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Open for business: Installations by Oona Stern and Peter Dudek in the new HVCC Teaching Gallery.

New Spaces

By Nadine Wasserman

Here and There

Hudson Valley Community College Teaching Gallery, through Oct. 25

Inaugural Exhibitions

The Arkell Museum, Canajoharie, various closing dates

Though it’s probably an exaggeration to label them the start of a “Bilbao effect” or “starchitecture” trend in the region, the recent openings of the Hudson Valley Community College Teaching Gallery and the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie do reflect a growing appreciation for the role that art plays in the area.

The HVCC Teaching Gallery is housed in the college’s new Administration Building, designed by the Troy firm Architecture+. The new gallery is a major improvement over the previous space in the library and clearly demonstrates that the college is dedicated to showing visual art. However, while the 2000 square-foot gallery is a beautiful space, it could prove to be challenging for exhibiting certain types of art. The two-story gallery is broken up into smaller spaces which could prove difficult for larger work.

The space works fairly well for the inaugural exhibition, Here and There. This exhibition appropriately contemplates how the built environment influences and organizes our daily lives. At the entrance is a floor piece by Oona Stern titled Patio. Stern is interested in the contrasts between inside/outside, natural/manufactured, and precious/utilitarian. She explores the arbitrariness of boundaries and highlights spaces that often go unnoticed. Stern has another piece upstairs but it would have been interesting to see an outdoor piece in this context. In the next room is an installation by Peter Dudek, who borrowed surplus generic desks from the college and transformed them into a surrogate cityscape called An Office for Monika. Dudek considers the optimism of modernist architecture and urbanism while also referencing the prefabricated and impersonal aspects of building. His installation sits halfway between idealistic and dystopian. At the top of the stairs is a piece by Architecture+’s Arien Cartrette, Anthony Garner, and Amy Wong. It is a version of architecture that complements Dudek’s bemusement. The piece, titled Crystallization of Design, graphically illustrates the very process, from conception to fabrication, that took place in order to construct the building in which the piece is displayed. It maps in minute detail, using convoluted lines, the tedium, mundanity, and intricacy involved in completing a building project. The final product resembles more a Sol Lewitt wall drawing than a timeline of decision making and communication that results in the design and construction of a fully functioning administrative building. Julia Christensen presents yet another version of the juncture between dystopia and utopia. Her subject is the ubiquitous big box store. These generic buildings, built purely for shopping, are designed with no regard for aesthetics. In her Big Box Reuse series, begun in 2003, Christensen chronicles the transformation of vacated Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and Target buildings into churches, libraries, schools, fitness centers, and ethnic supermarkets. Photographs included in the exhibit are of the Hong Kong food store in east New Orleans, but she has many others, including images of the Grace Fellowship Church, which opened in a renovated Latham Grand Union in 2002. Finally, Richard Garrison records the ordinary and sometimes arbitrary actions and interactions of daily life through his abstract view of the repetitive wasteland of fast food restaurants. In Drive-thru Color Scheme he charts the colors he sees on his daily commute.

While the Teaching Gallery is a totally new construction, the Arkell Museum is both an expansion and a renovation. Completed by Boston-based Ann Beha Architects, the new building has doubled the library and museum space while incorporating already existing buildings. The original building, constructed in 1925 as both public library and museum, was commissioned by Bartlett Arkell, a native son and the founder and first president of Beech-Nut. The new great hall just to the left of the entrance has a large bay of windows and a mural of the Mohawk Valley covering the entire floor. The exhibition spaces are spread throughout the building and feel rather disjointed. There are two galleries on one side of the great hall, each with a separate door. On display in one is Fragile Masterpieces, a selection of watercolors and pastels from the permanent collection, including work by artists such as Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keefe, and Edward Hopper. In the other is Mohawk Valley Views, which showcases work inspired by the surrounding landscape. Included in the exhibition is a signature work by Edward Gay entitled Mother Earth that used to hang in the Beech-Nut factory lunch room, and was on display in the arts pavilion of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. There are other historical views, some from the permanent collection and some borrowed from other institutions. Of note are three gems by Fritz Vogt, an itinerant artist who did pencil drawings of Mohawk Valley residences in the early 1890s; a much reproduced painting of the Erie Canal by William Wall; and two contemporary paintings by Walter Hatke, professor of fine art at Union College.

None of the galleries is easy to find. There is a diminutive community gallery downstairs, and the original gallery, which has been refurbished and re-hung, is down a corridor gallery that is an awkward space. Works in the renovated gallery include highlights from the permanent collection, such as paintings by Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam, Theodore Robinson, and John Singer Sargent. On the back wall is a reproduction of Rembrandt’s Nightwatch which Bartlett commissioned before deciding to collect American art exclusively. The original gallery is by far the most rewarding in terms of exhibition spaces. It has high ceilings and is the most friendly to the presentation of art. While the additional spaces allow more of the museum’s remarkable collection to be shown, they feel more like an afterthought. Despite this, the museum is well worth a trip.

Bartlett Arkell believed that art was good for the mind, body, and soul. These new exhibition spaces remind us that art can also contribute to the economic and spiritual well-being of an entire community.

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