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What we LOVED this year: Visual arts

Museums flourished amid hard times

Sunday, December 26, 2010
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Larry Poons with his painting “La Famiglia” from 2009. His recent paintings were shown at the Esther Massry Gallery earlier this year. (photo: Jeanne Flanagan)
Larry Poons with his painting “La Famiglia” from 2009. His recent paintings were shown at the Esther Massry Gallery earlier this year. (photo: Jeanne Flanagan)

With a weak economy, a ballooning state budget deficit and decreased funding for the arts, our museums and galleries weathered another challenging year.

Beginning in January, the New York State Museum will be closed on Sundays. The Hyde Collection will be open 30 hours a week instead of 40 hours, a streamlining move based on a close look at when people visit the museum. The New York State Museum and the Albany Institute of History & Art were forced to lay off employees.

But imagination and creativity flourish even in the bleakest times, and our courageous curators and gallery directors proved that once again, as they continued to create compelling exhibits and showcase regional artists.

In 2010, the Hyde was the new host for Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region, and for the first time, the show headed north to Glens Falls. The Regional opened in the fall instead of its usual summer run, following “Andrew Wyeth: An American Legend,” the Hyde’s big summer show, which drew about 19,000 visitors.

This year’s Regional also was a record-breaker for its entries — 1,500 works by 340 artists — and for number of works in the final show — 94 by 72 artists.

Having the Hyde as a third sponsor, along with the University Art Museum and the Albany Institute, greatly expands the show’s geographic range, adding artists from a 100-mile radius of Glens Falls, which includes parts of Vermont and the Adirondacks, to its traditional 100-mile radius of Albany.

The 32nd annual Photography Regional also moved into new territory, as its 2010 sponsor, the Fulton Street Gallery, mounted the show both in its own space and in the spacious Uncle Sam Atrium in Troy. With the added space, this year’s Photo Regional was the biggest in recent years. And for the first time, artworks were posted on the gallery’s website, and a hard-cover Photo Regional book was published.

Around the Capital Region and the Berkshires, art venues weren’t doing major expansions or renovations. But there were additions and improvements.

The Berkshire Museum and Saratoga Arts commissioned permanent sculptures from prominent artists.

Steel sculptures

Saratoga Arts has asked John Van Alstine and Noah Savett to co-create “Tempered by Memory,” a large-scale sculpture made from steel remnants of the World Trade Center. The sculpture will be installed in front of the new Saratoga Springs Convention Center in 2011.

Internationally renowned glass artist Tom Patti will create an original work that will be installed in the Berkshire Museum’s vestibule in 2011. It’s the museum’s first commission since 1937, when Alexander Calder created two mobiles for the museum theater.

In Saratoga Springs, the art scene continued steady growth. The Beekman Street Arts District, touted by The New York Times, now boasts 21 businesses, many of them galleries or artist-run boutiques. New this summer were Common Threads, a yarn shop, and The Milliner's Crown hat shop.

In June, two new events were added to the fourth annual SaratogaArtsFest: Studio Walk, self-guided tours of artists’ studios in Saratoga Springs and a Sculpture Project, with large-scale works indoors and outdoors.

In October, the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery marked its 10th anniversary with a 10-hour celebration.

Museum websites are getting more interesting, too.

Williams College Museum of Art now has a searchable database for the 13,000 objects in its collection; Clark Art Institute offers iPod downloads and audio tours of its exhibits; MASS MoCA has a blog with YouTube videos of installations in progress; and the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery’s site features video interviews with artists.

Essays from exhibit catalogs are posted on the websites of the University Art Museum and EMPAC.

At the University Art Museum, labels for artwork now include a phone number, so you can access info on your cellphone.

Having an ‘Art Attack’

In Schenectady, there was a new event in March. “Schenectady Art Attack,” a two-day indoor art show at venues around downtown that was billed as an extension of the monthly Art Night Schenectady, which marked its third year in May.

In other Schenectady news, Miki Conn announced that she will step down as director of the Hamilton Hills Arts Center, effective Monday, after 11 years leading the organization that her mother, Margaret Cunningham, launched in 1968.

In the fall, Catherine Wagner Minnery and three other artists moved from Minnery’s “Working” Gallery/Studio at 440 State St. to the former KeyBank building, which is owned by Proctors. Each artist leases their space individually from Proctors.

A few weeks ago, the Schenectady Museum announced a change in plans. Due to the high costs, the museum won't be building a new science and technology center in a vacant building on Broadway or renovating the vacant Washington Avenue Armory and moving there. But the museum remains committed to its science-technology mission and is working with the Challenger Learning Center of Tech Valley, a group linked to NASA, to bring a Challenger flight simulator to the museum on Nott Street.

In 2010, Schenectady lost two of its bright lights as Barbara Weinheimer, Schenectady art teacher and longtime art supporter, died in August at age 84. Her husband, George Weinheimer, a founding member of the Oakroom Artists, died in 2000.

In October, Virginia “Ginnie” Ward Mills, a longtime Oakroom Artist, died at age 80. Her husband, Drew Mills, also an Oakroom Artist and founding director of the New York State Summer School of the Arts and School of Visual Arts, died in 2007.

Top 10 exhibits

1. “Picasso Looks at Degas,” Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

2. “Andrew Wyeth: An American Legend,” The Hyde Collection

3. “Wrapped!: Search for the Essential Mummy,” Berkshire Museum

4. “2010 Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region,” The Hyde Collection

5. “Fred Tomaselli,” Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College

6. “Larry Poons: Recent Paintings,” Esther Massry Gallery, The College of Saint Rose

7. “Courier,” University Art Museum, University at Albany

8. “Battlesight,” Arts Center of the Capital Region, Troy

9. “The Naked Woman Show,” House of Creative Soul, Saratoga Springs

10. “The Perfect Fit” & “Old Soles,” Albany Institute of History & Art

 
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