Arts Associates China-themed exhibit speaks volumes on culture

The quickest way to get from downtown Albany to Art Associates Gallery, the quirky frame shop with a dedicated gallery space on an otherwise unwelcoming industrial stretch of Railroad Avenue, is to take I-90 west. On a recent morning, a banner bearing the name of an organization the Anti-Defamation League calls anti-Semitic, racist and white supremacist hung from the overpass at the Loudonville/Arbor Hill exit. It had been removed by the time I made my way to see “Coming of Spring,” a collection work by six Chinese and Chinese-American artists at Art Associates that runs until Feb. 20.  

There mere fact of the show’s existence is a rebuke to that banner and the grotesque sentiment behind it. Here are some artists who have created work, signed their names and have willingly submitted it for public criticism, come what may. It takes courage. On the other side there are those trying to anonymously intimidate a community during this fraught election season. The difference could not be clearer. On to the work.  

Attila Zalavary, the owner of Art Associates, said that “Coming of Spring” was conceived, at least in part, as a reaction to the fact there has not been an exhibition of Asian art in the Capital Region for 20 years. That is probably a stretch as Asian artists are represented, perhaps not enough, in galleries across the areaA more apt characterization would be that this is the first show of specifically Chinese and Chinese-American artists working in largely (though not exclusively) traditional styles, techniques and motifs to come around in quite some time.  

The work on display from a collection of professionals and amateurs is, to borrow a phrase from James Cagney on acting, work that looks you in the eye and tells you the truth. It generally stands as a present-day survey of form and content recognizable to anyone who haever seen Chinese art before. Yaqing Weng renders flowers and birds in watercolor with an assured, practiced and competent hand in fine articles of harmony and balance. A show like this would not be complete without strong, representative examples of Chinese calligraphy and Xiaoping Xu does more than oblige us. Her impossibly black and decisive script speak, in the truest sense, with Mandarin authority. We are also treated to her contemporary interpretations of the iconic vermilion seals present in art and printed matter in China and throughout East Asia.  

Much of the work in “Coming of Spring” is from newcomer Mengde Shi, a high school student from Colonie. In sheer size her work dwarfs everything else on offer. A meticulous and richly textured depiction of the Buddha reveals not only a burgeoning talent but also a powerful sense of history and Vedic perception. Her monumental fairy-tale sketches impress as well. This all serves as a showcase of grand ambition and promise. This should not be the last time you hear of her.  

Anping Liu, a former visiting professor of fine art at Union College, gives us a razor sharp paper carving of a bull in what is more than a nod to the approaching Lunar New Year as Feb. 12 will herald the year of the ox. Aside from the ox, Liu has one of the show’s departures from traditional forms and themes. In one of the few pieces labeled “not for sale” we see a polyptych of four people we have been spending a great deal of time with lately: Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo, and Anthony Fauci. There is no discernable political valence to the work and perhaps that is the point. They have, through sheer omnipresence, become a species of wallpaper. Also, for whatever reason, perhaps the way the the baseball cap sat on his hair, I briefly mistook Gov. Cuomo for Eazy-E.  

The work in “Coming of Spring” cuts across generations and has a charming earnestness and optimism. It is a critical piece of multicultural exchange at a time when communities need more of it. On Railroad Avenue hope springs eternal. ‘ 

Coming of Spring”  

Where: Art Associates Gallery, 21 Railroad Ave., Albany  

Hours: Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  

Info: 518-459-1307  

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