their dedicated students to make and put the parts together out of clay and glass.

An oversize mortar and pestle dominate the tableau, which sits on a checkerboard of glass or ceramic tiles that amplify the grid of the light grey floor at the Vignelli Center.  At the opposite end of the tile "map" stand eight clear glass jars filled with grains of various colors which can remind one of a rich outdoor marketplace with piles of spices or a ritual and or spiritual place portrayed in a Persian miniature. The Mano Project throws into high relief the personal artistic alchemy that takes basic elements of the earth and creates a sensitive work of art.

Another interesting grid I found across town at 176 Anderson Avenue in the inaugural exhibition held at the Axom Gallery, in the same building as the Steve Carpenter studios.  Paul Garland is the artist
and I found the grid of small paintings quite fascinating and worth the visit.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

To Spring Ahead

art critic for
The Nation,  Barry Schwabsky
visiting Rochester Institute of Technology
and the Bevier Gallery

Along with the aroma of sweet magnolias blooming in my front yard, the relative freedom of Spring has burst upon us.  It has been my plan to host Barry Schwabsky, the art critic for The Nation as my guest speaker and I am grateful that he has taken this opportunity to present a performance concerning contemporary drawing for one evening at The Memorial Art Gallery.  The specific drawings come from a Chicago collector Irving Stenn and you can look at this link for more detail:

After I introduced Barry to the audience,  we heard an extended philosophical prose poem while flashing images of contemporary drawings were seen on a large screen behind the speaker.  Barry explained at the start that he had thought about researching artists to find their images and apt quotes but then determined that the best way to proceed would be to write his own statements and submit them as "anonymous quotes".  So from the stage he commenced to intone 116 of them, and with the projected drawings it was like a mental concert.  Trying to get to the heart of what the act of drawing is like - so difficult, yet so much fun!

Earlier in the day at R.I.T., Barry and I dialog on how to prepare for a life as an art critic and what the publishing field is like for this career path!  We only scratched the surface..  Upstairs in the Bevier Gallery some R.I.T. graduate students were having their Thesis exhibitions.  An Asian student, Wen-Hua Chen has painted a floral motif on a baby grand piano, surrounding her were rows of watercolors and prints as she practiced her Bach for opening night. Barry and I check out Marchelo Vera's prints and video installation talking about the tech revolution and how it effects the up-and-coming artist.

Wen-Hua Chen at the piano

At the Bevier Gallery you can find Marchelo Vera's prints which were made in collaboration with a composer,  and the prints are used as a kind of score to be translated into audible tones.  On a monitor a visitor can interact with an ongoing animation of a spinning globe wrapped with one of the print images (all very high tech) and the result is an engaging linear networking - all very black and white.
Across town, there is another exhibition that has a remarkable similarity - prints by Kristine Bouyoucos in the Project Room of the Rochester Contemporary Art Center.  Her prints in color are indebted to classical music composition and the images include parts of musical scores in tribute to the composers.

WORK IT is the show that addresses labor and employment issues for the public and artists alike now at The Rochester Contemporary Art Center.  A wall of photos by artist Clark Conde represents a kind of field guide to the working world in and around Rochester.  One photo is presented for each day of the year, along with a little story about the featured workers and what they do.  At this show there are also 3d silk screened objects that parody children's consumer products by Jonathan Stewart, some fairly straight photo realist paintings of abandoned factory sites by Morgan Craig, and map-like quilts made by Kathryn Clark that show neighborhoods in red.  Zones in these quilts correspond to foreclosed properties that draw our attention to a financial disaster that hits so many so hard.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Artist's Proof

Ron Pokrasso at Rochester Institute of Technology
making a demonstration print for the Print Club

There is something very satisfying about watching a seasoned professional printmaker hand pulling a print and then presenting this work to admirers.  Hot off the press, you watch the creative process unfold and begin to understand something about the nervous system and personal aesthetic of the artist in the spotlight.  Ron Pokrasso's art is (employing basic crafty building blocks) very much like jazz - a set of improvisations that have been practiced from a variety of angles.  When you visit the exhibition  ( part of a series called "Makers & Mentors" ) now through March 18th at the Rochester Contemporary Art Center, you will see prints by Pokrasso, and paintings by Robert Marx, and David Bumbeck.

Bumbeck, now in his 70's seems to be a surrealist - achieving very odd juxtapositions in the collage paintings he has hanging on the walls in this exhibition, and these works require more than one look to see the archival images mixing with the hand painted ones.

Robert Ernst Marx sits squarely in a tradition of socially conscious artists such as Ben Shahn and Mauricio Lasansky ( with touches of early Francis Bacon peeking around the edges).  Marx has been an influential teacher known for his prints ( and his long association with SUNY Brockport ) showing his work widely to much acclaim.

In this western New York region, many working artists have become celebrated teachers in the visual arts and we can see their effect on students ( hopefully providing some inspiration and practical advice along the way).  Teaching in colleges and universities has become a respectable method of making a paycheck when sales of art lag as in this recession we are living through.

Sometimes teachers can have a profound impact on the direction taken by their students.  Maybe it was timing, and the conditions warranted it, but Keith Howard at R.I.T. has started numbers of his students down a path of non-toxic printmaking.  Keith came to R.I.T. at a time when the printmaking program was being threatened and through his hard work gradually turned it around.  Non-Toxic printmaking represents a change in attitude on the part of artists who wish to use materials that won't kill them while they are in the process of making their art.  With the change of materials used in the studio - the look of the prints changed too.  Couple that with the use of the computer as a studio tool, and you have a real revolution.

I was able to capitalize on this new direction in a show I have curated for the Ink Shop in Ithaca, NY.  Not only do I feature non-toxic printmaking in my show called "Process and Purpose", but I also make a point of demonstrating how a process effects the look of these prints.  The artist becomes an inventor - creating tools and methods that will ultimately create exciting prints for collectors and the public.  "Process   and Purpose" highlights a number of artists who teach from our area including Nick Ruth from Hobart William & Smith College, Ron Netsky from Nazareth College, Keith Howard, Bernice Cross and myself from Rochester Institute of Technology - and I even introduce one of my students - Charlie Campbell - in this show.

"Process and Purpose" has over thirty-five works by other artists such as Dan Welden who has travelled worldwide demonstrating his Solarplates.  These printing plates are light sensitive and can be "developed" using sunlight and water - very environmentally conscious - and then printed like a traditionally inked intaglio plate.  When I asked Dan Welden who he has made prints for in his studio he gave me this information: " I worked with many artists over the years, including your father ( Arthur Singer ).  Most of the earlier works involved printing with Tatyana Grosman when I printed for Rauschenberg, Motherwell, Dine, Johns and Larry Rivers.  I collaborated with Willem and Elaine DeKooning, Dan Flavin, Eric Fischl, Lynda Benglis, David Salle and a whole bunch of others.... and I still do an outside edition when asked."

If you are in the Ithaca area, stop in to see my show which will be up until March 31st, or come by for my talk about the exhibition on February 23rd at six in the evening.  You can also e-mail me for further information regarding "Process and Purpose" at The Ink Shop:

Printmaker,  Nick Ruth
at the Ink Shop in "Process and Purpose"
Ithaca, NY

Saturday, January 7, 2012

On Home Turf

Sculpture and paintings by
Len Urso

Time to stroll the blocks around Art Walk on a First Friday and you encounter a real social swirl.  I am heartened to see so many people out on a Friday evening to view some art and engage with friends and family.  I even noticed that some sales were made and that should make everyone's New Years list more cheerful.  To make matters even more interesting some of the artwork one encounters on a gallery night really is worth the effort it takes to get up and go.

Len Urso has a show at The Arts & Cultural Council gallery that is refreshing, giving us a spare aesthetic that is both colorful and very engaging.  Maybe you are not used to seeing a disembodied crimson hand
at such a large scale?  The drawing of the elongated fingers could come right out of a Botticelli portrait of Venus.  This a hand that was made to wave mildly or hold flowers - not one to grasp a hammer or steer the plow.

I was surprised to see so many paintings from an artist who is more known for his metalsmithing.  It seems as though Len Urso has taken a page from the Cy Twombly notebook - so many of the works have a word or two just barely legible, but enough to create some very rudimentary poems.  Len says that he spends just as much time with the paintings as he does with sculpture, and that they are all made in the same room so it is apparent that form building and color are fundamental to this artist's life.

A few doors down, Gallery r has opened in a new space with a show titled "Prologues" by three women who have an association with R.I.T.  Robin Cass, Karen Sardisco, and Elizabeth Kronfield look remarkably copacetic, each artist's work seems to echo the others in some way.  The Gallery r space is bare concrete floors, and simple boxy rooms, which let the art dominate and speak for itself.  Robin Cass's glassworks have a touch of Dale Chihuly in them, but the color is more serious and has the effect of an autumn cornucopia.   Elizabeth Kronfield contributes interesting floor sculpture in the first room that look like basketry, but in this case they are not woven from reeds or straw but rather from steel cable cast metal on heavy weathered wood work.  Karen Sardisco, who was featured last year in a show at Nazareth College, continues her explorations in painted forms that have the effect of carefully scaled simple organisms of muted ochres and pale greys, almost as if they were seen on a slide under a microscope.

Next door at the Spectrum Gallery, Bill Edward's bring's us a selection of photo and digital works by
Stephen Foster.  Mr. Foster has many things going for him:  the early black and white silver prints have a crystal clear approach to trees and landscape that gradually gives way to a more tempered scale -  all in a modest, easily scanned format.  In the more recent work the human presence is felt as a ghost or momentary vision, the "walking man" of Giacometti, less tortured than Francis Bacon but rendered none the less into a form of abstraction.  Which brings us around to the essence of color and geometry found in the most recent digital prints on view, we have come a long way in Mr. Foster's career at that point.

Finally, on a sad note - the passing of a friend and colleague from my early R.I.T. days. Norman Williams. He leaves behind his family and colleagues who still hear his voice...