Albany Center Gallery 7th Annual Members Show
Pieced Together: An Appreciation
I always consider it a privilege to be invited inside another artists’ studio. A similar warmth pervades when I get a chance to jury an exhibition, or assemble a show of works by students or peers. In the studio, it’s that moment before everything is finished, before the art has been framed or otherwise prepared for exhibition. To be given access to work in various degrees of doneness is exhilarating. In the juried, group or open call it is the chaos of dozens of sensibilities prior to being curatorially organized. It could go in any direction. As a juror or curator, you get to bring a sense of direction to the show. Which is, admittedly, a deeply subjective process, thing, outcome.
As a collage artist, I was cheered and surprised to encounter so many works submitted operating firmly in the pictorial traditions and processes of collage and assemblage. I counted 40 works that I felt were “under the influence” of collage. Even some works that did not have the physical layering of paper and other debris (along with whatever else might be included), were, ethically, collage works. While film editing (cutting, splicing, looping) may be the dominant way in which we encounter collage, it is explicit in our urban ‘scapes, mashed-up music, on web browsers and implicit in the changing materiality of our own bodies. We’ve all been a bit “Frankenstein-ed” by now.
Maybe this should come as no shock because we are, after all, going into 2012, a year that marks the 100th anniversary of Picasso’s radicalizing first assemblage work, Still Life with Chair Caning. I got to see it about 4 years ago in Paris at the Musée Picasso, and I can tell you, it is no wonder Georges Braque went away for six weeks and produced collages on his own, without telling Pablo. I would have too! From its oval shape to the rope around the edge to the lithograph of woven cane that set him off, this is about as radical “first” as one can make. Braque’s “working in secret” responses are the first true modernist collages, and they, in turn, re-inspired Picasso to enter into a second trail-blazing dialogue with him.
So to see these echoes in so many of the works submitted for this members’ exhibition is proof positive that while it may now be canonical, collage still has the ability to inspire us in our studios, move us in museums and shake us out of our complacency on the streets.
Jurying this show was a real pleasure. I just looked for a while and on the first pass paid attention to which works hit me hard. I then went around again, closer looks (sometimes sniffing!) and this time some things just held me longer than others. The third pass convinced me that the work with the greatest presence (and, ironically, one of the tiniest) was Agemaki (Trefoil Knots) by Laura Cannamela. This visual Belgian waffle of a collage (or assemblage) is part drawing, part sculpture, part architecture and part studio. What I mean about the last ingredient is that he work is up front about process – the artist shows you how it is made – and yet it doesn’t kill the mystery. Learning later that Agemaki was inspired by the Tale of the Genji, arguably the first novel, written by an anonymous woman (possibly identified as Muraski Shikibu), only makes it juicier. It feels both an ode to Japanese pictorial and literary traditions, and yet is bursting with news about modernism, the computer age and the need to go more deeply into things.
Perhaps this little collage inspired me to go more deeply into all the works submitted, so I asked Tony Iadicicco for permission to curate a little room of my own. In it you will see more evidence of the collage sensibilities I found present, and I think of it as a room of bound, falling and veiled images. There are a good number of winged creatures, and a few humans who at least aspire to fly. There are layered bodies, corseted landscapes and delicately mangled surfaces.
One of the three High Honor works, Moon Glow by Virginia Hoeppner has a surface that looks like it grew there over time, rather than being painted. It coalesces out of the dark like a kind of “divine mold”. Associations 117 by Channing Lefebvre continues his elegant linear series of the past few years, but has become more like a kind of body armor, distinctly more object-like. For me, compelling art understands its own time and is able to enter a conversation at multiple points in history. This thing flips back and forth between Paleolithic stone tool and Stealth Bomber, uh, sheathed in a merry widow. And finally, Mara Lefebvre’s Beauty Divine is just that. This is a killer collage that would look great next to a Man Ray or Louise Bourgeois.
There are other splendid works in this little room, and many more in the rest of the exhibition. It was all I could do to stop laying out the show myself; that would have been an additional pleasure, and my post-semester, pre-holiday schedule did not allow for that. But I did it in my head, which I think is what time alone with art allows one to do. Should you ever get a chance to visit another artists’ studio, or witness the mayhem before a show goes up, do it. This is a real opportunity to learn something – not necessarily about the works you encounter, but how your own mind makes sense of the world. I guess we all do that every day. But doing it with art like this makes it fun and challenging.
Thanks to artist David Brickman for inviting me to be this year’s juror, and thanks to ACG Creative Director Tony Iadicicco for hosting my visit and for indulging my curatorial whims. Congrats to all the Albany Center Gallery members, and keep working, talking and showing.
Michael Oatman, artist
and Professor of Architecture, Rensselaer