The Memorial Art Gallery's latest exhibit is a classic mixed bag, offering as many head scratchers as rewarding showpieces.
The surprisingly uneven quality of the 63rd Rochester-Finger Lakes Exhibition might reflect a shift in direction. In 2009, this biennial juried show featured 36 works of art. In 2011, it dramatically expanded to include 100 pieces by 49 regional artists.
"The jurors were asked to pick pieces that interested them and represented a broader cross-section of what's happening in upstate and western New York studios," says Marie Via, director of exhibitions. "It's an exciting challenge for us to present a much larger body of work that still gives each piece a chance to shine."
Yet some pieces get too great a chance to shine.
One entire wall features a Buffalo artist's primitive figural drawings on ripped paper. Another wall is devoted to mundane architectural diagrams of homes. Elsewhere, mock houses are cobbled together from discarded doors and windows. Jaws will drop as visitors glimpse a huge nylon figure of a nude man, inflated by a bathroom fan.
However, you'll find enough genuine pearls to warrant a visit.
Sensibly, the museum puts each artist's works together instead of arranging the art by style or theme. "This exhibit is not trying to tell a cohesive story," says exhibitions assistant Chiyo Ueyama.
Since there's no plan to follow, begin your tour on an upbeat note with two jumbo-sized sculptures.
Rochester sculptor Victor Pacheco suspends a leaping frog from the ceiling. It seems as joyful as Jeremiah the bullfrog until you hear Pacheco's glum description in the exhibit's cellphone tour.
"The catalyst for its creation was a short documentary focusing on the effect of pesticides on frogs," he says. "Chemicals in water directly affect the health and reproduction of these amphibians. ... A jump of faith becomes paralyzed by the absorption of toxins."
By contrast, John K. Archer's Charmed exudes true playfulness. It's a gigantic charm bracelet with bright, abstract pendants — a piece of bling that Alice in Wonderland might have enjoyed in her tall phase. Archer, a Rochester artist, says that it could "accessorize a room ... maybe even a tree."