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People say I’m a bit of an artist: Joe Fig’s Namuth’s Pollock.

Small Wonder
By David Brickman

Precious Little
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.

As 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 Museum.

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 not quite.

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 what?”

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.

Anthony Garner, Michael Heroux and Kersten Lörcher

Fulton 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 self-taught artist.

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.

—David Brickman

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