My Upstate Art Weekend Adventure

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Vanessa German,  Black on Black, 2021, Handmade folk art cloth Black woman pin cushion, glory, wood, love, astroturf, Black seed beads, confusion, Black rhinestone trim, Black bead trim, (they traded your grandmother for a handful of beads), vintage hand purse, rage, old doll parts, ptsd, the fallout from white supremacist delusion, cork, Black pigment, sorrow, vintage mirror, self loathing, cotton, a miracle, twine, tears, yarn, heartbreak, love. 26 x 18 x 9 1/2 in

Last weekend was the third annual Upstate Art Weekend, a wildly ambitious and fun three-day art fair that winds its way from Westchester to Catskill NY. Founded by impresario Helen Toomer in 2020, Upstate Art Weekend celebrates and promotes visual arts throughout the Hudson Valley. One hundred and forty venues participated this year, and there was everything from art in a big-box truck in Kerhonkson to the gallery/studio campus of Foreland in Catskill.  The intense heat of last week made this year’s event a challenge, but totally worth the sweat. Here is a brief travelogue of my schlep around the Hudson Valley: 

I started in Beacon on Friday and caught the two-person show at Mother Gallery, entitled We Flew Over the Wild Winds of Wildfires. I am a fan of both Vanessa German and Zoe Buckman’s work individually, but for me the two artists work did not “sing” together. German’s pieces are so strong, as always, that I feel like she carries a room all by herself.

I hit Kingston on my way home and went to a number of small studio exhibitions. Lemon Sky ProjectsLite Brite Neon Studio, and Headstone Gallery  all hosted interesting group shows. The city was brutally hot and still there were a lot of people braving the heat to visit these small venues scattered across the city.

On Saturday I headed across the river to T’Space. Founded by architect Stephen Holl. It is an estate, dotted by buildings that house his architectural archives and an artist residency, and plays hosts to musical and poetry events. The gallery is a jewel that sits in a wooded area with lovely views that bring the outside in a most poetic way. This season’s featured artist is Arlene Shechet. The elegant gallery space holds two of her equally elegant large sculptures and two small wall pieces. Shechet’s sculptures are a perfect pairing with Holl’s spare architecture. They are evocative of both architecture and contemporary abstract forms. Each is imbued with deep and rich color. The cast iron piece is a luminous play of orange and shades of rust. The mixed material sculpture combines deep, woodsy blue greens and a flash of silver. It was a lovely pause from the heat of the day, and the work looks perfect in this space.

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 Mystery History, 2022, Dyed hardwood, steel, glazed ceramic, and silver leaf, 84” x 34’ x 24“

On to Kingston and the non-profit space called Artport Kingston. Located in a spectacular 19th century steamboat building, the space is simply breathtaking. A venue this big, with no space divisions, is very hard to curate. There are three current shows, and it’s a bit of a grab bag of small shows within the space. A little more signage would be helpful in an exhibition of this size and scope. But I look forward to seeing how this project develops over time. The potential for the space is very exciting.

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 Installation by Jeila Guermian
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Installation view at Artport Kingston

At this point the temperature was 105 degrees (literally) and I needed to get out of Kingston. I headed west towards a new artist-in-residency program called Swimming Hole Foundation. Not locatable on a GPS and perched on a mountaintop, at the end of a very winding one-lane dirt road, this is one of the most breathtaking places I’ve been in a long time and quite a respite from the rest of the world.

Founder Deb Johnson has turned her property into a magnificent residency program that focuses on collaborative projects. Groups of up to 12 artists, from all disciplines are invited to spend a week working collaboratively on a single themed idea. The residency is in its first year and has visionary plans for the future. The nature of the final collaborative project—a sound and light collaboration filling a two-story space—made it difficult to photograph. 

Parallel to the residents’ exhibition there was a solo presentation by Advisory Board member Matt Nolen, showcasing work in clay and watercolor that he completed during a recent residency in Sienna, Italy. The work looked enchanting, displayed on rough built wooden pedestals with the mountains in the background. The soft Italian palette that Nolen uses popped magnificently against the brilliant green of the countryside.

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 Sienna Albaello- fired terra cotta clay. 13”x 5 x 5. 2022

And that was it. I was dehydrated and ready to have a beer on my own porch and get ready for Sunday, the final day of Art Weekend.

On Sunday three friends and I decided to tackle the East side of the Hudson.

Starting in Germantown we started at Alexander Grey Associates which is featuring a tranquil show by Harmony Hammond. The show is very spare, perhaps a little too spare for my taste. But the gallery is beautiful, with a barrel vaulted brick ceiling and understated soft lighting.

Onward to Hudson, and a plethora of galleries to visit. As we trudged up Warren Street towards Susan Eley Fine Art my companions began to fade. Thankfully the gallery was crisply air-conditioned and we spent a delightful 45 minutes chatting with Susan. The current two person show Earthen Energies, Ancient Roots is an apt summer exhibition, full of light, flowers and insects. Jackie Shatz’s small ceramic wall figures are a delightful foil for Ashley Norwood Cooper’s paintings of people interacting with nature in humorous and slightly alarming ways.

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Beekeeper With Swarm. Oil on wood panel 24 x 18 2022

We traipsed through several other galleries, Private Public GalleryPamela Salisbury Gallery and Ornamentum Gallery. At this point, with the temperature hovering around 98 degrees and all of us feeling a little loopy we climbed back in the car to go to Kinderhook to visit Jack Shainman’s The School. This is a world-class museum/gallery that I have written about several times and always eagerly anticipate a visit. The shows are provocative in the best sense of the word. This seemed like a perfect punctuation to a long weekend. We pull up to a suspiciously empty parking lot and lo and behold- the gallery is now only open one day a week- Saturday. The disappointment in the car was palpable. We did a walk through September Gallery in its new Kinderhook space and Bill Arning who was presenting a reunion of art and artist that he has previously worked with. I was quite taken with this little painting

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Artist info. Unavailable

And then went out for ice cream. It seemed like the only answer to the day.

It was an exhausting, exhilarating, art-filled weekend, an inspiring celebration of the growing art scene in the Hudson Valley. Some very good shows, some meh shows, some wholly new discoveries. In all a great adventure, one that I highly recommend you take next year.

Melissa Stern lives in NYC and The Hudson Valley. She studied Anthropology and Art History at Wesleyan Univ. Her mixed material sculpture and drawings are in a number of corporate and museum collections including The International Center For Collage, News Corp. Inc. JP Morgan Chase, The Arkansas Art Center, The Racine Art Museum, The Museum of Art and Design and The Wiseman Museum in Minneapolis. Her multi-media project The Talking Cure has been touring the United States since 2012, showing at The Akron Museum of Art, Redux Contemporary Art Center (Charleston), The Weisman Museum, Real Art Ways (Hartford) and The Kranzberg Art Center (St. Louis), and at The Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton.MA. She has written about art  and culture for The New York Press and CityArts for eight years and is a contributing writer to Hyperallergic and artcritical. Melissa has joined Art Spiel as co-editor and contributing writer.