Thursday, January 10, 2008


From the Times, looking back on 2007:
Following tradition, I've put together a year-end list of notable shows, artists, and venues from 2007. The list is not comprehensive and is in no particular order. My focus is mostly on shows that I've reviewed for these pages and, consequently, mostly on shows in the Ithaca area. In addition, this was my first full year as a regularly published newspaper critic.

1) Syau-Cheng Lai: Lai, a local artist, had a pair of excellent Ithaca shows. "Visualizing for Bunita Marcus" accompanied her performance of Morton Feldman's solo piano "For Bunita Marcus". Held in Cornell's Tjaden Gallery, the exhibit featured four long sheets of paper pinned directly to the walls. Using a wide range of wet and dry media, Lai created a sequence, beginning sparsely before developing dense strata of varied marks in rich colors (including gold and electric pink), finally petering back out into paper white. The piece is notable for its repetition and layering of different motifs. Letter-like forms and scribbles are prevalent, as are horizontal strokes and bands of color. On display for just five days in early February (2/5-9) and located in a obscure space, "Visualizing" was easy to miss. [See also my pictures: 1, 2, 3, 4.]

"Transformations," her two-woman show at the Upstairs Gallery (5/1-6/2) was just slightly less exhilarating. The show was a valuable complement to "Visualizing," as well as being powerful in its own right. Consisting as it did of work reaching back to the early part of the decade, it was more eclectic. The images are even denser, most with little or none of the white space that carries through "Visualizing." Although predominantly abstract, some of the pieces have more or less explicit references to landscape, often to the nautical.

2) Kumi Korf at The Main Street Gallery: Korf (also local) is best known as a printmaker and book artist. In 2007, she had substantial shows of her print-work in San Francisco and in her native Japan. "Paintings by Kumi Korf" (9/7-10/21) gave the local community a rare chance to see another side of her practice. Characteristically, the show combined abstraction with a sensibility rooted in nature.

The show was dominated by a pair of enormous acrylic paintings done on unprimed canvas. Each is of roughly human height and two to three times that in length. Together, they filled the gallery's oddly-angled front gallery. Korf treats the paint in a way analogous to watercolor, staining the fabric rather than covering it. While An Amphora and a Fish features graceful, rounded calligraphic shapes, A Clear Day has coarse, drippy blocks of (less diluted) color.

They were complemented by a generous selection of small pieces on paper hanging in the small back room. Included were a series of pieces in pastel and another in thick, greasy oil-stick.

3) The Ink Shop: The downtown printmaking cooperative's shows have been both diverse and almost uniformly strong. In addition, they have put on an impressive array of public talks and classes. With that said, no one show sticks out as the winner.

The current show (through 1/14) features work by nationally known artists such as Sam Gilliam and David Driskell. All prints are the work of Lafayette College's Experimental Printmaking Institute; EPI director Curlee Raven Holton (who has art in the show) gave an enthusiastic and well-received talk about his work there. Jenny Pope's "Kiwi Egg Soup" showed-off her playful, high-contrast color woodcuts of animals, both familiar and exotic. Stretching back into 2006, IC professor Susan Weisend's "Garden: Delights and Detritus" mixed mediums, styles, and formats in an almost reckless manner. Her best work enlivens or disrupts her pastoral flora and fauna through formal experimentation.

4) Out of Town Shows: Lane Twitchell and Alan Singer: I travelled for two Times reviews - to Auburn's Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center for Twitchell's "Revelation" (9/1-10/27) and to Syracuse's Redhouse Arts Center for Singer's "Cosmology" (9/20-11/08). Twitchell's jewel-like cut paper on panel collage-paintings were more impressive. His ornate compositions are packed with imagery relating to the Brooklyn artist's Utah Mormon upbringing as well as to American urbanism and to art history. They are typically large and are notable for their often off-kilter symmetry.

Singer is from Rochester. "Cosmology" was made up primarily of digital prints with hand-painting. This mixture of technique and texture gives the work a latter-day Surrealist feel as does Singer's taste for abstract, three-dimensional geometric forms and spaces placed alongside suggestions of human or otherwise organic form. Although some of the pieces feel over the top, his best work has a vibrant and meticulously crafted theatricality.

5) "Stop. Look. Listen: An Exhibition of Video Works" at the Johnson Museum: This ostentatious and highly uneven show (10/13-12/23) filled nearly all of the museum's temporary exhibition space and incorporated a night-time projection (of Janine Antoni's Touch) on the building's facade. It represents a culmination of several years of focused video collecting. Nancy Geyer reviewed it ably for this paper.

Works were divided into "feedback" and "immersion" modes, the former treating the camera as simply as a "electronic mirror" and the latter taking a more high-production, cinema-like approach. Works in the latter category were generally stronger. Among these were such standouts as Mircea Cantor's Deeparture - in which the camera gracefully tracks a wolf and a deer around a silent, white-walled space - and Amy Jenkins' macabre but subtle Ebb - in which the image of a bathing woman is projected on to a miniature ceramic tub. Gradually she purifies the at first bloody water.

6) "Looking Homeward: A Century of American Art" at the Johnson Museum: (7/7-9/23) This historical survey ran from turn-of-the-century Impressionism to the present. It was a more consistent effort than Stop., although its historical focus wavered for the postwar years. The show was particularly strong in its representation of the early 20th-century Ashcan school, a group known for their gritty portrayals of contemporary urban life. Group leader Robert Henri's Patience (1915) - a brushy portrait of a dark haired young boy reminiscent of Manet - was a standout. The show was also strong in early to mid-century modernist figuration, with pieces like Milton Avery's 1941 The Brown Hat (a young girl painted in flattened forms, mostly black, white, brown and tan) and a characteristic small female portrait by Willem de Kooning (1947). Other highlights included Reginald Marsh's satirical watercolor of wealthy folks atop the Grand Tier at the Met (1939) and a shadowy, enigmatic gelatin-silver photo by Imogen Cunningham, Eiko's Hands (1971).

While Ithaca has more than its share of good artists, many are unable (or unwilling) to show locally on a regular basis, or at least not in venues where their work will be fully recognized. While it is legitimate to show work in a café or restaurant, it can be difficult for aficionados, collectors, and critics to trace such efforts. A great deal of work is shown at Cornell, much of it by students or faculty. Aside from exhibits at the high-profile Johnson Museum, these are often invisible to the community at-large. The State of the Art Gallery is members-only, excepting its annual juried and invitational shows. Finally, several of the more established artists living in the area choose to show their work elsewhere.

I have tried to highlight some of these lesser-known artists and art spaces. For example, I reviewed Jay Hart's satellite graphics at Cornell's Mann Library (up through Jan. 10). While Lai is relatively well-known, the Tjaden and its programming is not.

As strong as it is, Ithaca's art world suffers in comparison to the talent and eclecticism of the music scene. I believe that some of the reasons for this are systematic - not that that's any reason for complacency. Music is more socially fluid in our culture; the prevalence of recording as a medium of creativity and exchange contrasts with art's focus on unique objects and limited multiples. While this is a good thing in many ways, it also constrains the dissemination of artworks and artistic ideas, and musicians travel extensively while artists tend to stay put. The result of all this is that it is impossible to see all the art you need to in a small town. Although cultural isolation can have its advantages, I believe that on balance, it is not a good thing for Ithaca.

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