metal: a brooch by Sandra Dovberg.
By David Brickman
Albany Center Galleries,
through Oct. 18
Albany Center Galleries marks its 25th anniversary with a
smartly curated show titled Silver, referring to the
metal that is traditionally used to celebrate such occasions
and to its presence in all the work on display.
Curator and executive director Pam Barrett-Fender has selected
eight artists whose media incorporate the 47th element in
the periodic table; adhering to the gallery’s mission, all
artists are based within a 75-mile radius of Albany. But all
are also new to the gallery, no small feat considering that
pretty much every artist worth seeing around here has shown
there repeatedly over the years.
Hence, the direction of the show is forward- rather than backward-looking,
a new beginning of sorts for an organization that has struggled
of late and is now getting back into the thick of things.
A nicely designed and printed color flyer accompanying the
exhibition features a thoughtful essay by Barrett-Fender and
an example of each artist’s work, setting a professional tone
for the anniversary event.
The geography of the participants stretches from southern
Vermont to Ulster County; there are three metalsmiths, two
photographers, two who work in silverpoint and (believe it
or not) a performance artist.
The latter, Suzanne Stokes, is represented by a sort of tableau
that, according to Barrett-Fender’s essay, was the midway
point in the creation of a performance that began as a drawing.
Sustenance is itself a mixed-media piece made up of
black paper silhouettes, a small sheaf of wheat and a silver
spoon laid out on a lace-decorated cloth. Without seeing other
work by Stokes, or the performance itself, it is difficult
to judge, but Sustenance has enough panache and mystery
to tickle the desire to see more.
James Fossett, who, like Stokes, hails from Bloomington, N.Y.,
offers two black-and-white photographs of a naked white baby
with a different silver spoon laid upon it in each. Here,
silver is both the subject (the spoons) and the medium (silver
halides form the active ingredient in photographic emulsions).
The other photographer in the show, Eric Slayton, lives and
works in the Brattleboro, Vt., area. He is an ecologist who
collects bird specimens and freezes them, then makes elegant,
quiet pictures of them (or their nests) with a square-format
camera. His photographs are masterfully made, some as bleach-toned
traditional silver prints, some as coffee-stained hand-coated
prints on vellum.
The prints on vellum, wrinkled from the wet process of making
the paper light-sensitive, showcase the nests as delicate
woven creations, almost abstract in their formality and structural
emphasis, yet still poetic, evocative.
The bird prints present the dead birds as objects of fascination,
even sympathy, held in gathering or gripping fingers. One,
Larus delawarensis (a seagull), is proffered by a nude
woman whose shoulders repeat the shape of the bird’s wings,
underscoring the artist’s intention that the series, titled
Dreams of Flight, represent people’s aspirations as
much as birds’.
An unusual affinity exists between photography and silver
sculpture or jewelry, and that is evident here as the work
of Sandra Dovberg, Myra Mimlitsch Gray and Rachel Seligman
surrounds and interacts with that of Slayton and Fossett.
Dovberg, perhaps the most adventurous of the three, includes
several wearable brooches, three meticulously crafted spinning
tops that open to reveal fantasy interiors, and three freestanding
Two of the objects could be described as fantastic creatures,
the products of imagination and experimentation. Spiritus
Mundi looks like a little jellyfish on a tripod, or a
jaunty, helmeted figure. The teasingly playful What Rough
Beast, with its long, curving snout, could be an elephant
or an insect.
Dovberg’s interest in nature is repeated in the Creation
Series of brooches, each of which incorporates a slice
of fossilized ammonite.
Seligman, an art historian and the director of Union College’s
Mandeville Gallery, also takes inspiration from nature. Her
quasi-wearable rings play with forms of bark, vine and leaf;
a bracelet depicts various poses by an amoeba; and two small
objects ply the theme of life emerging from eggs.
While Seligman mostly employs casting, Mimlitsh Gray often
raises, forms and fabricates. Her Round Planish Server
is, to my eye, the star of the show, helped by a supporting
cast of three cups. All four exploit deceptively simple but
devilishly difficult techniques to create three-dimensional
vessels of the utmost elegance. Mimlitsh Gray’s subtle plays
on geometry and her perfect execution brought me back again
and again to examine these beautiful, not-quite-utilitarian
Mimlitsh Gray also creates fetishistic manipulations of spoons
by splitting, twisting and oh-so-carefully presenting these
everyday utensils as though they were religious relics. Oddly
The silverpoint artists, Nancy Lawton of Albany and John Lees
of Leeds, N.Y., employ a nearly lost art medium to very different
ends. Silverpoint is a drawing tool consisting of a piece
of silver wire in a holder; it works just like a pencil, leaving
gray trails of silver rather than graphite. Unlike pencil,
it requires that the paper ground be prepared or no mark will
Lawton must have the patience of a dozen normal people. Her
tiny, exquisitely subtly detailed self-portraits take weeks
to produce but are merely studies for life-size graphite drawings
she spends years to produce. Apparently, when she wants
to hurry up and play, she makes botanical drawings, five of
which are on display.
From a distance, the plant studies appear as tight as one
would expect from the subject, medium and presentation, but
upon closer inspection one finds that Lawton is very loose,
scribbling freely and gesturally to describe a lupine or Wellfleet
oyster. Her Poppy is strikingly modern, bristling with
plant sexuality. It is also the only plant study Lawton shows
that has no written notations, which helps it seem less fussy.
Lees would be best described as a painter, though he employs
little color in his silverpoint drawings on thickly built-up
gesso and gouache grounds. The drawings exploit a contrarian
position: Silverpoint is supposed to be impossible to erase,
but Lees has found a way to rework and smudge his lines, resulting
in a greater sense of depth. Inspired by classical music and
literature, his pale, ethereal images hark back to the late
19th century, when poets invoked spirits and the Symbolists
The two drawings that I think work best are Ripples,
which shows the effect of six stones tossed into a pool of
water—or perhaps it’s an image of black holes somewhere in
deep space—and a sweet Cassatt-like portrait called Vivien.
This last, by the way, is seen not in the second-floor gallery,
but in a display case on the building’s first floor, where
several of the other artists’ works from Silver are
also on view.