say I’m a bit of an artist: Joe Fig’s Namuth’s Pollock.
Albany International Airport Gallery, through Sept. 4
There’s no denying the fasci-nation that tiny things hold
for us—whether natural, utilitarian, artistic or merely odd,
the smaller something is, the more we like it. Precious
Little, the current exhibition at the Albany International
Airport Gallery, derives its irresistibility from that premise,
and builds on it with the intention “to magnify . . . qualities
of levity, complexity and ingenuity” in the objects on view.
with all of the Airport Gallery’s shows, curator Sharon Bates
has created a lively, quirky installation that’s easily navigated
by the casual visitor (e.g., someone killing time before a
flight) but offers the more serious viewer sufficient depth
to satisfy. Following the organization’s mandate to showcase
regional museum collections, this show features items from
nine of them, as well as originals from six artists and objects
from two private collections.
Among the museum pieces are pure works of art, pieces of high
craft and strictly functional things (or models thereof).
These include some lovely examples of micro-mosaic jewelry
as well as intricately carved Japanese “netsuke” (ivory kimono
toggles) from the Albany Institute of History and Art; a salesman’s
charming miniature sample of a slate kitchen sink from the
Slate Valley Museum; a working model of a horse-drawn hearse
from the Adirondack Museum; and a similarly diminutive demonstrator
model of a pair of swinging wooden doors from the Bennington
There is also a small (about 7 inches long) bronze of an abstracted
reclining nude figure by the renowned 20th-century English
sculptor Henry Moore from the Williams College Museum of Art
that is, with apologies to the other artists included, by
far the best piece of art in the show. Dated 1945, it retains
a vigor and dignity notably lacking from so much of the artwork
created since that time, with a commanding sense of form and
a beautiful patina.
Of the contemporary artists, Joe Fig might best appreciate
this distinction. His pieces are homages to some of the past
century’s greats, including Pollock and Brancusi, depicted
in little dioramas as they work or contemplate their output.
Only one of Fig’s actual setups is shown (of Pollock painting
atop a thick sheet of glass, upended so we look through it
at the drip artist); the rest are represented by photographic
enlargements that almost stand as works of art on their own—but
The dollhouse esthetic is repeated in items by Jarvis Rockwell
(Norman’s son) and Yinka Shomibane, the first loaned by the
Norman Rockwell Museum and the second by the University Art
Museum at the University at Albany. Rockwell’s is a flakily
bizarre tableau drawn from his extensive collection of small
plastic toys (it numbers over 100,000) while Shomibane’s reproduces
the 1872 Victorian house he occupies in London’s East End.
Due to the artist’s Nigerian heritage and his use of Dutch
fabrics on the house’s furniture, the label text asserts that
he “questions the assumptions about colonialism and cultural
identity in his works.” To which I can’t help but ask, “So
Cultural identity is put to better use in a video installation
by Kathleen Brandt, in which a reading of a short poem by
someone called La Loca (about her grandmother), along with
sound effects, runs in a loop with evocative images projected
on a tiny screen housed in an old hand-painted metal tissue
dispenser. Titled A Brief Encounter, this elegiac mood
piece is rich in atmosphere and meaning; its smallness is
as much in length (less than a minute) as in size.
Equally seductive are a pair of almost impossibly small and
detailed pencil drawings by Randall Sellers that depict fantasy
landscapes. They reminded me of the legendary tracings on
grains of rice, but are interesting more for their style and
imagery than for the novelty of their extreme tininess. In
them, grassy tufts and hummocks combine with brick structures
and futuristic towers to create a through-the-looking-glass
sensation. Actually, a hand-held magnifier wouldn’t have been
a bad idea here.
One exhibit was set up to be seen in miniature by looking
through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. Devorah Sperber’s
Reflections in a Lake is a sort of paint-by-numbers
image wrought in colored spools of thread—5,760 of them, to
be exact—which are hung like a bead curtain in front of a
wall. This pixilated rendering seems pretty obvious, if laborious;
the point that you couldn’t stand back far enough from this
rather large picture to see it as a landscape (hence, the
binoculars) was lost on me, as all I had to do was remove
my glasses to see it just fine (extreme myopia is almost never
useful, so thanks, Devorah).
Another artist working with familiar household materials is
Lauren Fensterstock, whose spangled or otherwise decorated
soap carvings are a perverse delight. Not sexually perverse,
but twisted in the sense that Ivory soap can’t possibly last,
making her title of Precarious Heirlooms just perfect.
Fensterstock also presents paper-mounted jewelry-like designs
made of butterfly wings and other insect parts—not wearable,
but lovely gestures.
Still life is the medium of painter Lynn Talbot, one of whose
oils on linen has been appropriated for the show’s publicity
materials. I mention this because it means that one gets to
see it blown up to about six feet square on banners around
the airport before confronting it in its actual size of about
six inches square. Titled Madame X and Still Life,
it is a black-and-pink confection featuring John Singer Sargent’s
Portrait of Madame X floating wraithlike over a row
of shiny objects.
Talbot’s other paintings combine pattern, still life and reproductions
of famous paintings, crossing up symbols of traditional, modern
and postmodern art. Her skill with the brush is impressive
(while the scale, incidentally, is not so particularly small),
but I’m not sure I understand what she’s getting at.
Also mystifying, but in a different way, are the objects drawn
from William Skerritt’s collection of curiosities. Here, miniature
dice and dominoes, tiny folding knives, a heart-shaped brooch
with an inch-long thermometer attached, a petite history of
the Bible and other oddities are arrayed in a row, each presented
iconically in a wall-mounted display case. Do they speak for
themselves, or does each viewer impart his or her own meaning
to them? Do they have any meaning? If not, why did Skerritt
choose to collect them from the multitude of the world’s stuff?
These kinds of questions are fun to apply to just about any
object, whether of art or not. But you’d best enjoy the fun
because, in the way of answers, precious little is what you’re
most likely to end up with.
Garner, Michael Heroux and Kersten Lörcher
Street Gallery, through April 9
Sorry for the late notice, but if you can get
to the Fulton Street Gallery by Saturday, this
is a show worth seeing. It combines the work of
three more-or-less new artists on the scene who
ply diverse media but share the common ground
of abstract figuration.
Heroux, who paints in built-up layers of black
and gray gouache on little canvas panels, then
groups them in grids of four, occupies the rear
loft of the gallery, where the subtlety of his
work can be enjoyed in quiet intimacy. The paintings
are purely formal, suggestive of pieces of bone,
or nudes, or stones—like fragments of unearthed
Greek marbles. It’s a really nice debut for this
Garner, an architect and furniture designer, has
created a site-specific installation consisting
of two monumentally-scaled wooden structures modeled
after Japanese kimonos. The first of the two confronts
the gallery-goer at the entrance, then guides
you inside and embraces you, as the second spreads
winglike arms to carry you along. I found the
two pieces together a bit too imposing for the
narrow gallery, but was impressed by their high
level of design and craftsmanship in common materials.
Lörcher is also an architect. He has created an
extended suite of color photographs taken during
the dismantling process of a Troy landmark, the
tremendous, facially graffittoed King Fuels tank.
What Lörcher found in this subject was a scale-resistant
landscape of twisted metal, sometimes gritty and
fragmented, more often lyrically gestural. The
work verges on complete abstraction, except in
a couple of instances where figures can be seen
and the almost incomprehensible vastness of the
subject is revealed. It’s a fine body of work.