The mid-Hudson’s visual arts year in review

Detail of Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick’s Kartenspeil (Card Game)

Hudson Valley art inched forward into the main channels of contemporary culture in 2011, drawing the attention of global scene-setters via several near-blockbuster exhibitions, a first-ever regional arts fair in Hudson, a lot of fresh new talent showing alongside some of the icons who have made the area home and recognition of our talents, grouped and individual, at major art gatherings throughout the year. Move over, southern California, flush with its own hubris via the gargantuan Pacific Standard Time regional compendium exhibitions and publications that started opening this fall: The Hudson Valley’s planning on more than 15 minutes of contemporary time, building on a rich past and bright future.

What were the past year’s highlights? For big events, we loved all the local artists whom we found showing throughout the explosion of art that makes up the big week in February each year, dominated by the Armory, Pulse and Scope shows centered on the piers of Manhattan. But we were even more thrilled when that black-clad crowd made its way up to the Basilica Industria – near the train station in Hudson – for the first-ever Hudson Valley NADA standing for New Art Dealers’ Association (NADA) fair. There, a laid-back funkiness prevailed, as huge spaces were filled with in-your-face art, matching astute ironies with aesthetic beauty and process-oriented craftsmanship. Amongst our faves were Kahn and Selsenick’s faux-Victorian riffs, in two and three dimensions; Melora Kuhn’s 19th-century photo booth; and Jim Krewson’s awesomely wicked take on biker culture.

Big shows included two openings at Bard College’s Hessel Museum, each grouping a number of smaller exhibitions and reworkings of the main collection servicing the Center for Curatorial Studies, and including a long-awaited retrospective of works by ‘70s Minimalist Blinky Palermo, along with a host of cutting-edge contemporary figures from around the world. Best of all, in terms of outreach and interplay with the local arts community, was Tim Davis’ annual Edible Sculpture Party – moved from a backyard to Bard for the first time, but still fun despite the new spotlight attending its raucous summer fun.

Byrdcliffe in Woodstock hosted an even-stronger season of shows than usual, including well-curated takes on the idea of guns in art, new visions of portraiture, an engaging look at the ways in which computers have invaded all artforms in recent years and a solo show by master painter and conceptualist Richard Brosnan that was pure fun. That’s not to forget, as well, a raucous outdoor sculpture exhibit, “Quick, Down & Dirty,” that not only brought together some favorite craftspeople and artists having a bit of levity, but also concentrated their offerings at the newly revived White Pines estate home, long shuttered at the center of the historic art colony’s mountainside campus.

The Center for Photography at Woodstock (CPW) had its strongest year ever, with a distilled run of shows that included legendary artist and critic Vince Aletti’s curatorial take on “Photography Now”; a subversively populist look at the summer camp experience curated by executive director Ariel Shanberg, tied in with a sweet look back at one local family’s changing images as its modeled for various workshop photographers over the years; and the year-closing “Carbon,” a spectacular glimpse into future digital realities, using various carbon printing techniques, by photographer Charles Lindsay.

Across the river at Vassar College’s Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, three contemporary artists, including that omnipresent Tim Davis (who also showed at NADA and other spots yet to be mentioned here), captured what the host college was like as it entered its 75th-anniversary year. There was a classy retrospective of works by the seminal feminist artist Nancy Graves, alongside some great (and rare) collections of Modernist works from the last century, urban photos, drawings and the keenly observant caricatures and cartoons of Thomas Rowlandson. Meanwhile, the College’s much quieter Palmer Gallery hosted a number of equally strong shows of local artists, ranging from the truly emerging teen artists from the always-great Mill Street Loft project, based in Poughkeepsie, to several local art teachers, Vassar alumni and current college students.

Farther afield, the Albany Institute held a huge Mohawk/Hudson River juried show that equaled any major museum show that we’ve seen anywhere in recent years; while the Tang, at Saratoga Springs’ Skidmore College, hosted a great look at Catskill resident Kiki Smith’s use of photography in her work, along with a number of innovative regional artists and curators, that included an overview of the way that our views of nature keep changing, as well as an update on what has been coming out of Africa in recent years.

Best of all, the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY-New Paltz hit a string of home runs with its focus on several key contemporary artists who have been making splashes worldwide, but hadn’t yet been seen locally. These included Minimalist marker Marco Maggi and Stone Ridge-based couple Ken Landauer and Julianne Swartz, plus a robust Valley-long overview monikered “Exercises in Unnecessary Beauty”; a great demonstration of what Tim Davis is doing with a healthy mix of humor, video and acute observation; and a fine look at the interlocking collections of several regional museums and not-for-profits, curated with Shanberg of CPW, titled “Linking Collections, Building Connections: Works from the Hudson Valley Visual Art Consortium Collections.”

All the Dorsky shows, it should be noted, were put together via the courageous-yet-always-fun skills of the Museum’s talented curator Brian Wallace. He has been a treasure to the arts in our region, and key to the shift in vision that has helped push the region forward in recent years.

In terms of gallery shows, Oo, in Uptown Kingston, took its springboard from 2010’s O-Positive Festival (which repeated nicely this past September) and launched a lively new scene in the county seat to augment the continuing successes of the Kingston Museum of Contemporary Art’s string of great shows down in the Rondout.

The husband/wife team of Ruth Hardinger and C. Michael Norton held down a strong selection of solo shows at the Woodstock Artists’ Association & Museum that included long-awaited showings by educator Beth Humphrey and the omnipresent painter Charles Geiger. These augmented some great historical exhibitions focusing on that town’s past commercial artists and their quirks, as well as graphics legend Milton Glaser: spunky as always with a new series of portraits of William Shakespeare.

Up in Phoenicia, Andrea Cabane bucked her hometown’s tendency toward loud group shows by focusing down on a number of great regional photographers, including Richard Edelman and Craig Barber, while the region’s original energy-arts entrepreneur, Christina Varga, quieted somewhat with some well-curated solo shows by the likes of John Lurie. Brava!

We were enthused by several exhibits at Roos Arts in Rosendale, including the energetic and innovative new video paeans by Adie Russell, as well as the “Residue” show of SUNY-Ulster Art profs at the Community College and the fantastic “Masters on Main Street” storefront exhibits in Catskill, along with the whole “Bing Bang Boing” extravaganza of handmade instruments and music-making by artists there last summer. And how could I forget such individual glories as Susan Wides’ big show of urban and rural landscapes at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers; Joan Snyder’s new works at Elena Zang Gallery in Shady; the new levels of maturity in Lynn Woods’ paintings of Kingston; Matt Bua’s joyous all-cardboard radio studio in Catskill (now replaced with the real thing); and Will Lytle’s short-run narrative cartoon books, sweet and mysterious and truly original in both their creation and distribution?

Saleswise, Hudson has continued to be the regional leader. Trendswise, Scott Ackerman, who opened his own Lovebird Studio in Rosendale while also traveling to art fairs elsewhere and lending his flow of works to new ventures throughout the Valley, was the man – unless, of course, you take in all that Michael X. Rose has created this year.

The scene has coalesced a lot since 2010. But in doing so, it has gotten stronger. The new art of the Hudson Valley is precocious, worldly, slightly more cynical, yet also heartfelt and still beholden to the glories of our region’s natural attributes. Think of Mount Tremper Arts, outside Phoenicia, and how it brought so many here from elsewhere, while also showing those who have now decided to stay on in our parts, working here and deepening the flow of what gets created here, as a region. Now on to 2012!


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