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Tuesday, July 17, 2018
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Man Of Stone: Mark Mennin And His Monumental Creations

By Joseph Montebello

In person Mark Mennin, a resident of Bethlehem, Conn., is as impressive as the sculpture he creates. He is tall and broad and looks as if he could move a massive piece of stone with the greatest ease. His impressive granite carvings explore the landscape and the human figure’s relationship with the earth. Or with a piece of furniture — because many of his works resembles not so much articles of stone but plumped, cushiony couches that would have looked at home in a Maurice Villency setting.

Born in Cedar Falls, Iowa, Mennin grew up in New York City and from an early age had an artistic bent. 

“My father was a classical composer and my mother was a musician and photographer. They totally encouraged pretty much anything I wanted to do. My parents were also master draftsmen and I was always drawing. I made two trips to Italy – one when I was nine and again when I was eighteen. They were such powerful experiences for me. My dad was my guide and he knew as much about art history as most professors. I had planned to go to law school at Princeton but I dismissed that idea and decided to follow my dream of being an artist.

“I did a lot of ceramics in college and had the opportunity to study with the Japanese ceramicist and artist Toshiko Takaezu. I carved my first piece of stone when I was 23 and it was a pretty simple piece.”

Mennin went back to Italy again and had the good fortune of meeting a group from Texas who were looking for someone to copy Greek statues for a temple they were building.

“It was a baptism by fire,” Mennin recalls, “but it was also a crash course in carving directly and realistically and being in Italy gave me the opportunity to make a living and to start my own work.  My first weekend in Italy I climbed up to the mountains, above the quarries and looked out and definitely decided I was going to make it as a carver.”

And indeed he did. That was in 1984 and for several years he followed the same cycle; a third of the year working in Italy, a third working at a family home in the Adirondacks, and the last third in New York, peddling the work he had created. In the beginning, however, his work was not as massive as it has become.

Mennin bought his Bethlehem home about 20 years ago with the idea of enlarging the scope and size of his work. The scale of his sculpture has evolved to giant landscape and architectural pieces which, in many cases, involve hundreds of tons of granite.

“Most of my pieces are displayed outdoors,” Mennin explains. “So I use granite because it’s permeable. Marble doesn’t weather as well in the northeast; I carve marble and onyx for spaces that don’t have a winter.”

Mennin stockpiles stone on his property and tends to have about 1000 tons on hand. Fortunately he has a 3000-square-foot barn and 10,000 square feet of outdoor space. He also has a 3500-square-foot space in town; he refers to it as the “Winter Palace” which he uses when it’s too cold to work outside.

He does all the carving himself and has produced a large body of work for both private and pubic collections, including the fountain and installations at New York’s Chelsea Market; Stanford University; Penn State University; Bruce Park, Greenwich, Connecticut; Laumeier Sculpture Park, St. Louis, Missouri; The deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, Mass.; Delbarton School, Morristown, New Jersey; SUNY Staten Island; and the Hotchkiss School, Lakeville, Conn.

Most recently Mennin created the unique bench that sits in the Judy Black Memorial Park and Gardens in Washington Depot.

“Originally we were going to put in a fountain,” explains Mennin. “But dealing with northeast weather presented a problem and a fountain is not so impressive when it’s turned off. I made a model of the bench I had in mind and everyone seemed to love it.”

What’s not to love? The bench is made of black granite, measures forty feet long by five-and-a-half feet wide, and weighs 60,000 pounds. The subtlety of the waves across the bench adds to the mystery and allure of the piece. It is a sight to behold and a testament to Mennin’s creativity and ingenuity.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 01/07/18 at 11:18 AM • Permalink

Katharine T. Carter Makes The Art Go Around

Katharine T. Carter with Hugo T. Poodle. Photo: Michelle Barclay.

By Jamie Larson As patrons and appreciators of the fine arts that fill the institutions and galleries across our region, most of us spend little time contemplating how the art got there. The complex mechanisms, bureaucracy and caprice that fill the chasm between struggling artists and their due is invisible to the audience but can be a real slog for even the most visionary artist. This is where Katharine T. Carter & Associates come in. For nearly 33 years, Carter, with the help of a current team of 21 critics, publicists and curators in New York and Los Angeles, has helped artists ascend in stature by getting their work out of the studio and into museums and other nonprofit institutions. What’s novel about Carter’s model is she manages to assist in every part of the process. She kind of lubricates the art world machine so artists and curators can spend more time focusing on art and less on the minutiae. And she’s doing it all out of her quiet home in Kinderhook, New York. “The business has become so competitive that it can be hard for an artist who is focusing on his or her work to navigate the things you have to do to get shown,” Carter said. “There’s nobody that’s doing what we do.” While she may be well connected from years of experience, Carter isn’t hoarding any of her industry secrets. Her book, Accelerating on the Curves: The Artist’s Roadmap to Success, which she wrote with her associates, was just released in its second edition. “An artist comes to us and we decide how best to represent them,” said Carter. “We put together all the marketing material for them and the written support for their work, from reviews to the display materials. We send a catalog of an artist’s work, where we’ve essentially curated what an exhibit of an artist’s work would look like, to museums across the country. It’s a unique business model in the art world. The artists, the critics and the curators all get involved. That’s the reason the company has been successful.” Before she began the business, Carter was a successful artist in New York for 10 years. She was getting shown often and began a national speaking circuit. Then, in the mid ‘80s, she got in a car wreck. “I was a hard-edge painter and after the accident I tried everything, special chairs… I just knew it was over. Then I thought, what in the world am I going to do?”

Photograph by Sparky Campanella, now on display at Joyce Goldstein Gallery in Chatham.

She continued traveling on the lecture circuit, giving over a thousand talks on art and management, into the mid ‘90s. But she also had begun helping artists she knew make catalogs, as well as introducing them to contacts she’d made as an artist and a speaker.

“I wanted to help artists and I had contacts. I started to realize artists didn’t know how to get into the places they deserved to go.”

In the ‘90s she started working with the New York Times critic William Zimmer, who helped open the door so that her artists could get the critiques they needed to be considered for high-profile institutions. Now Carter & Associates handles just about every aspect of the behind-the-scenes process of booking exhibitions.

“I say to a client, ‘hey I got you a show!’ They don’t realize I approached 80 museums,” Carter chuckled. “These days, to succeed you have got to have beautiful materials, energy and the guts to follow through. The world has really changed and you have to buckle up.”

When people come to Carter they’re usually somewhat known and she puts their work on the road for 10 to 15 shows. By the end of that tour, they’re in a different echelon than when they started.

“If you haven’t done that, the higher level institutions won’t look at you. You can really change the course of someone’s life. When you’re able to give that to someone in three years and take them to the next level, it’s a good feeling. I’ve had a lot of wonderful clients over the years.”

She cites Katharine Eliot and Martin Weinstein as a couple of the artists she placed into about 30 shows, which really elevated their careers. But everyone knows that when artists are starting out, they don’t usually have much in the way of finances. Carter is cognizant of that.

Photograph by Sparky Campanella, now on display at Joyce Goldstein Gallery in Chatham.

“Money is a real issue for artists,” she said. “That’s why we’ve always been fee based and why I wrote our book. We want to empower artists. I shared everything. I gave up all my techniques.”

Carter has been plying her unique trade from our region since the early 2000s when she visited Hudson and a friend showed her that she could have the space and seclusion she desired while remaining connected to her associates and clients in the city. She bought her home in Kinderhook in 2005.

“I felt Kinderhook was good for me because I’m a bit of a recluse but I can still access so much in Hudson.”

In the years since she moved here, the local art scene has grown considerably, punctuated a few years ago when an old friend, Jack Shainman, opened his huge museum-quality gallery in Kinderhook.

“It’s really wonderful to have Jack here. I’ve known him for 30 years. When he moved here I couldn’t believe it.”

What does Carter like to do for fun? Facilitate excellent gallery exhibitions locally, of course. She recently worked with minimalist photographer Sparky Campanella to set up a show at the Joyce Goldstein Gallery in Chatham, New York which runs through December 2, and will soon help present the work of John Lyon Paul and George Spencer locally.

While Carter’s success is due primarily to her technical acumen and years of experience, it’s clear that what drives her is an intrinsic love of art and passion for helping artists, as people, reach their potential.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 11/14/17 at 08:24 AM • Permalink

How Do You Follow Up 7 Emmys? A Quilt Show, Of Course.

By Lisa Green

If you look closely — and it helps if you are well versed in the wardrobe of Sesame Street characters — you might find pieces of Miss Piggy’s elegant cocktail dresses in the patchwork of Stephen Rotondaro’s quilts. Rotondaro, who was a costume designer with The Muppets for 25 years, likes to say he sewed his way to seven Emmys. And now he has sewn his way to his own quilt show at Brookside Quiltworks in Egremont, Mass. The show, which will feature around 50 quilts made over the course of 30 years, opens on Sunday, Oct. 8 and will run through Dec. 21.

So how did an award-winning costume designer, adept at creating a spider costume for The Muppet Christmas movie or — perhaps his most bizarre assignment — a smoking jacket for a brick (yes, a brick), come to embrace the art of quilting?

“My mother died at age 54, and left quilt tops,” says Rotondaro, who by osmosis picked up the sewing gene (he also has a graduate degree in costume design from NYU). “To honor her I finished her work. Then I worked with a quilter at The Muppets. She had a calendar of Amish quilts that inspired my first one.”

Everywhere he’s ever worked — The Jim Henson Company, Sesame Street, Chelsea Editions (a high-end textile manufacturer), Rotondaro collected tiny bits of fabric that were headed for the scrap heap. He also had inherited his mother’s collection of cotton fabrics. All of that collecting accounts for the astonishing play of patterns in his quilts, whether designed in traditional Amish patterns or his own free play of colors and prints. Some of the scraps get used right away; others, like those in one of his hexagon quilts, took years to accumulate.

One of his favorite patterns is called Broken Dishes, a basic quilt pattern constructed entirely of half-square triangles. He’s worked Broken Dishes in versions of monochromes, bright solids, fabrics of the same theme, and random bits and pieces that appeal to him, or have special significance. Rotondaro sews the pieces together by machine, then has the tops and bottom hand quilted, many of them finished by an Amish woman in Ohio.

Despite their artistry, these quilts are not necessarily precious decorations. “Everything I make is very usable,” Rotondaro says, picking up a quilt that hung as his shower curtain when he lived in New York, and a slightly faded set of placemats. “At The Henson Company, as a group we made friendship quilts when somebody had a baby or got married. We made over 30 of them. And now some of those babies are having their own kids. I’ve made a lot of baby gifts.”

Now living in Hillsdale, New York with his husband, an architect (they built a stunning house 12 years ago), Rotondaro, who grew up in California, still contributes to The Muppets wardrobe. He just made a dress for Miss Piggy (or “Piggy,” as he calls her). He made a Broken Dishes quilt for The Muppets TV show (2015-2016), and last year created a quilt (from his own scrap collection) for a talking bed for “Elmo’s World: Sleep.” He also recently sewed costumes for “The Happytime Murders,” a feature-length film set to launch next year, making clothing for both the human actors (including Melissa McCarthy) and the puppets (which are not Muppets).

When you have a surfeit of Emmy Awards, you put them on a shelf in your coat closet.

Rotondaro’s quilt production depends on his costume design workload, but he made 12 quilts one winter when he wasn’t working. In spite of creating a collection substantial enough to fill the Brookside Quiltworks barn, working with fabrics and sewing is just what he does, whether it’s for costumes or quilts.

“I don’t consider myself a quilter,” he says. “I just make quilts.”

Stephen Rotondaro Quilt Show
Show Opening Sunday, Oct. 8, noon–3 p.m.
Brookside Quiltworks
2 Sheffield Rd., Egremont, MA
(413) 528-0445

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Posted by Lisa Green on 10/02/17 at 02:04 PM • Permalink

Joy Brown’s Roly Poly Figures Go From Kent To Broadway

One Holding Small One at 96th Street. Photo by Katharine Manning.

By CB Wismar

When you look into the faces of Joy Brown’s larger-than-life, thousand-pound-plus figures, they look back. The eyes are open and alert. The faces are not nervous or self-conscious. “There is no culture, no gender, no age,” says Brown. “They each have a life of their own.”

And now nine of them have settled, for a while, on Broadway in New York City, thanks to an invitation courtesy of the Broadway Mall Association and the New York City Parks. The Kent, Conn. artist’s engaging human figures, placed from 72nd Street to 168th Street, are irresistible to passersby who stop, climb, sit on, hug and sometimes simply gaze at these innocent visitors. “The rounded forms and earth tones of these big figures evoke a feeling of stillness and peace,” Brown says, “yet they bring out the child in us to play.”

Joy Brown’s own journey has crossed continents, bridged cultures, suffered the deep frustration of having to learn without direction, and culminated in an internationally celebrated career as a potter and a sculptor. 

Born in the United States, she settled with her medical missionary parents in Japan, went to an international school, came back to graduate from Florida’s Eckerd College and returned to Japan to learn the ways and wiles of pottery.

It was during her first apprenticeship that Brown learned the almost Zen-like patience that comes from creating the same piece over and over again, only to destroy it and begin once more. Her second apprenticeship was more fulfilling, teaching her both the mysteries of clay and the finesse required to build a wood-fired kiln. Returning to the U.S. to pursue her chosen career as a potter, Brown created pieces that satisfied a growing audience while she, herself, continued to grow.

“What you make becomes more and more you,” Brown reflects as she looks at a gentle figure standing peacefully in the midst of her South Kent artist’s compound. “I moved to the figures in a kind of funny way. For five years, I had a studio in Webatuck Craft Village outside of Wingdale, New York. While I was working there, I started making clay and cloth puppets. The puppets morphed into small animal figures, then into my human figures.”

Confined in size by the dimensions of the Japanese-style anagama wood-firing tunnel kiln that she built herself, Brown dreamed of taking those figures and turning them into heroic-sized pieces that could find their place in sculpture gardens and public parks.

It was when William Morrison, owner of the eponymous gallery in Kent, invited Joy to exhibit her pieces that the connection was made for a larger showing. 

“I had followed Joy’s work and was really taken by the peaceful presence of her figures,” recalls Billy Morrison. “I’ve had a wonderful relationship with the Broadway Mall Association and NYC Parks. ‘Joy Brown on Broadway’ took two years to come together, but it was a natural.”

Joy uses her clay figures as “maquettes” or models that are eventually scaled up in plaster, made into forms and created by pouring in molten bronze. “I was able to show my first bronzes in the 2010 Shanghai World Expo,” Brown says. “I had started working with a foundry in Thailand, but through connections made as far back as high school, I became involved with Peter Zau and The Purple Roof Gallery and Atelier in Shanghai. His support and assistance made the creation of the New York show figures possible.”

Recliners at 166th Street. Photo by Katharine Manning.

Joy’s involvement in the transformation of her clay pieces to the stunning, lovable bronzes in NYC is fully hands on. She builds the plaster figures in China with her assistant Tanya Kukucka, supervises the foundry work and the welding assembly of the bronze components, then, in a quiet moment, adds the distinctive features that make each piece so unique.

Brown is reverential when talking about the process. “I get to the warehouse early in the morning before the crew is there. They position the figure so I can step far back and get a sense of where the eyes and mouth should go. I use pieces of black paper and place them on the figure, step back, determine what needs to change, then repeat the steps until I know it’s right.” 

In 1998, realizing both the universality of art and the great need for artistic communication across cultures, Brown started Still Mountain Center in Kent with fellow artist Denis Cooper. “I realized the Center could be a forum in which to communicate the values I had learned about clay, work, community and life. We demonstrate how art encourages the spirit of being human.”

And so, like emissaries with the gentle soul of Still Mountain, Joy Brown’s figures have come to New York, fully present as Joy is in her work and in her life.

The figures will be encamped on Broadway until November.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/10/17 at 10:13 AM • Permalink

The RuraList: The Big Six At Building 6

By Nichole Dupont

MASS MoCA, the unofficial Louvre of the Northeast, is about to unveil its newly renovated Building 6 on Sunday, May 28. The 130,000 square feet of space will be the new home of changing exhibitions, long-term installations, and so much natural light that it can alter the mood of visitors, who will travel in droves to see Louise Bourgeois’ megalithic marble sculptures, the floating, breathing light of James Turrell, and the virtual realities of Laurie Anderson.

Building 6, with its rough-hewn floorboards, exposed brick and factory windows, is a masterpiece of which every corner should be explored, including the art. But to ground you on your journey through the totally reimagined 19th century industrial complex, here are six things not to miss in the magnificent Building 6.

1. Cosmic Latte
Spencer Finch returns to MASS MoCA — his work, What Time is it on the Sun? appeared in 2007 — with the whimsical, 80-foot Cosmic Latte installation. More than 300 custom LED fixtures hang from the ceiling, emitting a brownish-gold light that cannot be muted, even with the flood of natural light coming into the gallery space. The lights are arranged in the formation of the molecular model of the pigments that are used to achieve this “latte” color. And the shape of the entire installation is meant to represent the Milky Way as it would be seen (in our hemispheric sky here in the Northeast) in early spring. You don’t have to be an astrophysicist to bask in the warm light of these stars, but they will inspire you to think great things.

2. Joe Wardwell’s wall of words
You might just get lost in the Boston-based artist’s Hello America: 40 Hits from the 50 States, a layered “landscape” that covers the entire wall, floor to ceiling, of one of the gallery spaces. The background of the work is the sloping silhouette of the tree line on Mount Greylock. But the naturalism stops there, as layer upon layer of yellows, blues and pinks, then huge lettering, lead us into the foreground: 40 screen-printed texts. Song lyrics, campaign slogans, quotes and lines of poetry from brilliant minds like Hunter S. Thompson, Maya Angelou and Bill Clinton create a haunting homage to an American dream long ago shattered. You’ll want to spend hours reading each fragment, and contemplating “what’s next.”

3. The lightwell
At the core of Building 6, which is three stories high and includes a bike tunnel, is a nexus of stairwells and bridges leading from one exhibit to the next. At first glance, it seems like the decision to make part of the building “open air” was cavalier considering the fickle New England climate… but look up. A 20-foot-wide by 140-foot-long skylight has replaced the roof of the building, allowing for maximum light to pass through. Rain or shine, the light is perfect.

4. Barbara Ernst Prey’s commissioned watercolor
The unofficial theme of Building 6 is “larger than life.” This includes a 9-foot-tall, 16-foot-wide watercolor — yes, watercolor — painting of the interior of the building before renovations began. No detail went unnoticed, as Prey captured the breadth and detail of each column (there were 400), brick and beam, using the most unforgiving medium with the precision of a watchmaker. Building 6 Portrait: Interior is by far her largest commissioned work to-date, and may be the largest watercolor ever completed by a living female artist.
5. The disturbing documents of Jenny Holzer
This multi-talented, multi-medium artist leaves no stone unturned on the MASS MoCA campus this year. Carved benches, large-scale outdoor projections and early wheat paste posters present the breadth, and brevity, of Holzer’s long career of tapping into the public consciousness. The posters are drawn from interviews and official accounts found in the annals of Human Rights Watch and Save the Children. The words, printed on large, stark canvases, are haunting reminders that war and politics infiltrate and slash the everyday lives of people the world over. In addition to the wheat paste “classified” accounts, she has arranged two tables of human bones — vertebrae, femurs, shoulder blades — to illustrate the stark reality of a society steeped in conflict without end.

6. The eternal sound smile of Gunnar Schonbeck
You don’t need to be a musician to make beautiful music. No Experience Required features a repertoire of fantastical instruments — a nine-foot banjo, megalithic chimes, a larger-than-life marimba — all designed and crafted by the late Gunnar Schonbeck. Throughout his musical life, Schonbeck — a professor of music at Bennington College — created more than 1,000 instruments, welding together steel drums, pan pipes, zithers and harps from found objects. Visitors to the installation are invited to play for themselves this unique collection of instruments that have been used by Bang on a Can founding member Mark Stewart as well as Wilco’s Glenn Kotche.

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Posted by Nichole on 05/22/17 at 01:45 PM • Permalink

Bright Young Things: ‘30under30’ At Six Depot

By Amy Krzanik

Much is made of the population decline that Berkshire County has suffered since the 1970s, especially the mass exodus of young people from the area beginning when they turn 18 and not reversing course until around age 37. But there are young adults who make their homes here, and even more who grew up here and wish they could return sooner rather than later. But you don’t need charts to tell you that, you only need to look around. A good place to start looking is at No. Six Depot Café & Roastery beginning on March 16. That’s when the West Stockbridge coffee shop debuts 30under30, a new multimedia exhibit and series of events featuring 30 Berkshire County-affiliated artists under the age of 30.

The brainchild of dancer and photographer Mika Mintz, who is a 20-something herself, the show is an idea that had been percolating (pun intended) in her mind for years. Many of the artists are friends, and friends of friends, of Mintz’s. “Many of my friends and people I meet in passing are so creative,” she says. “But, to my knowledge, there has never been an exhibit around here featuring only young people.”

Although Mintz has previously shown her own photographs at Six Depot, this is the first time she’s curated an art show. Despite that, 30under30 is ambitious in scale, showing the work of 23 visual artists as well as unique events throughout the exhibition’s entire run (March 16 – April 30). The opening reception, on Saturday, March 19 from 4-5:30 p.m., will feature live music from Nico Wohl. A poetry reading by Steven Amash will be held on April 2, a musical performance by Haux and Simon McTeigue on April 8, a Theory Kitchen tasting menu by Theo Friedman on April 14, a special edition of INKLESS storytelling on April 22 and a dance performance by Emily Glick, Mika Mintz and Lexie Thrash with digital design by Sam Okerstrom-Lang on April 29.

According to Mintz, Six Depot co-owner Lisa Landry’s “ears perked up” (pun not intended) when Mintz broached the idea of 30under30. Landry agrees that “this age group is underrepresented in the area, and the area truly needs to engage young people to encourage them to stay and build lives here, as well as attract other young people.” This bold and intriguing exhibit and event series seems like a great place to start.

30under30 Art Exhibit & Event Series
March 16 – April 30
Opening Reception: March 19 from 4-5:30 p.m.

No. Six Depot Café & Roastery
6 Depot St., West Stockbridge, MA

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 03/06/17 at 08:46 PM • Permalink

Andres Serrano and Home Room at The School

By Jamie Larson

Since its inception, Jack Shainman Gallery: The School, opened in an expansive and historic former schoolhouse in Kinderhook, New York, has wowed visitors (Saturdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. only) with artwork from the world’s most notable modern artists and with Shainman’s innate ability to curate the unique space. The School’s latest exhibition, which opened January 7, is no exception. It brings together the arresting and historically controversial work of Andres Serrano and “Home Room,” a multimedia group exhibition which uses the classroom settings of The School as a powerful lens of cultural examination.

Though it spans three decades of photography, “Andres Serrano: Selected Works 1984-2015” stares vitally and urgently back at you from the walls. Widely known, Serrano is both admired and reviled for the scandal that surrounds his work “Piss Christ.” The rest of Serrano’s imagery similarly and unapologetically combines the things we love and hate about our culture and ourselves.

“Much of Andres’ historic work comes out of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, so it’s interesting to consider how far we’ve come as a society since then,” Shainman said before the opening last weekend. “But also how frustrating it can feel that we’re having similar conversations now regarding morality and freedom. The work addresses the parts of life that are uncomfortable and ever-present; they are issues that are forever with us.”

“Home Room” features work by distinguished artists Huma Bhabha, Nick Cave, Turiya Magadlela, Enrique Martínez Celaya, Claudette Schreuders, Laurie Simmons, Michael Snow, Becky Suss and Carlos Vega. Shainman writes that the joint work “contemplates relationships between familiar people, places, and things and the inner life of the self. The clothes we wear, the things with which we live, and the places we have been are personified by the spiritual traces of our individual histories with which we mark them.”

The pieces are fabulous, colorful and emotional on their own, of course, but the curation within the school creates an atmosphere you couldn’t begin to replicate without a space like this. 

“The building of The School is continually a source of inspiration for every exhibition, and each installation is considered in response to the architectural space,” Shainman said. “Education, openness, and accessibility have always been a part of the gallery’s mission, but we don’t explicitly try to organize exhibitions with those themes. It’s my belief that all kinds of art should be viewed by all kinds of people; overall that motivation is behind everything we are doing with The School. I hope visitors walk away with a sense that art should not be intimidating and exclusive. Perhaps the building’s past life as an elementary school helps give a sense of familiarity.”

“Andres Serrano: Selected Works 1984-2015” and “Home Room”
Jack Shainman Gallery: The School
25 Broad Street, Kinderhook, NY
(518) 758-1628
Gallery hours: Saturdays from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., and by appointment

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 01/09/17 at 09:02 AM • Permalink

Featured Creatures: The Old World Pet Portraits Of Carol Lew

By Amy Krzaik

My cat, Oliver, believes himself to be the king of all he surveys (namely, the house and the front and back yards). And while the other pets beg to differ, he’s always quick to remind them of their subordinate positions. Although the smallest in size, Oliver is the oldest and craftiest and I believe his assessment of his stature to be valid. He considers himself feline royalty, and there’s a local artist who agrees with him.

Washington, Massachusetts based oil painter Carol Lew sees animals for what they really are — important and dignified beings fit to be classic Old World portrait subjects.

Although she studied painting at Philadelphia College of Art, it took years for Lew’s formal training and her love of animals to coalesce.

“In my earlier working years, I didn’t see a pathway for making a living through art,” she says. “But almost 20 years ago, after leaving a particularly stressful management job, I decided to try to make a go of it.”

The internet, she says, has opened up new possibilities for artists to make a living doing what they love. And the public loves her back — Lew figures she’s painted more than a thousand portraits so far.

Inspired by the work of Thierry Poncelet, a European painting restorer who replaced human faces with animals on historical portraits, Lew’s first similar painting was a Great Dane done in Early American primitive style. “It’s a theme of artwork that made me happy from the start,” she says, “and it still does.” 

A commissioned piece takes Lew about two weeks to complete, considering that part of the process is selecting an appropriate photo of the pet, and partnering with the client to find just the right historical portrait to use as a reference. A Lew original of your cat, dog, gerbil, bird, lizard or other beloved companion will set you back $450. If you need time to ponder such a purchase, or if you don’t have a pet but love the concept, Lew offers prints ($9.95 and up), canvas prints ($40), and magnets ($6) of past works in her Etsy shop.

As you might expect, Lew is an animal lover and she and her husband live with two cats, a dog, a flock of chickens and three hives of honeybees. Working from home, as she does, has also allowed Lew to foster shelter animals and serve a six-year stint chairing a local animal non-profit. She currently works with an organization that spays and neuters free-roaming cats. “This kind of work is important to me because I believe that we, as humans, are responsible for the welfare of companion animals,” she says. “It’s wonderful to see pets who are loved and well cared for, but there are others who need help.”

Her incredible skill and obvious love of animals shows in her work, and people are noticing. Target online is selling pillows with Lew’s images in its Beekman 1802 FarmHouse line. And soon, her portraits will be featured on woven fabric items in the European market, as well as on playing cards.

The more of Lew’s witty works there are in the world, the better, I say.

“My artwork is fun,” she says, “and the best part of it for me is that it makes people smile.”

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 01/03/17 at 11:40 AM • Permalink

50 Years Later, “The Concerned Photographers” Still A Focus

MUSCLE BOY, Harlem, NY 1963 © Leonard Freed/Magnum

By Shawn Hartley Hancock

Ralph Brill, owner of the Brill Gallery in the Eclipse Mill Building in North Adams, Mass., calls it “probably the most important photography exhibit in 2016.” Leonard Freed’s Civil Rights Photographs of the 1960s, he says, are still more than relevant today, and all the more impressive since they were taken at the dawn of photojournalism. They’re part of an exhibit from the 1960s that Cornell Capa, now president of Magnum, pulled together and called “The Concerned Photographer” as a way of honoring his older brother, the much-heralded war photographer Robert Capa, who was killed by a land mine in Indochina in 1954. 

The original exhibit, which includes work by Gordon Parks, Bruce Davidson and Leonard Freed, documents a host of world events, especially the turmoil of the American civil rights movement. Considering the current events of our day, it seems quite timely to bring back the collection. Brill has located and assembled as many of the original artworks from that show as possible, reprising, as it were, the original exhibit and book for a new generation. On view through August 21, the exhibit will heavily feature the work of documentary photojournalist Leonard Freed, whose widow, Birgitte, and daughter, Susannah Elka, will help put Freed’s work in historical context at their talk and reception on Saturday, August 13, from 6 to 8 p.m., at the Brill Gallery. 

BROOKLYN WEDDING DANCE, 1954 © Leonard Freed/Magnum

Photojournalism wasn’t really a “thing” until World War II, when cameras became smaller and lighter, and film became more light sensitive. These technological improvements allowed photographers to capture important dramatic moments as they happened – and like never before.  This brand of photojournalism, which sought to educate and change the world as much as document world events, grew more powerful and impactful in the post-war years in the hands of masters like Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and David “Chim” Seymour, who founded Magnum, the photographic cooperative, in 1947. These giants of photography, who blended reporting and art, set the standard for all modern photojournalism. 

“Ultimately photography is about who you are. It’s the seeking of truth in relation to yourself. And seeking truth becomes a habit,” Freed said about his photography. Over a long career as a photojournalist (Freed died in 2006), he captured important and pivotal moments in social history, including black men packed into a prison cell in New Orleans, black youths playing on a hot summer day in Harlem, and Martin Luther King leaning out the back of his limousine to shake hands with admirers at the March on Washington. Upward of 30 works by Freed are in the current exhibit.

Ralph Brill. ©  Roman Iwasiwka.

The timing couldn’t be better, considering the current state of race relations in the US and its parallel to the turmoil documented by Freed and his contemporaries fifty years ago. “For most photojournalists, the details of their work and its context die when they do,” Brill says. “We’re so fortunate to have Birgitte and Susannah coming to speak about Leonard and provide that context. Birgitte was truly Leonard’s partner – she printed many of his photos and knows the ‘back story.’ She and Susannah are doing a great job of keeping Leonard’s legacy alive.”   
Photography became Freed’s means of exploring societal violence and racial discrimination. “While most photojournalists were taking pictures of bombed-out buildings after the war, Freed never did that,” Brill says. “He took photos of people.” Freed did his share of documenting post-war Europe, however, especially Amsterdam and The Netherlands in the 1950s. “He followed and photographed a few surviving Jewish families in Amsterdam,” Brill says. The Jewish community there had suffered the greatest losses during World War II – upwards of 85-percent – more than any other European city.

In addition to re-assembling as many of the photos as possible from the original Concerned Photographers exhibit (the original book will also be re-published), Brill is organizing a book of Freed’s photos documenting the March on Washington, in the context of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement in America. Many of these seminal photos are already in the collections of the National Archives.

“The Concerned Photographer”
Works by documentary photographer Leonard Freed

July 30 - August 21
Reception with Brigitte Freed: Saturday, Aug. 13, 6-8 p.m.
Brill Gallery at Eclipse Mill
243 Union Street, North Adams, MA
(413) 664-4353

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Posted by Lisa Green on 08/08/16 at 04:57 PM • Permalink

Cabinet Of Curiosity: What Were The Curators Thinking?

Photos by Karl Rabe, courtesy of Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College.

By Robert Burke Warren

If you’re a collector — of anything — we have an exhibit for you. Even if you’re of the “no clutter” camp, it’s hard not to be inquisitive about a “cabinet of curiosities.” But this exhibit is no rambling collectibles barn; it’s been seriously curated. In fact, it’s an exhibit that has as much to do with curators as it does the objects. “Universal Collection: A Mark Dion Project,” is on view until December 11 at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, and what you’ll see really is a curious installation.

Since the era of modern museums, curators have chosen certain artifacts to tell the stories of our world. Who were these deciders? Why did they make certain choices? And what if modern Vassar students explored the basements and storage areas of their school, and unearthed formerly venerated exhibits and “mundane” objects of bygone days? Multi-media artist Mark Dion’s fascinating Universal Collection takes on these questions.

The exhibit, encased in a 23-feet high, 9-feet wide custom-made wood-and-glass cabinet, is the culmination of From the Natural History Museum to Ecotourism: The Collection of Nature, a course Dion co-taught in Spring of 2016 with Vassar Professor of Anthropology Anne Pike-Tay. Students and their teachers procured objects from the museum’s basement – which houses collections dating back to the school’s 1861 founding – as well as closets and forgotten rooms of other campus buildings. Dion then painstakingly arranged the objects in the cabinet and the museum’s atrium.

“The students mined every collection we could think of,” Lehman Loeb co-curator Elizabeth Nogrady says. “We found things we didn’t even know we had. And the students talked about why certain items were used, or not used, in past exhibits, and the political ramifications of those actions.”

Among the strangest objects: a replica of the infamous “Piltdown Man” skull, an anthropological “Missing Link” hoax, now nestled alongside an anteater and a ferret, both stuffed; a collection of beautifully carved fencing handles; a diminutive, Hobbit-sized statue of Matthew Vassar himself, placed beside a Victorian-era dress; a well-worn hockey stick beside a Picasso still-life. Seen together, these objects invite consideration of the circumstances and implications of their accumulation. Put together in certain ways, they tell narratives and question ideas of classification. Resulting impressions are intriguing, and often quite funny.

“The objects aren’t labeled,” says co-curator Mary-Kay Lombino. “That’s important to Mark. If someone doesn’t know what something is, it’s important to him that they talk about what they think it is, and why they think that.”

In a storage area of a science building, a student found something very close to Mark Dion’s personal history: a series of board-game-like psychological tests from the 60s, pictorial challenges in which a person must “correctly” complete a visual story with images on cards. To the modern eye, these tests are clearly biased and questionable, but in their day, they were gospel. When Dion was a child, experts made him submit to these tests and a battery of others. Doctors were trying to figure out what was “wrong” with him. Turns out, he was – and is – dyslexic. He is more image-oriented than writing-oriented. The tests – all but one in Universal Gathering solved “correctly” – are housed in the cabinet near some antique official Vassar crockery and cutlery.

“The tests say something about the history of psychology and the history of education,” says Lombino. “Mark says he’s getting a little bit of revenge on them now.”

In a recent WAMC interview, Dion spoke of his interest in “pre-enlightenment” museums, 16th and 17th century wunderkabinetts. These attractions featured strange objects from around the world, put together in gatherings modern folk wouldn’t imagine. It was, he said, “a radically different kind of expression.” With the founding of Manhattan’s Natural History Museum in 1869, attitudes toward curating and presenting artifacts became more codified – and political – and the wunderkabinetts faded.

For “Universal Collection,” Dion spent countless hours arranging artifacts and objects, in both hierarchical and non-hierarchical groups, spacing nonsensical gatherings among harmonious ones, and striving to let students and museum goers see objects differently, understand stories more visually, and even discover aspects of themselves in the stories they create about what they see. His process, he says, allows unexpected conversations between the items, and between us.

And it may have you looking at your own collections with a different eye.

Universal Collection: A Mark Dion Project
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College
124 Raymond Ave., Poughkeepsie, NY
Admission: Free

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/17/16 at 09:19 PM • Permalink

The Art Of The Ride At Good Gallery In Kent

By Jamie Larson

There’s something captivating about shiny chrome, matte black rubber, the curve of a gas tank or sloping fender. These lines, shapes and textures make up the motorcycles that descend on Kent, Conn. during good weather weekends and are also the muse of photographer Gary Halby. Now a collection of his photographs, from his book The Art of the Ride will be on display in Kent at The Good Gallery.

The images are zoomed in, focused on elements of the bike, rather than the entire machine. The bikes are broken down to their most basic and photogenic characteristics. Some photos border on abstraction but there is something in each photo that captures the power, grit and grace that is unmistakably Motorcycle.

“I’m not a biker. I’m a photographer,” Halby said. “I’ve been a photographer my whole life. The thing that attracts me most (to motorcycles) is their graphic quality. I’m really interested in their reflective quality. The wheels are like from a chariot in Game of Thrones.”

The month-long exhibit, kicking off with an opening reception this Saturday (noon to 7 p.m.) will be unique for a number of reasons, according to gallery owner Tim Good. This will be the first photography-only exhibition in the venue’s six-year history and the subject of those photos will create an interesting atmosphere as Kent’s refined ambience converges with the controlled chaos of a biker rally. Good expects a sizable crowd of bikers to come to the gallery for the opening and throughout the month. He says he’s not completely sure what to expect — and that’s exciting.

“Not only are they really, really good photos,” said Good who, for Saturday’s occasion, will also display a custom motorcycle in the gallery from neighboring Iron Horse Custom Motorcycles. “The work also shows an affinity for Kent and it’s a way to give back to the bikers in a real way.”

Halby, who splits his time between Cornwall and Manhattan, says he was in town one day, three years ago, running errands when he saw the bikes and became fixated on the chrome.

He talks about motorcycles like a nature photographer catching the perfect composition of a sunset. Each image captures not just interesting forms but also a unique moment. This sense is helped by the fact he’s taking his photos out in the wild (on the street). He could take the same photo at the same angle in a studio, but it wouldn’t capture the life and story of the bike the way his method does, picking up the colors of the world around, reflected in the chrome.

“The hardest part is not getting yourself in the reflection,” Halby said, only half joking.

Bikers are a close-knit community and even though Halby doesn’t ride himself, he said he has gotten to know many of those who come to Kent regularly. They are enthusiastic about his project and the reverence he pays the vehicles they love.

“I feel very much a part of the crew.” he said. “I just don’t go 100 miles an hour on back roads with them. I’m a little more conservative than that. There’s a great group I’ve become friendly with. They’re weekend warriors, professionals, with really amazing bikes.”

Good said the well-heeled, bucolic way of life in Kent and that of the bikers are two worlds that don’t just coexist, but overlap. This particular group of bikers, many with significant day jobs and expensive bikes (that are in themselves art objects) ride to Kent to experience the culture. With this exhibit they and their motorcycles are now a part of that culture, framed and proudly displayed on The Good Gallery’s walls.

Listen to Mark Williams, Rural Intelligence publisher, in conversation with photographer Gary Halby and Tim Good of the Good Gallery, as they discuss how the exhibit came about.

The Art of the Ride at The Good Gallery
Opening event: Saturday July 9
Noon to 7 p.m. (Rain date Sunday, July 10)
Good Gallery 0pen every day, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

13 Railroad Street, Kent, CT


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Posted by Jamie Larson on 07/04/16 at 10:49 AM • Permalink

Seeing Through The Camouflage: Animals On Canvas At HSV

By Shawn Hartley Hancock

If you’ve ever watched a wild-animal nature documentary where a cheetah runs down an antelope for supper, you know why camouflage is central to survival. 

“Wild animals have it down,” says artist Susan Merrill. But Merrill’s latest exhibit of animal paintings at Hancock Shaker Village, called “Colors & Camouflage,” explores this primal survival tactic as it relates not to animals in the wild but to barnyard animals. 

“Like everyone, I got interested in camouflage by reading How the Leopard Got His Spots,” she says, referring to one of those wonderful illustrated Golden Books from the 1940 and 1950s based on the Rudyard Kipling Just So Stories.

Barnyard animals are always the subject of Merrill’s exhibits that coincide with the opening of the Village and its signature three-week event, Baby Animals on the Shaker Farm, a time when visitors turn out in droves to meet the newborn lambs, goats, chicks, ducks, piglets and calves. Merrill’s previous shows have explored how animals move and cluster, how they eat, and how they “pose.” 

While her work elevates and educates visitors, no recent theme brought up more anxiety for the artist than “Colors & Camouflage,” which ratchets up the discussion to serious Darwin-esque levels, leaving both Merrill and her devotees to wonder how barnyard animals — presumably semi-domesticated — protect themselves from predators…or do they even need to? 

Merrill initially thought farm animals might be exempt (having fences, farmers and guard dogs to thank). Nevertheless, she thought it a worthy topic for this — her eighth — annual exhibit in the Poultry House Gallery. “The show is fun and colorful and every animal is truly known to Susan,” says Lesley Herzberg, curator at Hancock Shaker Village. 

“I looked at many different animals in their field,” Merrill says. “When there was a perceived threat, all of them behaved differently, depending upon their species.” Sheep for instance, would fold themselves into a flock making themselves indistinguishable, while belted cows would subtly turn to make themselves look like tree trunks. 

Merrill says other farm animals adapt to their environments. As depicted in her work, several white horses sidled up to the tall white grasses in the back of a pasture to make themselves appear less noticeable when a stranger appeared. In another painting, a brown donkey stands against a dark doorway, while a lighter donkey stands against a white fence. 

“These patterns kept repeating themselves. Brown baby ducklings ‘hide’ in a brown mud puddle, and speckled hens hide in plain sight in their multi-toned nests,” she says. “But how could this be possible since these animals don’t get to choose their environment? I realized they simply make do.” 

Merrill sorts out the real from the imaginary in these paintings. “I had to go back and re-paint some work to reflect the actual appearance of the animals. The better the camouflage, the harder these paintings are to paint. If you know the answer at the start, however, it’s not really art,” she says. “You have to be ready to jump off the cliff, and always be learning about your subject. In some ways, these are the best paintings I’ve ever done.”

Merrill grew up on a farm in Maryland, where her love of animals began, but she is, without a doubt, Berkshires aristocracy. Once married to Jarvis Rockwell (Norman’s son) and a long-time resident of Stockbridge, Merrill taught art to children for many years while herself a single mother, and had time to paint only two or three works a year. Merrill and her current husband, fellow artist Carl Sprague, the Oscar-nominated designer for major movies like The Grand Budapest Hotel, have two almost-grown children. “He’s always my right-hand man when hanging a show,” she says. 

Colors & Camouflage runs through May 22.
Hancock Shaker Village
Located at the junction of Routes 41 and 20, Pittsfield, MA
Open every day from 10 a.m. -4 p.m, starting April 16.
Baby Animals on the Shaker Farm runs through May 8.
(413) 443-0188

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Posted by Lisa Green on 04/11/16 at 07:16 PM • Permalink

Georgia O’Keeffe Is In The Room At The Rockwell Museum

By Lisa Green

Photo by Jack T. Douglas. Courtesy Jack T. Douglas / Colleen Webster. All rights reserved.

On Saturday, Feb. 13, visitors to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. will encounter not only “The Four Freedoms” and “Golden Rule,” but also Georgia O’Keeffe. In person.

(Cue record scratch.)

Don’t worry — it won’t be her ghost roaming the galleries. It will be Colleen Webster, a college professor who presents one-woman shows as a living history performance. In “Georgia O’Keeffe: Portrait of the Artist,” Webster presents the twentieth century painter authentically — in O’Keeffe’s voice and dress — along with a projected show of photos and artwork.

Webster portrays other famous women as well, including Frida Kahlo and Emily Dickinson. The English professor at Harford Community College in Bel Air, Maryland, who also is a published writer, began the Living History performances about 18 years ago when she dressed as Kahlo for a discussion of the film Frida. The club members encouraged her to bring Frida and other women of note to audiences, a la Chautauqua lectures. She already had an intense interest in O’Keeffe.

“I knew I had to go to Washington in 1988 to see the centennial show of Georgia O’Keeffe at the National Gallery,” Webster says. “She was really significant for me.”

O’Keeffe, she says, is the most difficult of her presentations. “Because she lived so long, there are a lot of paintings and life events to memorize.” Her research wasn’t just done once, either. O’Keeffe’s letters to her husband, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, were released in 2011, and it’s in the letters that Webster gleaned the most insights.

Webster takes questions — in character — throughout the performance, then afterwards leads a discussion, both in character and, finally, as herself. The question that most comes up after the O’Keeffe and Kahlo presentations comes from women who want to know: why did these artists stay with their husbands?

The O’Keeffe program is just one of the events in the Rockwell Museum’s “Meet the Artists” performance series, which it has been offering for a while.

“They’re a way to bring in other audiences that might not otherwise come to the museum,” says Tom Daly, curator of education. “Someone might not have an intrinsic interest in Norman Rockwell, but might in other almost mythical figures,” he says, naming FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Lincoln-Douglas debates as previous interactive performances.

Next up is “Vincent van Gogh: A Portrait by the Postman Roulin” on Saturday, March 12, enacted by Ted Zalewski. Refreshments are included after each presentation. And on Saturday, so is the answer to that question of why O’Keeffe and Kahlo stayed with their difficult but brilliant husbands. 

Georgia O’Keeffe: Portrait of the Artist
Saturday, Feb. 13 at 5:30 p.m.
Norman Rockwell Museum
9 Route 183, Stockbridge, MA
(413) 298-4100
Adults $12; children $5; museum members $8

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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/09/16 at 10:43 AM • Permalink

IS183 Art School Inspires Date Night Creativity

By Lisa Green

Whenever I’m out photographing people at events we’re covering for Rural Intelligence, I feel like a dinosaur with a camera. Except for the pros who might also be there with their multiple lenses and impressive equipment, I’m the only one still using an old-fashioned standalone camera (a point-and shoot, but still). Cellphone cameras have cornered the market, which is what makes tomorrow’s Smartphone Photography class a smart way to spend a Friday evening.

It’s the first Arts Night Out of 2016 from IS183 Art School of the Berkshires, which for the past year has been offering one-off art project sessions one Friday a month, each focusing on a different discipline.

“Our goal was to have a regularly scheduled and easy way to experiment with a new media,” says the community art school’s director, Hope Sullivan. “People can enjoy an evening and see if it’s something they want to do at home or take a class.”

Classes are taught by IS183’s impressive faculty and upcoming evenings will be devoted to clay, collage, metal work, book arts, and tintype portraiture.

Sullivan says the Arts Night Out sessions have drawn participants from all over the region. The school’s location in Stockbridge is easy to get to, and there have been groups of friends signing up, sometimes turning the class into a potluck-and-art party.

Photo courtesy of IS183.

In the Smartphone class, instructor Thad Kubis will have participants taking photos, then using the advanced menus most mobile cameras offer. He’ll also give tips from making easy improvements (removing red-eye, for example) to archiving images and publishing professional-looking shots. Other camera-related Arts Night Out classes being planned will concentrate on composition and additional photographic proficiencies on the ubiquitous device.

“It’s an easy and fun way to get the creative juices flowing,” says Sullivan.

Just remember to charge up your cellphone before class.

Smartphone Photography at Arts Night Out
Friday, Jan. 8, 7-9 p.m.
$35 ($30 for members); 21+ BYOB
IS183 Arts School of the Berkshires
13 Willard Hill Road, Stockbridge, MA
(413) 298-5252



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Posted by Lisa Green on 01/04/16 at 01:39 PM • Permalink

Echoes Of The Borscht Belt (Plus Latkes) At Valley Variety

By Jamie Larson

There’s a German word, sehnsucht, which means a longing for a place you’ve never been. Marisa Scheinfeld’s beautiful photographs of the crumbling ruins of Borscht Belt retreats in the Catskill Mountain are arresting in this same complex, yet relatable way.

Scheinfeld will be speaking about her project, Echoes of the Borscht Belt, at Valley Variety, on Warren Street in Hudson on Saturday, Dec. 12. The event includes an appropriate dinner of borscht and latkes prepared by the Savory Delicatessen food truck. Chuck Rosenthal, the designer and owner of Valley Variety, an elegant and modern spin on a house and kitchenware store, will be displaying and selling a selection of Scheinfeld’s work through the end of the year. At the event, Scheinfeld will share many more of the pieces, which depict the way nature and man have taken over and repurposed these once grand and historic hotels and resorts.

The Borscht Belt was a lavish string of primarily Jewish hotels that dotted the Catskills and operated with renown from the 1920s until the 1970s when tastes changed and the resorts closed their doors.

“Nature is reclaiming these spaces,” the artist says. “They’re falling apart, or oddly being put back together, by people for other uses like paintball or a skate park.”

The images drum from the audience a complex range of emotions. They are certainly a bit sad, expressing the loss of these grand historic structures with their stories and classic design.

A Scheinfeld piece hangs in Valley Variety above a seating area.

“There’s definitely a pathos running through the project,” Scheinfeld readily admits, “but there’s also a beauty in the transformation.”

In many photos, the way nature has crept into the spaces works as though it were a designer’s vision, as in the image of a perfect carpet of moss below a deck chair. Scheinfeld says she never moves any object for a photo, instead catching these relics frozen in time during their various states of change.

“I don’t look at this project as being about death or entropy,” she says. “So much of what is captured in the photographs is about new life.”

Before Rosenthal reached out to her, Scheinfeld had only shown in galleries and museums. This show accentuates the art and furnishings and both are heightened by how they are paired. Seeing the work in context with how you live (or how you’d like to live) adds yet another layer of connection to the forms of art involved.

“The intention was to create these spaces that give you a sense of living in the design,” says Rosenthal. “It’s the beauty of old and new.”

There’s also a kind of temporal mirror going on. The sleek lines of the furniture on display are similar in many ways, if not directly inspired by, the early 20th century modern design elements slowly spiriting away in the photos.

Saturday’s event and the duration of the show are excellent opportunities to enjoy both the exhibit and the store. Valley Variety and Scheinfeld do what they do at a very high level, so their abilities combined are well worth checking out.

Scheinfeld has an as-yet-untitled book coming out in the fall of 2016, containing the full Borscht Belt project. The book will be beautiful, we are sure, but by working with other writers and a historian, Scheinfeld also is creating a meaningful narrative around the grand history and emotion of a region and generation gone.

Echoes of the Borscht Belt Artist Talk and Dinner
with Marisa Sheinfeld

Saturday, Dec. 12, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Tickets for talk and dinner: $25
Space is limited. Please reserve in advance.
Valley Variety
705 Warren Street, Hudson, NY
(518) 828-0033

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 12/07/15 at 11:47 AM • Permalink

Kinderhook Century-Old Limericks Foretell ‘Winter in America’

JS the schoolBy Jamie Larson

Who is Harold Van Santvoord? And why the hell are the 19th-century illustrated limericks from the long dead Kinderhook, New York writer’s journal being presented at one of our region’s premier modern art venues?

Past and present collided in 2006, when the Friends of the Kinderhook Memorial Library volunteered to clean out the old library’s moldy basement. After digging through mildewed histories, they found an old barrister’s cabinet. Inside, protected from decay by the books around it, they found a small marbled notebook titled Limericks, by Van Santvoord.

“Weary Waggles, though down on his uppers, Fills himself up with booze to the scuppers: “Wot breaks down the health, Of them Captains of Wealth, Is not dope, but hard work and late suppers.”

Van Santvoord (1854-1913) is known to local historians as a headstone in the village cemetery, but also as an author, journalist and a member of the Albany Times Union editorial staff. His skill as an illustrator was not an element of record until the discovery of this single — and presumably only — copy of Limericks. The 50 handwritten pages of wry rhymes and expressive caricatures are surprisingly expert. One can’t help but feel that the Friends of the Library have done local history and the artistic narrative of the region a great service.

The one and only copy opened to this: “Some folks knows it all - Say. Great Scott! What swelled heads in the town board we’ve got: But there’s folks -I know such- What knows just as much, As them folks that minks they know a hull lot.”

Flash forward to just a couple of years ago when Jack Shainman Gallery’s The School took over the abandoned Martin Van Buren elementary school in Kinderhook like an invasion of the hyper-relevant modern art body snatchers. Minus the signage and fantastic (yet municipally contentious) sculpture on the front lawn, the school looks as stately as it did when FDR christened its opening in 1930. But inside, the world shifts from what is known and what is historic to a modern art gallery as powerfully captivating as any contemporary museum of comparable size in a major American metropolis.

The current exhibit at The School (open to the public on Saturdays from 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.), “Winter in America,” is, simply, phenomenal. The theme that winds through finished and stripped classrooms, hallways and the now-combined cafeteria and gym is described thusly:

“America is in a season of malaise, perpetually struggling with war, intolerance, environmental degradation, fear, gun violence, and alienation, all of which seem to quell optimism and growth.  The works featured in this exhibition express the mood currently experienced in the United States, and reflect the stark landscape, chilly air, and quiet introspection of winter.”

Van Santvoord is in excellent company at The School, on display alongside Andy Warhol, Kambui Olujimi, Michael Snow, Edward S. Curtis, Gerhard Demetz, Phil Frost and many, many more.

“Said a fool poet, Omar Khayyam: “Life’s a fake, and Future’s a sham, With my jug, and a jag, A sure cure for brain fag, I’ll play Love — that old game of flim-flam.”

Shainman has lived in the area for many years and while the inclusion of Limericks in “Winter in America” may seem to cynics like a philanthropic overture to the local community, any thought to that end evaporates upon viewing Limericks in context with the rest of the show.

Winter came early to American history. Van Santvoord’s work selected for the show cuts like an autumn wind, pleasant enough but with a chill becoming harder to ignore. An omen in hindsight, his notebook serves as a prologue to “Winter in America.” The enlarged prints selected show the artist’s humorous but knowing ideas on race and class. There are others in the book that are more genteel, but the ones on display give insight into a post-Civil War era when race, patriotism, war, political divisiveness and fear of the other was as palpable as ever.

There is not yet an official website where you can purchase the prints but if you have further interest in them, Friend of the Library’s Warren Applegate is managing the project and all proceeds from sales of the prints will go toward supporting the library. 

Jack Shainman Gallery’s The School
25 Broad Street, Kinderhook, NY
(518) 758-1628
Gallery hours: Saturdays from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

The Kinderhook Memorial Library
18 Hudson Street, Kinderhook NY
(518) 758-6192
Hours: Closed Mondays
Tuesday – Thursday, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Saturday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Sunday, 12 – 4 p.m.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 11/02/15 at 12:27 PM • Permalink

An Artistic Revolution In New Milford: the harts gallery

Carmen Elsa Lopez Abramson.

By Jacque Lynn Schiller

When a gallery’s business plan is as inspiring as the art on its walls, you know the gallerists are seeking to do more than simply display pretty pictures — though the recently opened the harts gallery [sic] in New Milford, Conn. accomplishes this undertaking just as beautifully. Imagining the airy space as a hub for creative expression through exhibits as well as residencies and compelling talks, husband-and-wife team Evan and Carmen Elsa Lopez Abramson seem well on their way to achieving something truly remarkable: a welcoming art gallery where one wants to linger.

The duo, who are also filmmakers, photographers and activists, “envision a place where people can express their thoughts and emotions through art. We believe art is transformative,” says Carmen. Quite like the building itself. Formerly the Harts Five and Dime, the beautiful structure still boasts tin ceilings, exposed brick walls in the downstairs rooms, and spectacular windows looking out onto an increasingly bustling Bank Street. All the better to entice passersby to stop in and have a look around, perhaps chat with affable Carmen.

“A few months ago we approached the landlord, Gary Goldring, about doing a pop-up gallery here at the old Harts shop and he liked the idea. Quickly, we decided to make this a permanent gallery as well as a non-profit organization providing a gathering space that does not yet exist in our region, where community can form around the common values of creativity, vision, sustainability and collaboration,” she says.

If you sense a bit of spontaneity in their decision, I think you’d be correct. Running an art gallery wasn’t necessarily in the plans, but given their passion for storytelling — in all manifestations — it made sense to take the leap. The subject of the first exhibit, Love & Sacrifice, could likewise apply to this new endeavor.

“Without love there is no sacrifice,” the exhibit proclaimed. “Without sacrifice there is no love. Mutually dependent, the two are interchangeable—and yet evoke opposing feelings and ideas when spoken together.” United under the theme of contrast/complement, the harts gallery brought together the impressive work of six unique local artists working in diverse mediums and expressions, including Mr. Abramson, Lauren Booth, Tealia Ellis Ritter, Sebastian Tillinger, Elizabeth MacDonald and collagist Peter Wooster. An impressive start.

Why here and why now? That’s a question I’m always curious to have answered when someone moves to the area, especially when the decision to open a company is involved. Explains Carmen, “I’m from Peru and have lived in eight countries. Evan and I work on social and environmental documentaries. Traveling, meeting and getting to know people is something I love. We now live in Bridgewater and are new to the area. I like bringing people together and making connections.”

Making links carries through to the curation of shows. For the current exhibit, She’s a Changeling, Carmen and Evan weaved together a startling reimagining of the role of women in a world of flux, inviting the artists Claudia DeMonte, Julia Randall and Cecilia Mandrile to examine the relationship between the female body and identity in unique and surprising ways. It’s a thought-provoking collection, marrying pieces that on the surface might seem disparate: saliva bubbles, Milagros covered calipers, foldable paper dolls. The works are intriguing, playful, dark and developing, and the Abramsons have an eye for and embrace themes of transformation. This extends to what’s happening just outside those giant storefront windows, as well.

“New Milford can be a destination for emerging artists, artisans, makers and entrepreneurs similar to Portland, Beacon or Brooklyn,” says Carmen.

Through a mix of contemporary exhibitions, workshops, film screenings, live performances and outreach programming, the artist-run harts gallery aims to build community and inspire transformation regionally. I like what I see.

She’s a Changeling is on display through Nov 7.
the harts gallery
20 Bank Street, New Milford, CT
(917) 913-4641

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Posted by Lisa Green on 10/06/15 at 03:55 PM • Permalink

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.

“He has invited the world to come see Kinderhook.”

A new showplace for contemporary art such as The School would be heralded anywhere, but the fact that it’s in the Village of Kinderhook seems to some in the area to be an unexpected gift from the art gods.

“The School has put Kinderhook on the map in a way that was previously unimaginable,” says Renee Shur, the Village’s director of economic development. “Jack Shainman has an audience that’s world wide, and every time he promotes his gallery he’s also promoting the Village of Kinderhook. We want people to come here, see his artists’ work and what Kinderhook and the Hudson Valley have to offer.”

Could anything be better? Only this: Shur reports that there’s been a mutual embrace between Shainman and the local community.

“He’s very concerned about the impact of what he’s doing and the concerns of the community. Last year (at the opening) he made a special effort to invite the locals to come and party. People from New York City were mingling with our community and it really worked.”

And while Shainman turned a school into a spectacular gallery, he was sensitive to the school’s place in the town’s history.

“A lot of people who went to school in that building still live here, and remember walking through the front door into the beautiful foyer, which is still as it was,” says Shur. “There have been dramatic changes but Shainman maintained respect for the history of the school. It’s an incredible example of adaptive reuse.”

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
(212) 645-1701

The event is free and open to the public. Please RSVP to:

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/11/15 at 10:54 AM • Permalink

Donkey Inspiration: ‘Travels With Missie — The Artists’ View’

Missie (as Carousel Donkey), by Susan Edwards

By Jeremy D. Goodwin

Kevin O’Hara’s 1979 sojourn with a donkey named Missie has already been well documented. O’Hara, a lifetime Pittsfield resident (and quite proud of it, thank you very much!) who seems to have as many stories to share as he does friends around town, has already written a book (“Last of the Donkey Pilgrims”) about his year-long walk around Ireland with the donkey in question. (That’s in addition to his memoir “A Lucky Irish Lad.”)

But now, more than 36 years later, Missie marches on.

O’Hara retired a few years ago from a long career as a psychiatric nurse at Berkshire Medical Center. In 2013 he started leading annual tours of Ireland, retracing the steps —this time by chartered bus — of his quixotic journey. By happenstance, four Berkshire-based artists went on the tour last year, and had an idea: why not curate a group show of work inspired by their visit? An email was sent from the trip, and a Berkshire gallery committed to the idea before the travelers even got home.

Kevin O’Hara (author, photographer and raconteur), Mike Melle (sculpted the straw Missie), Sue Edwards (artist), David King (artist), Marge Bride (artist), Philip Pryjma (gallerist) and Scott Taylor (artist).

“Travels with Missie—the Artists’ View” is on exhibit at the St. Francis Gallery in South Lee from March 14 through April 12. It includes paintings by four locally based artists — Marguerite Bride, Susan Edwards, David King, and Scott Taylor — plus all sorts of assorted goodies like a life-size straw likeness of Missie crafted by Mike Melle of Plainfield, Susan Edwards’ wood carving of the now-famous donkey that will go on to be part of the Berkshire Carousel, and assorted ephemera and photographs from O’Hara’s original trip.

David King’s Cliffs of Mohar

In keeping with the Irish theme and O’Hara’s gregarious nature, the opening reception on March 14 is bound to be a bit boisterous, complete with live music.

“He wants it to be an Irish party,” Bride says of O’Hara, “and we want it to be an art reception, so we kind of met somewhere in the middle. We said we’re going to have wine and cheese — he said no, we’re going to have Guinness.”

When the artists got home from the nine-day trip, they decided to get busy painting but also to refrain from coordinating with each other. The idea was to respond to their own experiences and then see what happens.

McSweeney Arms, Killarney, by Marge Bride

Bride, who like Taylor keeps an artist’s gallery at NUarts Studios on North Street in Pittsfield, says she did get one pretty obvious clue about what her neighbor was up to. “All I know is, he used a lot of green,” she says.

The show is set to be a lush vision of the Emerald Isle. Each of the painters contributed upwards of 30 new pieces, which include work done in oil, acrylics and watercolor.

Aside from his four-legged companion, O’Hara’s journey was a solitary one; in-between visits to farmsteads and pubs where, he says, he was greeted warmly once anyone caught sight of the donkey and apprised his earnestness. Through years of storytelling, and now bus tours and this art show, he’s able to share the experience with his friends.

“The only regret I had in my donkey travels was I wished I had a bleacher section on each of my shoulders to have all my friends there, so I could turn my head and show them the most beautiful vistas and countryside imaginable,” he says. “It was sort of heart-wrenching in ways. I did have my dear donkey, but she didn’t pay much attention to the sunsets.”

Scott Taylor’s Pastureland

Sunsets, landscapes, seascapes, architecture: “Travels with Missie—the Artists’ View” will share a great number of these views, straight from the Emerald Isle.

“Travels With Missie — The Artists View”
Artist Reception & Celebration: Saturday, March 14, 2-6 p.m.
St. Francis Gallery
1370 Pleasant St., Rt. 102, South Lee, MA
(413) 717-5199

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Posted by Lisa Green on 03/10/15 at 08:12 PM • Permalink

Brendan O’Connell, The ‘Walmart Painter,’ Turns Abstract

One of Brendan O’Connell’s foot-square paintings currently on display in Washington Depot.

By Robert Ayers

You wouldn’t normally think of going to a real estate office to see an art exhibit. But whether or not you are looking to buy a place in Litchfield County, you will find a visit to The Matthews Group in Washington Depot well worth it. There’s art there you shouldn’t miss.

Brendan O’Connell, the artist who made this wildly varied array of small abstract paintings, turns out to be one of the most interesting characters you are ever likely to run into, not least because he enjoys a healthy celebrity for making a totally different kind of art.

Applauded in media as diverse as USA Today, NPR, The New Yorker and The Colbert Report, O’Connell is the successful painter of brightly colored pictures of the interior of Walmart stores. But in truth, he never intended to be a painter at all. In fact, it was to break the tedium of trying to write a novel that he first decided to have a crack at drawing. “I was 22 and I picked up a pencil and taught myself to draw,” is how he remembers it now.

By 1996 he was showing in New York City as a fully fledged abstract painter — in fact, all of his shows until 2006 were abstract — but he found himself frustrated. “It seemed as if only five people in New York knew the difference between good and bad abstract art,” he recalls. “My career was in the toilet.”

He met his wife, the celebrated landscape painter Emily Buchanan (whose watercolor was featured in the White House’s 2014 holiday card) in 1997, and they moved to Litchfield County a couple of years later. It was when his daughter was born that the change came, though it came indirectly. He decided to switch from oil to acrylic paint because he didn’t want the baby breathing in toxic fumes, and in order to get the hang of this new material he started doing portraits of great artists he admired. “I was a closet figurative painter,” he says with a smile. Then he did a series of paintings of people doing routine day-to-day tasks, and then, to discover new source material, “Someone suggested I follow somebody out into the world” and photograph what they did. The very first day he found himself inside a Walmart.

One of O’Connell’s celebrated Walmart paintings.

O’Connell is happy to admit that he happened upon his most successful art by chance. It makes a refreshing change to encounter an artist who doesn’t imagine that everything in one’s work stems from conscious decisions. Contrasting his attitude with Andy Warhol’s conception of the studio as a factory, he explains, “I think of the studio as being more like a garden: you put different plants together and they cross fertilize, just like you put a portrait next to an abstract painting and they serve one another.” Instead of mass production, he pursues constant experiment and rule breaking.

So it comes as no surprise to discover that he started these small abstract paintings at about the same time as the first Walmart paintings. He talks of them as a laboratory of color, and it would seem that he uses them to try out ideas, but it’s clear that they have their own rationale as well. He isn’t interested in giving them titles, and he rarely records the date they were made, almost as if this information might obscure their purely pictorial logic.

The artist, second from right, with Alec Baldwin, Emily Buchanan and actor Josh Charles at his NYC show.

But in terms of how they are painted — what colors he uses, or what shapes, or how the paint is applied, or whether the paint edges are hard or soft or straight or curved or wobbly — the possibilities are endless. No two of these paintings are even nearly the same. He even has the little square panels machine cut so that they can be hung with any of their four sides at the top. He only regards them as finished when they work equally well in all four directions, and he is happy to let their owners decide which they prefer.

Perhaps it’s the energy that derives from this sense of endless possibility that makes this show of paintings so uplifting. That and the fact that they seem to offer a more private view of how a famous artist works, even when things are turned on their head. Smiling at the irony, O’Connell puts it like this: “Now I’m a closet abstract painter.”

Abstract Work by Iconic American Painter Brendan O’Connell
On view through the end of May.
The Matthews Group
4 Green Hill Road, Washington Depot, CT
(860) 868-0511
Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday - Saturday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/16/15 at 01:36 PM • Permalink