“Shimmering Substance” exhibition in Woodstock

Keiko Sono in her studio (Dion Ogust | Almanac Weekly)

Keiko Sono in her studio (Dion Ogust | Almanac Weekly)

“Shimmering Substance: Selections from Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grantees of the Hudson Valley” is currently on view at the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts in Woodstock. The participating artists – Tricia Cline, Mary Frank, Elliot Green, Kahn and Selesnick, Jason Middlebrook, Martin Myers, Doug Navarra, David Nyzio, Mia Westerlund Roosen, Carolee Schneeman, Robert The and Keiko Sono – work in a variety of media but have in common that they’re all Hudson Valley-based recipients of grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, established 30 years ago in the memory of painters Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock. The exhibition is curated by Heather Hutchison, Doug Milford and Portia Munson for the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild.

The Pollock-Krasner Foundation has been a major supporter of Byrdcliffe’s artist-in-residence program, which brings 60 visual artists, writers and composers to the colony every year for focused creative time in the Woodstock environment. Byrdcliffe was founded by Ralph and Jane Whitehead as a Utopian colony in 1902, and continues to maintain the original principle that living a balanced lifestyle in a natural environment motivates artistic production. The title of the exhibition, “Shimmering Substance,” references a 1946 work by Jackson Pollock that he painted after moving to rural Long Island. The way in which Pollock responded to nature in his new environment is linked by the curators to the belief in the creative influence of nature held by the Whiteheads in founding Byrdcliffe.

The exhibition program of the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild celebrates the interdisciplinary legacy of the Byrdcliffe Art Colony. The works on view in “Shimmering Substance” range from the lifelike porcelain human and animal figures with literary identities by sculptor Tricia Cline to Robert The’s power-saw-fabricated sculptures made out of books “lovingly vandalized,” as he puts it, into body organs or insects. Elliott Green and Martin Myers are both abstract painters, and the collaborative team of Richard Selesnick and Nicholas Kahn works in many media, often producing staged photographs with art/historical references. There are gouache drawings by Doug Navarra on antique found paper, and esoteric smoke paintings and a floor installation of “sheep-licked salt” by David Nyzio. And Keiko Sono will present a looped time-lapse video of images from her public art project about Yankeetown Pond.

Sono’s original idea to enlist the help of passersby to take photographs of Yankeetown Pond to compile into a time-lapse video showing the transformation of the site over time and its interaction with the elements ended up becoming an experimental public art project. Dissenting local residents, fearing that the project would draw too much attention and ruin the natural beauty of the site, overturned the platform that Sono had set up for people to take the photos. Issues of land ownership and relationship to the land came into question, with the final video becoming a fusion of the original project with material relating the broader scope of the public reaction to it and the questions that it posed. The video that Sono is exhibiting in “Shimmering Substance” will be a purely artist-based project, she says, with just her own time-lapse photography of the site.

Sono will lead a gallery discussion in the Kleinert/James on Sunday, April 17 from 4 to 6 p.m. on the topic of “Art in the World of Post-Capitalism,” examining how the changes in the way that the world works now, as it appears to be moving from a capitalistic hierarchy to a sharing economy (think Airbnb and Uber as just two examples), can herald a better day for artists.

“This is coming from two different directions,” Sono says. “One is from my personal experience as an artist, and the other side is what I’m observing in society at large. My personal experience involves issues that most artists in our area have: The system the art world is functioning under is scarcity-based, meaning there are a lot of artists at the bottom and as they climb up the ladder, there are all these screening systems where you have to apply for residencies and grants. And as you go up and up, there are less and less artists, and that’s how the art world sustains itself. It’s based on the scarcity of the work of those who remain at the top, so the value of the artwork increases; and that benefits the dealers and the collectors, but not a lot of artists.”

And before an artist can even get to the screening part, Sono adds, of applying for grants and residencies, he or she has to develop a huge body of work first. “We’re expected to make so much work before we even get to the starting line, but the cost of that in terms of time and money is prohibitive for most of us.”

Even so, she says that she sees “an incredible output” from artists in the Hudson Valley. “A lot of the artists are creating for the love of it. And that has been a source of inspiration for me ever since I started getting involved in the arts community here: this incredible output despite the lack of financial support and lack of opportunities. I see that as an incredible waste of labor and talent for society. This not only hurts the artists themselves, but I think society at large is being cheated.”

And it doesn’t stop with the professional artists, Sono believes. “I see so many people in this community as a whole who are not artists, but who share that sensibility for what I call artistic experience: the ability to take a moment to appreciate nature, the full experience of life, food, good times with people. I think these are all connected, and these are the source of art.”

So the question becomes, “How do we tap into this incredible pool of talent and energy so that this can be put into the flow of economy?” says Sono. “A lot of people are thinking about the same kind of thing; I’m not the only one. Even economists are talking about the way that capitalism is running its course; it’s just not working anymore. People are coming up with a lot of terms for it: the new regenerative economy, knowledge-based or information economy or post-capitalism. But the trend seems to be that we’re going more and more in that direction, and we don’t know how to deal with it in our capitalistic system that we’re still living in.”

Sono is in the process of teaming up with several other artists to form an organization or a business – too soon to tell how it will be structured yet, she says – to engage with these issues. “I believe artists have to be in the conversation. What kind of business model, or non-business model, can we develop that will allow artists to make the kind of work that they’re really good at and don’t have to compromise? It sounds like a Utopian idea, but I have a few concrete ideas and some small projects in mind in that direction. I’m looking forward to this opportunity [the gallery talk on April 17] to put this issue out there. Artists really need to be progressively involved in experimenting with what we can do.”


“Shimmering Substance” exhibition, free, Keiko Sono gallery talk, Sunday, April 17, 4-6 p.m., open Friday-Sunday, 12 noon-6 p.m., by appointment Tuesday-Thursday, through May 1, Kleinert/James Center for the Arts, 36 Tinker Street, Woodstock: (845) 679-2079, www.woodstockguild.org/exhibitions.

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