and Less Successful
by Sherell Jacobson and Grzegorz Kepinski
Center Galleries, through Dec. 19
thoughts: Grzegorz Kepinskis Traces of Looks.
the old feminist saying, “a woman without a man is like a
fish without a bicycle”? Well, it’s not true when it comes
to galleries and curators.
The inspired pairing of socially conscious installation/combine
artists Sherell Jacobson and Grzegorz Kepinski at Albany Center
Galleries is a case in point. When the two were chosen and
scheduled, the gallery had a director-curator. Now it doesn’t,
and the lack of professional guidance is readily apparent
in the overstuffed exhibit.
Now, I like clutter as much as the next person—my office is
ample proof of that—and so do a lot of really terrific artists.
However, it rarely succeeds as a motif for an exhibition.
Editing is necessary, but a rigorous selection process is
usually not the artist-of-excess’ forte.
That’s where a competent curator comes in, culling not just
the best work, but that which works best together. Left to
their own devices, most artists will be unable to leave out
many of their precious creations, resulting in the kind of
overkill that dulls the senses—and that’s exactly what happened
here in the form of nearly 60 works (a number of them pretty
big in scale) squeezed into about 1,500 square-feet of exhibit
Kepinski, a Polish-born post-Dadaist now living in Claverack,
is the unwitting culprit. His 49 pieces ring the space, many
of them hung scarce inches apart on the walls, others set
on the floor or on decorative pedestals.
They compete mightily for attention with the eight three-dimensional
pieces presented by Jacobsen, which were mostly arrayed in
the open floor space around the room’s central column. Jacobsen,
a third-age artist based in Catskill and Hudson, creates sculptural
works that are generally more soft-spoken—less brash—than
Kepinski’s, while engaging some of the same issues, including
creation, destruction and the passage of time.
Fortunately, the two artists’ styles are compatible enough
that this tête-à-tête doesn’t get ugly—in fact, were Kepinski’s
offerings reduced to the most eloquent 15 or 20 pieces, it
could be a lovely dialogue. A taste of what that would be
like is visible in the gallery’s glass display case one floor
below, where sufficient restraint was exercised in presenting
a nice group of strong two- and three-dimensional works by
both artists. It is ironic that this small addendum to the
show becomes its best aspect.
That said, there is much to like about the work on view in
the gallery. Kepinski’s attachment to the magical possibilities
of juxtaposition provides numerous witty and/or mystifying
objects. A graphic artist by training, he often bisects and
rearranges antique photographs, more often than not with a
deft, cynical touch.
Among the 3-D objects he presents, Battle Games is
perhaps the most touching. At least 6 feet long, it combines
a toy tank, an exhaust pipe and a big wooden screw (the kind
used in a press), to somehow capture the horror and absurdity
of war. Its listed price—“one day of peace”—is heartbreaking.
Also successful in their understated simplicity are Kepinski’s
Standard Patent 2003, Wind Stick, and Parade—1944
US Navy, the last of which transforms a panoramic photo-portrait
into a terse geometric object.
A large number of Kepinski’s constructions involve distorting
prisms, crystals, lenses and the like—and quite a few of these
seem insufficiently thought through. A group involving washboards
and round objects—strainers, reflectors and car parts—frequently
do less with more than his better pieces, and might better
have been left out. In this way, the best work would have
had more room in which to shine.
Jacobsen works largely with wood and paper pulp, though her
charcoals in the glass case show a strong penchant for drawing
as well. By combining ordinary, used wooden objects—like ladders,
boxes and chairs—with formed wads of pulp, she confounds the
original purposes of things.
So a ladder is rendered unclimbable by bladder-like protrusions
on the steps; two chairs are forever wedded by a large embracing
ball of pulp; and an array of tangerine crates metamorphoses
into so many beds—or coffins—with alternating pink-and-gray
Jacobsen also uses poetry and a quote from Anaïs Nin in two
of her installations. Her love of words is present in titles
that connect—Hidden Steps, The First Step, Two Steps, Step
Backwards—but the artworks seem to be struggling a bit
to live up to the challenge of continuity.
The show’s centerpiece, a row of fragile-looking saplings
with plastic tags and roots bound up in a dirt ball (in fact
they are constructions of paper and branches, not living trees),
is sweetly sad. Jacobsen, nearing the last phase of life,
is celebrating its tenuousness as well as its tenacity. The
quote from Nin describes the moment of creation—when the risk
of blooming wins out over the risk of staying closed-up tight.
That’s like the risk one takes in transposing work from the
safety of the studio into the harsh glare of the gallery lights
(not to mention the harsh gaze of the public, and possibly
harsh words of critics). It’s always a risk worth taking,
but a kind and clever curator, like a caring gardener, helps
to smooth the process of flowering.