Some truly ugly people inhabit John
Knecht’s five-channel video installation “The Vigilant.” Maybe they
live on the same block as Beavis and/or Butt-Head. The cagey,
suspicious faces turn from side to side, scrutinizing their neighbors,
looking for some sign of a clear and present danger to report.
Government-inspired paranoia also informs the work of a collective
known as area. Their image of a green field on a beautiful
summer day is rendered absurd by a man in a Hazmat suit wading off in
the distance through hip-deep grass. Similarly, crude billboards spoil
the otherwise bucolic landscapes Sarah McCoubrey paints.
Several images are more lighthearted.
Two goofy long-haired hounds hang out on Mariann Loveland’s “Magic
Carpet.” They float midair, nonplused with the sun setting
magnificently behind them. People are cheerfully strolling, dancing,
jogging, jumping, even roller-skating all over Sheila Smith’s painting
“Potholes.” They seem ignorant of the pitfalls mentioned in the title,
although they are everywhere pocking the otherwise barren landscape. In
“Sway,” Madeline Silber’s shapes seem to be bubbling up, breaking apart
and reconstituting like they’d rather be in a lava lamp than in an oil
Douglas Whitfield’s “Return from the
Bermuda Triangle Dream” features a guy who could be a chubby cousin of
George Washington enjoying his time at sea with three Rubenesque
ladies: one wearing a one-piece bathing suit and cap, another with an
evening gown accessorized by a blue bird and the third doing the crawl
with no clothes on at all. A cheerful cherub rearranging some
triangular clouds completes the composition.
Lin Price points out the danger of
taking your work too seriously in “Carefully Tended Obsessions,” where
a group of dung beetles are bent to their task just as an art historian
is bent to his. “Cat and Mouse” is a delicate sepia ink drawing
on muslin and lace. In this reimagining of an antique children’s book,
Maureen Foster lets the underdog, if you can call a mouse that, win at
last. He grins from round ear to round ear as he garrotes his nemesis.
Some of the most successful submissions
pushed their respective media in unusual directions. Samantha Harmon
was able to make a complex comment on sexuality by carving tiny female
torsos from 42 tubes of lip gloss. The shades vary and so do the
shapes, but without arms, legs or heads it’s hard to see these as
individuals. They stand ready to be used at a whim—they are disposable,
interchangeable. The bases of the lipsticks are both a pedestal and a
Computer-assisted drawing (CAD) programs
are most often used for engineering or mechanical drafting, but here
Lyle Grams milks richly colored and insanely complicated geometric
patterns from them. Julieve Jubin went to great lengths to make her
photographs feel like drawings. The nap of the cloth and the
shadows between the folds seem softly rendered in charcoal. A black
cord leads off the page like a hastily sketched horizon. Just as in a
drawing, only details which the artist deemed important are visible;
the rest remains blank.
The sensation of rich texture is
heightened by Jubin’s presentation—digital pigments printed onto canvas
and brushed over with waxy encaustic. Cara Brewer Thompson captures the
essence rather than the specifics of her Baldwinsville property, using
a digital camera to generate moody fields of hazy color reminiscent of
Carrie Will’s photographs are neither
sly nor edgy but simply heartfelt. Bright magenta yarn draped over
fragile-looking twigs gives a drab back-lot new life. Her “In Memoriam”
series is an attempt to come to terms with the painful but predictable
cycles of life and death.
The largest work on display is also one
of the most philosophical—or is it comical? Richard Castellane and Jeff
Schuessler created a 30-foot-long wooden structure that supports a
rickety railroad track-shaped path for a bunch of beach balls. A couple
of big, white balls are bullying the little guys onto the floor, where
double-sided tape keeps them in place. The piece was inspired by Thomas
Cole’s “The Voyage of Life” paintings—on view as part of the museum’s
permanent collection—which grandiosely depict man’s plight.
According to Castellane, “Meditation
Altar (Voyage of Life, Too)” is only a mock-up of the planned permanent
structure which would involve steel, stained glass and benches for
contemplation. I’m sure I’d prefer this playful ad-hoc version.
The works mentioned and many others of
equal wit and skill are on view through July 13 at
Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, 310 Genesee St., Utica, through
July 13. The museum is open Tuesdays to Saturdays and Sundays, 1 to 5
p.m. For more information, call 797-0000 or visit mwpai.org.