"Terrain Biennial Newburgh" Returns September 25–November 15 | Visual Art | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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"Terrain Biennial Newburgh" Returns September 25–November 15 

click to enlarge Colorgarden, Erica Hauser's installation for Terrain Biennial Newburgh 2019 at Newburgh Urban Farm and Food Initiative, 207 Carpenter Street.
  • Colorgarden, Erica Hauser's installation for Terrain Biennial Newburgh 2019 at Newburgh Urban Farm and Food Initiative, 207 Carpenter Street.

If you associate public art with big, ugly sculptures in front of corporate headquarters, prepare for an education. “Terrain Biennial Newburgh,” an outdoor art show on porches, fences, and the walls of buildings, opens September 25, and continues for seven weeks. Naomi Miller and Hannah Walsh des Cognets—who are artists themselves—oversee the project. This is the second “Terrain” exhibition; the first was in 2019. The last biennial had 12 artists; this one has 27.

“Terrain” is a combination of sculpture, community organizing, and family therapy. The directors matched painter Erica Hauser with a family that includes two young children, hoping the kids would enjoy the artist’s bright colors. Because both are relatively new to Newburgh, Miller and des Cognets assembled a committee of local advisors connecting them to the city’s diverse communities. This group has dubbed itself the Cartographers.

“Terrain” started in Chicago in 2013; within a few years satellite exhibitions began to spring up in other localities. Today there is a loose confederation of “Terrain organizers” throughout the country. The Chicago committee chooses a theme that other cities have the option to adopt. The Newburgh group decided to use the national theme, “Keep in Touch.”

The show has no “hours”; everything is visible all the time from the street. Each site will have a brochure box explaining the work, and a QR code with further information about the artist. “I’m just as interested in the people who live around the work as in the people who drop in from elsewhere,” remarks Miller. Most art is owned by rich people; each piece in “Terrain” is owned by a neighborhood.

Serena Domingues’s installation, Interruption, replaces the screens of television sets with living moss, which must be frequently watered. This demands real commitment from the host, who has the power to literally kill the art. (Luckily, Domingues’s host, Vince Cianni, is an artist himself, and committed to watering the moss.)

Two artists who collectively call themselves Damfino will erect a 10-foot-high beacon at the Historical Society, as a reference to Newburgh’s maritime history. Joel Weissman imprints repetitive calligraphy on white tiles. Andrew Brehm will create a “suburban fountain” made of outdated lawn sprinklers—a multilevel display rigged up to all spurt at once. Courtney Puckett makes hand-knotted banners that spell out words, using brightly colored recycled rope. Paired with the Newburgh Free Library, she is—as of this writing—considering the word “INFORM.”

The coordinators choose the venues for the artists. “It is definitely a matchmaking game,” says Walsh des Cognets. Each participant—host and artist—receives a stipend. “As an artist who’s had to pay to do a lot of shows out of my own pocket, I felt really strongly that they had to be paid,” she continues.

One artwork remains from the 2019 biennial: Hauser’s Colorgarden, jubilant brightly painted circles of scrap wood on the chain link fence of the Newburgh Urban Food and Farm Initiative. “They loved it so much that they just kept it there,” Miller explains.

Most of the artists are from the Hudson Valley, some from New York City, and one from Hungary: sculptor Zsofia Keresztes, who’s represented by a Newburgh gallery, Elijah Wheat Showroom. Newburgh has one of the fastest-growing art scenes in the Hudson Valley.

In keeping with the decentralized nature of “Terrain,” there’s no “art opening” with white wine and brie, though the first day coincides with the weekend of the Newburgh Open Studios Tour, September 25-26.

The exhibition opens throughout Newburgh all at once. If the Delta variant of COVID continues to surge, this show will be among the safest you can visit.

"Terrain Biennial” runs September 25-November 15.
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