Earlier this month the art world was shaken by news that a banana duct-taped to a wall sold for $150,000 at Art Basel Miami. Maurizio Cattelan’s installation called Comedian, that included, yes!, a real banana taped to a wall, has become some kind of a sensation with some calling it conceptual art and others calling it a prank (read the background story here). The fact that someone would pay $150,000 for a banana taped to a wall calls into question the value of art and complicates an appraisal’s work even further.
Cattelan’s created three editions of his installation, two of whom sold for $120,000 to collectors identified by Artsy as Billy and Beatrice Cox of Miami, and Sarah Andelman, founder of Colette concept store in Paris, and part-time Catskills resident. Andelman’s vacation home in the Catskills was subject to a feature in Architectural Digest in the summer of 2018.
But is it art? The perishability of a mere banana contrasts significantly with what artists have traditionally sought in art – immortality. And how about artistic skills? Is it really any artistry involved in taping a banana to a wall?
Brands have capitalized on this commotion by creating their own duct-taped “art,” anything from a sandwich to a bottle of water, and more. All there is needed is a random object and duct tape, plus of course access to a wall. Read full story in Ad Age magazine.
Artnet has covered the topic and made it easy for readers to access the coverage all in one place: “To document for posterity how this humble piece of produce became a global phenomenon, we have pulled together all of our coverage in one place.”
Defining art has always been both challenging and disputed. In the 18th century, philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, grandfather of composer Felix Mendelssohn, argued that art is the carrying forward of the beautiful, obscurely recognized by feeling, until it becomes true and good; the aim of art is moral perfection, he claimed.
In What is Art? published in 1896, Leo Tolstoy argued that art is the transmission of an emotion felt by the artist (joy, exaltation, anger, sadness, etc.) – not all beauty, but all infectious emotion that the common man can experience. Tolstoy’s argument was an attack on formalism and the doctrine of art for art’s sake, an attack on unintelligibility and exclusiveness. He did not believe in professional artists, who, he thought, perverted art; instead he argued that all men can and should make art, thus proclaiming the universality of art.
In the 20th century, Roy Lichtenstein defiantly declared that organized perception is what art is all about. For Wassily Kandinsky, making art was an internal necessity that impelled the artist to create as a spiritual impulse and the audience to admire art as a spiritual hunger. It was that simple.
Tolstoy didn’t think that taste was the final arbiter of what was good and bad art; he defined taste as the capacity of an individual to be aesthetically pleased by certain works and displeased by others. He conceded however that taste can be educated, and artistic activities can be made accessible to all.
“David creates a seamless rapport with each artist, drawing out their individual personalities with meticulously researched questions. Her interviewing style is so natural and unobtrusive that the reader feels like “a fly on the wall” privy to the authentic, unrehearsed lives of the artists. They divulge their thought processes, creative developments, media, materials and muses, but David evokes them into sharing a glimpse of their souls.”
Art is at home in the Catskill Mountains. A tradition started by Thomas Cole and his disciples in the early 1800s has transformed the area into a place for pilgrimage where artists from all over the world come to create and be inspired. An influx of creatives moving out of Brooklyn in recent years has infused the area with energy and spearheaded the emergence of new projects and initiatives to create and show new works by artists at various levels in their careers and working in all disciplines.
AMR Artists, a newly formed artist coalition affiliated with the AMR (Andes-Margaretville-Roxbury) Open Art Studios Tour, which takes place every year the last weekend in July, has stepped up to the plate to offer new opportunities for artists. According to its mission statement, “The AMR Artists Coalition supports a vibrant cultural life for our community by promoting and advocating on behalf of the area’s artists and cultural institutions. The Coalition recognizes that a creative environment is an essential component of energetic civic life and sustained economic growth in the community.” The group’s motto is a quote by Albert Einstein: “Creativity is contagious, pass it on.”
Launched in 2012, AMR Open Art Studios Tour has grown into a major cultural attraction, as art tours have become more and more common all over the country. Studio visits trigger questions that aren’t often asked in formal settings such as galleries and museums, and allow for a more intimate interaction with the art work. As art historian George Philip LeBourdais eloquently articulated in a piece for Artsy magazine, “The studio is where strange magic happens, as much for the artist’s imagination as for the public’s. It’s the conjuring place of new concepts, styles, or forms. Sometimes it even comes to be seen as sacred, a place where visitors become pilgrims to the altar of art.”
AMR (Andes – Margaretville – Roxbury) Open Studios Tour 2019 will take place Saturday and Sunday, July 27 – 28 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. with close to thirty participating artists and artisans working in all disciplines – painters, sculptors, photographers, printmakers, ceramicists, furniture designers and textile artists. Located in a bucolic scenery, all studios will provide unique experiences for visitors to explore the area and learn directly from the artists.
Participating artists this year include: Lisbeth Firmin, Ellen Wong, Gail Freund, Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes, Gerda Van Leeuwen, Peter Yamaoka, Margaret Leveson, Helene Manzo, Frank Manzo, Gary Mayer, Gary Mead, Rosamond Welchman, and others.
Gail Freund, a new artist affiliated with the group, moved to the area in 2016 after having worked in New York City for over forty years in the fields of illustration, theater and jewelry. Formally trained at the Parsons School of Design, Freund has always drawn and painted. However, after moving to the Catskills, she became fully immersed into studying and depicting trees the likes of which she hadn’t quite seen while living in Manhattan. Her life in the Catskills allows far more time for studying and drawing nature scenes, she explains. Her approach is simple and direct.
The artist works in three disciplines: ink on paper, embroidery, and book art. Asked about her drawings, Freund explains: “I had to start somewhere, and ink on paper seemed simple and an easy way to get back into drawing.” The landscapes, all in black and white, are an invitation for the viewer to imagine a larger context than the one strictly depicted by the artist. Some of these are currently part of a show at the Catskill Watershed Corporation in Margaretville paradoxically called “Local Color: In Black and White.” The show will remain on view through July 5.
In 2017 Freund joined a group called Catskilled Crafters led by Wendy Brackman to create a project called The Ties That Bind, cutting and sewing together pieces of old ties donated by the community. The group created a piece called Big Daddy, currently on display at the American Visionary Museum in Baltimore in the Father Room as part of an exhibit called Parenting: An Art without a Manual, which will remain on view through September 1. NPR recently did a story on this, which ran on Father’s Day. The group sewed 1,462 hexagons into a nine-foot striped tie made out of hundreds of men’s ties and one wool suit. Brackman, who spearheaded the project, explains: “My dad was a bit of a dandy. He shaved every day, he looked good, he put himself together with his collar and wide ties.” Brackman is known as a performance artist (“Wacky Wendy”), as well as paper milliner (“Wacky Hat”).
Freund’s embroidery has gained attention due to its quirkiness and bold colors, but also extreme precision. Fascinated by road signs, the artist managed to capture some of the more vivid ones in a series shown recently at various locations throughout the area. One of these embroideries has received an award at the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum (WAAM) Spring Show, marking WAAM’s centennial. Asked about her interest in embroidery, the artist explains that she was looking for the perfect excuse to slow down and meditate, and that came in the form of making embroidery.
This year Freund is also working with a group of book artists led by Hedi Kyle to create fabric books, a multi-disciplinary project that will be shown in 2020. All artists are being given the same theme and size of the project, but each approach will be different. Kyle, who is coordinating the project, is a book conservator and educator, and co-founder of the Book Preservation Center at the New York Botanical Garden. As head conservator at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, and as an adjunct professor in the Graduate Program for Book Arts and Printmaking at the University of the Arts, Kyle had trained and mentored a generation of conservators and book artists. The oldest artist in this group is Polly Vos, who is 94.
Freund will be showing her works during the AMR (Andes-Margaretville-Roxbury) Open Art Studios Tour, sharing studio space with painter Deborah Ruggerio. Ruggerio’s studio is located at 54096 State Highway 30 in Roxbury.
Landscape painter Ellen Wong has participated in the AMR (Andes-Margaretville-Roxbury) Open Art Studios Tour every year since it launched in 2012; she describes the experience as a positive one, and a great opportunity to show and talk about the setting where her art comes to life. Wong has been painting the Catskills since the 1970s, when she opened her studio in Roxbury. Initially trained as an abstract painter, she discovered that what she really wanted to do was landscape: “I noticed that every time I went somewhere I always brought with me my watercolors, and I always sketched where I was; somehow that’s how I got to understand, absorb or take in a new environment – I felt very sensitive to place,” she explains. “Does the world need another landscape?” she muses, but then she adds: “I can’t help it.”
The recipient of many grants and fellowships, including the New York State Council on the Arts Decentralization Grant Program, as well as a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Wong studied in the Art Department at Brooklyn College with Philip Pearlstein, known for reviving realist figurative painting in the 1960s. Pearlstein’s departure from Abstract Expressionism back then made him a renegade in the art world. It’s that kind of artistic sensibility and daring attitude that Wong had learned from Pearlstein.
Capturing the beauty of the environment but also the ordinary and the banal turns her experiences into markers for posterity. “I want to have a signature,” Wong explains. I want people to say “Oh, that’s Ellen Wong,” whenever they see my paintings. I like to ask deep questions, not necessarily seeking answers, but just asking questions that lead me to a path of my own. “I’d like to go deeper. Does painting the environment, water, for instance, which is life in my paintings, lead one to think of Flint, Michigan, for instance?”
Wong’s studio, which will be open during the AMR Open Art Studios Tour, is located at 121 Shephard Lane in Roxbury.
New this year, the AMR Art Tour is partnering with Studio 190 in Walton to show works by artists affiliated with this group as part of the two-day event. Studio 190 is a collaborative art program within The Arc of Delaware County, encouraging self-expression, exploration, creativity and teamwork, and providing support for artists to work in a professional studio, equipped with all the necessary tools and guidance from visiting artists.
Leah Schmidt, the program coordinator, explains that up to 35 artists have been taking part in this program so far. They work in different disciplines, although painting is the predominant activity. Some of the artists attend the program every day, while others participate in only one block per week, depending on their skills and dedication, although the most important achievement is to maintain a level of enjoyment so that all the participants have a meaningful experience.
Since 2017 the program has continued to grow under the guidance of art consultants and accomplished artists and educators such as Alan Powell, who have been working with Studio 190 to help branch out more into the community and ensure recognition for the art created in the studio. Under Powell’s guidance the group created the “Selfie” project inviting each participant’s creativity into portraying their own vision of how they see themselves and making personalized works that then can be shared with the community. The project is documented through the group’s Instagram feed as well as its website.
The “Selfie” project as well as other works will be shown during the AMR (Andes-Margaretville-Roxbury) Open Art Studios Tour on Saturday and Sunday, July 27 – 28 at the Community Church located at 904 Main Street in Fleischmanns.
The AMR – Andes, Margaretville, Roxbury – Open Studios Tour 2019 is funded by the Delaware County Department of Economic Development – Tourism Advisory Board, and the A. Lindsay and Olive B. O’Connor Foundation, and by 28 participating artists and 44 community business sponsors. Additional community support comes from the Longyear Gallery (Margaretville) and the MARK Project (Arkville).
Open art studio tours have become more and more common all over the country as studio visits trigger questions that aren’t often asked in formal settings such as galleries and museums, and allow for a more intimate interaction with the artwork.
This summer alone, four major open art studio tours take place throughout the region featuring a total of 160 artists from Saugerties to Treadwell and points in between. Building on a century-long tradition that started with the Hudson River School, contemporary artists continue to be inspired by the region once known as America’s First Wilderness, and what we refer to today as the place where American art was born.
Read my article in Chronogram to learn about Stagecoach Run Art Festival (July 7 – 8), Shandaken Art Studio Tour (July 20 – 22), AMR Open Studios Tour (July 28 – 29), and Saugerties Artists’ Studio Tour (August 10 – 12). During the tour you will meet artists working in all artistic disciplines and styles, ask questions, and purchase directly from the artists. Participants include abstract painters Adam Cohen and Tara Bach, landscape painters Ellen Wong and Richard Kathmann, still life painter Judith Lamb, and urban realist painter Lisbeth Firmin.
The Irish Hunger Memorial, a public art project designed by sculptor Brian Tolle in Battery Park City, re-opened to the public late last summer after undergoing major renovations to address damage caused by water infiltration in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Originally built in the early 2000s, the monument opened for the first time on July 16, 2002. Roberta Smith from The New York Times described the monument as a “typically postmodern blend of existing art styles — Realism, Conceptual Art and Earth Art — bound together by historical fact and physical accuracy.”
A methodical thinker, Tolle had spent plenty of time in Ireland doing research for this project which occupies half of acre overlooking the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island. The centerpiece is an 1820s stone cottage brought from Ireland. Also, stones from Ireland’s 32 counties and Irish flora were incorporating into the project, a reminder of the Great Irish Famine of 1845-52.
Tolle had installed two miles of historical references on the base of the Memorial, in the form of a lightning shadow. The text, lit from behind with the shadow cast on glass, is changed and updated periodically, so visitors approaching the Memorial on one day might happen to read a Quaker soup recipe that was used to help starving people in Ireland in 1847, and on another day statistics about the amount of dog food consumed in the United States. The artist believes that this textural engagement with the Memorial ultimately shapes visitors’ visceral experience as they move through the monument itself.
Tolle, who teaches a course on public art at Parsons, is alert to the fact that art shown in a museum or a gallery space is dedicated to a captive audience, an audience of interested gallery or museum goers. When it comes to public art, the artist explains: “There is no way of controlling, nor would you want to control the audience in a public space, so you never know who is going to come across a project, and how they might respond to it.” With that in mind, the artist envisioned a memorial that trusts the intelligence of the audience in interpreting the event of the famine and its historic significance.
By its very nature, public art is free and accessible to anyone. When it blends well with its surroundings, it gives meaning and shapes the identity of the space. Public art is also a reminder of the shared community values and aspirational goals.
Tolle will lead a special tour of the Irish Hunger Memorial this Saturday, October 28 from 2 to 3 pm, and discuss the history of the Memorial, as well as its recent renovation. A staff horticulturalist will be on hand to discuss the Memorial’s native Irish plantings as well.
This weekend, Saturday and Sunday, July 29 – 30, from 11 am to 5 pm over twenty artists in Roxbury, Halcottsville, Margaretville, Fleischmanns, Halcott Center, and Arkville will open their studios to the public, and show their working spaces as part of the AMR – Artists Making aRt ™ – Open Studios Tours 2017.
A good place to start the tour is the Wawaka Grange in Halcottsville, which is true to its original function as a Grange and General Store. Refreshments, bathrooms, and handicap access are available at this location. Several artists will be showing at the Grange, including painters Sophia Maduri and Oneida Hammond.
For the first time this year Art in the Catskills will participate, and present and sell books at the Grange. “How Art Is Made: In the Catskills” will be offered at a discounted price. The book pays homage to the Catskills’ vibrant artistic life, and its long tradition as a magnet for artists and writers from all over the world. The region is known as the place where American art was born, through the works of landscape painters Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church, affiliated with the Hudson River School of Painting, and writers Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper, who wrote specifically about American realities.
Alix Travis, one of the founding members of the tour, will once again open her studio located at 103 Bragg Hollow Road in Halcottsville. An established plein air painter, Alix has received several awards and recognitions, including signature status in the Pennsylvania Watercolor Society and the New York Plein Air Painters. In 2014 she published The Catskill Coloring Book, which includes twenty-six plein air watercolor paintings. This weekend, during the open studios tour, Alix will paint en plein air, and demonstrate some of her techniques. Alix’s website is https://alixhtravis.com/.
Urban realist painter Lisbeth Firmin will be showing oil paintings and monotype prints at her studio in the Commons Building in Margaretville. Lisbeth is known for works such as Fifth Avenue (1995), and Woman on a Train (2014). This past spring Lisbeth traveled to Venice, and enrolled in Scuola Internationale di Grafica where she perfected her monotype printing technique. Lisbeth explains that her work is really not about the colors, but about the light and shadow in the composition which she captures masterfully. Lisbeth is featured in “How Art Is Made: In the Catskills.” Her website is http://lisbethfirmin.com/.
New this year, internationally renowned sculptor Brian Tolle will open his studio located in a repurposed Catholic church in Roxbury. Brian is known for The Irish Hunger Memorial in Battery Park City (2002), and more recently for Miss Brooklyn and Miss Manhattan, two replicas of Daniel Chester French originals that sit on the façade of the Brooklyn Museum – Brian’s replicas were installed on Flatbush Avenue by the Manhattan Bridge in December 2016. In 2015 The University at Albany’s Art Museum hosted a retrospective show titled Bordering Utopia: Sculptures by Brian Tolle, exploring the artist’s evolution over time. Brian’s studio is located at 53266 State Hwy 30 in Roxbury. He is one of the artists featured in “How Art Is Made: In the Catskills.” Brian’s website is http://briantollestudio.com/.
Abstract painter Adam Cohen will also open his studio for the first time this year. Adam is known for works such as Intuition (2015), a finalist in the Art Olympia International Competition in Tokyo, Japan, and Mystic Marsh (2014), shown at the Morren Galleries in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Adam is an intuitive painter whose style has been defined as Gestural Abstraction; his paintings are very much sculptural, and have a visceral look and the kind of inexhaustibility that the artist strives to achieve in his work. Adam’s studio is located at 53856 State Hwy 30 in Roxbury. He is also featured in “How Art Is Made: In the Catskills.” Adam’s website is http://www.adamcohenstudio.com/.
Poet and painter Esther De Jong, a former fashion model, will be showing her watercolors, oil paintings, and charcoal and pencil drawings at her studio located at 50 Maple Lane in Roxbury. Esther, who is formally trained at the National Academy of Art and Design, co-founded by Thomas Cole in 1825, refers to her paintings as “lyrical images” of her poetry: she often creates haikus accompanied by images that reflect her daily life experiences in the Catskills, a mood, or a feeling that is thus being immortalized on paper or canvas. Although Esther loves figural painting, she is also very much attracted to botanical themes, and finds inspiration in the Catskills’ changing seasons, particularly in the spring. Esther’s website is http://www.estherdejongpoetics.com.
Although not formally trained as a painter, Michael Guilmet has been painting still lifes, landscapes, and portraits pretty much his entire life, growing up with family and friends interested in art. Trained as a magician, Michael had lived in Beverly Hills, Dallas, and New Mexico before moving to the Catskills in 2014. His interests in art theory, history, and philosophy are ubiquitous in his paintings which he says must “evoke an unexpected emotion.” Michael does not think as having a style of his own – he can do works on commission in any style, and can approach any subject; but design is always the idea behind all his drawings and paintings. “A strong design is the driving force behind my work,” he explains. Michael shares his studio at 50 Maple Lane in Roxbury with Esther De Jong. His website is http://www.mcguilmet.com.
Artists Peter Yamaoka and Gerda Van Leeuwen met in a Boston airport in the early 1980s as they were both traveling to and from Provincetown. They married three years later. Peter studied at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, while Gerda received a degree in art from the University of Utrecht in her native Netherlands. In college both Peter and Gerda studied painting. Later in their artistic careers, they specialized in printmaking: Peter chose lithographs, while Gerda directed her attention to etchings. Since moving to the Catskills in the early 1990s both artists switched to ceramics: Peter prefers voluminous mythology-inspired vases, while Gerda makes small porcelains inspired by animal life. Both artists are featured in “How Art Is Made: In the Catskills.” Their studios are located at 777 Carroll Hinkley Road in Roxbury.
Also in Roxbury, painter Ellen Wong is the recipient of many grants and fellowships, including the New York State Council on the Arts Decentralization Grant Program, as well as a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. She studied in the Art Department at Brooklyn College with Philip Pearlstein, known for reviving realist figurative painting in the 1960s. Initially trained as an abstract painter, in time Ellen discovered that what she really wanted to do in life was landscape: “I noticed that every time I went somewhere I always brought with me my watercolors, and I always sketched where I was; somehow that’s how I got to understand, absorb or take in a new environment – I felt very sensitive to place. And it was a good way for me to get to know a place.” Ellen’s studio is located at 121 Shephard Lane in Roxbury. This year she will be showing some studio drawings and still life watercolors as well as plein air work. Ellen currently has a show at Longyear Gallery in Margaretville which will remain on view through August 7. Ellen’s website is https://ellenwongfinearts.com/.
Studio visits trigger questions that aren’t often asked in formal settings such as galleries and museums, and provide access to an intimate space that the artist doesn’t often share with anyone else.
The AMR – Artists Making aRt ™ – Open Studios Tour 2017, sponsored by MURAL Gallery in Stamford and participating artists, is made possible, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) Decentralization Grant Program, with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, administered in Delaware County by the Roxbury Arts Group (RAG), and additional funding from The A. Lindsay & Olive B. O’Connor Foundation.