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Critic: David Brickman

The recent explosion of fine-arts activity in the Capital Region continued unabated in 2005. Even taking a hiatus from writing for the last two months, I was able to review more than 40 exhibitions, and that still meant being very selective. Highlights of the year’s events abound:

New and active venues popped up in places as off the beaten track as Johnstown and Schuylerville, while the established ones kept upping the ante. Underground artists went legitimate, as proven by late summer’s Institute Show and a one-week takeover of Firlefanz Gallery by the Street Sweepers. Blockbusters included George Inness, Jacques-Louis David and Winslow Homer at the Clark; Frederic Edwin Church at the Fenimore; Lake George painters and Adolph Gottlieb at the Hyde; pop and post-pop artists at the State Museum; Auguste Rodin at the Albany Institute; and Richard Pettibone at the Tang.

The Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery closed to make way for a multimillion-dollar upgrade that will finally do justice to its world-class collection. Ivan Karp of Soho’s OK Harris Gallery chose 70 artists for inclusion in the Mohawk-Hudson Regional. And, in Schenectady, the tech-oriented Cyclics Corp. mounted its fourth and largest-ever annual exhibition of regional artists.

The Photography Re gional, having returned to the Albany Center Galleries for the first time in a number of years, lived up to its controversial history by raising hackles over male nudity and spawning a “salon des refusés” that the juror, Anthony Bannon, praised at the opening. And Exposed, the region’s first-ever gallery of art photography, opened in Delmar.

But not all the news was good, particularly the recent announcement that the owners of Firlefanz have determined to close it after a critically acclaimed three-year run. Alas, this is too often the fate of private galleries that attempt to navigate the treacherous waters of the upstate art market. Collectors—are you out there? If so, I hope to see serious evidence of that in 2006.

1. A Very Liquid Heaven

Tang Teachiing Museum and Art Gallery

Brilliant concept. Awesome artists (and scientists). Flawless execution. Need I say more?

2. Adolph Gottlieb 1956

The Hyde Collection

Comprising most of this seminal artist’s output from one key year, this exhibition sparkled with a freshness that showed how the abstract expressionists rewrote art history and moved the center of activity from Paris to New York. Kudos to curator Erin Budis Coe.

3. Treasures From Olana: Landscapes by Frederic Edwin Church

Fenimore Art Museum

Aptly named, this trove from the private collection of the dean of American painters was brought out from the darkness of his mansion and into the light of a modern gallery. Simply dazzling.

4. New York School: Another View

Opalka Gallery

The culmination of a long-held dream for Opalka director Jim Richard Wilson, this brilliant exhibition brought to light some of the most overlooked but worthy painters of their time, righting a wrong and honoring Wilson’s vision. Worth the wait.

5. Michael Oatman: A Lifetime of Service and a Mile of Thread

Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery

Another home run for the Tang. More than local boy makes good, this was a tour de force of creativity, intelligence and just plain hard work by a unique artist who deserves (and seems to be earning) an international reputation.

6. Recent Prints and Sculpture by Allen Grindle

Firlefanz Gallery

A rare solo by one of the area’s best-kept secrets, this collection mostly of woodcuts combined graphic simplicity with potent ideas and consummate craftsmanship. It even sold well!

7. Byrdcliffe: An American Arts and Crafts Colony

Albany Institute of History and Art

Absolutely stuffed with furniture, paintings, ceramics, drawings, prints and photographs, this show celebrated and brought back to life a far more innocent and optimistic time in American art and cultural history. But the history lesson remained secondary to the gorgeously crafted work.

8. Extra-Ordinary: The Everyday Object in American Art

New York State Museum

Marvelous works from Man Ray to Andy Warhol to Fred Tomaselli, courtesy of the vast holdings of the Whitney Museum and Bank of America’s Great Art Series at the museum. The show lived up to its name and then some.

9. Carrie Mae Weems: The Louisiana Project

The Hyde Collection

Another home run for the Hyde. This primarily photographic installation by one of the best American artists around had a keen intelligence, biting satire and historical perspective, all without losing a sense of humor. Weems walks a tightrope amazingly well.

10. Becoming Animal: Contemporary Art in the Animal Kingdom

MASS MoCA

Cracked concept. Some great artists—and some not so great. Imperfect execution. But still well worth noting for its scope and sense of wonder.


PERIPHERAL VISION

-no peripheral vision this week-

 


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