Opalka Gallery’s upcoming exhibition is marked by a sense of anxiety and a buoyant inventiveness.
“Infinite Uncertainty” is slated to open on Tuesday, bringing together works by 32 regional artists. Each work responds to recent events, some directly and others distantly.
There’s a collage by Carla Dortic, which directly responds to the pandemic, featuring a small portion of the one-line obituaries of people who have died from the coronavirus that was featured in the New York Times earlier this year. The torn newsprint includes a staggering number of names, yet the artist has placed it on the pad of a finger, calling attention to the tragedy of how many people have been lost to the virus.
Not too far away are black and white photographs of people holding signs that say “Black Trans Lives Matter” and raising their fists. In one, a family stands together, with a mother holding a sign that says, “Is my son next?” and her son holding one asking, “When do I go from cute to dangerous?” Taken by Ray Felix, they document scenes from recent Black Lives Matter protests.
The exhibition also focuses on ways that the pandemic has changed artists’ traditional mediums and has given them time to try out new methods.
Take Christina Tenaglia, who is known for her sculptures, but has focused on photography in the last few months. More than a dozen of her photographs are featured in “Infinite Uncertainty,” many focused on strangely shaped trees and “yardscapes.”
There’s no doubt that a lot is going on in the show, and that’s a good thing.
When Opalka put out a call for works for “Infinite Uncertainty,” jurors Sharon Bates, Stacey Robinson, Ellen Letcher and Julie Torres received more than 250 pieces; an incredibly large number for the exhibition space.
Whittling it down could not have been an easy task, though the exhibition does seem to encompass the immense variety of ways that some artists are responding to everything from the pandemic to social and political unrest.
Peg Foley’s work responds to the pandemic more abstractly. Through faintly familiar drawings and splashes of red and yellow, the Schenectady artist captures the panicked feeling of living through a precarious time. Close by, Ever Baldwin’s dark and brooding black wood-framed paintings with owl-like figures, evoke a similar feeling.
In the largest installation of “Infinite Uncertainty,” artist Fernando Orellana takes that sense to a different level. Using white 3D printed pieces, Orellana referenced Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy,” as seen through the lens of an American suburb.
“Infernia,” as the artist refers to it, is an architectural model of a community center designed for the dead, it features several eerie scenes. In one, more than a dozen tiny pool floats crowd around an empty boat; in another, empty hospital beds are lined up together, some with dog figurines sitting on top of them as if waiting for someone.
Nearby is another hellscape-like work, this one from Jeff Wigman. Figures both frightening and fantastical come together in a world that seems to be burning. A fortress in the background is in flames and hammerhead sharks tumble in the sky next to the rising smoke. In the foreground is the Great Seal of the United States, though the bald eagle seems to be belching fire. It’s a bizarre work that viewers may connect with simply because it evokes a sense of chaos.
Other works in the exhibition may not have been seen as particularly chaotic or stress-inducing at the start of 2020, though that’s exactly how many viewers may see them now.
In particular, are Roger D. Patrick’s streetscapes. They give a bird’s eye view of people in unmarked uniforms and cars gathered on street corners and blocking off roads. It’s not clear whether they’re paramedics or police officers and given the recent intense focus on both of those professions, the works take on a different meaning and an eeriness that may not have been there before.
The same could be said for Judith Braun’s drawings of amoeba-like figures seen through a microscopic view. They’ve taken on a new urgency and will be viewed differently because of the pandemic.
Yet, the exhibition doesn’t solely focus on the chaos of these times. Artists like Erika Aberg offer up a counterpoint to that chaos with escapist works. In her sculpture called “The Colony,” she creates a peaceful and colorful world. Deborah Zlotsky, who is known as a painter, offers viewers a sense of comfort with a large wall-hanging of knitted blankets.
The exhibition culminates in a large chalk drawing by Richard Barlow, which was not completely installed when The Gazette visited the gallery earlier this week. Barlow's work will depict a landscape that undergoes wear and tear. He plans to erase and smear the chalk at different points during the exhibition's run so that the work changes over time. Barlow was inspired by Vrooman’s Nose, a landscape depicted in Thomas Cole’s “Course of Empire” series, which was created during another time of uncertainty in American history.
“Infinite Uncertainty” runs from Tuesday through Saturday, Oct. 10. Opalka Gallery will be open to the public during its normal operating hours starting Tuesday, with social distancing measures in place. Masks will be required and visitors will be asked to fill out a health questionnaire and have their temperatures taken upon entry. Only 25 people will be allowed in the gallery at once.