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Luminous Storefronts 

click to enlarge Faye Eng, Miss Havasham’s Banquet, stoneware, 2009. “Masters on Main Street” will be exhibited in Catskill storefronts through May 31.
  • Faye Eng, Miss Havasham’s Banquet, stoneware, 2009. “Masters on Main Street” will be exhibited in Catskill storefronts through May 31.
With the launch of “Masters on Main Street,” the Greene County Council of the Arts seeks to banish the desolation of Main Street’s empty store fronts by filling them with cutting edge contemporary art made mainly by BFA and MFA students. “We’ve showcased local artists in storefronts, which brings in the same crowd,” says Fawn Potash, the GCCA’s visual arts director and the project coordinator. “But with the ‘Masters’ program, the intent was to get fresh talent in town and make Catskill a magnet for collectors.”

The first round, which was unveiled on the evening of February 26—new artworks will be installed in June and again in October—consists of videos, sculptures, photographs, paintings, and mixed-media work by more than 30 artists, who are either students or alumni of the School of Visual Arts, Vassar College, Bard’s Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts, SUNY New Paltz, the College of St. Rose, and School of the Art Institute of Chicago. On opening night, a lively crowd descended upon Catskill’s main drag, clustering around each well-lit storefront-cum-art display, spilling into ancillary attractions, such as the group show of works in paper at the council’s exhibition space, and eventually pooling at Brik Gallery, filled with videos and photographs by MFA candidates in SVA’s photography program, where a party was under way.

Conceived as a kind of theater space for commodities—what Baudelaire famously described as “the great poem of display”—storefront windows (here handsomely embellished with Italianate bracketed overhangs) occupy the fascinating border between public and private space. The most successful “New Masters on Main Street” installations play with this contextual gray area, reflecting upon or intruding into their real-life settings and transforming them into dreamlike realms.

For example, the private-viewing tableau created by Noe Kidder in her piece, GOAD, incorporates a silent movie shown on a TV, a frame within a frame that telescopes and isolates a communal art form that once drew crowds to downtown. The film is a grainy black-and-white rendition of Samuel Beckett’s mime, Act without Words II, and the TV is perched on an antique cabinet against a blue-painted wall—now playing to a nonexistent audience, symbolized by the empty, rush-seated chair.

Another window resembles a gigantic light box, hung with four photographs by Joseph Tripi. The nonchalant images, which include two bleak, featureless landscapes of the northern Plains and a vintage Impala bathed in the amber, faded colors of an old snapshot, evoke an America of understated possibilities, which lends a Hopperesque poignancy to the adjoining real-life tableau of the matching storefront, its black, Deco-era Cosmetics sign still intact in the transom and a sign advertising a tax return service pasted on the glass, saturnine in the green light.

The most exciting piece is Jesse Cain’s large-scale twin video installation recording his disassembling and re-assembling of a car in his garage. The rear-screen projections completely fill the windows of two storefronts, which flash in the night like drive-in movie screens, the cryptic goings-on consisting of a hand appearing and withdrawing over the abstracted close ups of engine parts. The real-time videos, turned on at dusk, run for 13 hours, imbuing the arcana of auto mechanics with meditative mysticism. One passes the car mechanic’s lot across the street with newfound respect. While some of the artworks, notably Jaleesa Johnston’s lush narrative paintings, are eye candy, drawing attention to the cloistered interiors, the show’s ultimate aesthetic reverberates back onto the street, the cadence of door, window, and wall vested with fresh, mysterious beauty.

“Masters on Main Street" will be exhibited in 13 storefront locations in Catskill through May 31. (518) 943-3400; www.greenearts.org.

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