ALBANY — Legos, race relations and the formation of consciousness are not things that most of us would connect, but at the opening reception for this year’s winter exhibits at the Albany Museum of Art, that’s exactly what attendees got to see.
The exhibits of painter Benjamin Britton, multidisciplinary artist Masud Olufani and Lego artist Mike Landers were all available for patrons to see and experience at the AMA reception.
Guest Curator Didi Dunphy said she hopes the exhibits will connect with Albany residents in some way and that the variety of art featured in the three exhibits makes that possible.
“I am hoping that there will be something in each of these shows that rings true to the population in one way or another,” Dunphy said. “This time … we have a very elegant painting show, we have a very approachable show based on Legos and then we have a very intense show of sculpture and drawing dealing with racial relationships and the history of our culture.
“I feel that between these three galleries, I can approach different aspects of the contemporary art simultaneously and thus have an opportunity for other people to experience a breath of what is going on contemporarily in this region.”
All three artists are based out of Georgia: Olufani from Atlanta and both Landers and Britton from Athens.
The reception featured an artist talk and tour from Britton, for his exhibit “This Unfolding Idyll.” Britton said his work focused on three major elements: the pleasure of looking, the formation of consciousness and nature.
“I’m really interested in making a painting that rewards you looking at it, that rewards your senses, your powers as a human being looking at things,” the artist said.
“(Britton) makes works that are an adventure for the viewer, that there are many things to do,” Dunphy said. “Looking at these paintings is a very active participation (experience).”
Britton’s paintings were larger than life, with hard-lined geometric shapes and other, more spontaneous and unstructured shapes that included tiny intricate scenes inside them. Britton explained the motivation behind that sort of creation with his discussion of formation of consciousness.
“When we think about something,” Britton said, “we’ll light on a certain topic, but then leave a certain topic in the background. But then (there’s) the anticipating the next thing we might think about, so we have this sort of sensed residual formative dynamic going at all times.”
The second artist tour and talk was led by Lego artist Mike Landers with his exhibit “Stack: Lego Works.” At first glance, his works look like a traditional painting, but upon closer examination, you realize that it is actually a Lego construction made to resemble a canvas.
“I grew up with Legos, and I loved Legos all my old childhood,” Landers said.
However, Landers said he didn’t think about Legos much in his adult life until he and a friend visited a Lego store in Los Angeles.
“I saw that wall of bricks, and I said, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I want to do something with Legos,’” Landers said.
Landers, unlike the other two artists whose works are on display, did not go to school for the arts, studying computer science instead. Looking at his Lego creations, with their uniformity and precision, that’s not hard to believe.
“He has taken on the material of Legos in regard to their engineering, their design, their color, their patterning and has created amazing works that are optical for the eye and a complete delight,” Dunphy said.
Thursday’s reception culminated with the artist talk and tour led by Olufani, the Atlanta-based multidisciplinary artist whose work often looks at sociological issues like race relations, the prison industrial complex and the school-to-prison pipeline.
Olufani’s exhibit is entitled “Memory and Meaning,” and he stressed the importance of the title in his talk.
“The title is important to me because those concepts are so important to me as an artist,” he said. “The notion that who we are is in many ways determined by who we have been and who we will become and we do a disservice to ourselves and to the larger society by not embracing that, by not offering a sobering analysis of where we come from.”
Olufani’s large installations filled the AMA’s expansive Haley Gallery. His pieces showcased both his talent as a sculptor as well as his talent as a visual artist.
“Masud is a consummate maker,” Dunphy said. “He is an expert drawer, sculptor, conceptualist, linguist, raconteur, he is an actor. He is using all of these skills to dive into a conversation of our Southern history with grace and dignity and circling around and facing these difficult conversations that we have regarding race relations and people that are disenfranchised in the history of these United States and beyond.”
Olufani’s exhibit will be on display until June 15, and he will come back to the AMA for another discussion on April 30. Landers’ work will be on display until March 30, and he will also come back for Lego Family Fun Day on March 16 from 10 a.m. to noon.
“I feel that all three (artists) kind of approach the practice in a different way and engage the viewer in different way and on one visit, one single person could have a very rich experience,” Dunphy said.