me bronze: Louise Nevelson’s Self Portrait.
Is Where the Art Is
Modern & Contemporary Works From the Feibes and Schmitt
Hyde Collection, through Dec. 7
Whenever I enter someone’s home for the first time, I can’t
help checking out the art. Usually, there isn’t much—even
more rarely much of real interest—but it’s an opportunity
to see something otherwise hidden and an irresistible window
on the soul of the occupant, whether old friend or new acquaintance.
In the case of Werner Feibes and James Schmitt, Schenectady-based
partners in architectural practice (and in life), this window
has been flung wide for all the world to see in an intriguing
and challenging exhibition at the Hyde Collection titled Form(ation).
The purpose of the show, selected and installed by Hyde director
Randall Suffolk, is to examine the process of forming, over
a 50-year period, a collection of art particularly involved
Though there is a conceptual range from dada to abstract expressionism
to pop to op, the unifying factors in this collection are
taste (as ineluctable as it is individual) and a fairly strict
postmodern esthetic. A great deal of the work is nonobjective—that
is, the image is not simply reductive of natural forms to
abstraction or minimalism; rather, it springs forth directly
from form itself, representing nothing else. It is hardly
surprising that a pair of architects would tend in this direction;
it is, however, pretty eye-opening to see what an impressive
collection they have amassed.
Suffolk points out in a short introduction to the exhibit
that there is “not one museum” in the Capital Region with
such a broad and high-quality collection of 20th-century art,
naming the Rockefeller collection at the Empire State Plaza
as perhaps its only rival. Though this is no exaggeration,
it is important to remember that the work shown here was chosen
to be lived with, not displayed in public, and the Hyde does
a good job of retaining the feeling of personal intimacy in
Comprising more than 55 works by 35 artists, Form(ation)
features paintings, drawings, sculptures, prints and collages
(or constructions); it is roughly divided into two groups:
art in color and art in black-and-white. Both halves are strong,
but it is my gut reaction that the black-and-white is where
the collectors’ hearts really live, and many of the most outstanding
works on view are marvelous examples of how much an artist
can do with just line, contrast and composition.
Take, for example, Ellsworth Kelly’s 1980 collage drawing
Slow Curve, which presents a square floating in a white
space, its dark lower half separated from its white upper
half by a diagonal edge. At first, the dividing line appears
straight, but it slowly dawns on you that it is, in fact,
a very subtle curve, exactly as the title suggests. Juxtaposed
with this piece, in one of many sublime living-room moments
in the installation, is Stephen Antonakis’ 1976 graphite drawing
Fragment of a Circle, in which the titular form, in
white, is set against a rich, dark background.
Together, the two pieces reinforce the lesson to the eye,
telling us to look more carefully, more openly, more receptively.
But they are just part of a setup along the rear wall of the
spacious gallery that takes 13 works and makes them sing together
in a lyrical chorus of call and response. Also among this
group are a delicious Josef Albers gouache from 1929, a 1971
Robert Motherwell oil-on-canvas, a one-of-a-kind cast-bronze
figure made around 1940 by Louise Nevelson, and three pieces
by Jean Arp that span nearly four decades. If it weren’t so
subtly presented, it would be breathtaking. As it is, it is
The Nevelson, incidentally, is a self-
portrait and one of the truly outstanding pieces in the collection.
Another Nevelson, instantly recognizable as one of her black
spray-painted box constructions, joins other more boldly conceived
works in another part of the gallery where color has its say.
In that section of the room, there are paintings by Grace
Hartigan, Ray Parker, Paul Burlin, Gene Davis and Milton Resnick
that energize with busy brushwork and a bright palette.
Nearby, the wittily phallocentric Woody by a very young
Keith Haring and several more Arps, as well as a very strong
eye-teaser by Bridget Riley and a slowly waving, mirror-finished
George Rickey, remind us of these collectors’ (monochromatic)
priorities. Another Rickey, mounted outside, can be seen through
one of the big, angled windows that allow plenty of natural
light into the gallery, an increasingly rare phenomenon in
museums these days and most welcome in this particular installation.
Other aspects of the installation are less perfectly rendered.
A large Sol LeWitt sculpture, titled Wall Piece #2, Cube
Structure Based on Nine Modules, is inexplicably mounted
on a low Lucite pedestal on the floor—in the catalog it is
shown properly projecting out from a wall—although a lot of
trouble appears to have been taken to create a large alcove
just for the sculpture. Elsewhere, some pieces are stacked
or crowded together—perhaps in the spirit of hominess, but
in this case somewhat at the expense of satisfying viewing.
There are a few disappointments in the selection as well.
An apparent drawing from 1941 by Wassily Kandinsky turns out,
upon close inspection, to be a heliogravure reproduction initialed
and numbered by someone other than the artist in who-knows-what-year.
Perhaps it would have been better left out. Also, Man Ray’s
It’s Springtime (a dadaist construction of two bedsprings
tied together in a cross formation), with its little etched
plaque bearing the artist’s signature, the title and an edition
number, feels more like a collector’s item produced for the
market than the spontaneous and irreverent work of art that
the original would have been. And, let’s face it, that’s a
pretty bad pun to begin with.
But there is far more here to enjoy and celebrate than lapses
of this sort can begin to tarnish; the show is a generous
gift to art lovers, and may just presage a future permanent
gift of work from the collection to the Hyde (that’s a guess,
by the way, not a scoop). In the meantime, the Hyde has unwittingly
added a terrific new piece to Feibes’ and Schmitt’s collection
that I suspect they’re happy to have: a big Christo-esque
wrapped building, in the form of the Hyde House next door,
shrouded in plastic-covered scaffolding for extensive renovations.
It fits the collection as if it was meant to be there—happenstance
adding to careful consideration.