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Gerald Mead's Collection at Villa Maria
by Jack Foran
Who Needs Color?
Currently at the Villa Maria art gallery is a gem of a show of works just in black and white. They are all from the collection of Gerald Mead, and all in all provide a virtual walk-through tour of Western New York art history over the past century or so.
What makes the show special is the intelligent arrangement of the art. Works are grouped in such a manner that particular works comment—sometimes in extremely incisive ways—on the other works in group.
For example, the group headed, as it were, by a superb lithograph by Charles Burchfield called Summer Benediction, vibrant with surging, vital forces of the season, includes a small etching of some mid-20th-century industrial architecture by Kevin O’Callahan, an energetic depiction of a vigorous horse in a hilly meadow or orchard by Robert Blair, a wood engraving of a little stone church in wintertime by Julian J. Lankes, and two similarly astringent-looking line sketches of an apparently Mediterranean seaside village, by Virginia Cuthbert, and a cluster of hilltop structures probably not far inland from the Mediterranean, by Harriet Greif.
All the specifically American scenes are bursting with life, while the European scenes are constricted, constrained, by comparison with the thoroughly American works—a little tight, a little taut, a little lacking in a sense of artistic freedom. As if produced under the slightest shadow of some subtle European intimidation factor. These observations are not universals about art and artists, not truisms, but these works in this group of all American artists seem to support them.
In terms of art history tour, another group constitutes a virtual history of American photography. It includes a wonderful impressionistic pictorialist photo of a small stream meandering through a field, smoky trees in the background, by William Porterfield, a sensitive portrait of pioneer art photographer Alfred Stieglitz by Clara Sipprell, a jokey photo of photos in jars by Don Scheller, a leathery abstraction by Carl Chiarenza, and an excellent triptych of a steelworker, including a posed portrait in overalls, an action shot on the line, and a portrait with spouse at home and in suit and tie, by Milton Rogovin.
In the next group over is a Hollis Frampton and Marion Faller photo in parody reminiscence of Eadweard Muybridge, early investigator into possible documentary uses of photography. Muybridge made action photos against a grid background to analyze movements too rapid to discern with unaided human eye. Frampton/Faller photograph a still life—an apple—against a grid, in a series of further and further close-ups until the apple disappears in total blackness.
Among some larger format works is a screenprint by Susan Rothenberg of a musical conductor at work with a suggestion of Moses conducting the waters of the Red Sea, and sumptuous treatment of plant life with copious pitchy black backdrop and foil to luxuriant foliage by Lawrence Calcagno.
There are even some all-white works, one with the slightest of shadow tones from impressions and expressions of circles and ellipses in medium thickness paper by Robert Squeri, one of cutouts in and to various layers of light cardboard by Sam Russo.
And an almost all-black work by Joseph Miller (reminiscent of Tristram Shandy). You have to look hard to see shades of other than blackest black in the work.
The title of the show is Colorless. The label is technically descriptive, but does not describe the true character and quality of this excellent exhibit, which continues through October 29.
—jack foranblog comments powered by Disqus
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