Albert Shahinian Fine Art (ASFA) in Rhinebeck is celebrating its 15th Anniversary with a group exhibition of 15 artists entitled: “15: Artists from Ulster County.” The exhibition has, in fact, sixteen artists. Rosalind Robertson was included after all the publicity materials were finalized, so fifteen and, as the Irish say, “one for luck.”
“15:” expands on a show that exhibited at Brooklyn Artists Gym (BAG) Gallery in May 2011. For this reprise, curators Christie Scheele – who is also an exhibitor – and BAG director, Peter Wallace, have added artists and more pieces. The show, which runs through April 22, includes: Kim Alderman, Yale Epstein, Mark Thomas Kanter, Bernard Gerson, Chris Hawkins, Anique Taylor, Kate McGloughlin, Heather Hutchison, Tom Luciano, Lenny Kislin, Polly M. Law, Leslie Bender, Judy Sigunick, Meredith Rosier, and Rosalind Robertson.
The art works on show reflect the diversity of sensibility that one might expect from such a large number of participants. I asked the curators if they had any over-arching intention for the show when they selected the artists, and the answer was no. Their primary interest was in showcasing a selection of our region’s artists without defining the show stylistically or thematically. But when the work was put together, they found what Scheele described as, “a kind of Venn diagram of artistic endeavor in the Hudson Valley. Each artist was having a hidden conversation with at least three others in the group. It was like a creative game of ‘telephone,’ where the end does resemble the beginning in delightful ways.”
The artists span the spectrum from those whose work is uncompromisingly non-representational such as Heather Hutchinson and Rosalind Robertson, and those whose work is highly representational such as Polly M. Law and Judith Segunic, and this range gives the exhibition an initial sense of an art association’s “member’s show.” On closer inspection, one does get that sense of the conversation that Scheele mentioned – this is, of course, underlined by careful curatorial decisions in the hanging of the show, for example, the juxtaposition of Bernard Gerson’s silver gelatin print “Dancing Tree” next to Kate McGloughlin’s monotype/collage “Gill’s Farm III.” In Gerson’s dream-like photograph, with the exception of a shallow foreground, a line of trees fill the picture plane – the soft but deep black interior between the slim, negative shapes of the tree trunks is simultaneously inviting and uninviting, and, we suspect, claustrophobic. McGloughlin’s piece, with three horizontal bands of identical proportion divided by a fourth that is narrower and whose value is greater, is as formal a composition as you can get, and has a similar contradictory tension. The image is of a winter field crisscrossed with diagonal lines that invite us in, but the edge of the field, marked by what appear to be stunted or dead saplings, terminates at an unrelentingly rolling, blackish mountain range, under a tall wintry sky. But the airiness of the sky is compromised by the dark cloud that seems to press down on the landscape adding to the sense of unease – the distant and shadowy mountains hint at the unknowable. This sense of mystery pervades a number of other works including Christie Scheele’s landscapes and Meredith Rosier’s “La Ficelle.” Ficelle translates from the French as string or twine. In puppetry the “ficelle” is the string that guides a puppet-limb, as it seems also to function in confidence tricks — it’s the thread that leads the victim on. Ficelle in these cases is a path, a guide, a fuse — all metaphorical threads. This particular piece by Rosier and Scheele’s landscapes are, like Gerson’s photograph, rendered in soft focus. Of Scheele’s work, the piece I found myself most drawn to was a small triptych in the main gallery entitled “Triptych/Affinity.” Painted in a midnight palette the triptych consists of a sea-scape; a tall ship listing on the water; and approaching land. The effect is that of an opened-ended narrative full of questions – a novel, in fact.
Heather Hutchinson’s work, which is unadulterated by anything that points or hints at narrative, forms a counterpoint to the landscapes for whom chiaroscuro is a vehicle. The vehicle in Hutchinson’s paintings is light — in that sense they are both landscape and anti-landscape; hard edge, yet romantic. The bands of pure color she employs to frame or disrupt the light mostly serve to draw us, like moths, back to the luminous parts of the paintings, for example: “Divided Light – Magenta.” One wants to, and some do, peek around the side or beneath the painting to discover the trick – where’s the bulb? But there isn’t any. Through subtle and thin applications of wax, usually tinted, the light is extracted – pulled forth – from the white wall behind the work; these works are as much sculpture as painting. Rosalind Robertson’s work is unquestionably painting – its vehicle is the ocean. She combines pigment with sea-water, literally bringing the materials into the water rather than the water to the materials. The results are chance compositions that are reminiscent of Georgia O’Keefe’s flower paintings and, sometimes, to similar effect, but without the sentimentality. Three of Robertson’s compositions are in the conference room at the back of the Mill Street space and, although not a triptych per se, my one nitpick with the curating was the decision to separate one of the three from its comrades by placing another artist’s work between them – the juxtaposition was jarring.
On the three-dimensional front, Kim Alderman’s “Stopping Time” series speaks to that which is both ancient and utterly now. Alderman’s work is concerned with the archetypal feminine, “Bringing that feminine energy, into the physical, into the concrete, into the object, into the body.” The polished circle of clay – smoke fired in an outdoor kiln and bearing all the unpredictability that this method offers – has a tactile quality that is both like stone and skin. Alderman says on her website that “an object with sufficient numinous energy can stop time,” and stopping time is what she is attempting to do when she makes these objects by imbuing them, as she creates them, with attention, energy, and, perhaps, metaphysical longing. Yet the abacus-like beads which are set into the stands on which the discs are balanced serve as a reminder of number, number that continues to multiply, as time continues to happen.
Figuration in this show is represented by, among others, Polly M. Law, Chris Hawkins, Leslie Bender and, in three dimensions, by Judy Sigunick and Anique Taylor. Law’s bricolage pieces, inspired by paper dolls, employ such materials as bird’s feathers, shells, and small animal bones in addition to man-made items such as buttons and thread. Law has a background as an illustrator and that training is evident in her work– the pieces are like children’s story illustrations, just not for children. The subjects of Leslie Bender’s paintings bring to mind the works of Degas, Lautrec, and Seurat but with a psychotic edge, while the colors are pure Chagall. Her piece “Black Circus” (in the Mill Street space) is rich, delicious and dangerous – a dream about to go awry. Bender’s human figures tend to be mannerist in their proportions and expressions but it is in her horse studies that her sure draftsmanship is truly evident.
If this collection is a Venn diagram then the work at the center is surely that of Mark Thomas Kanter. His large piece “Untitled” is an abstraction that is rooted in the figure, and those figurative elements have a landscape quality. The figuration is not only because of the sense of the presence of the human form that one perceives in the work but also through the method of its creation. Kanter first applies printing ink to Plexiglas and physically manipulates the medium until a structure and imagery suggest itself. It is then mono-printed onto paper, and further changes occur during this process. The finished piece, neither completely of figuration nor of abstraction, retains the sensuousness of the caresses that created it. Kanter, also a fine draftsman, describes his work as “existing within the interstices between painting, printmaking and drawing.”
The exhibition narrative notes that “15:” aims to explore the layered relationships between the exhibit’s selections; it asks a number of questions including “How do the light-infused geometric abstractions of Heather Hutchison inhabit the same space with Lenny Kislin’s antique assemblages?” and “How does Bernard Gerson’s mysterious photograph of two faces connect to Yale Epstein’s luminously rendered mixed media paintings?” For me the answer to the first question is, “uneasily,” and the answer to the second is “reasonably well.” At bottom I feel that there are at least two distinct group shows here, but the narrative also states that “there is a journey to this show with a point of entry for any viewer.” This is certainly true and I hope in the course of its run many people will take the time to visit the work and consider those questions for themselves, and, without doubt, discover some gems among the many artists and pieces that I did not have room to write about in this review. For anyone in the market for art, it has to be said that, at a time when the art market is nearing the peak levels seen in 2007, according to ARTnews, the work here represents real opportunity.
ASFA, formerly of Poughkeepsie and Albany,has two gallery spaces in Rhinebeck, one on East Market Street and the second around the corner on Mill Street in a space shared with Prudential/Serls Real Estate Office.
Unless otherwise stated, photographs of artworks are courtesy of the artists.
Through April 22, exhibit Hours are: Thursday – Saturday, 11 – 6, Sunday, 12 – 5 and by appointment or chance.
A related event planned for March: a lively talk moderated by Peter Wallace, “Artists Being Artists”, on March 31, 4-6p.m. All events are free to the public. Information at 845 – 876-7578 or info@ShahinianFineArt.com.
Albert Shahinian Fine Art: Upstairs Galleries, 22 East Market Street, Suite 301, Rhinebeck, NY. Also: at Prudential/Serls Prime Properties, 6384 Mill Street (Route 9), Rhinebeck, NY
Claire Lambe is an Irish born painter whose works have been exhibited on both sides of the Atlantic; she is a graduate of the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and holds an MFA in painting from the City University of New York. Claire and her family moved to New York City from Dublin in 1996, and to Woodstock in 2002. In addition to her art-making, she is also the company manager and designer for The Woodstock Players Theater Company – as the company designer she is in charge of everything from the website to the set design.
Claire taught art and art history for many years at Dublin’s Deutsche Schule, her writing credits include contributing author for Teen Life In Europe.