world: Robert Gullie’s 1969.01.18.
of the Past
Arts Center of the Capital Region, through June 12
Periodically, curator Gina Occhiogrosso of the Arts Center
of the Capital Region organizes pairings of artists and organizations
to form the basis of an exhibition: Factory Direct
was one such show (actually, two shows) a few years back,
where artists were matched with local factories to produce
ambitious works beyond their normal capacities, and it was
a great success.
Similarly effective is the current model, [Re]collections,
in which seven artists and a poet have connected with eight
regional historical societies and mined their collections
for artifacts and inspiration. For many, this will undoubtedly
bring to mind the work of Fred Wilson, who rose from museum
guard to international art superstar by reinterpreting collections
in witty, ironic and challenging ways. But while Wilson tends
strongly toward the sociopolitical, these artists are for
the most part looking inward to make more personal kinds of
In a couple of cases, I have had the luck to have visited
the given historical society in the recent past, which adds
to my feeling of understanding how and why the artist has
chosen a particular artifact and just what transformation
has taken place. But such comparative experience is by no
means necessary to involve oneself fully in appreciating the
creative process as presented here. And, make no mistake,
creative process is the true subject matter of the project.
Among the artists whose work drew me in, and whose relationship
to the source seemed clear, is Red Hook’s Joy Taylor, who
worked with material from the Columbia County Historical Society
in Kinderhook. A meticulous maker of drawings, collages and
assemblages, Taylor responded to equally meticulous embroidered
christening gowns; in pure white-on-white, two of them are
presented in glass wall cases next to Taylor’s six works.
Without taking literal meaning from the dresses, Taylor has
created sublime layerings of gouache, found images, leaves
and manufactured objects that imitate the symmetrical patternings
of fabric and evoke the sense of time passed and familial
intimacy that is embodied in the dresses. With or without
these juxtapositions, her pieces strike a lovely balance between
complexity and subtlety, while also retaining a hint of playfulness,
or even kitsch.
Similarly evocative are the frankly nostalgic prints of Sandra
Wimer, who exhumed artifacts of the lost industry of ice harvesting
from the Bethlehem Historical Association near her home in
Delmar. These simple but exotic tools—an ice auger, a big-toothed
saw and some sort of plowlike sled—are depicted in the prints
and displayed with them, much as they might be at their home
site. But, in the prints, which combine grids and lines of
text with old photos of ice harvesters at work, the tools
take on a ghostly aura.
Such ghostliness is vividly captured in the installation by
Margo Mensing of Saratoga Springs, who found five business
correspondence ledgers at the Chapman Historical Museum in
Glens Falls. The current museum staff didn’t know about these
books, which contain hundreds of pages of tracing-paper carbons
of mundane letters, but still bring to life the mysterious
presence of their proper, turn-of-the-century creator, a supervisor
at the International Paper Corporation.
Mensing has taken the fragile ledger books, which must be
displayed in low light and draped with protective dark fabric—making
the viewer feel as though they are furtively peeling back
the layers of time to view them—and combined them with a video
projected on a scrim that, like the dark fabric, is traced
with lettering. The video’s images appear to be mundane footage
of contemporary life in Glens Falls (I’m guessing, here),
making a temporal link to the past life. It’s intriguing,
but a bit hard to pull together as a whole.
In another installation, Laura Christensen has drawn from
the North Adams Historical Society to render an interpretation
of a 1927 flood through photographs and other objects lovingly
framed and/or altered and presented on or above a series of
white pedestals. The pedestals, which descend and ascend in
height (like the floodwaters) trace the shape of the tight
bend in the Hoosick River that caused all the trouble.
I appreciate Christensen’s light touch, but the wistfulness
of her vision leaves something to be desired. I was reminded
of Michael Lesy’s groundbreaking and forceful 1973 photographic
book Wisconsin Death Trip, but found myself wishing
for more of the visceral intensity of that great work.
Cohoes photographer Ro bert Gullie flirts with intensity but
stays neatly on the humorous side of things with his series
inspired by oddities from the Saratoga County Historical Society
at Brookside Museum. In his now familiar process of dressing,
staging, photographing and hand-coloring, he has given new,
wickedly bizarre meaning to things as mundane as an old alarm
clock and a ceramic teapot, along with things pretty strange
to begin with, such as a disembodied hand (glove display)
and a chunky leather stirrup.
Together with many other props, and great settings, Gullie
creates a surreal world of Barbie meets Monty Python. It’s
pretty funny to see his whacked-out visions all along one
wall of the gallery and then peruse the sadly hard-to-like
artifacts in their glass case nearby—rarely does one get such
an opportunity to witness firsthand the power of creative
photography to completely transform a subject.
Also in the show are the poems of Jessica Hornik, inspired
by the Schenectady County Historical Society, which are presented
in white transfer type all over the glass of a large, empty
display case; an infernal machine by William Bergman, together
with the Waterford Historical Museum’s unassumingly elegant
pharmaceutical scale it satirizes; and sweetly subversive
drawings by Sara Di Donato that play havoc with a Victorian
teenage girl’s dry musings in a diary from the Albany County
Historical Association at Ten Broeck Mansion.
While the exhibition works well as a whole, I do have one
complaint: Except for the wall where Gullie’s work is hung,
which is painted a dun brown, the all-white gallery and what
turns out to be a lot of mostly pale-toned artwork blend into
an ill-defined blur across much of the space. It was a great
idea to paint the one wall—the show would be much more appealing
had this idea been extended further.
Arts Center of the Capital Region, through June
These 10 gelatin silver prints by Rob O’Neil from
a body of work titled Projections make
a nice addition to the [Re]collections show,
as they also use historical artifacts in interesting
and transformative configurations.
O’Neil, who teaches at the College of Saint Rose,
has strong technique and an idea that transcends
being a gimmick. By projecting the images from
antique educational lantern slides, then staging
scenes in front of them and photographing the
set-ups, he creates layered, storylike representations
of his thoughts. Some are more literal, others
more surreal, but all of them have interesting
In this series, the slides show industrial subjects:
a dam, a mine, a harbor, a grain elevator, etc.
O’Neil adds related objects and interjects an
arm or a profile (in one case, half a figure)
as a sort of everyman researcher on the job. This
hand often holds glass lab equipment or a lit
match, like a scientist might.
My favorite is called Ice. In it, a view
of a boat in arctic waters is augmented by block
and tackle much like the boat’s rigging, creating
a nice illusion of continuity. In all the prints,
which are large for photographs, O’Neil’s excellent
black-and-white printing adds to the effect. The
display offers a nice opportunity to see a substantial
body of work by one of the area’s better photographers.