“The artists in many of the collections lived and breathed their work,” observes Ariel Shanberg, co-curator of “Linking Collections, Building Connections” at the Samuel Dorsky Museum in New Paltz, until December 11. The show celebrates a new collaboration between the Dorsky and several local arts institutions: the Center for Photography at Woodstock, the Women’s Studio Workshop, the Woodstock Artists Association, and the Byrdcliffe Guild. “Linking Collections” includes furniture, pottery, video, installations, books, paintings, photographs, sketches, prints, and a deck of cards depicting Catholic saints.
The story begins with the founding of the Byrdcliffe Colony at Woodstock in 1902. The pottery and drawings by founders Ralph Whitehead and his wife Jane are competent but lugubrious. In a photo of Hervey White from 1920, however, an impish smile signals a new tonality that still exists in the Hudson Valley today: a crusading silliness. (White broke away from Byrdcliffe to found the radical Maverick Art Colony.) The curators, in fact, imbibe some of that impishness, dividing the show into eight sections to view these collections through sometimes whimsical lenses. One wall contains the most successful artistic tribute to Kingston ever mounted, including a view of a firehouse so vivid, symmetrical, and charmed that I was tempted to steal it for my bedroom (Firehouse [Kingston, New York] by Karl Fortress, from 1940).
Art in the Hudson Valley has always been a way of creating communities. “We didn’t want to start putting up on the walls who was having flings with whom, but in the section that we called ‘Circles of Affiliation: The Cramer Family,’ if you look at who’s hanging around in whose studio, and whose children are named after whom, and which guy keeps on dressing like a woman at all the Byrdcliffe parties, there’s a story here that’s pretty easy to figure out!” observes co-curator Brian Wallace.
Though “Linking Collections” is a history lesson, it also emphasizes the continuity of the local arts scene. Indeed, one of the best pieces was created this year: 162 Artists who have made books at WSW between 1979 and 2010 by Barbara Leoff Burge, a series of 15 panels inscribed in Gregg shorthand, listing artists involved with the Women’s Studio Workshop. The viewer cannot “read” this stenographic writing (unless specially trained) but may appreciate the beauty of its Arabic-like loops and twirls.
Perhaps the greatest Hudson Valley art heritage is in printmaking. A painstaking but democratic medium, it fits our local artists, who have time to sit under an elm tree slowly producing an etching—and the final product is affordable to almost anyone. Lovely prints by Ernest Frazier, Milton Glaser, Peggy Bacon, Richard Pantell, George Bellows, and Doris Lee appear at the Dorsky.
“There’s a long-standing tradition of innovativeness and exploration, synthesizing global dialogue with a sense of the local,” Shanberg says of Hudson Valley art. He mentions Philip Guston, who broke from the orthodoxies of New York City abstract painting while living part-time in Woodstock. Guston is represented by a small gem, My Coffee Cup (1973), showing a butterfly alighted on a coffee cup, both lurid red. A butterfly and a coffee cup: nature and civilization.
Another dialogue between the avant-garde and nature appears in an installation by Peter Iannarelli, This Land Is Your Land and This Land Is My Land (2007). (Notice the influence of folk music in the title.) This work arranges Hudson Valley soil on two identical Plexiglass tables, a literal kind of “nature painting.”
“Linking Collections, Building Connections: Works from the Hudson Valley Visual Art Consortium Collections” will appear at the Samuel Dorsky Museum at SUNY New Paltz until December 11. (845) 257-3844; www.newpaltz.edu/museum.