Summer is festival season—particularly this summer, when most of us are throwing our masks into the back of the sock drawer. But what’s the visual art equivalent of a festival? Curator Helen Toomer has the answer: Upstate Art Weekend.
This event covers six counties, and extends from Garrison to Ghent. Sixty-one organizations are involved, including every major art venue in the Hudson Valley: Storm King, Dia: Beacon, the museums at Bard and Vassar, Art Omi, Magazzino, the Woodstock Artists Association. Lesser-known galleries like Airfield, and Elijah Wheat Showroom, in a former tanning factory in Newburgh, are also in the lineup. The Poetry Barn, with its massive library, and the new Barns Art Center in East Fishkill are included. Spring Break, known for its pop-up galleries, will curate a sculpture show in Poughkeepsie. It’s a tribute to the collective spirit of this region that art centers of all shapes and sizes are happy to work together.
The two artists credited with launching the Hudson Valley art scene, Thomas Cole (1801-1848) and Frederic Church (1826-1900), will participate in the weekend—or rather their historical houses will. The Thomas Cole House in Catskill, and Olana, Church’s dream-drenched mansion in Hudson, are collaborating on “Cross Pollination,” a show confronting 19th-century painting with contemporary art. A new piece by extravagant sculptor Nick Cave is at the Thomas Cole home.
Three new exhibition sites are opening on the Art Weekend. The Barns Art Center in Fishkill focuses on artwork engaged with food, farming, and ecology. Foreland, in Catskill, an 85,000-square-foot exhibition space right on the river, will present a show together with the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA). Sunfair Farm, a CSA that’s also a first-class sculpture garden, will debut in Hudson.
Each of us has our “type,” in romance and in painting. Personally, I’m attracted to Cubist women and depressed art—or is it the other way around? But Upstate Art Weekend is an opportunity to open yourself to genres you have prejudicially dismissed. (For me, that means portraits of seated middle-aged men.)
Originally from Southampton, England, Toomer went to art school then moved to New York City and helped organize art fairs, including PULSE and the Collective Design Fair. Her husband, Eric Romano, still works in the field. “We kind of have art fairs in the blood—whether that’s good or bad, I’m not sure,” Toomer jokes. These fairs have become central to the art world: big crowded confabs where major galleries rent stalls and serious business is conducted. Some experts believe that these fairs will ultimately replace traditional art displays. “I wanted to find a way to bring people back to the galleries,” Toomer says.
She envisioned an arts weekend ever since she moved to Stone Ridge in 2017, when she and her husband founded Stoneleaf Retreat, an artists’ residency for women art workers and their families. Toomer’s busy life—including a pregnancy—intervened, but last year she suddenly felt the call: “I woke up one day in June and realized, ‘I have to do it.’” At the height of the pandemic, Toomer pulled together the first Upstate Art Weekend in six weeks. Events were outdoors, or by appointment only, with mandatory masks, and social distancing. Twenty-three art organizations took part.
As if her other labors were not enough, Toomer recently curated the 14th annual survey of Hudson Valley artists at the Dorsky Museum, titled “Who Really Cares?—a quote from Marvin Gaye on the What’s Going On album, released 50 years ago. This show is also part of the Upstate Art Weekend.