Guest Critic Reviews

Albright-Knox partnership brings giants of scholarly field

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The exhibition “Abstraction in America: 1940s to 1960s” at Strohl Art Center runs through Aug. 22. Photo by Eve Edelheit.

Anthony Bannon | Guest Reviewer

‘New expressions of the spirit’

Such the wonder of a new way of being in the world: the proposals that remake our visions, rare celebrations like the turn toward abstraction in art during the last century.

Humankind at its best suggests new worldviews — that our ground is round instead of flat, for instance, and it is a shared amazement, like the suggestion that a star is at the center of things rather than us. And with these understandings, we are transformed.

How extraordinary to divine that just a line, or a smudge of color, or a brilliance or intensity might be worthy of an idea, or emotion or new expressions of the spirit: such the boldness of visual alternatives after centuries of orientation to the figure, to the horizon or to the landscapes.

Treasuries of these visual ideas are found in museums around the world, keepers of culture, and few are more articulate in their assemblies than the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y., one of the first public museums in America.

The Albright-Knox and Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution collaborate this summer with an exhibition of just rightly scaled smaller works from that intellectual and cultural explosion of the mid-20th century, the period of “Abstraction in America: 1940s to 1960s.”

In the second floor Gallo Family Gallery in the Strohl Art Center on Wythe Avenue, a showing of 16 paintings and drawings by as many artists paints the emergence of a mindset that changed the world.

This cognitive revolution began sensibly in liberties with the known, including a free-wheeling American representation of our wilderness landscape, centered here with a great watercolor by Milton Avery, “The Brook” from 1943, made up by shorthanded inferences of the fracture of light as water crosses rocks, and a slashing suggestion of pines and brook’s banks, filled with the vitality of nature.

It is not a long aesthetic reach, then, to the bold assertions by Franz Kline, who rendered a fractured grid that held together an almost square piece of paper — in this show that broken grid and an anchoring black rectangle with a swatch of dark red here and over there and a quickly rendered sphere in the upper right, aptly “Untitled,” from 1946–48. This little oil painting has nothing to do with landscape, but it has a lot to do with how one can organize a space with enough wiggle room to encourage a viewer to continue the conversation.

And so it goes, the dyke of expression then broken open for abstraction. Paul Jenkins rushed in with big blacks and Mark Tobey with smaller, delicate, contemplative gestures to fill their frames. Sam Francis let the wet watercolor run down the paper, just as he did in his paintings, and Alfred Jensen looked around to a Mayan tradition to remark on time in a different way.

These are open-door invitations offered through the exhibition to see how great minds work, making hypotheses for vision the way a writer might propose a tumble of words for a poem, or a scientist ask, “what if?” matter performed sub-atomically.

The paintings in the Strohl show are not the paintings that usually demand attention in the big halls of museums. Here are the drawings, or prints that museums usually hold back in the vaults for scholarly inquiry. But so many artists themselves proclaim that these are the more interesting evidence of accomplishment — more revealing than the mountaintop amplifications that qualify in the popular mind as masterpieces. Here, with these drawings and smaller works, is the excitement of the studio — or the laboratory — rather than the products of these labors that are later commodified.

The giants of the field are assembled in this showing — Jasper Johns with just such an experiment, called “False Start II,” which is all about process; and Hans Hofmann, Cy Twombly, Adolph Gottlieb, Lee Krasner and Philip Guston, the latter with a glorious ink sketching of falling-down black lines and the ample space between, dedicated to his good friend, the composer Morton Feldman, for whom notes were a falling-down sprinkle that paid a lot of attention to the silences between.

These are the artists, too, who were the good friends of the Albright-Knox, many of them enjoying important exhibitions there, so that their careers were integrally wound around the museum’s own culture. The exhibition was a collaboration between VACI Artistic Director Don Kimes and Ilana Chlebowski, a curatorial assistant at the Albright-Knox. Chautauquan Leslie Zemsky, president of the Albright-Knox board, worked to bring the collaboration to fruition. The show continues through the season, to Aug. 22.

‘Delightful liberties’

Another exhibition across Wythe in the first-floor gallery of Fowler-Kellogg Art Center focuses through the first decade of the 21st century on the print, often abstract, and usually in the wake of abstraction when not.

Charlie Hewitt’s big woodcuts command each wall with his clumpy, aggressive massing in vivid colors, grounded usually in powerful orange and yellow. Hewitt is a descendent of the rough and tumble of Abstract Expressionism, but scrubbed up for the party, sporting a cleaner edge and surface.

Karla Hackenmiller’s etchings and monoprints play a different tune. She calls them “Liminal,” meaning at the edge of sensation, barely perceptible, and indeed, her complex biomorphic shapes are a microscopist’s delight, like a look through the ocular at a sample of pond water.

Bernar Venet has an even more quiet song, simplified to several strong lines inked assertively, and how wonderful it can be, in fact, to agree with pleasure and surprise in the reward hidden in his work and revealed in his titles, “Random Combination of Indeterminate Lines.”

The exhibition, called “The Contemporary Printmaker,” is a showing of varied pleasures — technical mastery of mezzotint (and mood) by Art Werger; amazing aquatint etching of complex stilled life constructions by Katja Oxman, and then the simple rendition of the face by Alex Katz, with delightful liberties in mapping and location by Paula Scher, and the clean grace of line and hue by Tom Raneses, who also installed the complex show. It continues through July 21.

Anthony Bannon is the Ron and Donna Fielding Director of George Eastman House, the International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, N.Y.

‘Quite a night’

Frederick “Pete” Leo Walker II, left, and Jordan Leeper soar into the air during the Chautauqua Dance Salon Thursday evening in the Amphitheater. Photo by Megan Tan.

Janes owns first dance performance of 2011

Anthony Bannon | Guest Reviewer

Maybe you think you understood it and could even situate it within the dance vocabulary of traditional poses, moves, couplings. Perhaps that charge of Sarah Hayes Watson onto the Amphitheater stage seemed like a violation by some primal creature. Maybe you felt comfortable with that association.

I’ll bet, though, that you recognized that Sasha Janes’ stand-up great little dance called “Last Lost Chance” had knocked you off your feet and succeeded in moving you to a place of wonder, even awe, at how someone might imagine — and then fulfill — such amazing ideas for the body in space. Miss that point, and it might well have been your last lost chance. Chances like the one Janes presented don’t come by very often. This was the real thing, and a good bit of the audience knew it, and took to their feet to give it mighty applause.

Again this year, the North Carolina Dance Theatre returned for residence with Chautauqua Dance, and in its tradition for the first week presented a salon with some of the treasures the company has in its stores.

Sasha Janes is the beloved rehearsal director and sometimes guest choreographer. He owned the evening Thursday.

I hope no one has any programmatic meaning for the piece: some psychodramatic explanation about the inner me and the outer you, or babble about quintessential truths and the basic needs.


Like Absolute Music or Non-Objective Art, “Lost Chance” is about the exquisite practice of the mind and the surprising capacity of the body. It proposes a practice of mind and body that you’d think appropriate for another dimension, another universe, another kind of human.

Yes, Hayes Watson and Anna Gerberich with Jordan Leeper and Pete Walker with Melissa Anduiza created the work, and you’ll run into them on Bestor Plaza or University Beach. They are the company leaders, and no doubt regular folks, but you’ve got to wonder after seeing them dance: “Just who are these creatures? How is this possible — what they do on stage?”

They are that astonishing, committing every fiber to Janes’ equally extraordinary vision.

At one point a voice in Ólafur Arnalds’ score for “Lost Chance” — an odd, electronically manipulated voice — declares the “screaming silence of the mind” and the voice of wind through leaves. Arnalds, an Icelandic composer, moves easily from the classic concert to pop music stage with a variety of instruments and devices and enjoys breaking rules by proposing in his language of sound the absolutely unheard-of wonders that Janes shares in movement.

And then Anna Gerberich makes a twitch, a sudden shudder, that occurs in a millisecond and by surprise and positions a leg over there were it shouldn’t be and summons an awareness of the greedy art of “Lost Chance.” It is a dance about making art — and I think the anxiety of creating something truly new, not knowing just how it will turn out — that is the ultimate subject of great abstraction.

Anduiza centers the work, making brief appearances and piquant gestures to the couples who have left the stage, completing their turn. She runs in long and beautiful strides around the perimeter of the stage, as if to define it, hold it together, sustain its energy.

“Lost Chance” builds from sensuous couplings to sentiment more extreme, Arnald’s music reaching for amplitude and breaking apart, to fall finally into the organ that begins the work.

“Lost Chance” completed the first section of the evening to sustained applause.

Mark Diamond’s work fulfilled the remainder of the evening. Diamond is the program director of the Dance Salon and associate artistic director of North Carolina Dance Theatre, with Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, artistic director, and Patricia McBride, associate artistic director.

Diamond’s theme for the evening was good and evil, also the title of the opening dance, created to the chilly music of Antonio Vivaldi’s coldest of the “Four Seasons,” a fascinating choice for a vigorous confrontation by Leeper and Walker, the evil part, then ministered by Gerberich soothing the fallen Leeper and ending in a third movement with a compelling construction by Anduiza, Gerberich, Leeper and Walker, in which they struggle to achieve a fitting harmony, only to see it fracture, like broken glass, in a disassembly of an architecture startling for dance.

Diamond lovingly plays into each dancer’s strength; for instance, his utilization of the art nouveau lines that Gerberich so beautifully assumes through her body, in motion and still amazingly creating the sinewy, haunted line of last century’s avant-garde, from forehead to extremity, finger to foot.

The theme of good and evil continues in a piece called “The Advocate,” a narrative of power and submission, of threat and persuasion that works equally for an exorcism as for the development of Fascism. Kate Behrendt, Hayes Watson, David Morse and Daniel Rodriguez perform.

Following intermission, Diamond opened with a reprise of the The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough’s novel about priestly dalliance that became what still is the second-most popular television mini-series (after “Roots”).

Well, not really, but how many narratives are there that engage the confusion between godly and carnal love? This is one, with Leeper and Hayes Watson as the star-crossed lovers. The strength of characterization that Hayes Watson brings to every performance — her total conviction, from grace to passion, at every moment of the piece, called “Sunset Road” after the Bela Fleck tune, carries the conceptually thin work home.

The evening ended with a featured role for the company’s third great woman, Anduiza, playing the soul of Japanese tradition, the temperance behind conflict, a unifying principle, an ultimate balance that becomes corrupted and ultimately destroyed, raped by vulgarity and violence. She is extraordinary, through a range of sensibilities, and her men — Greg DeArmond, Rodriguez and Walker — spent more testosterone than should be legal for a dance floor. Music, appropriately, was the drumming of Leonard Eto, “Zoku.”

Quite a night.

Anthony Bannon is the Ron and Donna Fielding Director of the George Eastman House, the International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, NY. He had been a dance and theater critic for The Buffalo News.

Strohl, Fowler-Kellogg exhibitions a study in color contrast



Amy Stark and her son Robert, 4, view Bill Reid’s “Untitled III,” on display as part of the “Animal Craft” exhibition currently open at Fowler-Kellogg Art Center. Photo by Ellie Haugsby.

Anthony Bannon | Guest Reviewer

‘A very colorful, just odd enough show’

And how we love our animals.

Our animals.

We tame them. We worship them. We sleep with them. We admire them. We eat them. We use them for sport, for fashion, for profit. We nurture them, cultivate them, hunt them, kill them. They are devils. They are gods.

And here we have an art show about them, “Animal Craft,” on the second floor of Fowler-Kellogg Art Center.

Enter the mountain gorilla, Anne Lemanski’s creation, made from copper rods, paper, leather and stitched together with artificial sinew, mounted to the wall like a trophy in a hunter’s den. The artist makes the point that there are only 680 of the gorillas remaining.

The gorilla is installed next to a lion made of cloth from the Maasai people, redstriped blue plaid. And the lion has silly pink ears. This is a complex ecology. The artist makes the point that the lions are being killed by a poison that is packaged in pink containers. The Maasai are poisoning the lions because the lions are killing the Maasai’s cattle.

This is a very colorful, just odd enough show: Great ceramic pots with elephant and rabbit handles by Christian Kuharik and a hammered rusted steel stag trophy, almost close enough to be termed representational.

Speaking personally, I was particularly taken by the cartoon fierce clay dogs by Wesley Anderegg, who makes dogs doing silly things while trying to act menacing.

I am also partial to the amazing narratives that Bill Reid constructs with his welding equipment and then paints up in jumpy colors — an owl, for instance, holding under its wings the icons of sea and sky and land, all there beneath its outstretched wings, which, just by the way, reveal a mouse and its cheese right there at the owl’s heart.

And it goes on like this with vigorous imagination: the teapots and baskets and a vase honoring birds, and a wall full of tiny clay bunny heads cheerfully celebrating a birthday or masquerading behind a mask.

Finally, Lisa and Scott Cylinder have the invention to make animal-shaped jewelry out of a piano hammer, a clarinet key and a bottle opener. The artists’ mind holds no bounds.

Need a pick-me-up? Missing your pet? Wondering about how strange humankind can be? This is the ticket, through July 21.

‘All a bit silver-tongued’

Across Wythe Avenue is a gentle crosscurrent on the second floor of Strohl Art Center. This one is all about silver. That’s right. Just silver. And, of course, it is called “Silver Lining.” It, too, is the invention of Galleries Director Judy Barie.

So there are silvery lined glasses and a tall vase, which really are pewter, and silvery teapots, which are hollowware, and aluminum mesh sculpture that stands off the wall in a variety of ways inferring fundamentals, such as a double helix.

Carol Prusa, a Florida artist, has the corner on fundamentals, particularly with her wall-mounted domes. Several of the domes emit tiny points of light, one a centering red, and their delicate silverpoint designs infer the basics of the ocean, while the dome shape itself suggests spaces for basic shelter and elaborated worship.

Her other works in the show are circular panels. For an artist, this commitment to spheres and circles is a risky business; the circle shape is about as exhausted as a form portending singularity as is a sonnet today about love or God.

On a lighter note, Nicole Ayliffe takes the prize for cleverness. Inside a blown glass vessel fit for flowers, she lodges black and white photographs — silver prints! — one of the ocean and the other of railroad tracks, off to the vanishing point.

It is all a bit silver-tongued, but the show should be forgiven its excesses for the sake of its friendly charms. Through July 28.

Anthony Bannon is the Ron and Donna Fielding Director of George Eastman House, the International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, N.Y.

54th Annual Exhibition ‘a pleasant tumble of ideas and manners’

Gabrielle Israelievitch views the 54th Chautauqua Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Art on Tuesday. Photo by Eve Edelheit.

Anthony Bannon | Guest Reviewer

I’m sorry, but this show is just not the way it is supposed to be.

It’s off-kilter, sometimes upside-down and usually topsy-turvy.

Give this 54th version of Chautauqua’s juried Exhibition of Contemporary Art a nudge and it would tumble over the line, across that careful border that too often marks what is right for art and what is supposedly not.

Jim Kempner, who leads one of the veteran gallery spaces in Chelsea, 23rd Street and 10th Avenue, New York City, takes the show up to the edge. He is its juror, the person who looked at a lot of applicant CDs and decided who got in and who, instead, ended up on the cutting room floor.

Mine is not a rocket-science opinion about the willy-nilly wise-guy nature of the show. It’s right there in the art works’ titles. For example: “Too Far Too Soon,” “Crossing the Line,” “Broken.”

It’s all an eye game, really, for there’s a photograph of antlers playing look-a-like with peeling paint, and a photograph of a woman named Vanessa in painter’s overalls hanging upside down, and then the painting called “The Writer,” which is about a swimmer shown topsy-turvy sideways. For good measure, Kempner includes writing itself in a few paintings and constructions.  But the writing struggles within its medium to be set free, to be loosened from the strictures of paint and clay, squirming out to be itself, just letters.

Things just aren’t always the way one expects, that’s all.

And sometimes, right in the middle of a surprise, one finds one’s heart.

The following information isn’t on the wall anyplace in the Strohl Art Center on Wythe Avenue, but I have it on the good authority of Director Judith Barie that the remarkable mixed-media lithograph by Phyllis Kohring Fannin, titled “Last Moment in My Arms” depicts the embrace she gave to her son, his soldier’s hat in hand, before he left for Afghanistan.

It’s is a lovely image, to be sure, and a piquant read from across the gallery. And then one approaches the image, emotional hat in hand.

The figures Ms. Kohring Fannin created — her son and herself — are lined into the paper in silhouettes, the mother’s shape designed with the graced figures of a topographical map and the son’s in a similar figuration of camouflage. One design is bleeding, reaching, superimposing upon the other, a landscape of love.

The artist teaches at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Her work won the top award of the exhibition, the Bellinger Memorial Award.

Charles A. Kacin won the James and Karen Greb Award with an abstract mood of oil, wax, graphite and ink blended into a different land that has no name, where blots and blurs and lines and smudges of red-based hues describe a mindset disguised as sky.  His work, called “Hiladago,” is represented by InArt Gallery in Santa Fe.

Ann Steuernagel is a video artist who teaches at Northeastern University.  She has shown work previously in Strohl. This year, she won the Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution Partners Award for a three-part work called “Garden,” planted from found footage and arranged in a passageway for discovery, that long skinny perforated passageway of film that could lead from arbor to vine, plot to dell, idea to idea, with birds and ice and a rhetoric of effective use of repetition and contrast.  Indeed, like a garden, the artist shaped an opportunity for unexpected riddles, strange syllogisms and opportune jokes, a fine museum work for moving image.

In her own way, a strange way, Rachael J. Burke used sheets of film over canvas to hide and reveal figures and oil smudges and chairs arranged every which way.  It is a very, very free-handed exposition about surface, volume, figure, ground and other arcane art notions, but even so, “Concurrent Dramas” has a blotchy charm that suggests intense conversations about the funny things that some academics engage. The artist from Erie, Pa., won the Jeffrey Drake Award, and with it, the location as the center piece in the gallery.

Kevin Bernstein from Kansas State University is right alongside with a much smaller but far more colorful acrylic called “Crustose,” which shows the vivid formations that lichens make upon surfaces, a sort of biomorphic calico. He won the Ellie Wilder Award.

The show Jim Kempner made is a pleasant tumble of ideas and manners, a pick-up-sticks of fabric and paint and torn-out pages of linguistic theory — 27 works by as many artists selected from 510 entries by 181 artists from 14 states.

And, thanks to Ms. Barie’s installation design, it hangs together with preposterous delight — just the way it is supposed to be. For this is art after all, and one doesn’t go out arting unless looking for the unexpected.

Anthony Bannon is the Ron and Donna Fielding Director at George Eastman House, the International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, N.Y.

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