2019 is a year of celebration for Ithaca’s State of the Art Gallery (SOAG), marking the organization’s 30th anniversary. Founded in 1989 and gaining not-for-profit status in 2015, the cooperative gallery has become a staple in Ithaca, achieving its mission statement of enhancing the economic and cultural vitality of the community through contemporary art shows and events. Owned and operated by a myriad of visual artist members in the area, SOAG is undeniably a unique and significant organization that epitomizes the artistic and collaborative spirit of the Finger Lakes region.
As part of its anniversary celebration, SOAG has expanded its festivities beyond its own gallery on State Street. Desiring access to a slightly larger space, SOAG joined forces with the Community School of Music and Art (CSMA) and is exhibiting there until May 31.
The show, aptly titled “Celebrating 30 Years,” presents work by each of the current members of the gallery in a surprisingly cohesive curation. On one wall, Ileen Kaplan’s “Floating Red”—a beautiful work of collage, acrylic, and oil pastel in which a saturated red form stands out against a sea of painterly purple—pairs perfectly beside Diane Newton’s somewhat sparing and breathtakingly abstract “Fall/2018.” David Watkins Jr. inhabits a small corner with three of his nature photographs, each in interestingly muted tones. In one, a white peony is covered in raindrops with dark shadows enhanced through a nearly cinematic perspective. This piece stands in contrast to another photograph in the show, “Abstract Lotus” by Nancy V. Ridenour, in which Ridenour manipulated an image of a flower by stretching its petals into a circular form, aiming more toward surrealism than sharp reality.
Michael Sampson’s “Sylvie, Studio Boxes, January” is one favorite in the show. In his signature style, Sampson dissected a figurative model into more abstract terms. There’s a flow and ease to the piece, despite a certain structure holding the image together. The piece manages expressiveness, while still being light and fun.
Stan Bowman’s “Connected to Energy” is also a playful piece, with various three-dimensional, acrylic-painted cutouts of shapes attached atop one another. The sculptural painting presents curved lines juxtaposed against more straightforward patterns. Its innate colorfulness emits a certain vibrant energy, which is perhaps the point of the piece overall.
Apart from the abstract works, there are of course more figurative ones as well. Shirley J. Hogg and Vanessa McCaffery both present impressively realistic renditions of penguins, while Susan C. Larkin exhibits an intensely stark black-and-white photograph of beach grass. Meanwhile, Patty L. Porter and Diana Ozolins present beautifully executed oil paintings of nature in the area, and Jan Kather has on display a book of collages entitled “Mashups,” in which she photoshopped together her nature photos with public domain images of famous artworks and pop culture objects, including vintage Barbies and Renaissance sculptures. As far as personal bias goes, I am always a sucker for well-composed photographic images, and Harry Littell hit the mark with “Red Robin Diner, Johnson City, 2019.” Amidst an environment of rich reds, a worker or owner of the diner leans against a booth, staring forth with a somewhat vexed expression on his face. Alongside him a line of bar stools draws your focus into the scene. The photograph is wonderfully executed and thought out, capturing the deep color and unexpected repetition present in the everyday.
Other artists and SOAG members in the show include Mary Ann Bowman, Patricia Brown, Eva M. Capobianco, Jane Dennis, Frances L. Fawcett, Saundra Elizabeth Goodman, Jay Hart, Daniel McPheeters, Margaret C. Nelson, Janet Byer Sherman, Marian Van Soest, Ethel Vrana, and Connie Zehr.
Overall, the CSMA is a pleasant location for an art show, with quiet classical music coexisting in the space, coming from music lessons or dance classes taking place in the school. As with all SOAG shows, their 30th anniversary exhibition highlights members who are dedicated to their craft, and to bringing their art to the community. It’s exciting that Ithaca and the artists within can foster such a creative environment, and is one of the many reasons why many of us call the area home.