Wednesday, March 18, 2009


In today's Times:
The State of the Art Gallery's "20th Annual Juried Photography Show" (which runs through March 29) is part of a familiar local tradition. This year's photographers are mostly from in and around Ithaca. Also included are artists from Rochester, Syracuse, Elmira, Binghamton, Utica and New York City.

This year, guest juror Wilka Roig, an assistant photography professor at Cornell, took an unusual tack in assigning the prizes. Drawing on twelve "cluster criteria" used by philosopher Denis Dutton to define art in his recent book The Art Instinct, Roig used a variety of categories, reflecting the diverse satisfactions art can offer. (None of the criteria is necessary; more than one can suggest the presence of art.)

Phil Koons' combination of formalism, pop vernacular subjects, sly humor and (often) strong color has been a highlight of past years' Annuals. Here he is showing two compelling giclée prints: 4 Blocks to the Mississippi and 27 Miles to the Rio Grande. Mississippi is typically exuberant. We see, through a row of telephone poles, the corner of vividly painted building. Rio is more austere, presenting us with an impenetrable warm white facade; the windows are filled in.

Donald Specker's aptly titled color print Ithaca Iconic takes its subject from near the SOAG
from the corner of the Chanticleer, with its painted neon roosters pressed up against each other, themselves against the dark. Smaller, a glowing electric hand "Don't Walk" balances them to the left.

George Cannon's giclée Dream Stairs (from the Spiral Series) is the recipient of Roig's "Direct Pleasure Award." The piece's central form is elegant, if stiffly
a curvaceous dark silhouette abstracted from a spiral staircase. The background is a warm greenish grayish tone with light emanating from the center.

Jennifer Gioffre's Untitled (from the series Diaphaneity) beats Stairs in its sensuous depth. The palladium/gold print (black on warm white) shows is sharp focus what appears to be a curl of water frozen in time. It blurs, melts around the edges. The borders are dark, thick and painterly.

In a materially conservative show, Lena Masur's black and white Gunblocks stands out for its effectively unusual technique: gelatin silver emulsion printed on a wide strip of unframed glass. The texture is smoky and diffuse. Printed forms merge with their shadows. Four variously sized blocks are lined up horizontally in middle distance. Direct light comes through the left edge. Around them is seashore: frothy waves with patches of darker water and a distant horizon.

Alissa Newton's color 6919 is the winner of the "Special Focus Award," exemplifying how artworks "tend to be bracketed off from ordinary life." Appropriately, its subject
a translucent plastic pillbox with its multiple compartments filled itself fills the entire space of the sheet. We are in another world. An allover moderate blur further emphasizes this strangeness.

Sharon Barotz's color print Reclaimed by Nature and Ben Altman's platinum/palladium (black and white) False Dichotomy contrast natural and cultivated outdoor spaces. (They might have fit into the Johnson Museum's "Picturing Eden," up through March 22.) Reclaimed is flat, as if the forms
the rough base of a tree and several elaborate, weathered gravestones had been pressed up against the plane of the image.

Elaborate divisions of space mark Dichotomy. As befits the winner of the "Intellectual Challenge Award," these divisions are metaphorically ripe. Dividing left from right is a leftward leaning tree planted in the foreground. Below it, against the center of the bottom edge, is a blurry lump
apparently a balding man, hunched over, wearing a backpack. Behind the tree, in middle distance, is a dense wall of shrubbery. Behind that, seen from an off-angle, is a row of three elaborately carved spirals of greenery. In their midst is a stone statue, a female. Statue, tree and man form a cryptic dance.

A pair of black and white inkjet prints by John Retallack come from a series portraying the RIT professor's colleagues. Portrait of Skip Battaglia and Portrait of Lisa Hermsen effectively combine formality and warmth. Together with Randi Millman-Brown's Milkweed, these are the deserving recipients of two awards for "Skill and Virtuosity."

Other prize winners: Susan Larkin's Wild Grape Vine ("Expressive Individuality"), Viola Kosseda's newsstand still-life No Title ("Art Traditions and Institutions") Gretel Pelto's street portrait Old and Active in Wageningan ("Style") and Brandy Boden's Echo ("Imaginative Experience"). Challenging artists, Roig refused to offer prizes in several Dutton-ian categories: "Criticism," "Novelty and Creativity" and "Emotional Saturation." No prize was given for "Representation," as this "is only a small element in a successful representational work."

As in past years, the "20th Annual" is dominated by skillful work. Rich art is here as well.

A special forum featuring Roig and two other local photographers will be held at the gallery on March 18 at 7pm.


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