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Dreamlike and enigmatic: Weissglass’ Spaceship Picnic (2008).

Vehicles for Fun?

By Nadine Wasserman

Frolic

Carrie Haddad Gallery, Hudson, through July 26

An upbeat trend has been no ticeable in several upstate exhibitions these past few months. The recent MFA show at the University at Albany felt carnival-esque, the 2009 Mohawk-Hudson regional (now at UAlbany) is quirky and fun, Out of This World at the Albany International Airport Gallery is lively and colorful, and Frolic at the Carrie Haddad Gallery is playful and animated. Like screwball comedies during the Great Depression, these exhibitions are distractions from a gloomy economy. But what at first glance may seem cheerful, doesn’t always seem so on closer inspection.

Frolic is supposed to be a “playful and exuberant” exhibition that offers “some amusement to keep our spirits up.” However, it is a misnomer. Rather than offer levity, gaiety, and mirth, this exhibition renders serious subjects in candy coating. That is not to say that the exhibition is not sanguine in appearance. There are funny and spirited pieces on display. But overall the mood is far from Pollyanna-ish. Amid bright colors, crafts, and Play-Doh, themes of war, 9/11, and the environment materialize.

The six artists included produce a variety of work, but there are some compelling intersections among them. In the front window of the gallery is Fernando Orellana’s Extruder, which is a machine that spits out little Play-Doh cars that fall to the floor in a spongy heap. Not only is Extruder a commentary on the process of making art but it is also a statement about the impact of cars on the world. For his other work in the exhibition, Orellana has gathered and organized his little Play-Doh cars in color coordinated rows and encased them in clear epoxy. His wall pieces, in varying sizes, resemble color-field paintings. They are whimsical and textured and relate to the number of automobiles made by the Ford Motor Company in 1947, the year Henry Ford died.

Colleen Kiely also uses vehicles as her subject. But while Orellana uses a reductive and toy-like symbol of a car, Kiely renders her vehicles in realistic detail. Inspired by her many hours commuting, Kiely depicts the rear of cars, trucks, buses, RV’s, and motorcycles from the view of a driver looking at the road ahead. Kiely lends these machines a more whimsical tone by drawing them on delicate white-paper doilies. Even so, they exhibit a melancholy tone. They are always departing, never arriving, and they leave the viewer with a sense that time is fragile and fleeting.

Like Kiely, Sally Agee also uses a non-traditional medium to confront more sober issues. Her hooked rugs deal with current events, tabloid news, and political and social issues. Her subjects range from JonBenét Ramsey to O.J. Simpson to HIV to 9/11. In addition to her textiles, Agee has several small collages that complement the large abstractions of Vince Pomilio. Layered and complex, Pomilio’s work is loosely based on landscape and cityscape, as well as on the destruction of 9/11. His animated Taghkanic Creek is colorful and chaotic, with patterns emerging from his various methods of rubbing, sanding, and burnishing.

While Pomilio focuses on his intuitive reactions to the natural world, Gabe Brown and Jeannie Weissglass both combine the outer landscape with an inner, dreamlike narrative. Brown’s abstractions include birds, trees, plants, sunsets, and boats, but they do not follow any rules regarding perspective and horizon line. Instead they are flattened planes of multi-colored swirls, drips, and squiggles.

Similar to Brown, Jeannie Weissglass paints dreamlike landscapes. However, hers are peopled with enigmatic figures from the colonial-revolutionary era. Like Brown, her swirling strokes are multi-colored, layered, and patterned. In many of them something unusual and ambiguous is taking place. In Solstice a multi-colored spaceship hovers above a line of figures in a field. In Mob Scene, two crowds face off under an angry sky behind a general mounted on horseback. Weissglass’ paintings are nostalgic yet unsettling. They are a perfect reflection of our current hopefulness coupled with anxiety. In two paintings she surrounds the image of the White House with bright laurels and ribbons, but the image is distant and remote. It is both welcoming and beyond our grasp. It is just this sort of paradox that runs throughout this exhibition and makes it at once joyful and glum.

Peripheral Vision

Amazement Park: Stan, Sara, & Johannes VanDerBeek

Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, through April 25, 2010

The best university and college museums present exhibitions that are challenging, thought-provoking, and experimental. Amazement Park is just that. Tucked into the tiny mezzanine gallery, this exhibition is a year-long venture that will change each month. As each new configuration unfolds, the previous ones will be documented and the photographs displayed on a long wall. At the end of the year there will be an archive of each iteration that will then become a document of the whole.

At its core is a dream by the avant-garde filmmaker Stan VanDerBeek in which he envisioned an ideal exhibition space as a dark room with “projected images, movies, and stills everywhere.” In his grand vision, the viewer would experience the space by flying past the images while suspended by a wire. While never physically manifested, it is the spirit of his idea that is embraced here. By presenting his work alongside the work of his son and daughter, the exhibition demonstrates their common interests in re-combination, collage, ephemeral materials, and architectural forms and spaces.

Currently on display is a darkly comedic surrealist film by Stan VanDerBeek entitled Breathdeath; obscured photographs by Sara VanDerBeek; and barely perceptible images etched into pastel and ink on aluminum foil by Johannes VanDerBeek. The nature of the exhibition encourages repeat visits and reflects the artists’ mutual interests.

—N.W.


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