“Inspired Encounters: Women Artists and the Legacies of Modern Art” | Visual Art | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Photo by Frederick Charles
Exterior shot of the David Rockefeller Creative Arts Center after renovation

The David Rockefeller Creative Arts Center, which opened in October on the grounds of the Pocantico Center in the Westchester hamlet of Pocantico Hills, is an important new addition to the art scene in the Hudson Valley. The center will enable the Rockefeller family to leverage their modern art collection and long-standing support of the arts in general to provide exhibitions and events that are accessible to all sectors of our region, including underserved communities. According to notes written by David Rockefeller, Jr. and distributed to visitors at the center's preview, it "will host rehearsals, performances, exhibits, artist residencies, and community groups along with a robust series of related public programming."

An example of this is the center's first exhibition, "Inspired Encounters: Women Artists and the Legacies of Modern Art," which brings together works by women artists from the Rockefeller's collections, such as Lee Bontecou and Louise Nevelson, in dialogue with a group of seven women artists, including Sonya Clark and Elana Herzog, still making their way through an art world too often dominated by men.

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Installation view of "Inspired Encounters," courtesy of the David Rockefeller Creative Arts Center.

Another example is a two-month studio residency that comes with a $25,000 prize. The first awardee is Peekskill-based artist Athena LaTocha. The award will be granted annually, alternating between local and national artists. Importantly, an additional $25,000 award and six-month residency will be given to a local arts organization; this year it's going to Arts 10566, also based in Peekskill, whose goal is to "address the varied interests and needs of Peekskill's diverse youth community through the arts."

"We're looking at the whole Hudson Valley," says Elly Weisenberg Kelly, manager of public programs at the Pocantico Center. "We want to be part of that whole cultural ecosystem—the name of the game here is to be accessible." Tickets to most events are in the $15 to $30 range. Through its connections with community groups, the center is offering free transportation as well as free tickets to events when needed. The new gallery is free of charge for all visitors.

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Fluted Head, Elizabeth Catlett, Bronze, 12 1/2" x 9" x 9", 1991.National Academy of Design, New York. © 2022 Mora-Catlett Family / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The center's performance facility is the Bloomberg Philanthropies Performance Space, a 180-seat indoor theater with cushioned bleacher seating that can be telescoped out of the way to provide additional floor space. Pivot doors enable access to an adjacent outdoor patio creating an indoor/outdoor performance venue. Upcoming programs include "Untold Tales," a multidisciplinary production by Pablo and Anna Mayor of Folklore Urbano NYC on November 16 with music, dance, and theater inspired by the stories of immigrants living in the greater New York area. A performance incorporating music, text, video, and visual art by the award-winning dance company A.I.M. by Kyle Abraham will take place on December 1.

The building is itself a work of art—a prime example of adaptive reuse. Originally designed by William Wells Bosworth in 1908 as an orangerie for John D. Rockefeller and now restored and updated by FX Collaborative, it retains the elegance of its original exterior as well as the high ceilings supported by narrow columns of its historic interior. The overall look and feel as well as the versatile functionality of the space is definitively 21st century—the electrical needs of the building are entirely met by solar panels installed at the site. The facility uses state-of-the-art audio and lighting equipment. It also makes use of abundant natural lighting through large windows and skylights that can be covered with either sun shades or black out shades.

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Photo by Frederick Charles
The David Rockefeller Arts Center before restoration.

The "Inspired Encounters" exhibition on view through March 19 features works not only by Bontecou and Nevelson but also other luminaries such as Marisol Escobar, Anni Albers, and Grace Hartigan from Nelson A. Rockefeller's extensive collection, in visual conversation with newly commissioned works by seven other women artists. Joining Sonya Clark, and Elana Herzog are Maren Hassinger, Melissa Meyer, Fanny Sanin, Barbara Takenaga, and Kay WalkingStick. The exhibition was jointly curated by Katrina London, manager of collections and curatorial projects at the Pocantico Center, and Jeremiah William McCarthy, chief curator of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art.

Highlights from the artistic dialogues on view include Takenaga's large painting on six hollow wood core wooden doors, Two for Bontecou, which quotes Bontecou's gritty dark centered work in canvas, metal and wire: Untitled,1960. Another is an autobiographical suite of nine prints by Anni Albers, Connections, 1925–83, paired with a diminutive sculpture fashioned by Louise Nevelson with Plexiglas and golden machine screws. (The Albers suite is on loan from the Johnson Collection; Rockefeller's collection includes an Albers, but the curators wanted to give her a larger presence in the exhibition.) Kay WalkingStick asks the perhaps rhetorical question "Who owns the landscape?" in her two Hudson River School-style works, homages to Cole and Durand, subtly emblazoned with Native American motifs.

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"Thom, Where are the Pocumtucks (The Oxbow)," Kay WalkingStick, oil on panel, 24" x 48", 2020. Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery, London and New York. Photo by JSP Art Photography

There is also a dialogue concerning the complexities of reason and emotion between paintings by Melissa Meyer and Grace Hartigan. Meyer's Nod to Grace featuring painterly calligraphy at once poised and playful is next to Hartigan's ravishing Salome, somewhere between abstraction and representation, the body and the mind, and deep into the emotive poetry of gesture and color. London notes that in the Rockefellers' Kykuit mansion the piece "was in a ground floor service tunnel that was converted into a gallery where it was hard to grasp the work." Now it's on view for everyone to see.

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