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Cloggin’ in the Streets

Artists Gutman Black and Tony Iadicicco painted their Albany Dutch clog sculpture with an eye to history, community—and childhood fun.

by Ann Morrow on June 27, 2012

“You know people want to sit on those horses but they can’t,” says Gutman Black, referring to the equine street sculptures of Saratoga Springs. “But they can sit on ours,” he adds proudly.

“Ours” being one of the giant Dutch clogs of this year’s Sculpture in the Streets exhibit in downtown Albany. Not only have people been sitting on, and in, the clogs—the big ones are seven feet long—but they’ve been dancing on them, jumping off them, skateboarding over them, and posing with them in all manner of creative tableaux. “We actually want ours to have the most wear and tear,” says Black, pointing to some skateboard nicks at its “toe.”

The Clog of Albany, stationed on Broadway at the Hudson River Walkway, is a collaboration between Black, a conceptual artist, and Tony Iadicicco, an abstract artist. “We wanted it to be playful, for people to have a good feeling when they walked away from it,” says Iadicicco.

Gutman Black & Tony Iadicicco photographed by Ann Morrow

“I saw a little boy paddling in it as if it was a boat, and then he got out and circled it like a shark,” says Black, beaming. One of six large clogs (there are also four pairs of three-foot clogs in the exhibit), The Clog of Albany is brightly colored with very recognizable city images such as the Egg, the New York State Museum, the Corning Tower and the USS Slater. What really makes it pop is the juxtaposition of shapes and colors, such as a hot-pink museum building opposite a teal-blue warship.

“The colors are from our childhoods,” says Black. “Transformers, Teenage Mutant Turtles, He-Man.” He explains that the night before he tried out to collaborate on Iadicicco’s clog, he had a long, nostalgic conversation with his father. “I have to have some level of personal meaning for the art I make,” he continues. His nostalgic mind set put him in synch with Iadicicco, who was thinking about images with particular appeal for kids.

“I play with color fields,” says the abstract artist, yet the clog’s color patterns—each spectrum represents a downtown area—had not yet come to him.

“I had an idea, and Tony had an idea, and then I had an idea . . .,” says Black of their design. “Everything happened naturally,” says Iadicicco. “I had some images in mind,” says Black, “but it was Tony who wanted a community-oriented project. The merge with his ideas took it to the highest value.”

Surprisingly, the two Albany-based artists had never met. “We knew of each other,” says Black. “I knew Tony was a catalyst for the arts community.”

When Iadicicco was given one of the blank clogs by the Downtown Albany Business Improvement District (as the executive director of Albany Center Galleries, he didn’t have to submit a proposal) he wasn’t sure if he would have enough time to create it. He put out his own “call for artists” on Facebook late on a Friday night. Black made it to the gallery just as he was closing up. “Things happen for a reason,” says Iadicicco happily. “It could’ve been just a blue sheet, very minimal.” Or it could’ve been a big skull, adds Black.

Both artists consider their different approaches to art—Black is a formally trained graduate of Ringling College of Art and Design in Florida, and Iadicicco describes himself as self-taught—to be an advantageous contrast.

“I’d never done a large-scale installation before,” continues Black, whose paintings tend to be meticulously detailed. “I thought it was just going to be a few hours of painting. But if the clog was a flat canvas, it would be 11 by 11.”

The clogs were chosen by the BID to symbolize Albany’s ancestral Dutch roots. Along with representing various aspects of the city; the arts, the workforce, the architecture, and the military, The Clog of Albany was also painted to appeal specifically to families, and Black and Iadicicco sound most excited when discussing their clog’s kids-eye perspective. “When a little kid walks around it, the buildings will look huge,” says Black, while parents will enjoy identifying city icons. “It has a lot of cultural appeal,” says Iadicicco.

Smaller folk may also notice that the clog’s design invokes a sneaker. The brownstone houses on the bottom can be seen as sneaker tread, says Black, and there is a “tag” on the heel. Like its other elements, the tag has multiple meanings.

“We didn’t know what to put on the back, and I see historic plaques all over downtown, and that sparked it,” says Iadicicco. The heel tag is painted as a faux historical marker proclaiming the clog as a tribute to the city. “We created our own ‘monument,’ and people can create their own ‘memories’ from it.”

The top of the clog is the sky, with a stars-and-stripes hot-air balloon floating over Albany’s position in America. Adding to the sculpture’s playfulness are hidden messages and secret images. Look closely at the clouds over the toe and a ghostly skull will emerge. Nearby is another visual pun.

The exhibit’s official title is Stand in the Soles of Albany, an encouragement to viewers to stand in the clogs, rather than just standing next to them, as people do at most public exhibits. Perhaps no one was expecting the amount of playing and posing the clogs have inspired, with acrobatic, artistic, and romantic clogging photos—and accompanying witticisms—creating an online clogosphere. The Clog of Albany has its own Facebook page serving as a meet-up for photos and comments, and for running contests with prizes.

Stand in the Soles of Albany runs until May 2013. The clogosphere it inspired will probably be around for a lot longer.

Stand in the Soles of Albany walking-tour maps are available from the Downtown Albany BID and local businesses. The other artists contributing clogs to the exhibit are Patricia Baker, Mitchell Biernacki,Paula J. Lawton, Carol Lernihan, Denise Poutre, Kim Schaller, Sally Spring, Barbara L. Walter and Elizabeth Zunon.