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Three-dimensional works take on life of their own at Skidmore’s Schick Gallery

Saturday, April 23, 2011
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“Collective Bloom” by Rebecca Hutchinson is made with porcelain paperclay, handmade paper and other organic materials. It is part of “Mercurial Objects: Luxuriant Obsession” at the Schick Art Gallery at Skidmore College through May 1.
“Collective Bloom” by Rebecca Hutchinson is made with porcelain paperclay, handmade paper and other organic materials. It is part of “Mercurial Objects: Luxuriant Obsession” at the Schick Art Gallery at Skidmore College through May 1.

When you’re an artist, accidents happen.

“I break as much ceramics as I make, and I think I learn as much about the process by doing so,” says Annabeth Rosen, a prominent California sculptor whose works are currently in the Schick Gallery at Skidmore College.

Exhibits can evolve in unexpected ways, too, taking on a life of their own as artworks are unwrapped from shipping crates and positioned together in a gallery.

Such is the case with “Mercurial Objects: Luxuriant Obsession,” a lush and lively biosphere of three-dimensional works at the Schick.

On walls and on pedestals, rising from the floor and suspended from the ceiling, there are sculptures, jewelry and mixed-media works made from porcelain, pipe cleaners, paper, wool and porcupine quills.

And the shapes? Pod-like forms, leaves, flowers, even a frog, animate this small, square white space.

‘Mercurial Objects: Luxuriant Obsession’

WHERE: Schick Art Gallery, Saisselin Art Building, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs

WHEN: Through Sunday, May 1. Gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 1 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

HOW MUCH: Free

MORE INFO: www.skidmore.edu/schick; there’s also a catalog.

Not to be trite, but after a wicked winter, this show, with its serendipitous nature theme, feels like a delicious slurp of spring tonic.

“We weren’t thinking of the organic, but then we started making connections between them,” says Peter Stake, the Schick’s director.

There are 33 works by nine artists, four with links to Skidmore or who live in our area.

Intriguing pieces

Sharon Church, a highly respected pioneer in the world of fine art jewelry, graduated from Skidmore in 1970 and taught the Summer Six program at the college before she began teaching at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts.

Best known for carved wood pieces, Church created two pendants and a brooch for this show.

“Miss Havisham’s Purse” is a dramatic, chunky 16-inch-long pendant made not only of wood, pearls and silver, but Japanese cotton, tea and linen. She also sent along “Oh No,” a 2006 brooch in which a life-sized spotted frog crafted from boxwood, painted and lacquered, is skewered with a gold fastener so it can be worn “belly up” on a lapel.

On the wall behind Church is “Akin” by Betsy Brandt, a Diamond Point resident who teaches art at Adirondack Community College and Siena College.

If you went to last summer’s Mohawk-Hudson Regional at The Hyde Collection, you’ll remember “Akin,” the 24 round colorful creatures that look like sea urchins and sea anenome clinging to the wall.

Local artist

And anyone who frequents Capital Region art shows will immediately recognize the six fuzzy, organic sculptures of Schenectady artist Ginger Ertz. Ertz adopted chenille stems (aka pipe cleaners) as her medium after she discovered how they could be knotted, twisted and woven into sturdy but lightweight sculptures during a workshop with Girl Scouts at the Tang Teaching Museum & Art Gallery, where she works as outreach programs coordinator.

The largest work is “Collective Bloom” by Rebecca Hutchinson of Rochester, Mass.

Seven-foot-tall stalks of paper, clay and organic materials hang upside down from the ceiling, like giant dried field flowers, faded and crinkled, after their summer bloom.

For more than two days, Hutchinson installed the sculpture on site, using bins of materials and a slurry-like material.

Stephanie Metz, another Californian, uses felted wool, hair and the aforementioned porcupine parts to create her soft, fuzzy, earth-colored pods, from 6 to 8 inches long, which look like they could burst open any second and birth an unnatural creature.

When she unpacked the five sculptures from their shipping box, “I felt like I wanted to cuddle them, but then I felt like maybe I wanted to back away,” jokes curatorial assistant Rebecca Shepard.

Anat Shiftan’s porcelain and stoneware sculptures are inspired by formal still life paintings. Molded, wheel-thrown or hand-built, the pale, tubular flower-like forms are packed tightly together, but, as Shepard demonstrated, some of the forms are removable, perhaps suggesting the arranging of objects for a still life.

Abstract ceramics

Rosen, the artist who doesn’t mind accidents, makes curious collections of abstract ceramic forms that are packed tightly and individually, like cigarettes in a pack, into steel stands that have wheels. Unglazed or dripping with glaze, patterned or exuberantly colored, shaped like gourds or pods, the forms are arresting on their own, but as mobile totems about 3 feet tall, they are almost robotic.

Bruce Metcalf is the other jewelry artist, and he is renowned not only for works he has exhibited since the early 1970s, but for his books and essays, including last year’s “Makers: History of American Studio Craft.”

Like Church, Metcalf’s pieces — two necklaces and three brooches — are made of carved and painted wood, but his pieces are bold, sensuous and jungle-like, with blood-red or gilded leaves and a touch of kitsch.

“Jewelry is sex that has been sublimated, cleaned up and made personable,” he says in his artist’s statement.

The proof that this wasn’t intended to be a nature-themed show can be found in exquisitely crafted metal sculptures by Terrence Lavin, who grew up in Saratoga Springs and whetted his art appetite at Skidmore’s University Without Walls. He now teaches at Southern Connecticut University.

At first glance, Lavin’s works are so mechanical and precise, one expects a label to tell you what kind of machine this is and what its function could be. Look more carefully, and you’ll see that these are not useful objects, but artworks of cold beauty in which each piece, down to the smallest “hardware,” is handmade.

“Like everyone in the show, he’s interested in materials and what materials suggest,” says Shepard. “And he likes people to look at the details.”

If you haven’t been to the Schick recently, this could be the show to bring you back.

Student visitors

The gallery in the Saisselin Art Building has been around since 1978, and even since the opening of the Tang Teaching Museum & Art Gallery in 2000, the Schick continues to get steady traffic from Skidmore students, especially those in drawing, sculpture or curatorial classes.

“The mission of this gallery is to tie directly into the curriculum of the students,” says Shepard, an artist and former gallery director at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy.

Stake, a full-time art professor, took on the director’s job in September, and curates the shows with a faculty committee.

The next show, opening May 9, is “Regis Brodie, Recent Works: Vessel Forms, Sculpture, & Painting,” honoring the Skidmore professor emeritus for his 41 years of service.

 
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