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Members' Show at Big Orbit

Richard Tomasello's NRA action figures.

Parlor Style

The Big Orbit members’ show comprises almost 120 works by almost that number of artists. A few have two pieces in the show. The place looks a little like one of those 18th-century galleries you see pictures of, the artwork frame against frame, floor to ceiling.

Among the more interesting works, two grain elevator photos by Thomas Bittner. It’s not easy in this town to come up with new and unusual ways to photograph the grain elevators, maybe the region’s most photographed subject matter after Niagara Falls, but Bittner’s works seem to show these architectural wonders in a new and revealing light. We see something we didn’t see before. One is a shimmering water reflection view of an elevator, patterns on patterns, simple on complex. The other a rank and file of elevator cylindrical forms, viewed from an oblique angle, fading and dissolving into the distance, and cut across by a horizontal infrastructure pipe of some sort, producing an emphatic diagonal black line, corner to corner, across the rectangular photo.

Sculptor Scott Bye has a wonderful shaggy object piece called Critter. No information provided verbally or for that matter visually as to species, but a little bit scary, a little bit cuddly. Maybe part porcupine, part armadillo, and part hedgehog. Reminiscent of one of the nondescript animals that appear regularly in Ed Koren cartoons in the New Yorker. Toothy and hairy, maximally unkempt.

Sara Zak’s little painting/sculpture Façade (Segment of a Whole) consists of an neat and orderly array of glistening white-painted picket fence points above, deteriorating gradually downward into a neglectful and disorderly condition, and presenting, well below, amid the increasing disorder, a gnomon feature, gnostic thing, thing about knowledge, the missing part, keyhole and key.

James Siegel has a beautiful woodblock print with a classic Chinese mountain landscape sense of the placid grandeur of the natural world versus by implication the feeble capacities of humans, whose best recourse under the circumstances is to abandon secular striving and endeavor to live in quiet harmony with nature, the cosmos. Siegel’s piece is called All Alone.

James Walp has a beautifully carved woodwork table with a sense of humor. The piece is called Love Handles, and you can discover those humanoid features on the stem, or single leg, near the base, of the piece. The material is sapele, a dark, mahogany-like African wood sometimes used to make musical instruments.

An artist by the Irish name of Ciarán Ó Conhúir has a poem about the Irish sea--among other subject matter—on a digital print page of such deep blue hue it threatens to drown the words of the poem. “…the Irish sea an ever imposing, living entity, whose/vast presence thoroughly dominates the east/much like a dark cape laidon the ground by some/good Samaritan, or Christo…”

Catherine Shuman Miller has two handsome, mazy, geometrical abstraction graphite on mylar works. And Jill St. Ledger Roty a photo of turbid waters flowing over rocks. A rich mix of oily colors, suggesting maybe primal ooze. And Mary Jane Wurstner a pair of smoky tintype wet plate collodion photos of a girl or young woman, barely discernible.

Some accomplished figural drawing works are by Amanda Besl-Treeby (women with windblown tresses), Tom Rojek (a female nude), and Julia Oppenheimer (a majestic rooster).

A multi-level appropriation art piece by Ulysses Atwhen incorporates a poster-size artwork handout from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and an old Hallwalls members’ show poster by Tony Conrad.

A multi-levels-of-irony appropriation piece consists of two NRA edition plastic action figures—one of a student, one of a teacher—heavily body-armored and brandishing the kind of automatic (or semi-automatic, to honor the razor-fine distinction) weapons recently used to kill numerous students and teachers (and that will be used to kill more).

And how are things going for the NRA after the Newtown massacre? Never better, apparently. Recruiting and revenues from recruiting reportedly are through the ceiling. Revenues from private donations, undoubtedly, as well.

The Big Orbit show continues through March 10.

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