Gaining Ground: Art Omi Pavilions Represents a Massive Expansion | Visual Art | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

Founded by real estate developer, philanthropist, and literary agent Francis J. Greenburger in 1992, Art Omi, located in in the Columbia County town of Ghent, is one of the true jewels of the Hudson Valley's many cultural attractions. Year-round, the center draws droves of visitors who marvel at its changing exhibits of enormous outdoor sculpture, the well-curated shows in its gallery/visitor center, and the work and performances of the inspiring international artists who take part in its residency programs. Set on 120 rolling acres of grassy former farmland, the not-for-profit site feels like it spreads out forever, as if it would never run out of room for all the fantastic contemporary art it displays. But as of this month the Art Omi operation is expanding—into neighboring Chatham, an eight-minute drive away, with the official groundbreaking for a game-changing new project known as Art Omi Pavilions.

Situated on a 200-acre property dominated by rambling meadows and incredible views of the surrounding countryside, the pioneering vision of Art Omi Pavilions will encompass 18 gallery "pavilions" that will be open to the public and are being designed via collaboration between a featured artist or art collector and an architect of their choosing. Each of the free-standing and architecturally distinct structures will serve as the dedicated repository and exhibition space for the works of an individual artist or private collector, with the pieces that are on view and in storage periodically rotating. But, still, with all of Art Omi's sprawling space already in Ghent, why the need for growth?

"Many artists and collectors have been thinking, 'What is the future of my work or my collection? How will it be shown and saved?'," says Greenburger. "Besides wanting to make sure the art is safely preserved, some of the artists we work with want their collections to stay together, rather than get sold off or scattered to different museums or collectors. Originally, we thought that an early version of the project could be integrated into the Ghent site, but the town planning board wanted us to limit our visitorship if we did it at Omi. We talked to other arts organizations that had done that and they all said [that limiting visitorship] was the worst decision they'd ever made, so we knew didn't want to do that. I'd bought the Chatham property 40 years ago with the idea of building a house on it but ultimately decided not to. Then I asked my daughters if either of them wanted to build a house on it, and they both decided that they didn't. Instead, they pushed for the idea of building the pavilions on the site."

Art + Landscape + 360-Degree Views

Construction for phase one of the project, which is expected to take two years, kicks of this month and will include the erecting of four sleek, modern structures: the Alice Aycock Pavilion, designed in partnership with the architectural firm Jahn Studio; the Tadaaki Kuwayama and Rakuko Naito Pavilion, designed by the Japanese-born artists and unit a architecture; the Hort Family Museum, which will contain the important works amassed by noted collectors Susan and Michael Hort (approximately 6,000 pieces by Nicole Eisenman, Raymond Pettibon, Marlene Dumas, John Currin, and other artists) and was designed in tandem by the couple and BKSK Architects; and a visitor center, also designed by BKSK, which will have its own gallery, a cafe, administrative offices, and year-round dedicated educational wing with workspace and classrooms offering kids' programming and other activities. The project has received a $5 million grant from the New York State Council on the Arts and an additional $2 million from an Empire State Development tourism grant program.

click to enlarge Gaining Ground: Art Omi Pavilions Represents a Massive Expansion
Cyclone Twist, Alice Aycock, aluminum powder coated white, 27" high by 15" feet in diameter, 2013. Temporarily installed at the Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, UK for "Beyond the Limits: Sotheby’s at Chatsworth, 2013." Reproduced by permission ofSotheby’s.

"What really makes Art Omi Pavilions so special is that you have three elements coming together and to enhance each other," says BKSK's Joan Krevlin, whose firm has offices in Manhattan while she and her family have lived in Columbia County for 35 years. "First there's the art, then there's the architecture, and then there's the landscape, which is just stunning, with 360-degree views. The visitor center will be the first place that visitors engage with, so the main goal with its design was to make sure that it feels welcoming and that it allows people to begin to experience those three elements right away. Before or after they've visited the pavilions themselves and seen the art, they can sit on the patio, have something to eat or drink, and enjoy the sunset. It really is a very special site."

An Aycock Inspiration

Although Greenburger had already been mulling the idea of a pavilions-like facility for some time, it was his friend, the sculptor Alice Aycock, known for Park Avenue Paper Chase, East River Roundabout, and other massive public art works, who provided him with the final push he needed to at last move forward with implementing the concept. "Francis had commissioned one of my works for the lobby of 50 West in New York, and then Art Omi rebuilt one of the underground earthworks sculptures that I'd done in the 1970s [A Simple Network of Underground Wells and Tunnels, 1975; reconstructed at Art Omi in 2011]. I used to go up to Ghent for the gala parties that they'd have in the fall. At one of those I told him, 'You know, I have this work of mine from the '80s and '90s in storage. I'm thinking about how, as I'm growing older, I'd really like to be able to bring some of it back from the dead.' We talked about how a lot of other artists who work large and do installations that are commissioned to be temporary and then just end up getting lost once they've come down. I asked him if he had an old barn that I could use. Then he said, 'Let me show you this place in Chatham.'"

click to enlarge Gaining Ground: Art Omi Pavilions Represents a Massive Expansion
Torkwase Dyson
Torkwase Dyson, “I Belong to the Distance,” 2019, wood, graphite, string; installation view at the Sharjah Biennial 14.

Thus, fittingly, the striking building reserved for Aycock's creations will be one of the first of the new pavilions, each of which measures approximately 5,700 square feet, to go up on the new site. Codesigned by Aycock and Jahn Studio's Philip Castillo, it features a sharply angled, nearly ground-touching reflective roof with an opening for a tree to grow through. Phase two of the Pavilions build is set to commence after phase one's 2026 completion and will include artist Torkwase Dyson who will work on a pavilion with Richard Gluckman of Gluckman Tang; a rotating biennial exhibition pavilion by Lee Skolnick of Skolnick Architecture and Design; and five mini-pavilions that will feature rotating exhibitions providing visitors with the opportunity to spend an extended period in a comfortable environment with a singular work of art (these very small venues, designed by So-IL Architects, will each feature one to three works of art at a time).

Not only will the Art Omi Pavilions complex compliment Art Omi's senior site in Ghent, Greenburger maintains, it will do the same for similar centers in the region, such as Dia: Beacon, Storm King in New Windsor, and Mass MoCa and the Clark in the Berkshires. "It's a legacy moment," he says. "A pivotal turning point in the way that art and art collections are cared for and presented."

Location Details

Art Omi

1405 County Route 22, Ghent


Peter Aaron

Peter Aaron is the arts editor for Chronogram.
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