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A sort of cityscape: Sharon Bates’ Cluster.

A Subtle Nature

By Jacqueline Keren

2006 Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region

University Art Museum, through Aug. 5

When you live in an area of great physical beauty, is it possible to make art about anything other than what you see and experience each day? And does that limit your subject matter to the familiar barns and horses, fly fishers and farmers? How much can we expand upon nature? And being steeped in nature, what else can we see?

The University Art Museum’s 2006 Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region Juried Exhibition speaks to the great draw of the natural environment and its enduring ability to surprise, and to be represented in fresh and provocative ways.

The show occupies the two floors of the museum. The first floor is the less coherent of the two, in part because of the nature of the space, which is broken by pillars, a stairwell and adjacent offices. The first floor also provides the only unbroken floor space for large-scale sculpture, and most of the three-dimensional work is downstairs.

Studies of nature are both dreamy and hyper-real. Leslie Parke’s painting Hoar Frost is a dizzying close-up of an ice-encased tree. Hanging beside it, Jeri Eisenberg’s Loon Lake offers an impressionistic view to a shadowy lake. While Parke’s piece cements the moment, Eisenberg’s photograph is transient, with objects that waiver just beyond comprehension.

Dorene Quinn’s assemblage This Moment uses photographs printed on vinyl to capture the surface of a body of water in all its sublime and hypnotic motion. Glass objects hang down in front of the oscillating backdrop to link the viewer with the image. The lighting works beautifully here with the shadow of the vinyl creating waves on the wall beneath the piece.

While not every piece examines nature, many of the nonrepresentational pieces are derived from natural forms. Lorrie Fredette’s “Pores” is a tower of repeating, cell-like forms that flop off the wall, like wilted doilies. The large-scale sculpture, Overturn, Aimee Tarasek’s assemblage of rolled tarpaper, undulates in voluptuous waves and churns in tight scrolls.

Similarly, many of the more urbane pieces speak to the failure of manmade environments. Allen Bryan’s photograph Weather Report sets an impoverished interior against a ruined landscape. Linking indoors and out is the image of a weather report on a television monitor. A second large-scale sculpture, Parking Lot Perimeters by Richard Garrison, is an encroaching jigsaw of cut asphalt paper, best viewed from above. Pennie Brantley’s painting, Protecting Our Inner Selves From Encroachment (Berlin Greenhouse), has a realistic quality similar to Parke’s. A wintry view of a brightly lit greenhouse that emanates little warmth, the painting speaks to the harsh realities of winter rather than its beauty.

Whatever the approach to nature, what unites the show as a whole is its muted tone, like a gray winter in the North Country. This, one must assume, springs from the sensibilities of the curator, Lilly Wei, a New York City-based art critic and independent curator. From this somber tone comes a pervading sense of dislocation and loss, and a reminder of the way these emotions infuse art with subtle drama. This can be clearly seen in Diptych, Jim Flosdorf’s incongruous photo collage, in which the front and back cars of a train are dropped into an autumn forest of faded reds and oranges. A handful of bystanders wander about, perplexed, observing. Other details—a gravestone, the discarded hub of a wheel—lend a sense of dissolution and decay.

There are exceptions to these themes throughout the exhibit. Culture comes into play in Kawther A. Elmi’s Native Home, a photograph of domestic clutter with ethnic overtones: a plastic-covered couch, straw baskets and a laptop float beneath the stylized picture of a mosque. Peter Iannarelli’s We’re All in This Together is the only piece in the show where color takes center stage. A construction of 64 boxes of crayons, apparently sorted by color and melted, its exuberance stands out in an otherwise toned-down exhibit.

Other more whimsical pieces include Kathy Greenwood’s But I’m a Vegetarian, a droll appliqué of serving utensils on a tablecloth draped over a table. Sharon Bates’ installation Cluster resembles a familiar yet foreign cityscape, built from found objects resembling minarets, water towers and domes. Like all good architecture, the forms seem to speak both to each other and to the viewer.

The only new media piece is Seth Pompi’s looped videos, Open and Square, which depend upon oddly primitive techniques to create grainy objects falling and dissolving on a blank field. In this way, the videos echo a theme throughout the exhibit of the transience of objects and the emptiness that haunts us when faced with the impermanent.

PERIPHERAL VISION

-no peripheral vision this week-

 


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