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Counterpoint: David Miller’s Midnight2 from Midnight in the Garden of the Sea.

They’ll Take You There

By Nadine Wasserman

Out of This World: Transcending the Terrestrial in Contemporary Art

Albany International Airport Gallery, through Nov. 29


People are having a love affair with several pieces on display at the Albany International Airport Gallery. They have been caught petting, stroking, grabbing, and fondling any piece they can get their hands on. Despite the “do not touch” signs and the vigilant eyes of the gallery staff, it’s hard to blame them. The show is attractive, colorful, and fun. Even the walls of the gallery are painted a playful and eye-catching electric green.

If you approach the show from the stairs you first encounter a fabric outcropping by Susie Brandt that occupies a corner space at the landing. This piece, called Mine, is made of layered pieces of fabric that stick out from the wall. Wide at the base and tapering at the top, the piece resembles a geological formation. It sets up the tenor of the rest of the exhibition.

Thematically, the exhibition presents work that uses common materials as the basis for exploring both natural and otherworldly forms. Not only are pieces made from fabric swatches, but they are made with pipe cleaners, pom-poms, hot glue, spools of thread, pencils, and plastic goods. Each of these everyday ingredients are combined to create something both familiar and fanciful.

At the top of the stairs is Chris Harvey’s video The Mandala of Perfect Happiness. In it the artist painstakingly builds a Mandala out of colorful plastic items that are plentiful and readily available. He builds them up into towers and then spreads them out across the floor, filling every nook and cranny. As an excessive number of plastic paraphernalia accumulates into a sculpture, Harvey’s process becomes more meditative. The artist floats, the objects spin and vibrate, and the colors flicker and become psychedelic. Harvey’s labor-intensive process is echoed throughout the space, not only in his own monolithic sculptures but in the work of other artists.

Betsy Brandt uses hot glue, beads, pom-poms, ink and watercolor to create accumulative and repetitive two-dimensional and three-dimensional works. She is interested in organic growth. Her delicate shapes resemble stars or flowers but nothing that would be immediately recognizable. Akin is a wall vitrine containing colorful, spiky blobs that could be interstellar jellyfish. The shapes and patterns of her organic assemblages are echoed in the flowery, lacy, and shell-like sculptures of Ginger Ertz. Made from pipe cleaners, these colossal mollusks are both weighty and fluffy. They evoke something at once frail and sinister. Jennifer Maestre’s strangely evocative sculptures are similarly paradoxical. Cute but menacing they resemble mammals, amphibians, and flowers possibly from another planet. Made from the ends of sharpened pencils strung together, they are spiky rather than cuddly. Imp looks like a character right out of Star Wars.

The intergalactic theme is repeated in Devorah Sperber’s pieces which are based on Star Trek. Sperber often uses spools of thread to recreate the pixels of old master paintings or iconic images. Spock 3 is a portrait from an episode called Mirror, Mirror in which the characters encounter their evil counterparts. Inspired by the mission of the Enterprise to “explore strange new worlds,” Sperber uses images from the TV show to pursue her own interest in perception and subjective reality.

Most of the artists included in the exhibition use everyday items or materials more suited to crafts, but David Miller uses the more traditional medium of paint. While the colorful and organic shapes that populate his paintings do complement the other work in the exhibition, the inclusion of his work is a bit awkward thematically. Nevertheless, his seven-painting series entitled Mystery of the Sea is an interesting counterpart to Harvey’s Seven Pillars of Commerce and Pleasure. From the floor below, Harvey’s multi-colored columns beckon from beyond the glass. They are perfectly placed to entice viewers to venture upstairs and boldly go where the artists wish to take them.

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