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Some Summer Viewing

Jim Dow's "Alameda County Stadium"

Landscapes at Nina Freudenheim and baseball at the Castellani

The art scene in Western New York is far from dormant over the summer. In fact, nearly every museum and gallery in the region is opening a new exhibition this month that will run through the coming weeks. Of them, there are two exceptional ones that seem to be in synch with the season.

You might consider it a “changing of the guard” since Nina Freudenheim’s landscape-themed group exhibition Sylviculture recently opened just as the major Charles Burchfield retrospective organized by artist Robert Gober closed at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. In that sense, it is an ideal opportunity to see highly accomplished contemporary approaches (some by artists who are also connected to this region) to a subject that inspired Burchfield for his entire career.

The arcanely titled Sylviculture (the term refers to the cultivation of forests) consists of works in several media from the gallery’s inventory selected by Freudenheim for a summer exhibition focusing on a subject matter that has increasingly attracted her attention over the years. The works, mostly from the past decade and never exhibited before, range from sublime to scientific representations of the natural environment. The exhibition begins with the exquisite Apollo & Cyparissus by Peter Stephens, one of a series of paintings wherein the artist overlaid a veil of paint—in this case striations—on a painted image as a means of creating a contrasting illusory effect. The background image is a detail of an old growth forest in New York State that was photographed by the artist, who was intrigued by the close proximity and growth patterns of the centuries-old trees. The foreground scrim simultaneously reveals and conceals the image beneath it while elegantly echoing the textures on the surface of the tree trunks.

The photographs on the adjacent wall from John Pfahl’s Luminous River: Photographs of the Susquehanna are stunning images that reverently express the poetic compositional relationship between treescape and water’s edge. Captured at times such as dawn or dusk, these flawlessly balanced images convey the sublimity of nature. For example, Pfahl’s depiction of the early morning mist rising off of the water in Lake Otsego Sunrise, Cooperstown, NY respectfully expresses the bucolic tranquility of that environment that few may experience in person at that particular time of the day.

Peter Stephen's "Longtime Companions"

In the next gallery are small pastel drawings by Wolf Khan that capture the essence of wooded environments through quick gestural marks representing the forms of the tree trunks and foliage. Steve Miller is represented by several prints from his Health of the Planetseries that reflect the artist’s fascination with the art/science duality he perceives in imagery created through scientific technology. Describing the Amazon as the “lungs of the planet,” Miller considers x-raying the plant and floral material he has collected there akin to “giving Brazil a medical checkup.” The resulting spectral images (some negative, some positive) of orchids and pods are hauntingly familiar and the delicate balance between the translucency and opacity of the forms is highly effective.

Rounding out the exhibition is a thoroughly engaging sculptural work titled Charitable Parable by fiber artist John McQueen. The book-shaped object with “pages” that fold out extending it to nearly four feet is constructed of fastidiously bent and tied willow braches harvested from the artist’s property in Saratoga Springs, New York. McQueen is known for his wry incorporation of words into his woven sculptures. In this deceptively simple and delightfully ironic construction, McQueen uses a rebus (a kind of word puzzle that uses pictures to represent words or parts of words) to sound out the title of the work.

At the Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University, an exhibition focuses on a landscape of a very different sort—a high structured (and summer specific) swath of grass known as a baseball field. The resource for the exhibition Field of Dreams: North American Baseball Stadiums by Photographer Jim Dow, curated by Michael Beam, was a substantial collection of Dow’s images that had been gifted to the museum over a period of seven years by Mr. Marc Freidus, whose family has been longtime photography patrons of the Castellani. Dow’s highly detailed panoramic views (each is actually composed of three images joined together) taken in the early 1980s form an informative pictorial survey of some of the most storied places in baseball history such as Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, the Houston Astrodome, and Yankee Stadium. By depicting the stadiums devoid of spectators and players, Dow presents these fans-eye views as “images that signify a feeling of anticipation as well as recollection of grand memories.” Varying the perspectives—some but not all are taken from behind home plate—endows each with their own unique character and heightens the distinctive structure and linear forms of architectural elements such as seating decks, rooflines and trusses. Invariably, capturing something as large as a stadium in a single image yields distorted, somewhat surreal results and that is part of the appeal of these images.

Many Castellani exhibitions purposefully intersect with other departments at Niagara University and in this case, Dow’s photographs are contexualized by a display of team photos, publications and other material from the university archives and other lenders that tell the story of the history of baseball (dating to 1885) at the university as well as texts outlining the alumni connections to major league baseball. The most famous of those alumni were Sal Maglie, who played for several teams including the New York Giants, and Joe McCarthy, who managed the New York Yankees and was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In recent years, exhibitions organized from the Castellani’s collection have traveled to venues in Indiana, Illinois, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Texas among others. Field of Dreams, an astutely organized exhibition that capitalizes on the “crossover” nature of a fine photographic series that can also connect with audiences interested in America’s national sport, will travel to the Louis Slugger Museum and Factory in Kentucky in 2012.

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