The Capital Region’s 10 most significant visual artists of the past 30 years

At a recent performance at the Egg, we couldn’t help but overhear an art lover, seated in the next row, gush when she spotted our No. 1 artist of the last 30 years: “That’s Michael Oatman! He’s great! You know his work, don’t you? Should I go up and talk to him?”

She then added a few comments we can’t print, even in this not-quite-family newspaper.

You know you’ve made it when you inspire an adult woman at a Laurie Anderson show to giddily enthuse like a tweener over you, as if you were one of the Jonas Brothers.

Michael Oatman is, officially, a Clinical Assistant Professor of Architecture at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; he’s esteemed for his drawings, collages and installations, which have been shown around the world. His current show at Hudson Valley Community College, with Thomas Lail, is The Oatman-Lail News Hour. We recommend it.

UAlbany graduate (M.F.A. in 1994) Leigh Wen is known for her gorgeous large-scale paintings; the last few years she’s been working with the U.S. Department of State on Art in Embassies programs in Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Barbados, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Botswana.

Harry Orlyk is a multiple recipient of Metroland Best Local Artist awards for his colorful and haunting landscape paintings; contributing photographer Martin Benjamin has had many local shows.

Jenny Holzer is one of the leading conceptual artists in the world. We don’t really need to add anything to that.

After local favorites Tommy Watkins, Douglas Truth and Mark Gregory, we tip our hat to the late American Indian artist Tom Two Arrows, who passed in 1993; the retrospective of his work at the Albany Institute of History and Art in 2007 was one of the best-reviewed shows of the last few years.

Survey respondents ranked up to 10 choices, and points were tallied as follows: 10 for 1st place, 9 for 2nd, and so on.

1. Michael Oatman (31)

2. Leigh Wen (28)

3. Tie: Martin Benjamin (26); Harry Orlyk (26)

5. Jenny Holzer (17)

6. Tommy Watkins (16)

7. Douglas Truth (10)

9. Tie: Mark Gregory (9); Tom Two Arrows (9)

Photo Credit: Robert MacKintosh