Times Union: Wacky, whimsy center stage at ACG's 'Wonderland'

Tags: Press Coverage

Exuberant lines, brazen colors, and wacky ideas with whimsy and joy at every turn. Nothing can really go wrong here in "Wonderland," where four painters and a sculptor create beautiful, likable art that is unabashedly fun and materially rich. With direct elegance, Albany Center Gallery has curated artists whose work makes maximum sense in this kind of symbiotic group.

The most ambitious and original of these five is Gina Occhiogrosso. Her paintings are not mere paintings — they all cleverly incorporate cloth or yarn, or add dimensionally thick acrylic paint, revitalizing the very materials and methods that we think of when we think of "painting." Take the untitled large work in the back corner, made of acrylic on "cut and sewn cotton." A sloppy grid has been made of dollops of paint in short rows and squares, the white, pink, and grey dots applied with a cake decorator's frosting tube. The crazy-quilt result is airy and cheerful, and the dots seem ordained by a thoughtful intuition as they arrange themselves over this unexpected, animated surface.

In other pieces, yarn partly wraps the canvas, in one case weaving in and out of slits in the fabric behind, in another zipping across a gaping hole. Tufts of cloth, stripes of pastel color, and a tactile third dimension make each object an adventure of its own, exploring new ideas within the artist's larger intention.

The closest we get in the show to actually creating a habitable wonderland is in three installation sculptures of Vanessa Mastronardi. These could well be Lewis Carroll-inspired, making nonsense of ordinary things and playing a little with illusion. In a different show they might be called surreal, but here they seem like childhood playgrounds.

The most resolved is the simplest, seen as you enter. A diamond checkerboard in lilac and baby blue covers part of the floor and wall. On this, a nonsense contraption of lightweight rods holds several Erlenmeyer flasks in the air, plastic tubes running between them as if in a science lab. Mastronardi's other works mix a blue picket fence with some painted gourds and a fake parrot, and a pink metal coat rack with a pair of pink cups and some high heels.

Nicholas Warner's 14 expressive watercolors suggest imaginary places of some kind. They are landscapes at heart, but the layers of line and swaths of color, as well as the lack of specificity, make them purely visual and improbable. Which makes them convincing and resonant. They attempt something simultaneously confined and infinite. They are small — some very small — so that you are made to peer into and scrutinize each work pinned inside deep wooden shadowbox frames.

These might strike some as sketches or studies, but they were to me fast but fully resolved, some of them really fecund and complex even with their relatively open approach leaving lots of plain paper. They do follow a formula: loose areas of watercolor in the background and then a series of different kinds of lines, thick and thin and in different colors. But they succeed, no matter, each of them. The suggestion of space is partly due to a consistent horizon and implied space, with a series of small elements creating a foreground perspective to that, though they can also be seen as abstractions, pure and simple.

Gabe Brown's four watercolors, with added pen and pencil, are also colorful but are far more restrained and careful. Pattern and line dominate — they are decorative without becoming predictable. Almost opposite in nature, Kelsey Renko's paintings, large and small, are irregular and primitive, with ragged large areas of color pushing against each other. They seem deliberately not careful, and it is their unfinished plainness that gives them energy.

This is a warm, friendly show. It frankly has a lot of work that would be comfy in a living room — and I say that to encourage people to shell out and support the arts in the most direct way. Our area art centers, like the now-venerable Albany Center Gallery, live and breathe for the sake of artists like these.