I recall visiting New York’s Chelsea art galleries with a group of old friends from high school, all bright and successful and community-minded – and bored out of their heads by the petty, self-referencing pieces that they saw. One former roommate said that he might have to wrestle me to the ground if I dragged him into another white-walled, uptight space overseen by unsmiling waifs in black showing gnarled gum wrappers on bleached canvas. Another asked what happened to art: Didn’t it reflect the world that we inhabit any longer? But I also visited dozens of exhibitions, including the massive New York art fairs each spring, with my son (now about to turn five) and seeing how much fun big, bold works could be when seen through his toddler eyes.
So what happened over the past year in Hudson Valley art? On a first rifling of my mental calendar, I’d have to characterize the past 12 months in terms of the Valley’s new relationship with the rest of the art world. Increasingly, those galleries and museum spaces that have flourished over the past year have done so through and with an embracing of the outside world. Partly, this has been the result of savvy new gallery-owners and museum curators. But it has also been partly the result of both the many new artists moved into the area, bringing Hudson Valley values into the work that they’re showing in the major venues beyond what we can see here, as well as a major leap on behalf of the stalwart artists who create and show their work here.
There were losses over the past year. Many of the stops for the once-thriving “Art along the Hudson” string of regular openings have closed up shop in the past year. Poughkeepsie lost GAS, the last of its downtown galleries. Donskoj & Company, the granddaddy of Kingston’s pioneering scene, closed down – although a new version of the old venue opened up around the corner, albeit in a more informal fashion. Rhinebeck and Tivoli maintained some smaller galleries, and saw the opening of a great new arts-and-crafts collective in the form of Sawkille & Company. Catskill lost several major gallery spaces – and yet its annual artists’ tour took off, as did its stalwart Greene County Council for the Arts (GCCA) gallery space. Saugerties inaugurated a “horses” schtik similar to Catskill’s cats and Hudson’s dogs, only to have several fall prey to vandalism. And yet, taken as a whole, the strength of the past year’s exhibitions and the individual art seen in them has been remarkable all told, as well as cathartic – in terms both of the growth seen on so many artists’ parts and of the new foundations laid for the region’s cultural future.
Legacywise, the Thomas Cole House up in Catskill drew crowds with its sweetly revisionist “Remember the Ladies” look at previously overlooked women artists of the Hudson River School. The Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild’s Kleinert/James Arts Center had a superbly curated “North of New York” exhibition of 1950s-and-beyond New York School painters, including some amazing Philip Gustons, that moved us all beyond the narrowly defined world of Abstract Expressionism into something more robust, and still alive – especially in these upstate haunts that have always been Muse to the most adventurous of artists. The neighboring Woodstock Artists’ Association and Museum (WAAM) played up new discoveries of the previously unknown Arthur Pinajian, a superb painter’s painter; while the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY-New Paltz brought Carolee Schneemann, a legendary enfant terrible of the art world (and performing arts pioneer) back into view as a longtime local.
Jake Berthot had a retrospective at SUNY-Ulster’s Muroff-Kotler Gallery that buttressed his role as a stalwart of the New York gallery scene, as well as legendary teacher of other painters. The Woodstock Guild brought his contemporary, Gary Stephan, into view in the upstate community that he has inhabited throughout decades of New York art world prominence. As usual, James Cox brought together some amazing collections of older and new regional art for his and WAAM’s regular series of auctions – as did his fellow Woodstock gallerist Tom Fletcher, benefiting Family more than once in its 40 years as a local institution.
Speaking of anniversaries, Storm King Art Center’s massive sculpture park celebrated its 50th over the past year with a superb retrospective, while Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale was fêted by guest-of-honor Joan Snyder at an annual gala and then honored with an ongoing Grolier Club retrospective in New York City for its own 35 years (and more) of existence.
Over at the Center for Photography at Woodstock, which had a spectacular year (and, with Galerie BMG and Photosensualis, has made the longstanding art center a modern-day haven for photographic arts), the key contemporary video and performance artist Gary Hill had a homecoming of sorts with his presentation of his 2001 installation Wall Piece and a visit to the town where he started his arts career decades ago. Meanwhile, up in Hudson (the region’s hot center for actual art sales these days), last year’s Museum of Modern Art star Martina Abramowicz has bought a new space.
So what did we see and adore over the past 365 days? We loved the “Shoe Show” at the Albany Institute, which collected historic footwear and modern artists’ inventions on the theme; the massive wall (and ceiling and more wall) “Hole in the Wall” installation piece that Vassar College art teacher Harry Roseman painted at the Lehman Loeb Center before its closure for roof repairs over the past year; all of this year’s Hessel Museum offerings at Bard College, which brought the institution’s collections into new light via its “Living under the Same Roof” exhibition, and the private Eisenberg collection brought in for “At Home/Not at Home.”
Speaking of new ways of seeing collections, we can’t wait for the second half of “The Illustrious Mr. X” show at the Dorsky, opening this winter, seeing how the first brought such formerly overlooked, locally based masters as Jan Sawka and Tom Blackwell to new light, while also playing off the new collection of Andy Warhol Polaroids and snapshots in a deeply personal fashion. We’re also looking forward eagerly to what the new season brings at the Kingston Museum of Contemporary Art and the Surprenant Gallery in Kingston, where the shows have been repeatedly brilliant, bringing new talents to the forefront on a consistent basis. Bravo, folks!
Meanwhile, over at R & F Paints we were able to be reminded of how great Nancy Graves was in all she did, just as the SUNY-Albany University Gallery show, “Courier” – featuring new forms of typewriter-derived and -inspired art – took us several steps further into our appreciation of all that Allyson Strafella is up to with her carbon-paper pieces, first seen in “Upstate II,” alongside Melora Kuhn’s great paintings, at the currently closed Nicole Fiacco Gallery in Hudson. Strafella’s husband, Max Goldfarb, also had a great piece in the form of his hugely complex but mind-altering Deep Cycle performance piece, with documentation (and a side performance by the always-great Ryder Cooley) back in June.
Benjamin Jose and Chris Gallego brought fresh visions to WAAM’s solo gallery in Woodstock. The Kleinert’s “Markings” show, with calligraphy master Norika Maedo and ceramics artist Jeff Shapiro, was spectacular, as were some of the in-progress pieces we saw up at the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild’s summer arts residencies studios, along with some new pieces at the Fields at Art OMI in Columbia County. The book show at the Albany Airport, which featured my wife Fawn Potash as well as Kingston conceptualist Robert The, was a blast. Endless-line stone sculptor Ken Hiratsuko was perfectly matched with fossils photographer Art Murphy at the GCCA Gallery in Catskill, but also beautifully matched with his own surroundings on his own farm near Andes, just down the road from the magical agri-art explorations at the Sprouts Society.
Best of all? We got to know Matt Bua’s architectural playfulness, both in the many structures at his off-the-grid forest home and his new two-story cat in Catskill, as well as modern architectural genius Stephen Holl’s new space outside of Rhinebeck, where he showed off further works of stunning beauty and bravery by his brother, the indeterminate landscapist James Holl. Huma Bhabha of Poughkeepsie ruled the latest Whitney Biennial with one of her tortured photo/sculpture pieces, while Woodstocker Arlene Shechet seemed to rule everywhere else with her new organic/scary porcelain ceramics. And up here, painter Brenda Goodman brought new depths to a painting career already established as deep, in a well-received (and selling) show at John Davis Gallery in Hudson.
Kiki Smith showed a piece as part of the fantastically revived “Cowgirls of the Hudson Valley.” Ann Street Gallery in Newburgh didn’t have a single bad show, or piece in a show, and brought us new ways of looking at everything from cut paper and memento mori to encaustics. The performance group Cave Dogs, part of the “Hudson Valley 2010” overview show at the Dorsky, was cathartic. Beacon’s gallery scene exploded into dirt-floor spaces and over 80 open artists’ studios, along with some wild graffiti and window display extravaganzas. And Jared Handelsman, husband of Portia Munson and previously on our radar for his giant moonscape photograms and other experiments, progressed several steps beyond where even he thought he’d be, combining off-the-grid camera obscuri with digital moviemaking of a spectral yet somehow simultaneously philosophic bent.
In the end, there was just so much to see; and yet I must have seen only a sliver of what was out there. Best of all, though, it seemed that there was less difference between what was available up here and elsewhere – and all for the good. As mentioned earlier, the end sense I got was that finally, we up here were again starting to influence all that was down there in the City, or out there in all the other art worlds of today, as much as we were embracing the bigger world – which, it seems, is a good step forward. Now, into even newer futures for 2011! Happy New Year, one and all.