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Haunting: Brian Cirmo’s Strategic Move.

Alive and Well
By David Brickman

Vital Signs: Emerging Artists Show

Visions Gallery, through Aug. 26

Some people would say there isn’t much of an art scene around here. I would say they don’t quite get it: In fact, there are probably five or six art scenes (with some overlap) which, if all rolled into one, would be a lot easier to notice. Even so, this summer’s activities in Albany alone provide ample evidence that the local community of artists is pretty darn lively.

Example: A group calling themselves Reno Bros. has taken over Lark Street’s Firlefanz Gallery for most of this month, giving the curator there a break and the audience something fresh to contemplate. And a group of graffiti artists called the Street Sweepers will commandeer Firlefanz from Aug. 26 through Sept. 3.

Example: Yet another group, calling themselves Albany Underground Artists, will open a weeklong show at the Albany Institute of History and Art on Sept. 15; drawn from a broad call for entries, this will expand on the one-night shows the group has already put on in various venues to great audience response in the past couple of years.

Example: Also at the Institute, the 69th annual Exhibition by Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region, on view through Sept. 4 (and reviewed in this space on July 7), features 71 works by 70 artists from within 100 miles of Albany, most of them well established or well along the way toward that position.

And, in addition to all that, Albany Center Galleries director Sarah Martinez, along with her husband, graphic designer Jason Martinez, has put together a show of 15 emerging Capital Region artists at the Visions Gallery in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany’s Pastoral Center on North Main Avenue that is well worth a look (the current show at the ACG, by the way, is a strong solo by popular realist painter David Arsenault, who is also represented in the regional).

Vital Signs: Emerging Artists Show is not going to rewrite the history of art, but it does a fine job of representing a wide variety of up-to-date media and approaches. Notably absent is sculpture (which, conversely, has a greater-than-usual presence in this year’s regional), but that probably has more to do with the gallery’s space restrictions than anything else.

Among the photographs, paintings, installations and mixed-media pieces in the show are works by at least nine current or recent MFA or BFA candidates at the University at Albany, along with a few—well, let’s call them “outsiders.” This may be an unrepresentative mix, but it underscores the degree to which that program has fed artists to the local scene over the decades.

Given that this group is mostly pretty wet behind the ears, I’m not going to scorch the earth in this review: They’ll have plenty of time to get savaged by the critics in the future if they persist in this pursuit. Instead, I’ll tell you what I liked and why.

Seana Biondolillo must be a favorite of the curator, as she currently has a nice display of her constructions in the ACG’s glass cases on the first floor of the Albany Public Library; her single contribution to this show has the same arte povera style—like a rummage sale come to life. She is definitely one to watch.

Photographers Joe Putrock (a Metroland freelance photographer) and Mary Spinelli each present small but coherent bodies of work, Putrock’s in color, Spinelli’s in sweetly low-key black-and-white. Putrock’s deadpan style owes a lot to 1970s pioneers of the color medium like Stephen Shore and William Eggleston, and they are equally as affecting and ennui-filled. The affection with which he sees a sun-kissed can of obsolete film-splicing glue, and the sadness that pervades his candy-colored view of an abandoned carnival midway on a rainy day show Putrock in full command of his medium.

Spinelli’s three images of lonely bulldozers—one lost in the woods, one waiting by a storm-tossed field of corn, and one festooned with Christmas lights—have all the hallmarks of photography at its best: compassion, clear-seeing and a subtle sense of the absurd. I hope we’ll be seeing a lot more from these two talents in the future.

Another photographer of note is Michael P. Farrell, whose totem of three digital color prints is distinguished by what is probably the best title of an artwork this year: Staring out a Window with a Beer in my Hand Contemplating the Supremes.

Among the painters, Matt Tiernan, Nicholas Pella and Brian Cirmo stand out. Cirmo is the only young painter I’ve seen who has imitated late Philip Guston. The creepy, haunted, cartoonish qualities are all there in these three skillfully made but almost impossibly weird paintings.

Pella plays a lot with crackle, achieving complex textural effects that he then adds to by layering highly detailed, contrasty, graphic images on top. Mostly, he is teasing the eye with color and pattern, but his work has an original look that can hold the viewer’s attention.

Tiernan’s five abstract paintings in the show range from about 8 by 11 inches to about 3 by 5 feet. A triptych of small verticals is, oddly, interrupted by another slightly larger piece—but I liked the relationship this blasphemy created. The bigger painting (untitled) has undulating ribbons of intense color that swirl up out of darkness. Is it microscopic? Outer space? Maybe, but it turns out that Tiernan is inspired by music—his work is a successful attempt to capture sound in paint.

Justin Baker (one of two artists in this show also represented in the regional—the other is Carrie Will) has two photos and an installation on view. The latter is quirky and full of intrigue. Titled Seedlings (Troy, New York), it is a collection of 20 little twists of twigs and manmade stuff laid out on a plain white pedestal; the subtle gestures and colors of these natural/unnatural hybrids show a fascinating, unique mind at work.

The two Martinezes have included themselves in the show. Jason’s three small graphics on thick wooden panels use clip-art silhouettes and a narrow palette of colors in gel medium to create miniature dramas. Sarah’s installation of 38 handmade paper and wax cups also features graphic elements, more as pattern than image, and an obsessively gridded configuration. Both make you want to see more so as to better understand these two young artists.


PERIPHERAL VISION

-no peripheral vision this week


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