states: Maureen Cummins Flag Project.
Opera House, through June 12
The story of the Hudson Opera House is a heartening one—a
triumph for art, architecture, culture, and community. The
now-restored 1855 building on the lower end of Warren Street
is one of the oldest surviving theaters in America. For a
hundred years it housed Hudson’s first City Hall. And then
for 30 years it was nothing but a forgotten investment, a
property left fallow and decaying by its out-of-town owner.
When faced, in the early ’90s, with the building’s imminent
demolition, the community took action. Local citizens stood
together against the apathy and reckless development that
threatened their community. And they won.
Now the Hudson Opera House stands as a testament to the value
of material history as a foundation for living culture. The
nonprofit organization is not only steward of the historical
structure, but also serves as a cultural center, offering
regular programming of classes, lectures, readings, workshops,
performances and most recently, art exhibits.
The gallery inhabits the spacious center hall on the ground
floor, making good use of the large wall spaces between the
seven doors that break up the long walls. The space offers
a crisp, roomy presentation of artwork. It is well-lit and
accessible. In a town replete with commercial galleries who
must sell art to survive, the Hudson Opera House has
the opportunity to show work that is bold, personal, experimental,
or even work in progress without the same imperative. It is
the bounty of the nonprofit, after all, to not simply appeal
to the public, but also to inform, challenge, expand or deepen
our understanding of art.
The walls of the center-hall gallery are currently host to
a series of relief prints by Maureen Cummins, a printmaker
and book artist who lives in High Falls. The Flag Project,
as presented, consists of 18 bold, graphic images lined up
like soldiers on the wall. They are sketches, of a sort, for
a larger project to explore the intersection of personal and
national identity, which the artist plans to develop and edition.
The flags are unframed and tacked to the wall, emphasizing
the graphic quality of the images, the vulnerability of the
overlaying handwritten text, and the intimate incompleteness
of the project.
The images, composed of altered national flags and other well-known,
strongly symbolic patterns, are each exactly the same size,
about 2-by-3 feet. This consistency, along with the linear
presentation of the prints, generates a feeling of democracy
and strict order. When you engage the work more closely, you
come to understand the artist’s urgency for such structure,
her longing for the safety of order.
The overlaying text is a memoir of her interior life, as it
is informed and enflamed by major life events (traveling,
new motherhood, Sept. 11, moving to the country from New York
City, etc.) The narratives reveal the artist’s most deep-rooted
identities, searching for their political context in a time
of rising fear and nationalism.
The text, which is really the core of the work, falls reverently
within the boundaries of the flag images, where unruly human
emotion might supercede order in places. It floats on the
surface, wanting to intermingle more completely with the other
layers of the work; it asks, perhaps as the artist asks, for
integration of the personal and the political.
Cummins, whose work typically addresses issues from a political
and historical perspective, is taking a brave step into the
full, rich, dangerous realm of human experience. She is asking
questions she doesn’t have the answers to, and she is asking
with her heart.
Gallery through June 19
Though, by rights, it should be called Spring
Show, as it ends before summer technically
begins, Summer Show ’04 at Firlefanz Gallery
is more than the fluffy commercial selection one
might expect from a for-profit gallery under such
a breezy banner. Featuring a broad selection of
ceramics, jewelry and two-dimensional art by area
creators, as well as more than 20 retablos (prayer
offerings in paint) by Mexican folk artist Gerardo,
there is truly something here for everybody—including
the picky ones (like me).
Many of the ceramics hew more toward pure sculpture
than toward mundane function, thanks to the challenging
curating of gallery owner (and represented ceramist
and jeweler) Cathy Frank; my favorites range from
the delicate Asian-deco look of Walford Williams’
vases to the super-chunk forms of Brian Spengelmeyer.
For the purely visual, Charlene Shortsleeve’s
quirky confections and Monica Miller’s suite of
four diamond-shaped watercolors with gold leaf
are very appealing, while Greg Haymes’ outdoor
installation and Yunjung Kim’s indoor one both
succeed in pushing the envelope.
A bit chaotic and incoherent (as is clearly intended),
Summer Show ’04 is both serious
and fun in the fine tradition of summer shows
at great galleries everywhere.