out loud: Sara DiDonatos Burst.
By Pam Barrett-Fender
Center Gallery at the Saratoga County Arts Council, through
At first glance, Extended Realities seemed like an
overly generic and sweeping title for the current exhibit
at the Arts Center Gallery in Saratoga. But after due consideration,
the commonality of three disparate voices began to crystalize,
and it began to seem as apt a title as any. The painters represented
in this exhibit, each in her/his own way, have portrayed a
physical manipulation of form, figure and images, a personalized
expression of the complexity of human drama. Sara DiDonato,
Andrea Hersch and Michael Fenton, in their respective work,
aim not to alter a unified reality, but to extend the notion
of various intricate coexisting realities.
Sara DiDonato’s nine paintings and drawings each portray a
single figure (all girls and women,) involved in what seems
to be a moment of unself-conscious personal discovery. The
composition varies between pieces, ranging from closely cropped
head shots to drawings of the entire body, surrounded by ample
but undefined space. The scale of the work also covers a broad
range, including intimate panels less than 12 inches, as well
as those over four feet.
Roughly half of her subjects are depicted in various states
of contortion—twisted, bent, folded into extreme and precarious
positions. (DiDonato attributes this aspect of her visual
vocabulary to her mother’s career as a contortionist in an
Italian circus.) While the powerful effect of this imagery
cannot be overlooked, the narrative in her work actually takes
place in the subtle and complex facial expressions. This is
where the artist captures the simultaneous contrasting emotions
that define her characters’ experience. This is where the
viewer glimpses the internal life of the figures (and the
artist) as they explore places that exist between categories,
places not necessarily mapped by their intellect.
DiDonato’s figures are rendered relatively tightly, but not
without gesture in her marks.
Her palette is a saturated local color, leaning toward rich
blues. They read like intimate portraits, focusing on character
over description, experience over definition.
The 12 variously scaled paintings and drawings by Andrea Hersch
suggest, in her own language, an essentially uncertain human
condition. While not strictly figurative, these forms (including
long liquid drops, fleshy split or nippled lobes, viscous
globules, rubbery cloudlike formations, and ornamental ruffles
reminiscent of clothing) generate very close associations
with the human body. Her surreal anthropomorphic forms are
presented in various situations that imply danger, impending
destruction. Her crisply designed and smoothly painted organlike
structures are precariously balanced, pulled, stretched, wrapped,
poked, and otherwise acted upon by a whole host of forces.
The human stand-ins react to these forces by bulging, dripping,
falling, and threatening to tear apart, explode, or snap.
The fear and the pain in the images are palpable, and yet
there is a levity to them that makes them bearable, even fun,
to look at. Her rich, playfully funky palette (pink, pumpkin,
ochre, and jade in one painting, for example) and her clean,
bubbly definition lend to the whimsy that draws you into the
Michael Fenton is the painter of the three whose images are
most complex and detailed, and whose narratives are most literal.
Fenton presents seven mid-sized paintings, each hanging with
the weight of a story. All but two pieces relate specifically
to religious parables from the Pentateuch, serving as a moral
critique of contemporary culture. His images are compiled
digitally, and then painted by hand. This lends itself to
multiple image overlays and fractious surfaces, appropriately
illustrating the inevitably tragic tales of avarice, idolatry,
betrayal and condemnation.
The strongest of Fenton’s painting, however, is also the most
lyrical and impulsive of the images. It is a scene from a
balcony in New York, looking out toward a neat vertical row
of other balconies, each containing its own tiny separate
drama. Pigeons fly between the buildings, partially blocking
the view, and claiming sole omniscience.
Unfortunately, this piece is hung not in the main gallery
space, but in a hallway outside the gallery, inches above
a case of jewelry, its only light a glaring red exit sign.
Otherwise, the exhibit was thoughtfully curated and presented,
with a title that makes sense after all.
Created by the Dia Art Foun- dation last May,
this almost unbelievably large permanent installation
of major art from the ’60s to the present is 90
miles south of Albany and truly worth a trip from
anywhere. Washed in the natural Hudson River light
that spills in from 34,000 square-feet of original
factory skylights, the art represents some of
the most impressive work by names we all know,
from Beuys and Bourgeois to Serra and Smithson
(24 artists in all).
Housed in a carefully renovated former Nabisco
factory, Dia:Beacon has provided a place for extensive
series and very large-scale minimalist and abstract
art, as well as several particularly huge and
costly site-specific pieces. Best known among
those are the Torqued Ellipses by Richard
Serra, and they do live up to the hype, particularly
on a sunny day when the interplay of rectangular
light and shadow from the side windows adds drama
to the curved masses of Serra’s forms. Another
breathtaking installation is by Michael Heizer,
consisting of four tremendous geometric voids
in the concrete floor; the meticulous construction
provides as convincing an experience of monumental
earthworks as one could hope to find indoors.
While there are too many cool things in this collection
for me to describe here—including a large group
of Louise Bourgeois’ wonderfully creepy sculptures,
an extensive series of Dan Flavin’s light works
and a wealth of beautiful pieces by both John
Chamberlain and Donald Judd—I had one revelation
worth detailing: That was the discovery of Fred
Sandback, a German artist who magically redefines
space with nothing more than colored yarn strung
into very large, rectangular configurations along
walls and in open space.
Though one knows intellectually that these string-defined
planes have no mass, it is nearly impossible not
to become unconsciously convinced of their physical
presence. Standing near one of them and daring
to break the plane by stepping through—or merely
observing others doing the same—has the deliciously
irresistible sensation of committing a transgression,
though one touches only air. It is just this transformative
experience, like we had daily as children, that
we seek from art and that is so rarely fulfilled.
My deepest respect goes out to Mr. Sandback, and
to the people who made his work and all of Dia:Beacon
Dia: Beacon is open Fri-Mon from 11 AM
to 4 PM; admission is $10, $7 for students and
seniors;(845) 440-0100; www.diabeacon.org.