Pillow Fight by Beatles photographer Harry Benson.
By David Brickman
to See It My Way: Wendy Lehman, Willie Marlowe and Janet Sorensen
Rice Gallery, Albany Institute of History and Art, through
Beatles: Now and Then, Photographs by Harry Benson
Albany Institute of History
and Art, through March 2
Line, color, shape, mystery, playfulness—these are some of
the characteristics that tie together work by the three artists
in Try to See It My Way, now on view at the Albany
Institute of History and Art’s Rice Gallery.
Director Janis Keane Dorgan brought back sculptor Wendy Lehman
and painters Willie Marlowe and Janet Sorensen, all of whom
have shown at the Rice in past years, for a visual carnival
that enlivens the space within and beyond the gallery.
Lehman, a New Yorker, presents four sculptures in smooth,
curved wood, three of which stand about 8 feet tall. Though
three-dimensional, the pieces read almost as freestanding,
shaped canvases due to their flat fronts and backs, upon which
the artist has painted in vivid color.
Though very playfully shaped and hued, the sculptures are
also carefully made to have a particular presence and resonance.
They are witty, gestural and full of fun. Priced as high as
$18,000, they are also for serious collectors only.
A Lehman piece titled Between the Lines stands at the
second-floor entrance to the gallery/museum shop level, like
a cartoonish escaped convict in black and white stripes with
primary accents. In the museum’s lower lobby, the equally
jaunty Detour flashes its yellow and black motif at
passersby, arms outstretched in cactus fashion.
Both works have round cutouts that suggest anything from a
porthole to an entrance for birds. Somewhat different, but
on the same scale, is Lehman’s sole sculpture inside the gallery,
titled Mad Hatter. This piece relies more on the wavy
painted lines and sweeping shapes on its surfaces than on
the gestures of the sculpture itself for its serene yet kooky
My favorite of Lehman’s pieces is by far the smallest. About
three feet tall, Single Minded sits on a pedestal in
the mezzanine alcove. With its spirals, stairsteps and dashes
of red, yellow and purple to offset moodier gray and black,
it comes across like a 3-D Saul Steinberg drawing—smashingly.
Marlowe, an Albany artist who has taught at the Sage College
of Albany for 25 years, stretches her wings in this show with
variations beyond her usual framed miniature acrylics. Though
a couple of those are also included, and they’re still what
she does best, Marlowe adds two large, shaped canvases, a
group of seven rectangular canvases forming a single piece,
and three small acrylics mounted on wooden boxes rather than
All categories succeed, largely through Marlowe’s remarkable
sense of vivid color and her increasing affinity for spatial
design. Dorgan also deserves credit for achieving a successful
installation of this diversity of offerings from a single
Highlights include Implied Squares (the set of grouped
canvases), which combines Crayola colors with the white spaces
between rectangles for a fractured composition that amounts
to a delectable visual game (and contains no true squares).
Marlowe’s two shaped canvases, each of which is an isosceles
triangle presented point-down, read like shields and evoke
the work of Op-art luminary Kenneth Noland. Titled Magenta
Triangle and Blue Origami, both celebrate texture,
strict geometry and esoteric color relationships. A third
piece in this series currently hangs at the faculty show in
the Opalka Gallery on the Sage campus—suggesting that Marlowe
intends to mine this vein further.
Sorensen, a Skidmore professor, is the more traditional painter
in this trio. Her pieces all feature 16-inch-square panels
grouped in threes (and one pair of two), encouraging the viewer
to contemplate the seemingly random juxtapositions she creates.
All of the paintings feature anonymous hands performing tasks
mundane and mysterious.
In Red Song #6 and Fumbling With Fortune, the
colors red and gray dominate. In the first, the action involves
holding a cloth, pouring berries into a colander and cutting
paper with scissors. The second shows a pair of hands fooling
with a bag that holds Chinese divining stones. The hands’
gestures may imply larger meaning, or perhaps futility and
the lack of meaning—it is entirely beyond me to say which.
The triptych Hold Your Breath is equally confounding.
Here, the color scheme includes shades of blue, green and
mustard-yellow. The hands hold a glass ornament, build a house
of cards and wind a length of yarn. There’s a pastiness in
the rendering of flesh tones in this triptych that makes it
feel rather cool, even more so than the others, which are
distant as it is. One begins to wonder if the pieces might
have worked as well (or better?) if they were photographs
rather than paintings.
What is Sorensen’s message? The paintings are too vague for
me to be able to say. Instead, I can’t help suspecting that
the work is a shallow attempt to create mystery and meaning
where far greater passion and deeper devotion would be required
in order to evoke it.
Former news photographer (and now renowned celebrity photographer)
Harry Benson lucked onto the assignment of a lifetime when
he was pulled off a hard-news story to cover the Beatles in
1964, and he never looked back.
This show chronicles a long collaboration, but focuses on
the Fab Four’s 1964 and 1966 North American tours, telling
the story from a virtual insider’s point of view in expertly
shot black-and-white. The pictures, a healthy mix of the spontaneous
and the set-up, are very well-composed and printed; they are
accompanied by plenty of entertaining and revealing text panels.
A soundtrack of Beatles recordings echoes throughout the exhibit.
I suppose it’s a necessary contrivance, but I found the music
annoying, and I imagine the museum’s guards must really hate
it by now.
The exhibit also includes later photos, many of them in color,
of McCartney, Lennon, Harrison and Starr and their families
post-Beatles. These photos feel more commercial than the earlier,
more innocent work, but still have visual and historical impact.
The last room in the show is crammed with an impressive array
of Beatles paraphernalia and memorabilia, with a soundtrack
that includes Capital Region radio spots from the ’60s.
Looking at the books, collectible dolls, movie posters, games,
tea towels, fan club goodies and so on, one recognizes the
unbelievable impact these musicians had on all areas of commerce
in their heyday. A printed timeline also on hand adds to the
installation’s historical perspective; free copies can be
And, speaking of art and commerce, it is worth noting that
each of these exhibitions has received special support: GE
Power Systems and a number of other corporate sponsors have
contributed to the Beatles/Benson show; and private collector
C. Wayne Williams and his wife have provided sole sponsorship
of the Rice Gallery exhibit. My hat’s off to art angels big
and small—they’re far more rare than the celestial kind, and
just as greatly needed.