art: Photograph Jimmys Lunch, Troy, by
Mark Lunt, is part of At This Place, in This Space:
A Look at Our Changing Cultural Landscape, a component
Is Where the Art Is
2004 Exhibits: Home
Arts Center of the Capital Region, through Aug. 29
The real curse of homelessness is not the lack of shelter—it’s
the lack of a self-affirming sense of place. The current group
of otherwise unrelated exhibitions at the Arts Center of the
Capital Region is woven together by threads of the concept
of a home place and its importance in our culture.
First up is Fence Select 2004, an annual juried members-only
exhibition now in its 39th year as the “home” show of the
Arts Center, which is on view in the center’s main gallery.
This year’s version was chosen by Janet Riker, the new director
of the University Art Museum at the University at Albany,
and it is appropriately understated, tasteful and relatively
Featuring 40 pieces by 31 artists, the first thing you may
notice about Fence Select is its eclecticism. While
all juried shows of this sort are likely to show a range of
media and styles, this one is distinct in being especially
diverse in media while holding together in terms of style.
Apart from photography, which is represented in several forms,
including several each of traditional black-and-white and
color prints, virtually every piece in the show is in its
own category of material.
Top prize went to Michael Oatman for two collages on a theme
of trains, one small and subtle, the other larger and more
flamboyant. Newcomer James Dustin won second prize for a sensitive
pencil rendering of an architectural interior titled Pavilion
#3, while John Hampshire’s labyrinthine ink portraits
earned him third prize. A members’ choice award went to Kathleen
Segall for a mixed-media wall-and-floor sculpture that, apparently,
was part of the original salon exhibition but was not chosen
by the juror—hence, it is placed in a space outside the gallery
(where it may actually be seen by a lot more people).
Numerous other pieces stand out in this nicely spare installation,
including two ethereal color photographs by Chris De Marco;
Won Suk Jeong’s group of stoneware wave forms titled Sound
of Desert; Diana Delp’s oddly bowlegged pewter Watch
Tower; and a somewhat confounding, Spirograph-generated
drawing in ballpoint by Richard Garrison.
Upstairs in the Knisely-Ayers Gallery, where folk curator
Mary Zwolinsky exercises her sharp eye for significant material
often found flying below high-art’s radar, large-scale photographs
by Mark Lunt document Troy’s “third places.” Defined as “the
core settings of an informal public life,” these sites take
various forms in the show (titled at this place in this
space: our changing cultural landscape).
From neon-haloed ice cream stand to Odd Fellows hall to farmer’s
market, the public spaces presented in these vivid digital
prints convey the feeling of another era, when people had
time for things we rarely consider anymore: to talk politics,
take the kids out to lick a cone and watch the sunset, get
a haircut and shoot the breeze, or order a sandwich at the
counter of a place that closes every day after lunch.
Though not intended as art in this context, Lunt’s photographs
reflect an artist’s eye for detail and design; about a third
of them are in black-and-white, the rest in saturated color
(23 in all), and they are accompanied by snippets of commentary
by or about Trojans that shed light on the vibrant, nostalgic,
sometimes sad scenes presented. For example, Steve Peinard
on the Congress Street eatery Famous Lunch: “It is a world
unto itself. When you walk in you feel like you’ve been transported
to some small luncheonette in New York City, albeit with a
Troy accent. Great characters who are friendly. . . . The
hot dogs they serve are literally world-famous. They’ll be
happy to give you the history.”
Exhibits such as at this place in this space do more
than document a passing phenomenon—they can also raise awareness
and inspire preservation efforts before it is too late to
avoid losing a way of life forever. And it really helps when
the photographs are of such a level of quality as Lunt’s.
A second photography-text project is installed in the center’s
President’s Gallery (as well as the hallway beyond), and it,
too, is very well conceived and executed. Benjamin Swett is
a New York City-based documentary photographer who became
enamored of a little- known state highway that he believes
begins in downtown Manhattan. Route 22 continues to the Canadian
border (and beyond, as a Canadian route), and Swett has traveled
its length to conjure a very extended portrait of the road
and the life along it.
22: Autobiography of a Road is an exhibition that hopes
to become a book. With projects of this nature, there is always
the chance that the idea works but the pictures fail to live
up to it. Swett, however, does not disappoint. His pure visual
sense is highly developed, as is his instinct for content,
striking a perfect balance between form and meaning in very
richly seen and felt images.
There are 45 prints on view, about half of those that Swett
would include in the book (a mockup of which is also shown).
An omnivorous photographer, Swett presents an almost ridiculous
range of subjects in these deftly made black-and-white prints,
from tack-sharp expansive city-scapes to blurry glimpses grabbed
out the window of a moving car, grubby interiors to delicately
emotional portraits, minimalist industrial forms to the audience
at a regional theatre.
Diversity in this degree is more a weakness than a strength,
however, despite Swett’s genuine skill at working in so many
different ways. For my money, the best work in the show is
that which relies more on form than on content for its power—those
pictures that deal with the city skyline, bridges and ferries,
as well as those that celebrate a falling-down barn or ivy-covered
dirt mound. Of these, many are presented in square format,
a difficult medium that Swett seems to have gotten down.
Unfortunately, the publishing industry is such that Autobiography
of a Road is really a long shot for wide release—but it’s
got plenty of life as a very engaging exhibition.