Subtitled "The First 10 Years of the Permanent Collection," the current show is part one of a two-part survey of the museum's holdings. The second part will be on view from Aug. 11 through Sept. 15.
The collection reflects the museum's exhibition program, which places work by regional artists in the broader context of contemporary trends. As the former director, Madeleine Burnside, points out in her catalogue essay, it developed as a natural extension of that mission, affirming the museum's commitment to emerging artists and unfamiliar work.
Many of the pieces have come to the museum as a result of exhibitions, so in a way the collection also serves as a compendium of shows presented during the past decade. Among the earliest acquisitions are Eileen Spikol's jewel-like paper castings in the shape of wings and a print, "White Box I," by Rimer Cardillo, who also uses wings as a metaphor of thwarted freedom. Both artists' work entered the collection after being featured in one of the museum's group shows.
One of the most recent acquisitions, Francisco Alvarado-Juarez's "Flight: Trophy No. 1," combines traditional painting with assemblage in a fantastic interpretation of the Biblical fall from grace. Sexual and spiritual turmoil are at its center, while its margins are defined by a bleak forest of naked branches symbolizing paradise lost.
Norman Colp's serial photographs invite us to meditate on movement and change, sometimes as subtle as the infinite variations of the sea's surface in "Relative Sameness," a group of four studies that highlight the differences in similar details. Nature as a spur to recollection and imagination is a hallmark of Barbara Roux's assemblages, like "Birthday Cake," in which a section of tree trunk topped with feathered cattails memorializes natural growth.
As an adjunct to the university's recent conference on modern Ireland, the show focuses on two artists who live and work in Ulster. The Arts Council of Northern Ireland was instrumental in bringing their work to Hofstra, and indeed one of the featured artists, Brian Ferran, is the council's chief executive.
Although that sounds self-serving, it should be noted that the museum invited Mr. Ferran to participate. He is an accomplished painter whose career as an arts administrator has overshadowed his artistic achievements. This show aims to redress that imbalance by pairing him with one of the North's most respected painters, Basil Blackshaw.
Mr. Blackshaw works in a dashing, painterly style that reduces images to their essentials and emphasizes the transience of perception. His focus is constantly shifting from the thing observed to its surroundings. Blurred forms, indistinct boundaries and overlapping colors contribute to a feeling that his subject cannot be pinned down and his work, like life itself, is in constant flux.
Even a static object, like a model posed in the studio or a building set in the landscape, often seems to dissolve. Its intangibility is as deliberate as it is metaphorical, signaling the artist's refusal to define a viewpoint or impression. Like Giacometti, he abstracts toward a deeper reality, one that lies beneath surface appearance and depends on awareness rather than direct observation.
The primal energy of animals is a recurrent theme. In "Big Brown Dog," for example, the wolfhound's tense alertness is revealed in its spring-loaded stance and a vibrant, unnaturally large eye that stares hypnotically at some unseen quarry.
Mr. Ferran's main subject is the Tain legend, a saga of ancient Ulster that combines pre-Christian history and myth. Instead of illustrating the tales, the artist uses generic figures in stylized settings to suggest voices from the past calling to us through the mists of time.
Some of these presences, like "Calatin" and "Boa Island Figure," resemble ageless carved effigies, while others -- the howling "Corlech Head," for example -- look more like modern mortals embodying the continuing struggle between freedom and repression. In this way, Mr. Ferran links Ulster's legends and its current political unrest. But when his figures become cartoonish, as in "Leagaire," the Tain's spell is broken and its message degenerates into decoration.
Three very different viewpoints are represented in the work of E. E. Smith, Marco Breuer and Jennifer Karady. The one unifying factor is their use of photography.
Ms. Smith manipulates existing black-and-white photographs to reconstruct their meaning, toying with the notion of pictures as reflections of reality. She offers alternatives to established photographic conventions by disguising original intentions, masking identities and reconfiguring narratives.
Each image is printed in an oil-based medium that is smudged or partly erased, leaving shadowy traces in place of the clarity we crave. In a group portrait of Ms. Smith's own kindergarten class, the result is to blur the distinctions between individuals, emphasizing similarities rather than differences.
"A Story" takes mundane snapshots out of the neat logical scrapbook format and compels the viewer to impose structure and meaning on the apparently random and generalized images. Relationships among the subjects and the pictures themselves are evocatively unspecific.
Disguise also features in Ms. Karady's Cibachrome prints. One series of elaborate tableaux involves costumes and settings that purport to shed new light on old concepts, but the results are more predictable than illuminating. Ms. Karady is more imaginative in her "Surgically Altered Fruit" series, in which each fruit is overlaid with the skin of another, often with grotesquely amusing results. Crude stitching enhances the Frankenstein factor, while transparent plastic frames enshrining slices of the flesh underneath the transplants adds a reliquary flourish.
Mr. Breuer approaches the photographic process directly eliminating the camera and working with paper and enlarger alone. The title of his series, "A/Z," implies that only the beginning and the end -- the light and the image -- are relevant.
In "Bite," the artist's mouth substitutes for the lens, channeling illumination to create a wonderfully radiant aura. "Spit," a photogram of saliva droplets, ought to be disgusting but is instead a beautiful array of haloed beads. Even "Nails," nothing more than enlargements of fingernail clippings, become a study of graceful arabesques.
Even more unconventional is Mr. Breuer's "Untitled (Torch)," a long strip of photographic paper that has been cut in half with a flame. The action of both heat and light have oxidized the silver and given the paper a metallic cast, making it more like sculpture than photography. Iconoclasm is no guarantee of interesting results, but for Mr. Breuer it pays off handsomely.