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photo cap: This looks familiar: Margaret Crenson’s Broadway, Kingston.

Bought and Sold
By David Brickman

Painted Cities
Carrie Haddad Gallery, through Oct. 24

Try to remember (or imagine) Hudson 12 years ago, when Carrie Haddad first opened her art gallery there in a near-cultural desert. Then take a look at Hudson today, crammed with creative and commercial enterprises (as exemplified by the just-ended 10-day ArtsWalk 2004 that presented 180 artists at 120 sites), and you realize how far Hudson—and Haddad—have come.

And yet, the current exhibition at Carrie Haddad, somewhere around the 10th annual installment in a series titled Painted Cities, is a bomb.

Of the eight artists in the show, several seem to have real merit—it’s conceivable that a better selection of work by just two or three of them would have been a stronger exhibition—but they have been subsumed into the sloshy theme of the whole. And then there are the artists here who—how to put it delicately?—well, stink.

But don’t blame the artists, blame the curator. As much as it is an artist’s job to be rigorous, thoughtful, passionate, self-
critical and visionary, a curator must also exercise these ruthless criteria or the show will fail. As in fail to inspire, fail to communicate, fail the artists and just plain fail to hold up.

There are a few highlights: Arthur Hammer’s paintings recall the best of the Ashcan school, especially his Newtown Creek 1996, which is given pride of place in the gallery’s large front room; Bill Artim’s American Street 2002 evokes Hopper with its atmospheric twilight view of a sloping streetscape of
pastel-colored pre-war houses; and Margaret Crensen, though most of her work is barely pedestrian, manages a few pieces that speak strongly, including Snowy Day, Kingston 2004 and Do Not Enter, Chatham.

After that, the pickings get slim. Paul Chojnowski, the only person in the show not actually painting, presents burnt-paper images of big-city avenues and lights that fairly closely resemble sepia-toned photographs (apparently he draws from photos with water on thick paper, then torches the dry parts). They’re well-done and sort of interesting, but not enough to transcend the gimmick.

James Gurney can paint—that’s readily apparent in his photo-realistic and/or pre-impressionistic views—but the facile preciousness of his subjects and style, combined with his really pricey-looking, wide gold-leaf frames, make the paintings feel like nothing more than commodities in a world hungry for antiques.

Tina Sotis has a certain style, in which lone figures wander among sterile buildings (and, in one case, a red hot-air balloon descends), that would have the power of a De Chirico if it were any good. Instead, her panels look like illustrations for Psychology Today. Dan Rupe also has a distinctive style, one that seems to borrow its colors from the ’80s Southwestern art boom, being garish almost to the point of day-glo, and completely unselfconscious, funky fun—as well as totally forgettable.

Finally, Seth Nadel, who has the largest group of pictures on view and whose work was also featured on the invitation, presents a bunch of paintings that remind me exactly of tourist art from Europe. Hastily but somewhat skillfully painted, offering slight variations on the tired theme of speeding taxis and flashing billboards in New York City (along with a few local subjects), and framed in rather cheap-looking gold frames, they represent everything that is wrong with a show that is more about sales than art.

Ironically, though the show is clearly intended to produce sales (in a groan-inducing coup de grace there are paintings by four different artists of the same stainless-steel diner, apparently a Hudson landmark—and so far most of them are sold), there aren’t three things in the whole place I’d want to take home.

Meanwhile, upstairs in the photography gallery is a series of prints unrelated to Painted Cities by New Paltz grad and adjunct professor Joan Barker. Barker’s digital prints on watercolor paper from 35mm black-and-white negatives are elegant and refined visions created by capturing blur through camera movement.

Mostly 24-by-34 inches, with a few just 12-by-18 inches, these sweeping, swooping, jiggly images transform the subject (mainly landscapes) into a misty, gray, dreamlike place. Those that work, such as Walking West, Montauk NY 2001, retain a compelling sense of mystery that draws you in. Those that don’t, such as Dunes, Montauk NY 2001, just go flat and opaque.

The one titled Seagull, Montauk NY 2001 goes the furthest, by magically taking away the titular bird’s identity and replacing it with that of a graceful modern dancer. It is a beautiful, memorable and original photograph.


PERIPHERAL VISION

Susan Hoffman:
Contemporary Quilts

Peter Hoffman: Sculpture

A.D.D. Gallery, through Oct. 11

Though it ended Monday, this is a show that shouldn’t be let to pass without comment.

Susan Hoffman is a painter whose medium just happens to be fabric, though she also fully exploits the possibilities of piecing and quilting. Ranging in size from about 2-feet-square to queen bedspread, these wall-hung masterpieces of color and texture sustain repeated and lengthy viewing. From the complex color juxtapositions to the sometimes counterintuitive quilted patterns, Hoffman extends her medium—and our joy.

Peter Hoffman is Susan’s brother, and an outstanding artist in his own right (makes you wonder about their parents). His low-relief painted wooden constructions are witty, elegant and just plain beautiful. If you think such things are created by randomly throwing stuff together, looking at these should convince you of how very sophisticated the process actually is. Hoffman’s color and design senses are classic and refreshing in equal amounts.

Yet another first-rate job of curating by A.D.D.’s director, Jefferson Snider.

—David Brickman


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