Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Print Club at 80

Satan's Camaro
a printmaking collective
at the Lockhart Gallery
in The Memorial Art Gallery
part of an exhibition
 The Print Club of Rochester's
80th anniversary

The Print Club at 80

Walk down the hall to the Lockhart Gallery inside The Memorial Art Gallery this winter and inspect the works on paper.  No, this is not a show of octogenarian book collectors, it is an exhibition titled "Great Impressions" honoring The Print Club of Rochester as it turns 80 years old.  The Print Club is dedicated to fine art printmaking and fosters interest from artists, print collectors and students of this widely varied artform.  It also sponsors, through membership dues, the creation of signed limited edition hand pulled prints that are among the benefits of joining this engaging group.

Of course there are other art clubs in the city of Rochester, but none have such a specific focus, as you will see from this show.  "Great Impressions" is made up of 33 presentation prints which were selected to represent various techniques and highlight the accomplishments of some of this country's greatest printmaking artists.

I guess it is fair to disclose that I have been on the board of The Print Club for a number of years, and I have worked hard to raise the level of recognition for printmaking through my art, and through my work for this non-profit organization.

A new generation of artists is coming up to rejuvenate printmaking, -witness the materials in the vitrine around the back of the show and read all about Satan's Camaro.  Here,  techniques used to make their prints are as delicate as smoke and as hard hitting as a steamroller (no, literally!).

It is not easy to summarize this small show, and as the sign says in front, it is almost impossible to define printmaking today.  Traditional printmaking usually employs an artist who creates an original image on a block or a plate that is then transferred onto paper or other substrate, but that would leave out silk-screen, photogravure, Solarplates, and much more.

"Great Impressions" is not a tutorial on how prints are made, but rather a greatest hits show of beautiful art that can be had for the price of a membership.  You can start a collection on a tight budget and still get world-class art for your home or office.

Some of the artists you will encounter go back to the initial days of The Print Club.  Thomas Nason and Henry C. Pitz may not be familiar names to the gallery goer, but one of my favorites, James D. Havens should be known to a wider audience especially for his wonderful woodblock print " Blackberries".

In the early years of The Print Club, most prints - etchings or wood engravings were printed with black inks on white paper and Claire Leighton's "Cotton Pickers" is a good example of this.  If the artist had a particular knack for a medium like lithography you might find evocative light and shadow, giving a print graphic impact in a work like "Adirondack Cabin" by Rockwell Kent.  Today, art by Rockwell Kent is among the icons of early 20th century American art.  But it is hard to predict whose art will be elevated to this status - you just have to look for the gems among this collection.

Among the prints on view you will find major names in the field like Clare Romano who wrote a book with her husband John Ross called "The Complete Printmaker" (it was her artwork that got me started making prints when I was ten).  Our local talents are not left out of the show and you will find a colorful photo lithograph by Joan Lyons, and graven images by Ron Netsky and Jerome Witkin in the Lockhart Gallery show.

The Print Club has commissioned modern artists to make an edition each year to be distributed to club members, and some recent highlights include Carol Wax's mezzotint,  Gregory Amenoff''s print "Arcadia" and Paul Resika's color etching of a boathouse.  Seeing this bounty of terrific images makes me want to know more about each artist's work, and maybe even take one home to hang on my wall.
If you want to know more about The Print Club look at the web site:

Take a look at this new resource:

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Photo by John Pfahl
Cedar Mesa, UT
from the show "Metamorphoses de la Terre"
at Nina Freudenheim Gallery, Buffalo

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has been looking around museums and galleries for contemporary art these days, that the energy revealed is so scattered, the focus is so personal, and the methods so diffuse, that this era could be summed up for its ephemeral art.

The aesthetic of early 21st century art is more ambiguous than let's say the irony of the 1960's.  Maybe I can catch a thread of a story first told by Marcel Duchamp and carried forward through Robert Rauschenberg and made manifest in the art found in the shows titled "Alternating Currents " presented in venues around Buffalo.

I do find an art of sublimation, an art of aura, with an atmosphere of indirection in the exhibit which is celebrated under the larger aegis of "Beyond, In Western New York" when I recently visited the Albright Knox Gallery.

The show does touch on a few real experiences, one of which I found in a drawing by Joan Linder of an office (at a mortuary?).  Joan sets about trying to create a match between her drawing ( all those obsessive little lines) and the rather mundane equipment found in the outer office with notes tacked up on shelves -highlighting cremation services- amid boxes of latex gloves that serve as bookends.

Kai Althoff contributes a menagerie of sculpture on a circus theme - a large lady made of wire bends over backwards - and immediately my mind reverts to Giacometti's "Woman With Her Throat Cut".  Maybe it is the grim atmosphere outside the museum that clouds my vision, I just can't feel the necessity of the cage with the playful lion, except that it gives a friendly nod of recognition to Sandy Calder.

Sheldon Berlyn's colorful abstract paintings remind one of the formalist days, but these paintings sometimes are too thin, and I really prefer David Reed for a good gestural sweep, or even someone like Polly Apfelbaum for a new color-field experience.  Victoria Bradbury on the other hand did sound a deeper note of history; of nostalgia, and employs today's technology to revise our notions of what a photograph can signify.  The painterliness of this installation is informed by processing software - which is the magic lantern projection of today, here using images of a bygone era conflating past and present.

James Carl's sculptural presence is welcome in the present company because of its primary focus on form.  Overlapping and creating woven patterns of plastic window shade/blinds isn't a unique idea ( I think of Martin Puryear) but at least Carl's sculpture lends tangible form to a very understated exhibition.

Richard Huntington's paintings mingle with the old masters of modern art to a great and subversive effect, especially as a next door neighbor to Matisse.  A funny "Our Lady of Perpetual DeKooning Shapes" at least got me to chuckle, a rare thing in this dissolute gathering of regional art.

Leaving that all behind me, I travel down Elmwood in Buffalo to Nina Freudenheim Gallery, and walk into an oasis of photography by John Pfahl.  I have been following his work for years and recently I see that he has revisited his "Altered Landscape" series with experiments taking old images and reworking them by applying blends, and digital blurs; making the earth malleable and "plastic".

Suddenly, photography is an expressionist canvas in which anything can happen.  In a few instances this concept is almost indistinguishable from reality, as in the lava forms found and photographed at the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii.  Some images have been subtly exxagerated, other images like "Lower YellowstoneFalls" verge on kitsch.  My favorite images from Cedar Mesa in Utah, remind me of color field paintings, very frontal and tactile.

Carl Chiarenza in the Dean's Gallery
at R.I.T.

Unless you work at Rochester Institute of Technology, and happen over to see Dean Frank Cost of the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, you probably would never know of the Dean's Gallery.  It isn't much more than a modified hallway that allows Zerbe Sodervick and her Gallery Management class to mount shows mostly of alumni art.  This season we have been treated to a wonderful showcase for Carl Chiarenza which he aptly titles "Ephemera" ( which comes full circle to my earlier characterization ).  You may know Carl's work from his many books and exhibitions ( some of these books- lavish portfolios- are included in the exhibit).  Carl says of his work, " My process creates form and subject simultaneously", which might sound like a formula but really isn't.  What Carl does is create collages  (which are later thrown away) and photographing his artwork at very close range - leaving only the photo as evidence that a collage ever existed.

So, there is a dynamic and a value placed on what remains; the photo is the final state of affairs for the performance of this art that owes a debt to the cubism of Picasso, Braque, Schwitters and Anne Ryan.  Carl's artwork is so intimate, so improvisational, and also at times presented on such a monumental scale ( especially for something so humble in its origins) that it is viewed as completely transformational- and for that,  it simply must be seen.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Karma Comes To See You

Alex Grey
"Journey of the Wounded Healer"
Optical and Visionary Art

"Psychedelic Optical and Visionary Art, Since the 1960's" is a slowly opening time capsule with a provocative premise: can an art exhibition hold together polar opposites?  My experience as an artist, looking at this show, is one of amusement and wonder- this is an effort at revisionist art history in the making.  When a minimalist Frank Stella can hang on a wall in close proximity to Albert Alvarez "Karma and Death" - they do seem to pervade my consciousness....  What kind of story is this show trying to tell? Is it extolling the virtues of recreational drugs? It certainly takes me back to the old mantra of "sex,drugs, and rock n roll".

Outlined here for the viewer:  there once was a time when all the rules were challenged and a few were broken (but this might also be read as over-the-top indulgent and narcissistic).  Is that the point?  Is this show a cautionary tale?  I would have loved to be in the room when the ideas for this show were developed..

Then again, what need does this show answer?  It is a cabinet for the curious, and maybe it will also pull in some of the baby boomers who actually lived through the experience of the 1960's.  Looking back, if the 1960's brought a period of self-indulgence, it was also a period of the civil rights movement and the birth of feminism, plus an anti-war movement that swept the country.  Social activism, and heightened consciousness for every living thing seemed to co-exist, thank you very much.  That is the background providing a foundation for the art on view at The Memorial Art Gallery.

If you believe the philosophy professor and art critic Arthur Danto, then the historical narrative of progress in art came to an end with Andy Warhol's "Brillo Box" - and what we see here in this show is an implosion - where the practice of art fragments and consumes itself.  Zap Comix - popular underground reading material from R. Crumb (not represented in this show - but tonic for the 1960's) is sorely missed as is the anarchic painter Peter Saul, and the optical art of Bridget Riley ( just to name a few missing links).

Enter the exhibit under the theatrical lights that create a swirl on the walls and floor ( and in your mind) and you find the sophisticated in a dialog with the self-taught.  Years ago, many of the paintings on view would have been considered Folk Art, but maybe these distinctions are disappearing.  This is part of my impression that this show is a tug-of-war between various art world factions.

I have my arguments with Fred Tomaselli (about copyright issues) but I like his constellations of pills in "Ripple Trees" that is one of the keystones of this show.  Within his work there is an interest in nature and geometry,abstraction, silhouette and reality all rolled into one.  I think a hallmark of late 20th century art is a layering of representation and meaning, in several paintings in this show such layering creates a busy surface which takes time to read properly.

Sometimes the reading of the painting is not as logical as one might expect.  An example might be the Cartesian spaces described in the painting by Al Held ("South of West 1") that lead to visual paradox.  The wall label mentions string theory, but my guess is that Al Held is trying to subvert the strict logic of geometry which he obsessively constructs.

I had the good fortune to be present at the creation of one of the major paintings on view, so I can remember it first as a drawing on canvas, and then remember the process that Alex Grey employed (great clarity and sense of purpose).  His "Journey of the Wounded Healer" has attracted many who come to marvel at this triptych that describes three stages of life (and death).  Alex was my neighbor for a while, and he learned his craft while working as a medical illustrator and a preparator of cadavers for dissection. A follower of Tibetan Buddhism, Alex and his wife Allyson are building a museum in Wappinger's Falls New York for their artwork.

I mentioned obsession before, and that seems to be another characteristic of this exhibition -  excessive detail( gone is the modernist slogan "less is more").  Exceptions are made for artists Phillip Taafe, Stella, and Victor Vasarely - who are more attentive to a stricter premise and give little attention to embroidery.

George Cisneros provides "Cascades of Jubilation" - a video presentation complete with dark room and round mirrors that is the equivalent of Pac-Man( a prototypical video game) built with a primitive computer from the early 1980's.  In those days even the photo on this page would have required more memory capacity than what was on board that old Apple ll.  Boy, have we come a long way in such a short time! ( or is that an illusion too?).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Moving Image

Life is fluid
photo by Alan Singer

A great photograph can bring tears to my eyes;  I am subject to the force of images - as I suspect many others are too.  Today the pace of image making must break all speed records, pictures come at us from every angle, demanding attention - and I am caught in their spell.

The first exhibition I attended - where photography was given respect as art - was "The Family of Man".
It was arranged by Edward Steichen, and it was the culmination of his life's work as a photographer and spokesperson for a movement.  I was with my parents, I was not more than five years old, but  I clearly recall the images from that show, now more than half a century ago.  Most if not all of the photos were in black and white, though some of the prints were very large.  I imagined myself, even at that young age, as a photographer having my show at The Museum of Modern Art.

Even though I am known as a painter and printmaker, my first exhibition in New York City was a photographic performance piece.  At that time I was a college student who shared a dark room with Joel Peter Witkin at The Cooper Union.  We took classes with Roy DeCarava ( who passed away recently ) who was known for his portrayals of jazz greats in smoky clubs.  Before I got to college I had my own pantheon of photography heroes, and within a few years I would get to meet most of them.

Walter and Naomi Rosenblum's daughter, NIna, was in my class at The Cooper Union.  Nina as I remember painted my portrait one year.  Her father, Walter, was a teacher and skilled photographer responsible for lifting up the reputation of Lewis Hine, who was himself a great photographer of American grit and determination.  Dr. Naomi Rosenblum has written a classic history of photography; her research and clear thinking are essential.

Before I left college I was awarded a scholarship to Yale/Summer at Norfolk, and by coincidence Walter Rosenblum was teaching the photography classes there, so I had a chance to learn from the best.  My dark room technique improved, and I was beginning to feel self-confident - enough to get into an argument with the visiting artist Walker Evans ( who happened to be someone I had great respect and admiration for ).  At first, I didn't recognize him ( he had a white beard ) but he did speak with a voice of authority.  I knew his work with James Agee in "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men", and I had collected Walker Evans photos which I cut out of old Fortune Magazines.

The following summer I had the good fortune to be on scholarship to Boston University at Tanglewood, and once again, Walter Rosenblum was there to introduce us to Paul Strand who was there for a screening of his movie "The Wave".  Paul Strand was quite old at that point and loosing his eyesight, but for me he was the Corot of early 20th century photography.

I had to make up my mind about what I was going to do with my art, and I felt my photos would never match up to these great masters, so I took another path towards painting and printmaking.  I made large paintings that had a hard time fitting into small gallery spaces in New York City.  One such place on east 69th street was The Carlton Gallery.  Carlton Willers' contacts in the photography world ran deep and wide.  I met Helen Gee of Limelight, Helen Levitt, and Josef Koudelka, but the absolute high point was when I was introduced to Henri Cartier Bresson who was having a show at Carlton Gallery, not of his photos, but of his drawings!  It was at that show when Carlton offered me a signed Bresson photo of  Matisse drawing a white dove... but I couldn't scrounge the $500. to buy the print. My great regret!

The Carlton Gallery closed after a few years, but I had a chance to meet many interesting photographers and artists there.  Now it is my turn to be the teacher, and as I work at R.I.T. I can reflect on how paths cross, and I can speculate on who the future artists will be and the stories they will tell.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Stepping Out For Art

Andy Gilmore in  "Geometries"

The sponsor for this blog deserves a lot of credit - First Fridays is a new incarnation of what was once called "Gallery Night", but now it should be called a hit - and credit can be given to all those who come out to the venues to see what is new, and support the visual arts.  Enthusiastic crowds of people who jam the parking lots, and maneuver their way to the gallery venues - make all this effort worthwhile.  For the artists who are on view - their work would not be seen in such large numbers were it not for the collective effort of gallery owners who stay open a few more hours on a Friday evening once a month.

The Design Gallery at RRCDC is a few steps up from the parking lot at The Hungerford Building on Main Street. The lot is full and First Friday ( Oct 1, 2010 ) is getting underway.  "Slow and Steady" is a photography show that celebrates the slow food movement and is a testament to the produce and the people found at public markets in and around our area.  Our public markets, where farmers and their customers meet, are uncut gems just for the finding.  Christin Boggs presents a suite of photos as her MFA Thesis exhibition and they have a tinge of nostalgia around the edges; maybe it is the belatedness of the color or the casual cropping of the images....

A recent closing of their Park Avenue location has meant that R.I.T.'s student run Gallery r has to look for temporary space to stay with its schedule of exhibitions, and it has gotten off to a rousing start with a friendly amalgam of art and music in a rambling show capitalizing on the same spirit of enterprise that brought Black Mountain College to national prominence over fifty years ago.  At The Hungerford Building the show is called PORCH, and there is interactive art being produced - the notion of collaboration is alive and well.  Installations, and separate works of art indicate a lively, inquisitive student body, which holds much promise for the future.

Recent graduates take over the Joy Gallery on Rochester's west side for a two person essay on the state of abstract art in a show titled "Hard Work".  Here lyrical layers of color in deeper tones by Bradley Butler rub shoulders with hard edge grids of color by Rick Minard.  Butler has a knack for improvisation and the experiments can be dark, poetic and oceanic.  Minard on the other hand is more analytical, precise and buoyant in his color choices.

The whole notion of analysis is paramount in the show titled " Geometries" at Rochester Contemporary Art Center.  This show also catches the wave of journalism that informs many contemporary art projects, in the sense that artists keep track of the days they work, and are conscious of the passage of time.  You could say that the art of Christopher McNulty is cumulative, and embodies meaning,  even makes meaning manifest in the content of his art (marking time).  A circular work on paper is created by making 20,193 little burn marks to commemorate each of the days that an actuarial table predicts that the artist has left to live. Some artists have that ability to make the notion of time palpable, and I think of the delicate drawings of Vija Celmins, and the many photos of Muybridge - who literally demonstrates the duration of actions and reactions on bodies.

Perhaps most telling are the prints left by an auto exhaust pipe in common use by the artist. Set up like pages from a diary, I began to wonder if the marks made were more than Mr. McNulty had hoped for - this is literally your carbon footprint.  For gallery goers looking for beauty- this kind of exhibit can get you to think but also reward you for your efforts.  "Geometries" contains experiments in color by Andy Gilmore  who is a designer/illustrator passionate about form and making eloquent use of the inkjet print.
Max Bill had his way with primary colors in the old analogue days, and Mr. Gilmore updates this pursuit with digital blends and layers that are simple, clean and elegant.

Mitch Messina, and Karen Sardisco had their opening reception in Nazareth College's Arts Center Gallery, and they look like two artists who grew up together.  This juxtaposition of cast metal sculpture alongside mixed media paintings in frames makes the space of the gallery vibrate with figuration.  Karen Sardisco's art contains fragments and diagrams of plants and cell structures, grids and other accumulations usually in dark marks on a light ground, in some ways reminding me of art by Terry Winters.  Messina, a popular teacher who now heads the department at Nazareth College is an active sculptor with a social message:  the figure found in groups or singled out - is vulnerable, and maybe won't fit into the machines that are built for them.

Remarkably, I saw all these shows in one evening with a return to the Hungerford Building to see an installation by my neighbor, Sterz.  He is a sculptor of light and action - in this iteration we have two florescent pink sheets of acetate hanging from the high ceiling, they dance in a breeze from an electric fan - through which a theatre spot light casts its ethereal glow on a white wall.  The thin sheets hanging from a thread move about within a small circumference, the effect of the dance of light and color is mesmerizing. I am reminded of a line from William Carlos Williams:  "so much depends upon a red wheel barrow"..  and I am thankful for an art that merges into poetry, into psychology, into simplicity,  into life.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Art & Engineering & Biennial

photo courtesy of Memorial Art Gallery and A.E. Ted Aub

A parade of people are coming to Rochester this month to praise the Erie Canal as the engineering marvel that changed our land and spurred growth throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The World Canals Conference will be meeting to discuss the future of canals and what their role will be in the 21st century and beyond.  "Re-Inspired"  an exhibition of art will accompany the World Canals Conference and travel to New York City and Troy after the conference has concluded.   The Oxford Gallery will extend that vision with a show titled "Waterway West", and both invitational shows will begin in mid September.

As a frequent visitor to the Erie Canal, I am pleased that there is a trail for biking, running and walking, and along the extent of the canal you can find vestiges of American history and feel a heightened sense of space.  The canal may be New York's most prominent landmark ( next to the Empire State Building) and yet its public purpose can be renewed and should become a vibrant feature once again.

Claude Fayette Bragdon ( 1866-1946) was someone who had a lifelong experience with art and engineering and a small collection of his work is on view in the Lockhart Gallery at the Memorial Art Gallery.  A collaborative and friendly relationship between Fritz Trautmann and Claude Bragdon is celebrated in this little show that highlights their accomplishments as artist and architect respectively.

Years ago I would have thought that mathematics had nothing to do with art, but seeing the work of Charles Bragdon could change all that.  His mathematical abstractions from the late 1930's anticipate much of computer/digital modelling  and his sense of color ( aided by his friend, the painter Fritz Trautmann) softens his Modernist tendencies.   In the end, these two American artists are nowhere near as extreme as their European counterparts coming out of the Bauhaus, nor as visionary as a Frank Lloyd Wright or Buckminster Fuller, even though the vocabulary is so similar.

Stepping across the threshold of the Main Gallery at MAG, the visitor is greeted by A.E. Ted Aub's sculpture as part of this year's Biennial honoring six mid-career artists.  Ted Aub is a teacher at Hobart William & Smith College in Geneva, New York and his five works in bronze and one in Hydrocal (pictured above) have a kind of cartoonish streamlining that reminds me of Art Deco and Elie Nadelman.
Like toys that are knocked off balance, Ted Aub's figurative sculpture brings an element of discomfort
along with the playfulness of his topsy-turvy world.

The spirit of play and light fills the next room with Anne Haven's contributions to this exhibition which include my favorite artwork in the show which is titled "Grace".  Such simple pleasures, but also eloquent and ethereal in the sound and movement of dangling silverware!

Should you be having too much fun looking around Anne Haven's mixed media pieces, you can always temper that with Alberto Rey's mural size paintings of dead fish  from his series "Aesthetics of Death",
or watch his documentary video "Biological Regionalism".  I think that the temper of this Biennial is  summed up in a little statement from Anne Haven's: between the priest and the jester.

There are appeals to our collective conscience in the mixed media art of Julianna Furlong Williams.  The human condition's of illness and mortality is never far away in the rugged statements made in a series of modestly sized works which can include handwriting, photos and gritty paint-handling.
Photos by Rick Hock, also communicate through iconic statements augmented in typographic
headlines: "NOIDEASBUTIN" (2010), and "WHAT I SAY GOES"( 2009).  There are some paralells here to the work of Barbara Kruger but without the sting of her confrontations.

Lawrence M. "Judd" Williams taught at Rochester Institute of Technology and has been a contributor to many shows in Rochester.  He was one of the artists featured last spring at the Rochester Contemporary Art Center in "Makers and Mentors".  Here "Judd" Williams  relief constructions of wood and mixed media comment on rhythm and number,  titled "Increment" ( One, Two, or  Three), and these works have a craftsman's sense of specific detail, while not being too fussy, trying to overwhelm us with technique.  The paintings of Sean Scully, and maybe cross hatch paintings of Jasper Johns come to my mind as I look at this work, but then I look away at the free standing complex called "Stacked Land"
and I am in a realm that neither of the aforementioned artists could have created.


Monday, July 26, 2010


Kurt Moyer
"Frost Pond", oil on linen

With so much rain during this summer, my garden is lush but gets out of hand if I don't give it constant attention.  I like to be outdoors and think about how artists' portrayals of nature have helped form my personal aesthetic.  Childhood memories include my father packing art supplies on family vacations so we could paint on location.

Great art will stand the test of time.  Some subjects (like landscape) may never go entirely out of fashion, it just seems as though some artists' styles get dated.  Style is more about what you leave out of a painting; and style also has to do with how an artist structures space in a painting.

If you go outside to paint (en plein aire) - how do you begin to comprehend nature in all its variety?  If you can understand what you are seeing, how does that translate into color, shape, and atmosphere?  How will you determine what is essential to your art?  With that in mind we could begin to look at some paintings in recent exhibitions and have a view into the artists' modus operandi.

At the Arts & Cultural Council gallery on North Goodman Street in Rochester, we have bright new paintings from Kurt Moyer. Roughly divided into three sections, Kurt Moyer's paintings are figurative realism within a classical compass.  Nude bathers, calm bosky ponds, and spring flowering are all handled with a painterly, not overly fussy, approach.  It seems as if it is a perpetually sunny day in Kurt Moyer's world where people swing in a hammock, go sailing or cavort in the woods.  Associations could be made with Manet and Cezanne - but seen through a more contemporary lens - so that these paintings are neither the transgressive fleeting nudity of Manet, nor the heroic near-abstractions of Cezanne.  Kurt Moyer's matter-of-fact observations translate with joy and care for his subject.

Scale, the relative size of things, becomes a critical factor in landscape painting - it helps or hinders our "reading" of the artwork and can render a painting more or less chaotic if the artist is not sensitive to it.  What is painted with clarity and what is not becomes an issue to be addressed.  In photography it is the focal point and the sharpness of edges relative to lighting that can determine how we respond to a scene. Something similar happens in painting.

Windsor Whip Works Art Gallery

Just outside the city boundaries of Binghamton is the village of Windsor, and on Main Street a beautifully renovated store has now become the two story Windsor Whip Works Art Gallery. Bill and Johanne Pesce migrated up from Long Island to create this art center which is becoming a magnet for visitors and artists alike.  On a recent weekend, I met George Rhoads at the opening of a show of more than one hundred of his imaginative landscape paintings.

In the 1960's George Rhoads had shows in New York City of his expressionist paintings, but he is known more for his kinetic sculptural installations found in many museums and in collections around the world.  Rhoads was educated in Chicago and has been an artworld presence for over fifty years.  Curiously,  only one or two of his sculptural works were on hand at the Whip Works Art Gallery, and the rest of the space was given over to his and his son Paul's paintings.

The mostly smallish size of the paintings does not mean that George Rhoads is a miniaturist, but it does mean that for the viewer to make the most of the experience- you have to get very close to fully enjoy the work.  A typical George Rhoads landscape has a quality that folk art seems to share - unusual brightness of color and unusual clarity in places that make the reading of the work more structured and more uniform than would happen in nature.  George Rhoads does not paint on the scene, these are more memories or evocations of places, and at their best they are knit together like a fascinating quilt of color and texture.

George Rhoads
at Windsor Whip Works Art Gallery

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Landscape with People

Landscape with People

Catching up with my summer reading, I am ensconced in the letters of Fairfield Porter (1907-1975) and an autobiography of Marcia Tucker ("A Short Life of Trouble", University of California Press) who died in 2006.  I met both of these people when they were forces in the artworld, but that artworld was much more circumscribed than what we have today, which is perhaps more democratic but spread rather thinly.  Fairfield railed against the technology that ironically would help make the arts more accessible, but he would also bring his firm intellect down on media and critics who were too authoritarian.

I regularly follow a few writers on art including Peter Schjeldahl ( Let's See) in the New Yorker, Barry Schwabsky in The Nation, Michael Kimmelman in The New York Times, and Sanford Schwartz in The New York Review of Books, among others.  When I read their words, it is like I have an extra set of eyes and ears and I am enlightened and entertained.  In Fairfield Porter's letters ( "Material Witness", University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor)  he details struggles in his life and art that jump off the page.  Early on, other artists like Willem DeKooning overshadow him, and he frets but defends his position as a painter of intimate family life ( with some substantial tools that set him apart in the early 1950's).  Porter's book of art criticism ( "Art In Its Own Terms") will renew your interest in painting if it has lagged, and any artist who paints the landscape owes him a debt.

Marcia Tucker's book is much more present, and as a curator and museum director she has left a richer legacy that is still being tested.  The first few chapters of her memoir could be called the trials and tribulations, as she deals with death and near-death experiences - not the kind of thing you would expect from an art history student, and soon-to-be curator.

I felt her impact when I lived in New York City where she curated shows for the artists Bruce Nauman and Richard Tuttle while she worked at The Whitney.  I could have guessed that she was an early feminist, that she was an engaged political activist and she bucked the system which turned her out and away from The Whitney Museum and onto a path towards directing her own museum.

Her show "Bad Painting" sent out ripples in every direction and it was just one of the noteworthy projects she instigated while working at her start-up "The New Museum" before it found a space in Soho.  I think I saw every show she produced for a number of years while she was first at an annex to The New School on 14th Street, and later when "The New Museum" moved down to Broadway.
The late 1970's and 1980's brought "pluralism" and efforts to shake the gallery system and the old boys network that so dominated the visual arts in prior decades.

Marcia Tucker provided a role model for women in the arts, she blazed trails that few had taken before she arrived.  She had courage and smarts, and stayed on course even when the going was very rocky and she was almost broke.  Even if you never knew of Marcia Tucker, you can still feel the repercussions of what she accomplished in the world of visual arts.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Art Cities

Big Bambu
takes the terrace garden to new heights
at the Met.

We went against the traffic and drove down to the Big Apple, and The City of Brotherly Love.

In NYC, the august Metropolitan Museum of Art is an unlikely place to find an unruly thicket of bamboo, but there it is - taking over the terrace above Central Park.  In case you thought that the gardener went berserk, take the time to catch up to this latest artwork from Mike and Doug Starn and buy your ticket in advance for a guided tour of "Big Bambu".  Thousands of bamboo poles have been erected to create a kind of floating scaffolding which you can enter on gently sloping paths that work their way upwards and around.

The Starns have been making art in the New York area for over twenty years.  I was at their first show in NYC when the art critic for the Village Voice wrote: Run! Don't walk to see their exhibition.  Last year
subway riders who stop at South Ferry found that the Starns had revamped the space with wall murals of
fused glass that represent silhouettes of the trees in Battery Park.

Back at the Met, several floors down, a neat little Picasso exhibition of paintings and prints is underway. There are several standout paintings like the portrait of Gertrude Stein, but the balance of the show tilts towards Picasso's graphic art with a room of linoleum reduction prints and a suite of later etchings featuring the artist as an old Musketeer recounting his various conquests surrounded by consorts.

My wife, Anna, and I were art tourists, visiting sites in two cities, and soaking up the sun and fair weather like a magic elixir.  By design, we stopped in at the Barnes Foundation down the main line from Philadelphia.  Dr. Barnes was a collector without peer in the early 1930's and his specialty was finding great European art and crating it up to send back home in Merion, Pennsylvania.

Ultimately, he wanted his collection to be a teaching tool, and to all this he added a school of horticulture.  Surrounding the museum is an arboretum, which on a summer day was verdant and beckoned the gallery goer, so we took advantage of the fresh air to think about what we had just seen.
Acres of Cezannes, Renoir,Seurat, Modigliani, and Matisse.  Exquisite metal work, folk art and American Indian art, some of it hiding away in the basement ( what a shame - if you don't use the facilities, you might miss the terrific collection of Acoma and Laguna pottery! ).  A new museum is being built to harvest the Barnes Foundation's art, so it will all move to a new location nestled next to The Philadelphia Museum of Art within the next few years.  If you want to experience the collection in its original setting - they only sell one hundred tickets per day to visit, so don't put it off.

Monumental sculpture often demands resources that only a team of creative people can deliver.  Steve Sears, of Sears Iron Works gave us an insiders look at how he has helped fabricate many of the large scale public art pieces that Philadelphia is so proud of.  We were standing in Center City learning the details of how Robert Engman's sculpture "Triune" came to be, and how William Penn was cleaned from his perch atop City Hall.

Around the corner, we inquired at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts ( the school that brought us Thomas Eakins and many others ).  Finding our way to the Fabric Workshop we sat down and contributed a drawing on one of Mel Chin's blank bills that he is using for "Fundred" his national interactive art project.  Mel is using the leverage of visual art to focus attention on the contamination of our soils from lead and other toxic metals.  The idea is a kind of visual testament or petition which will be delivered to Congress from all corners of the country.  Read about it online and participate, this form of social activism is both timely and necessary.

Robert Engman's "Triune"

Friday, May 14, 2010

Cut and Paste, Fabricate and Weld

Ellen Stoll Walsh signs a book at Ock Hee's Gallery, Honeoye Falls, NY

Two very distinctive solo exhibitions opened last week by artists who have had great success with their work.  I can't help but draw some comparisons between the art of Ellen Stoll Walsh and Albert Paley even though their personalities are so different and their audiences wouldn't recognize each other.

Along with her garden and her antiques Ock Hee presents an exhibition of childrens book art by a best selling author and artist.  Ellen Stoll Walsh makes her home in the Rochester area, but her books will be enjoyed around the world, and those lucky enough to see this rare showing of her select original art from her books are in for a treat.

Ellen Stoll Walsh shares some formal similarities with other author/artists like Eric Carle ( his book "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" might be an influence) and their art is designed to be engaging, enlivened by balancing silhouettes of primary color with activated open space of white pages.  What you can't see from the printed pages of "Mouse Count" or "Dot and Jabber and the Big Bug Mystery" is that her art is a very sophisticated form of collage.  Her art is totally integrated with the story she tells (though it is possible to understand "Mouse Paint" with no text at all).

This is where I begin to think of "Albert Paley in the 21st Century" on view this season at The Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester.  There are many facets to Paley's artwork and recently he has added a form of illustrative sculpture that is not too far removed from Ellen Stoll Walsh's silhouettes.

Albert Paley bucks trends often found in contemporary monumental art.  As if the whole enterprise of minimalism hadn't occured, Paley's art is feathered, fragmented, and maintains alliances with cubism and Art Nouveau.  Austerity is not in Paley's DNA - it is more like full orchestra with chorus.

Even though Paley's  art is three dimensional, there is a reliance on planes of cut metal that at a much smaller scale could easily be Ellen Walsh's cut paper dandelion leaves.  What we see in Paley's work right now is a translation of rhythms in nature displayed with pictorial concern.  In fact, Paley's art is rejuvenating a regard for composition -something we haven't seen in Cor-Ten steel in the wake of Richard Serra and Mark DiSuvero.

Albert Paley has accepted commissions from civic boosters, private collectors, zoos and corporations.  His reputation has grown steadily which keeps his studio collaborators buzzing with activity.  Surprisingly, this is the first large scale exhibition of Paley's sculpture presented in Rochester, his hometown.

"Albert Paley in the 21st Century" contains many drawings ( in distinctive red pencil ) and many models or maquettes for much larger artwork.  Visitors to the gallery are greeted with a dashing photograph of Paley handling searing hot metal, forging a new element to be added to a work in progress.  Above the photo is a quote " The main function of ornament is to articulate emotion" which seems to preempt questions that are raised by the complexity of Paley's artistic expression.

Portals, gates, and semaphores seem to be the basis or premise from which he builds.  The elements of utility and adornment are never far behind.  Particularly impressive are the skills needed to forge and fabricate this sculpture.  The physics and engineering alone, to balance weights and keep the art stable, must be a daunting task.

I was particularly struck by his most recent art for St. Louis, MO; Trenton, NJ and Monterrey, Mexico.
Albert Paley's show is long overdue, and we can only begin to assess how his art addresses the landscape or cityscape in which it finds a home.  It is well worth the effort to keep an eye on Paley's symphony of form.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Museum Building

I witnessed the Herbert F. Johnson Museum being built on the Cornell University campus in the early 1970's and now I was back to see a new wing being added to this famous edifice designed by I.M.Pei. Upstairs, I found the outdoor sculpture court so agreeable on a stunning spring day, but ultimately it is underutilized.  In the near term the collection will be shifted as renovations occur and the fifth floor, which houses Asian art, will be the first to see major changes.  Panoramic windows offer a view up Lake Cayuga (still spectacular), and now the art will be given more room to breathe.

On the lower floors new acquisitions are given prominent placement, chief among them are works like Leger''s "Composition With Two Figures" which is marvelously wacky: two flying nudes up in the clouds encounter a Russian Constructivist painting or is that a manual for building your own radio?

Going back to see the Herbert F. Johnson Museum is like visiting an old friend, but one with a few surprises in store.  In a basement gallery, artwork from James Siena (Cornell grad from 1979) was on display.  His paintings were described as the ones he couldn't part with, but there were also some real oddities like the flattened gilded mouse, and a collection of unusual typewriters.  His show "From The Studio" also has some art that Siena collected, including drawings by the irascible Alan Saret ( also a Cornell grad), a wonderful Alfred Jensen painting, and some obscure aerial surveillance photos from World War l.

James Siena has a mathematical mind: precise, calculated, methodical and a bit obsessive.  The surfaces of this art are rarely out of control, so the paintings can engage you on several levels and are reassuring in their completeness.

But maybe your taste is for something not so compulsive?  Well, in the next room see Michael Ashkin's photographs - set up like old stereoscopic prints with one image next to another.  His remarkably mundane textures of construction sites bring to mind the truly historic exhibitions of Robert Smithson's ( creator of "Spiral Jetty") art held at Cornell in the late 1960's and early 1970's.  Smithson's "Non Sites" are the progenitors of Michael Ashkin's photos.  The power of entropy, a favored function in Robert Smithson's universe, details a measure of disorder or randomness in a system and the gradual apparent loss of energy that ensues.  Ashkin documents the fall out from a developer''s voracious appetite in historic Long Branch, New Jersey.  Will greed overpower entropy? It is not a pretty picture.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Driving to Buffalo and Back

I am driving a car in a recurring dream when I realize my need to stop or turn the wheel, but I can't because I find I'm in the back seat (no one else is in the car) and my feet can't reach the brake pedal. Some anxiety is associated with this, but the overwhelming feeling that I take away from this experience is not one of being out of control, but a feeling of being infantilized. When was I last in a car when my feet did not touch the floor? When I was a child.. This dream is a complex and not so subtle metaphor for some event from my life. In visual art a metaphor could be used to have one image signify another. There is an implicit comparison, just as there is in poetry. This comparative aspect is an organizing principle at work in artistic pursuits (among other things) and seems to run on autopilot in regions of the heart and mind. In the news, researchers are beginning to map out with greater certainty where in the brain our thoughts occur. Which brings me to Guillermo Kuitca, whose exhibition: "Everything, Paintings and Works on Paper" runs through May 30th at The Albright Knox Gallery, in Buffalo. Kuitca conducts his own form of research and diagrams his findings on the walls of the museum. Right away, his art talks about locations where things happen, judging from the seating charts which make up a portion of this show. You know somethings happening, you just don't know what it was, to paraphrase Bob Dylan. Mapping is a hot topic (in some ways more obscure than the amazing Google Maps), with Kuitca you are given locations but you have to supply the substance of what's there. He does this over and over again, and you realize that this is a form of ritual - a human performance with some habitual movements that takes you someplace and later returns you to start all over again. The performative element of this visual art is unlike theatre - the audience does not get to see the painter in the act of creation. So why are all these works of art about available seating? Isn't there a paradox here? The artist takes you to a place, but can't show you what is going on. This sometimes frustrating feeling is compounded by paintings of nearly empty rooms shown in a childlike style that reminds me of the dream I wrote about at the top of this article. Down a long hallway at The Albright Knox, does anyone notice a most powerful tiny drawing from The Dorothy and Herb Vogel collection by Don Hazlitt? Only a couple of square inches, this drawing from 1977 forecasts a plane crash in Clarence Center, New York that I thought about as I drove up the Thruway to Buffalo, in full control of my vehicle.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Work in Progress: Mentors and Students

"Art 21" is not only a series of programs produced for public TV - but it is also the site of an informative blog that has recently turned its attention to art education, sponsoring a competition for art students who want to publish their views online. Wouldn't it be good for educators to know what their students are really looking for when they sign up for art classes? Articulate student artists are going to help shape the future so we better be listening.

If you read Sarah Thornton's chatty "Seven Days in the Art World" you may have suffered through the chapter on "The Crit". An unwieldy but necessary affair, the critique can be a test of nerves for both students and their mentors.. The critique needs to be decoded for the reader, it can be a form of confession on the part of students and a way to deconstruct the process they went through to achieve what is being scrutinized. Teachers can be cheerleaders, while at other times they are the referee and the jury. At art school, perhaps
you believe as James Elkins has recently written in "Why Art Cannot be Taught" that we know very little about how art is taught, and what it is that we expect students to learn.

The art teacher still has the authority to be a role model for students. Visit The Geisel Gallery at Bausch & Lomb World Headquarters during the weekdays to see Don Arday's elegant solo show of digital art now on view through April 30th. Theme and variation is the working premise, with an influence of cubism, Leger and Picabia in kaleidoscopic compositions framed in nearly identical vertical formats. Don Arday teaches digital illustration at R.I.T. and his art has a meticulous craftsmanship and a restrained vocabulary of color and geometric shape.

Students are rarely given the opportunity to have a one person show, often because they don't have a body of cohesive artwork. That is not the case with Robyn Neill in his new exhibition at The Joy Gallery on Genesee Street. "Ascension" is the title of his series of paintings on thick wood panels which have been cut and shaped by jigsaw. These paintings have high ambitions with titles like "Confidence", "Hesitation" and "Heartache", the latter including an interior video screen featuring a palpitating heart.

Themes of contemporary faith, desire, and political instability were arrived at in contemplation which is the artist's prerogative. For some students it is the misapprehension of what their teachers teach that drives them forward, but not so for Robyn Neill. With his new installations he effectively incorporates constructive criticism to make his art more cogent. As Luvon Sheppard (the Director of The Joy Gallery and Robyn's teacher) say's, "the mission of this gallery will enable artists of ability who are relatively unknown to be featured in a professional way". The support and respect that is given at The Joy Gallery most importantly has been earned, so artists and visitors feel the benefit from a high level of commitment; part of process on a path towards achieving artistic maturity.

Image credits: 
Don Arday Chair, School of Art "Unresolved Face" digital art
Robyn Neill, paintings in progress

Saturday, March 13, 2010


You don't have to be a textile collector to appreciate "Fashioning Kimono: Art Deco and Modernism in Japan" now on view at The Memorial Art Gallery. Just develop a taste for the dramatic, graphic and colorful formal clothing that Japanese artisans have been creating for hundreds of years. Then again, you just might be interested in seeing how an Asian culture reflects on original European and American design.

The lucky people wearing these fashionable garments must have looked like walking paintings, or animated architecture - as the case may be. The argument for making a comparison with architecture comes from the title of this exhibition itself. Would you know what the defining characteristics of Art Deco look like? If it were not for buildings in our midst such as the Empire State Building or Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan ( and even some buildings in Rochester ) we wouldn't have a clue.

The strongest, longest lasting impression we have of Modernism and of Art Deco is that of a streamlining, and simplification of design, and the banishment of embellishment or ornament. Looking at the Kimonos on view at the MAG, you see a sublime craftsmanship, a profound sense of graphic design, and mouth watering color in the best pieces on exhibit.

Bold red and electric blue identifies a great Kimono in the main gallery. A sumptious catalog identifies this costume ( item 77 with a "Wood Assembly" motif ) as "Early Showa period, 1930's-1940's made of silk crepe with hand tie-dyed warp threads". There is no equivalent of these Kimonos in the west, yet I am reminded of the wearing blankets of the Navajo Indians in the late 19th and early 20th century that employ similar designs.

This exhibition also reminds me of the pioneering shows on view at the Japan Society over 20 years ago that sparked an interest in pattern painting. The objects in " Fashioning Kimono.." are drawn from the Jeffrey Montgomery collection of Lugano, Switzerland - known as the most comprehensive collection of Japanese folk art outside of Japan.

Separate sections of the exhibit at the MAG are devoted to children's kimonos ( look for the biplanes and battleships on the 1930's boy's kimono ) and mens ' and womens' garments. Particularly striking are the hand painted men's silk formal jackets with subdued color, the gigantic chrysanthemums on a women's kimono of the late Meiji period, and the wisteria motif of the kimono on your right as you enter the exhibition.

How self-effacing this art form is - I leave without ever knowing who the artists were that created these eye catching, fetching costumes.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

In Manhattan, A Sea of Cultural Artifacts

Early March is the season to sail into port, drop anchor for a few
hours and amble through "The Armory Show". Now, in its
eleventh season, this sprawling show takes over the west side's
Pier 94 and gives the intrepid art lover entertainment for a least
a few hours. Ticket prices were up ( $30 per person ), and sales
may have lagged, but the show goes on and on.

Last year's standouts were back, and the nuevo primitivo
Nick Cave, gives us a set of shaman shrub figures made of red
branches and pearlescent beady wire that look like they got
off at the wrong subway stop when they were really headed for
the Museum of Natural History.

I would say the crowds were light on the first day, so seeing the
art was relatively easy; one could linger in front of the little
porthole at the Pierogi Gallery booth and stare at Patrick Jacob's
green grass meadow diorama and wonder how he could have the
unworldly patience to assemble this marvel.

This year is not one for innovation, or so it would seem.
The gallerists are being cautious but there were real rewards
for those who look closely. International art stars and up and
comers are the order of the day. A wonderfully mesmerizing
ultramarine concavity of Anish Kapoor could stop you in your
tracks as does a bevy of sublime paintings of Giorgio Morandi
on the elder side of the pier show.

Along the way, I stopped for a suite of photos by Sze Tsung Leong
called "Horizons" which have an astringent aesthetic that satisfies, as does the tall collage
of Arturo Herrera at Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

If you weren't swamped by "The Armory Show", there is always a choice to see "Scope"
at Lincloln Center, or "Pulse" along the west side, but I chose to go over to The Museum
of Modern Art and visit the William Kentridge extravaganza. This South African artist
is fixated by what drawing can do for the mind and body and here it is almost palpable.

Visit MOMA to see the unforgettable stage scenes from Kentridge's production of
"The Magic Flute"; stay long enough to get the full impact of this animated set and see
the films projected in this show called "Five Themes".

Before you pull up anchor, go next door to see the one and only showing of
Thomas Chambers ( 1808 - 1869 ) a marine and landscape painter at the Folk Art Museum.
A self described "fancy painter" whose work has great graphic instincts characterized the
Hudson River Valley with a kind of stylization that shows up later in the 20th century in
artists like Thomas Hart Benton.

Going down the "Great White Way", watch out for the changing traffic patterns on Broadway,
but really - what a grand tour we had before heading out to sea!

Monday, March 1, 2010

"A Nice Place To Visit"

Printmaking is a chameleon art form, always changing its spots. This month a polished selection of provocative prints goes on view in the recently renovated Davis Gallery of Houghton House on the campus of Hobart William & Smith College in Geneva, New York. A place to come and meditate, to experience new art; but what are all those weeds growing up and around the windows and doors?

Nick Ruth ( an artist on the faculty at Hobart ) is the guiding light and curator for "Nice Place To Visit": Printmaking and the Anxious Landscape; he describes Kim Beck's vinyl leaves encircling the doors, as part of nature's revenge, a plant's protest lodged against a local architecture of the gallery space. At least in this instance weeds dominate and the art takes control. Weeds = Art.

A statement of purpose is to explore some of printmaking's new territory where artists make their home ( provisional as that may be ). In the wake of devastating earthquakes, tidal waves and global warming, where you live does matter. At the entrance you encounter Erik Waterkotte's "Over the Drained Lake", 2007. Extending the range of how a print is made (digital, relief, etching, and chine-colle) it is fun to speculate on which technique makes which mark on the paper. What it all adds up to is an image of a battlefield, tiny dark blots on red monuments. The artist writes: "I am compelled by imagery of disaster, broken architecture, voids of space and atmosphere that distort a once decipherable place".

Each of the nine artists presented here has a distinct vision, yet some of the images look remarkably cool and analytical: Kevin Haas' Trent Avenue lithographs are muffled in gray and black - solitary without giving away their location and Sean Morrisey keeps the geometry pure but lets the space collide and dematerialize, as if contemporary building materials suddenly became translucent and started to dance.

Warming up one corner of the exhibition are a suite of Nick Ruth's relief prints with some hot color and a repeating ball motif that is present in each frame. In "Tempest, 2009" we have a red ( explosive ) shower falling into a green cup, symbolic of a simple system where, as Nick says, "our natural selves battle our rational selves".

If seeing is believing, do you know what you are looking at when you see Mitch Mitchell's photo gravure prints? A landscape without horizon results in space without scale, and then there is the bubbling black ooze that is so disturbing. Artists are dreamers, but Mitch Mitchell's art is real and a result of visiting the Tar Sands of Alberta, Canada to stage the miniature tableaux he
captures in a gorgeous series of otherworldly images.

Yoonmi Nam contributes lithographs of structures once built and now demolished. This could be a recipe for a transitional existence which is a statement made more poignant in Erika Walker's etchings of finely drawn gears and dials succumbing to primordial forces.

Finally, four of my recent hybrid prints round out a show of places where the unexpected event occurs with greater regularity. There are few images of humanity directly presented here but the effects of human enterprise is all over this exhibit. I think we are all a bit terrified about what we have wrought on this planet.

Also on view is a fine small installation of book art by Sarah Bryant and Big Jump Press.
Gallery Hours are Monday thru Friday, 9-5, and Saturday 1-5

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Anxious Landscape

The Visual Artworker