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Hillsdale, New York
Local culture
17 May 2016 10:21AM
John Isaacs

On Saturday, after a day in New York, we began a gallery hop in Hillsdale and wound up in Hudson.

LABspace, Susan Jennings’ bold and intriguing curatorial venture in Hillsdale, is showing work by the Hudson-based couple Susan Meyer and Jeff Starr. These two talented artists present work employing different media, hers structural, his pictorial, but there’s an obvious symbiosis, not least in their color consciousness and critical vision. Meyer creates rough but intricate and mysterious topographical constructions that riff on physical environments in which jewels arise only occasionally, as in geology. Starr crams neatly executed and graphically complex imagery into small canvasses that reflect the cluttered, confined mental habitat that we’re all trying, with mixed success, to resolve. The emotional impact of their work together is reflected, to say the least, in the temporarily Pantone 109-colored walls of the gallery. A little tangential and too packed, perhaps, but not quite as claustrophobic as ….

… the new Whitney of American Art, or at least its top two galleries. I was there on Thursday, for the first time, and I was not holding my breath. Its “Portraits from the Collection” was disappointingly generic, obviously intended for elderly tourists, and bland in presentation. Steve McQueen’s twin projections on the 18,000 square foot fourth floor were visually and spatially exhilarating, but overly didactic, as though we aren’t all aware already of all the stuff he is trying to say (and, it might be pointed out, McQueen’s not even American).

Preferably, go down to WhiteBox on the Lower East Side, and get where the medium really is the message, with its always fervent and beautifully curated endeavors to meld the political and the conceptual, including the forthcoming “Natalie White for Equal Rights”, opening June 5. (Full disclosure: I’m on the board.)

Actually, when it comes to the great tradition of American art, I really like the modest approach and simple clarity exemplified in Jay Caldwell’s current, unabashedly commercial but idiosyncratic show on Warren Street of relatively minor, but accomplished mid-Twentieth century artists who, without a whole lot of fanfare, simply depict delightful daily observations of life in the world, in the Dutch tradition (in my mind, still the greatest), while fully manifesting stylistic innovation.

Where the Dutch excelled in depicting the quotidian, and the Spanish in portraiture, the British and French glorified landscape, the Italians, narrative, and the Russians first gave art its political dimension, it was the Germans and Scandinavians who originally imbued art with psychological content. Thus, provincials like Munch and Max Ernst were as transformative as provincials like Titian and Pollock. And so it was intriguing to meet, last night at Inky Editions, down by the river in Hudson, Sampsa Pirtola, an artist from Helsinki, Finland (a beautiful and fascinating Nordic backwater).

Mr Pirtola’s “Lazarus Project” is total immersion (like being dunked) into the whole bath of Western, Eastern, and any available philosophy, other planets included. Man, it took me a whole five years of studying analytic philosophy, and subsequent fifty years, and fifty acid trips, to begin to understand what philosophical inquiry could be about, so I felt a bit underwhelmed, when so much “philosophy” was conflated into so much “art” in one evening. While I’m dubious, one has to admire the young Mr Pirtola’s effort in this and a week-long program of related events to be a force for enlightenment. The work itself is pretty, but having read the accompanying program, I’ve still no idea what it stands for.

At BCB Art, where the English portraitist Richard Butler (of Psychedelic Furs fame) channels Francis Bacon (the artist, not the philosopher) in tandem with Lisa Yuskavage, I was far more engaged with the philosophical aspect of art. From an aesthetic perspective, I would say—inspired by my mentor Richard Wollheim—that painting as art is, actually, a form of hallucination: any painting is a personal vision that exists beyond the realm of conventional experience. Whether it counts for anything is entirely due to (a) the significance, and by extension interest, of its content, (b) the quality of its execution, and (c) the thrill of its style. Butler’s work meets all three criteria. Excellent portraits in the weird and wonderful English tradition.

American portraiture is pretty much John Singer Sargent and Chuck Close, as far as I can recall. So the astounding work of a local kid from Columbia County, Brian Buono a/k/a Scout/Pines, a mind-boggling series of exceptionally skillful images of fellow humans, at TSL Warehouse, is quite an eye-opener, and kudos to Linda and Claudia for picking him out. Self-taught, Buono is a wizard draughtsman, keen observer, and modest, unlikely character to boot. I was wowed, not only by his technical skills, but by his art-historical sense. Not, by any means, a primitive. Give him murals.

The problem with Paul Solovay’s photographs, a slew of which are on display at the Art Annex in Hillsdale, is that they’re not large enough. They’re wildly hallucinatory, but they’re not really fit for the living room: they too should be fifty feet wide. Solovay says he composes his pictures like extended sound landscapes, not as split-second images. Thus, to really work, they would ideally be re-amplified, and projected as an all-embracing hallucination.

Talking of large-scale: Two significant art installations have most attracted my attention this past week, both high in the sky and no pie whatsoever.

First, Yvette Mattern’s latest iteration of her “Global Rainbow” series, projected from Berlin’s Siegessäule. Mattern lived in New Baltimore and taught at the University of Albany for some years.

Second: Duke Riley, whose current, glorious project of two thousand pigeons wired with lights flying over Lower Manhattan has been the subject of a New York Times video and long and fascinating article. I had the pleasure of hanging out with him at a benefit honoring Pussy Riot a couple of months ago, and I suspect that he’s one of the most intelligent, imaginative, and expert American artists working today. Up-in-the-air, but down-to-earth.

Photos by Enid Futterman (except where noted):
1. Jeff Starr at LABspace
2. Lazarus Project at Inky Editions
3. Richard Butler at BCB Art
4. Brian Buono a/k/a Scout Pines at TSL
5. Yvette Mattern in Berlin (from The Guardian)
6. Duke Riley in NYC (from The New York Times)

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