The School: One Year And Art Five Decades In The Making
El Anatsui, “Stressed World” (as installed at The School, Kinderhook, NY).
By Robert Ayers
It has been almost exactly a year since Jack Shainman changed the contemporary art landscape in this part of the world by opening The School in Kinderhook, NY. On Sunday, May 17, he is throwing a big party to celebrate that anniversary and to mark the opening of this summer’s School exhibition, a major retrospective of the Ghanaian artist El Anatsui. It promises to be quite a day: the remarkable Imani Uzuri — whose voice, the Village Voice suggested, “would sound equally at home on an opera stage or a disco 12-inch” — will be performing, local food trucks will be on site, and the organizers have already received more than 500 RSVPs.
El Anatsui: Five Decades at The School, Kinderhook, NY (installation shot).
El Anatsui is as big an art name as there is out there. He has just been awarded the Venice Biennale’s highest honor, the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. His work was the subject of a big show at The Clark in 2011, but if you have not seen it before, then you are in for a remarkable experience. Though Anatsui’s principal material is garbage, what he creates from it is little less than magical: he salvages huge numbers of crumpled metal bottle tops from liquor bottles and threads them together with copper wire into huge sculptures. Stand close, and you see their tiny glistening components, stand back a few paces and you are struck by their size and weight. In fact they are unlike anything else you’ve ever seen, though they might suggest strange metallic animal hides or perhaps flags or tents.
Anatsui is happy with the ambiguity. He actually allows their final shape to be decided by the people installing them. He does not see himself as the maker of monoliths, in other words, but of things that have a life. “I don’t want to be a dictator. I want to be somebody who suggests things,” he says.
Jack Shainman shows a wide range of artists at The School (and at his two prestigious New York galleries) and says simply that he aims to “to exhibit, represent and champion artists from around the world, in particular artists from Africa, East Asia, and North America.” Anatsui is typical of these artists to the extent that his work is not only visually arresting but resonant with cultural meaning as well. Every one of those tiny pieces of metal that he uses means another bottle of hard liquor consumed, either in celebration or relaxation or perhaps something very different. Ask yourself what it means that an artist can build a whole career’s worth of work out of them and you begin to appreciate the seriousness of Anatsui’s work.
We are fortunate indeed to have El Anatsui: Five Decades — and The School itself — on our doorstep, and it has come about because of local connections. Jack Shainman grew up in Williamstown, MA, and he harbors an abiding affection for our area. He has a home in Stuyvesant, NY where he can escape the pressures of the international art world, and it was while he was driving there in the summer of 2013 that he realized that Kinderhook’s former public school had fallen into disrepair and was for sale.
What he did with the building deserves the lavish praise it has received. (The correspondent for Whitewall magazine described herself as “blown away.”) Working with the Spanish architect Antonio Jiménez Torrecillas, Shainman converted the classrooms, offices, gymnasium and cafeteria into a showing place for contemporary art that rivals not only other galleries, but any public museum in the country.
And now you have the perfect opportunity to see it. Last year’s opening attracted something like a thousand visitors. This time around you are invited and the gallery will be providing transportation from New York City to Kinderhook. For more information on transportation, check the website. All the gallery asks is that you let them know you’re coming.
The School — First Anniversary Celebration
Sunday, May 17, 1-4 p.m.
25 Broad Street, Kinderhook, NY
The event is free and open to the public. Please RSVP to: RSVP@jackshainman.com