The disappearance of galleries in recent years, from Kingston and Poughkeepsie, Catskill and Beacon, has finally not only stopped, but also begun something of a reversal - albeit in unexpected directions. There are new ones up and running now in uptown and midtown Kingston, as well as restructured ones thriving anew in Woodstock and Phoenicia and on the outskirts of New Paltz.
Some have shifted to membership formats, where artists pay to be part of a collective advertising effort, sharing opening and other costs in exchange for being part of an ongoing scene as vital, still, as music and theater were to previous generations in the area. Others have pushed beyond the once-predominant genres of landscape and Modernist stylistic experiments to a more contemporary sensibility, pulling from the many talented younger or City-successful artists who have made their homes in the region in recent years.
The big draws - at least to the outside (and metro) worlds - continue to be the humongous museums in Beacon (Dia), North Adams, Massachusetts (MassMoCA) and at Bard (the Hessel), and increasingly the teaching museums at SUNY-New Paltz (the Dorsky), Skidmore College in Saratoga (the Tang) and Vassar in Poughkeepsie (the Lehman Loeb Art Center). But a major new gallery scene has developed up and down Warren Street in Hudson that's drawing not only the wishes and best work of regional artists, but also an increasing number of folks from farther afield recognizing the sophistication of local collectors - at least in the Columbia/Dutchess County areas.
But apart from bigger scenes, how has the past year held up in terms of local artists and actual exhibitions? As everyone can't help but know, the big theme over the past year had to do with the Quadricentennial Celebration of the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's voyage of so-called discovery, along with side celebrations of Samuel de Champlain's explorations of the lake that bears his name and Robert Fulton's commercialization of steam travel on our region's mighty river. Impressive shows and quite a few commissions were undertaken at the Samuel Dorsky Museum in New Paltz, which not only put on a great show of little-seen masterworks from the New York Historical Society, but also helped birth a revisionist revisit of an 1890s photographic panorama of both banks of the Hudson, as well as two Dutch artists' complex observation of technology's imprint on the landscape utilizing video and still photographic means.
There were more classic drawings and prints from the old Hudson River School at the Loeb, along with an impressively ambitious outdoor show of sculptural interpretations of Hudson's eventual disappearance by regionally connected architects at Woodstock's Byrdcliffe Arts Colony. There were also exhibitions of banners and shields at Poughkeepsie's GAS, and interpretations of the river at the Woodstock Artists' Association and Museum and numerous other local galleries.
For my money, however, the best of the Quad shows was the quiet mix of individual exhibitions, centered by a historic overview that matched new multimedia works with historic artifacts, folk paintings and some Hudson River School classics at the Tang. The accompanying works by hot contemporary sculptor Arlene Shechet and Bard painting prof Nicole Eisenman, along with sound sculptures by Annea Lockwood and multimedia, multigenerational explorations by Stan, Sara and Johannes VanDerBeek provided a revelation of just how cutting-edge we are in this area - as well as encouragingly accessible.
Also, on the major museum level, we finally found the Hessel to have reached a level of comfort with itself - or at least an accessibility made possible either by its new gallery renovations or my own familiarity with its base collection. This has helped my appreciation of some of the big changes underway in the art worlds, here and elsewhere. And Maya Lin's new hillocks at Storm King: what wonder!
On a more intimate level, I loved the ways in which Rondout stalwarts George and Nancy Donskoj stretched their Gallery's wings to include some great new work from overseas, as well as their patented fun shows of local artists. We loved KMoCA's pitch-perfect menu of courageous local artists working in new fields, from Wayne Montecalvo's backdrops to E. Elizabeth Peter's hanging-chair extravaganza, "Threshold." This was my gallery of the year, in terms of both professional presentation and cutting-edge decisions on what needed to be shown.
Up in Hudson, Nicole Fiacco hit her stride with a new cubelike space just off Warren, showing Ruth Leonard's eerie landscapes, seen as if by ageless children, as well as David Deutsch's monochromatic beauties, Minimalist contemplations and hosts of challenging group shows - all as classy as the space itself. And Tim Slowinski of Limner Gallery continued to cement his end of Warren Street with his iconoclastic eye, which also helped shape an impressive array of solo gallery shows in the Woodstock Artists' Association and Museum throughout the year.
Also in Woodstock, I adored Joan Snyder's flowery new works at Elena Zang, as well as the darker new pieces by her fellow abstract painter Melinda Stickney-Gibson. The Kleinert/James Art Center's exhibition of prints by the great contemporary sculptor Martin Puryear was haunting in its simplicity, yet corresponding thoughtfulness. Tom Fletcher's gallery continued to draw new characters out of the town's recent history to ponder in light of Woodstock's continuing draw as a major 20th-century arts center.
Jim Cox's great efforts to pull together the best of the region's artists, first at a Locust Grove auction down in Poughkeepsie and then at a spectacular year-end show, were as heartfelt an attempt to keep our localized talents alive as anything that we've seen anywhere in years. Bravo, Jim: The works you culled were beautiful, and will eventually sell once the art market revolves through a few more needed changes.
Also gaining kudos was Stone Ridge gallerist Chrissy Glenn's move toward curating model homes for sale, all showing specific works for potential high-end homebuyers. Talk about innovation! There were also her fellow Marbletown gallerist Denny Dillon's home shows of smaller works by such iconoclasts as the great Chris Hawkins, and Pitchfork Militia headman Peter Head's homemade guitar fantasias for another select crowd of chosen collectors. I see a wave here, hopefully.
For now, along that economic gauge, the big news - evidenced by gallery closings and openings, as well as sales and who got shown elsewhere this year - was that the gatekeeping mechanisms of the Chelsea art scene and numerous high-powered art markets were stronger than ever, for the moment at least. Little money, it seems, still follows big bucks in the art world.
Portia Munson, of flower mandala fame locally, showed and sold a spectacular handmade vitrine (of recycled materials) filled with green plastic detritus at the recent Miami art fairs. Devorah Sperber's successes with her thread works continued, both in museums and private sales. Bard's Stephen Shore rose another notch into becoming one of the key photographers of the day. Bard's new garden by Icelandic bad boy Olaf Eliasson (of the New York waterfront waterfalls fame) became an instant classic. Poughkeepsie's Huma Bhabha seemed to be popping up everywhere, in sculptures and drawn-over photo works.
All brought elements of the natural world that surrounds us all into their new works. And with other major artists now in the area and hinting at showing locally, including the great Kiki Smith, it seems that we all may be on the verge of affecting the larger art world again as we haven't, really, in at least a half-century - since Avery and Guston and their crowd made their homes hereabouts.
That brings me to my two great art experiences of the year, each experienced this past autumn via studio visits with gallery tie-ins: In Stone Ridge, Glenn and Dillon, via their Pearl and Drawing Room galleries, showed a body of new drawings of cows by sculptor Gillian Jagger, which also allowed me to visit her barns filled with massive works that now need to be shown someplace locally (hey, Hessel and MassMoCA - you reading?). Secondly, Ken Hiratsuka's barn filled with giant line-carved rocks - some of which will surface at the Greene County Council for the Arts Gallery in Catskill next month - are also true stunners, in need of permanent homes.
Neither artist's work is like anything that I've seen elsewhere, and seems to have risen from our upstate experiences like fossils, or a harvest. That both seem now poised for economic benefit as well bodes well for all our lots. For as they (and I) have said, as goes the arts market, so go all our economic lots - as well as that ephemeral thing that we inevitably call culture, and that bigger item, civilization.