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I knew this map would come in handy: Deborah Zlotsky’s Map and Visitor Guide, National Gallery of Art.

Next Time, With Feeling
By David Brickman

Anything But Realism

Schick Art Gallery, Skidmore College, through Sept. 22

In a curious demonstration of solidarity among area art professors, Skidmore College’s David Miller has organized an exhibition of work by the entire painting faculties of the College of Saint Rose and the University at Albany.

Anything But Realism comprises 21 paintings by Scott Brodie, David Carbone, Mark Greenwold and Deborah Zlotsky as well as a painted sculpture by JoAnne Carson; it is presented in the clean, cozy Schick Gallery on the second floor of the Saisselin Art Building—a bit out of the way, but brightly welcoming once you get there.

A very nicely printed bifold brochure that accompanies the show reproduces in color a work by each artist along with a statement by each, but offers no comment from (nor mention of) the curator, and makes no attempt to explain the show’s title or basis. This is neither necessarily a plus or a minus, but it is unusual. The artists’ statements are typical, in that they briefly (in Brodie’s case, absurdly so) describe what the artist thinks about what he or she is doing; as for comments on the show itself, these provide none.

Which leaves us with a little mystery: What is the idea behind the show, and what does its title mean? A quick scan of the work in the gallery reveals that there is a degree of realism to all of it. In other words, by “anything but realism” we’re not meant to understand the opposite of realism—say, abstraction—but, rather, some form of realism that confounds our expectations.

In this, the five artists could be said to have a common thread: Brodie, Carson, Greenwold and Zlotsky all present what appear to be fact-based renderings—but they are transformed by changes in inflection, scale, perspective and context that are relatively subtle but sufficient to undermine the wholehearted sense of reality that a true realist would try to reflect. Carbone, for his part, combines the accuracy of an illustrator’s technique with bizarre or magical juxtapositions to create a surrealistic style very much like that of Salvador Dalí.

Of these twists on realism, Brodie’s and Zlotsky’s are the most straightforward—so much so as to seem almost uninflected. Brodie alters the reality of banal streetscapes by placing big bushes smack in the middle of the canvas, thereby confounding our desire to have a clear view, and muting his palette to dreamlike shades. Only the buttery texture of his brushwork reveals the warmth beneath his coolness.

Zlotsky takes already made images, such as those in books or brochures, and repaints them removed from all but the least context. Her three paintings based on drawings by young son Max add a personal note to her vocabulary, and bring up the tricky question of how to paint a drawing (close inspection revealed that she simply draws much of it). But her most compelling work remains the lovingly reproduced reproductions, and two here, of a folded calendar page featuring a zebra and a map and visitor guide from the National Gallery of Art, are particularly luscious.

In Greenwold’s case, a 35-year-old painting is his sole contribution. It is large enough to command attention (about 6 1/2 feet square), but I couldn’t help wondering why he decided to show such an old piece—was it the only thing he still had lying around the studio? Whatever the motive, it is a peculiar image—intentionally so—and it offers a vivid if cloying look at a certain design sense, circa 1970. It also attempts to be, in the artist’s words, “melodramatic,” and I guess it succeeds in that, for what that is worth.

Carson’s brightly colored, freestanding plant form riffs on mutation and decoration, re-creating in extra-large size some of the wacky pods and flowers that are available at your local florist or craft store, then adding creations of her own to form one giant Christmas tree-like object. I couldn’t stop imagining it as a prop on the set of a Broadway play—Little Shop of Horrors, to be exact—and for that reason, difficult to take seriously as a work of art.

As a whole, this show looks good in the space and the work hangs well together—yet it somehow fails to engage on the gut level. There are those for whom intellectual ruminations are sufficiently satisfying art experiences. Not me. I enjoy a good stimulus to thought, and expect it from any exhibition (or movie, novel or play, for that matter), but I also want to feel the passion that drives the creative process, and I want to be energized by the artist’s intensity and—don’t let me say it!—emotions. Oops, I said it.

Alas, today’s academic environment has no room for such sentimentality, such pre- modern weakness. We must all be ironic, calculating, as bloodless as the post-industrialist power elite that would celebrate such art, in order to be considered “important.” While it is often said that art’s primary purpose is to reflect its time—and heck knows this is one alienated time we’re in—I believe that effect only succeeds when it happens naturally, by the artist’s almost unavoidable ability to channel the zeitgeist and reflect it, rather than by a purposeful effort to suss it out and then express it.

So the brittle coldness of these artists’ works, the emptiness that they evoke, are indeed a reflection of our time—I just wish the artists themselves didn’t feel so convincingly disengaged.


PERIPHERAL VISION

Peter Acheson: Paintings

A.D.D. Gallery, through Sept. 11

In an impressive display of the power of painting for its own sake, Ghent-based Peter Acheson presents 31 very small works at A.D.D. Gallery in Hudson that intrigue, confound and delight the senses. His deep involvement with the language of color and quirky personal vocabulary of shapes and marks is readily apparent in these mostly unframed oils on board.

What is not apparent is just what drives and directs such a pursuit—a mystery that I found more and more gripping the more I looked. How does a painter create a 6-by-10-inch quartet of gestures that somehow grabs your attention from a shop window and holds it as you stand gaping on the sidewalk? What process guides the decisions that lead to a certain composition and set of color relationships?

Acheson’s style of abstract quasi-minimalism is not unique, but it is not often seen so concentrated; even more rarely is it so totally convincing. See it if you can.

—David Brickman


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