In December last year The New York Times reported that Miss Manhattan and Miss Brooklyn, two replicas of Daniel Chester French’s original sculptures re-created by Brian Tolle, were installed on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn by the Manhattan Bridge.
Read excerpts from my interview with Mr. Tolle, conducted in November 2015 when we discussed this project among others. Mr. Tolle is one of the artists featured in our upcoming book How Art Is Made: In the Catskills.
Brian Tolle has exhibited his work in galleries, museums, and public spaces around the world. His projects include Skid Rows for the Queens Museum (2005), Witch Catcher at City Hall, New York City (2003), The Irish Hunger Memorial in Battery Park City, New York (2002), Waylay for the Whitney Biennale and the Public Art Fund in Central Park (2002), Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe for Crossing the Line, Queens Museum of Art, New York (2001), and Eureka for Over the Edges in Ghent, Belgium (2000), as well as more recent projects such as Outflow in Calgary, Canada (2015), and Origin at the University of Houston in Texas (2015). Brian’s work emphasizes a formal and iconographic dialog with history and context to produce striking and subtle works that engage the public. Using a variety of media, his works draw themes from the scale and experience of their surroundings, provoking a re-reading by cross-wiring reality and fiction. Brian received his MFA from Yale University, BFA from Parsons School of Design, and his BA from SUNY at Albany. He is currently on the graduate faculty at Parsons School of Design, and is the recipient of the Art Commission of the City of New York Award for Excellence in Design in 2008; the Irish American Historical Society, Irish American Heritage Committee – Irishman of the Year in 2003, and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award, also in 2003. He is represented by CRG Gallery in New York City. Brian has a studio in the Catskills, in the historic town of Roxbury, Delaware County.
Simona David: Let’s talk about the Manhattan Bridge project, which will be completed soon.
Brian Tolle: It’s eight years in the making. If any of you have been on the Brooklyn side of the Manhattan Bridge, until very recently it was a very chaotic spot. About ten years ago the City decided to create a green belt across Flatbush Avenue, and created more order there. I was the first to be commissioned to make what we hope to be a series of sculptures that will be introduced along the Avenue in future years. As part of my research, I wanted to understand why it was that on the Manhattan side of the very same bridge there is a more elegant entry, while on the Brooklyn side there was this no man’s land. As it turned out, it wasn’t always the case. There once was a very grand entrance, so grand in fact that included two sculptures, two allegories by Daniel Chester French, who some of you may know sculpted Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, among other noteworthy sculptures. Those two sculptures were removed, and brought to the Brooklyn Museum when Robert Moses, the great power broker, was planning the trans-Manhattan expressway, which would have destroyed what we know as the SoHo neighborhood. On the Manhattan side the historical preservationists were far more organized, and they prevented that from happening there, but on the Brooklyn side they weren’t so organized, and Moses went away, and destroyed this grand plaza. And then the project was halted, and we were left with this mess. In the 1960s Moses saw history and art as an obstruction to progress. And here in the 21st century I am being asked to enhance the neighborhood by bringing art there. It made perfect sense to me that we bring the two ladies back. The two sculptures that Chester French sculpted for the bridge are allegories: one represents Miss Brooklyn, and the other one represents Miss Manhattan. They currently sit on the façade of the Brooklyn Museum which cooperated greatly with us to make this project happen. So I’ve re-created the two sculptures, cast in a beautiful translucent, white acrylic. I’ve set them on top of a pedestal that is 26 feet high – the design is inspired by the footing of the Manhattan Bridge. In fact the base is being painted Manhattan Bridge blue, to make the connection back to the bridge. The two sculptures sit on top of this pedestal, very close together. Miss Manhattan and Miss Brooklyn will dance over Flatbush Avenue because the two figures actually rotate, and they can survey their surrounding area, and gaze into each other’s eyes periodically. And they’re lit at night. I have to say, this entire project is made by crafts people in New York City.
SD: Do you ordinarily work with many crafters to help you materialize your ideas? Is it you who decides what materials should be used, and how to be used? Do you have lots of engaging conversations with these crafters to see your work completed the way you envision it? I know you don’t start a new project with preconceived ideas, but how does it work?
BT: I know what I’m looking for when I see it, but I rely on people who are spending a lot of their time doing certain things, like this man Ovidiu at Colbar – he’s the most remarkable craftsperson, and he’s committed his life to making beautiful things. Once I saw the material, I opened up to learning more about the material, what its capabilities are, what the possibilities are. So, it’s part of this fortification process where the craftsperson is actually teaching me something. The biggest mistake an artist can make is to force people to make something they may know it’s not going to be optimal. My position has always been “speak to the people who know better, let them show you what they can do.” Every instance the project is better than if I had gone ahead with what I thought I had wanted.
SD: When we allow ourselves this kind of freedom, we discover things we couldn’t have imagined before.
BT: Precisely. We make changes until the very end, which is a little nerve-racking for the clients.
SD: You’ve created quite a few public art projects as well as museum and gallery pieces. How do you feel about showing in public spaces as opposed to galleries and museums?
BT: It’s very different. I teach a course at Parsons on public art. We go through the different art movements, let’s say from the 1960s onward when artists who have influenced me like Agnes Denes and Robert Smithson were making art in public spaces by choice. These are people who rejected the gallery system, because they understood that it was commercially driven and in some cases limiting. I came out of school after the economy had collapsed in the late 1980s and well into the 1990s, and graduating even from a place as prestigious as Yale in 1994 there wasn’t a whole lot of hope to get gallery representation. There wasn’t something that we expected. I guess the difference is that when you show in a museum or gallery you have a captive audience – you have people who frequent these places, you have a collector base who supports these places. 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. In the case of The Irish Hunger Memorial, it’s been a privilege that so many important writers of our time have written about, Simon Schama wrote a piece for The New Yorker magazine, Roberta Smith did a wonderful piece for The New York Times, but Verlyn Klinkenborg, who is on the editorial board of the Times, wrote a beautiful piece, and the most resonant thing he said was that the power of The Irish Hunger Memorial is that it trusts the intelligence of its audience.
Read full interview at https://artinthecatskills.com/2015/11/30/featured-artist-brian-tolle/.
© Simona David
© 2016 artinthecatskills.com
Everything we do is a matter of taste and training – I’m paraphrasing physicist Brian Greene, author of “The Elegant Universe.” How we then form appreciation for and understanding of aesthetics? The individual journey to learning and self-discovery is what forms and cultivates one’s taste.
What is art? Roy Lichtenstein argued that “Organized perception is what art is all about.” Émile Zola thought that art is “nature as seen through a temperament,” while René Magritte claimed that “Each thing we see hides something else we want to see.” Einstein thought that “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” Is it art an attempt to uncover the mysterious?
Perception, temperament, curiosity, and self-expression are the backbones of creative life. What role does then art accomplish? I can only begin by saying that art fulfils the basic human need for beauty and harmony, it shapes perception, it feeds curiosity and imagination, it unlocks self-expression, it conveys emotion, it makes a statement, it signals social status, and the list can go on, and on, and on.
How does one cultivate good taste? Museums and art galleries are a good place to start. Then art books, magazines, catalogue essays, conversations with artists, collectors, and art dealers add another layer to one’s understanding and appreciation for the arts. Both The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Guggenheim Museum have made available for free many of their art publications.
Let me highlight some of the best art magazines that I read: Art in America, ArtNews Magazine, American Art Collector Magazine, American Fine Art Magazine, Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine, Plein Air Magazine, Interview Magazine (founded by Andy Warhol), Private Art Investor (London), Cahiers d’Art (Paris), Frieze, ArtNet, Artsy, Hyperallergic, and many more.
American Art Collector magazine, published in Scottsdale, Arizona, covers a variety of art-related topics: features of leading contemporary artists, interviews with art collectors and dealers, gallery shows, auctions, and art trends. In 2015, for instance, the magazine produced a special feature dedicated to the art of the horse. Read here my interview with artist and gallerist Juliet Harrison, owner of Equis Art Gallery in Red Hook, Hudson Valley. Equis Art Gallery specializes exclusively in equine art.
American Fine Art Magazine, also published in Scottsdale, Arizona, defines itself as more than a magazine, and more like an interactive marketing tool written to generate publicity and increase business for historic American fine art. Scholarly commentary, previews of art shows, and market reports make this magazine such an important source of reliable information.
Yet another valuable resource is Fine Art Connoisseur magazine, published in Florida. Fine Art Connoisseur covers museums, galleries, art fairs, auctions, and private collections; it focuses on American and European representational painting, sculpture, drawings and prints, both contemporary and historical.
Published in London, Private Art Investor magazine has a slightly different focus: Private Art Investor looks at art as more of an asset class than a source of beauty. As a side note, the global art market in 2014 was according to the European Fine Art Foundation over 51 billion Euros (approx. $67 billion at an average exchange rate of 1.32 in 2014).
Some of the recent trends seen in contemporary art include: a significant increase in the online art market, the rise of Instagram as the place to go for discovering new artists, and a younger generation of artists who doesn’t mind forming collectives and showing art in self-owned spaces.
One final point, ArtNet magazine published a list with one hundred most influential people in the art world in 2015; the list includes collectors, curators, and artists who’ve made an impact in the art world. Looking forward to seeing what 2016 brings.
© 2015 Simona David
New York State Museum
The New York State Museum in Albany is hosting its annual fundraiser New York in Bloom, an extremely popular floral show launched in 1992. New York in Bloom will display this year over a hundred floral arrangements from New York’s most exquisite florists and floral designers. Themed activities will be offered throughout the weekend, including demonstrations and children’s activities. The hours are Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/programs/nybloom/.
Columbia County Council on the Arts
Columbia County Council on the Arts (CCCA) is hosting an art history class this Sunday, February 22 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. “Understanding Painting” will cover various art movements including the Renaissance, French Neo-Classical and Romantic movements of the 18th and 19th century, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, as well as Modernism. The class will be taught by Emmet McLaughlin, painter and educator. For more information, visit http://artscolumbia.org/.
Woodstock School of Art
Woodstock School of Art is hosting a Pre-College Portfolio Development event this Saturday, February 21 from 1 to 4 p.m. The event is tailored to high school students getting ready for college. There will be a presentation and portfolio review. Parents and teachers are welcomed. Pre-registration is required. To register, call 845-679-2388 or write to Nancy.Campbell@woodstockschoolof art.org. For more information, visit http://www.woodstockschoolofart.org/events.html.
Saugerties Public Library
Saugerties Public Library is hosting the Saugerties Art Tour Group Show featuring the works of over twenty artists, on view through the end of February. The exhibit includes works by Richard Edelman, Viorica Stan, Anita Barbour, Michael Ciccone, Yvette Lewis, and other artists participating in the Saugerties Art Tour in the summer. For more information, visit http://saugertiespubliclibrary.org/art/.
Spillian / Fleischmann Estate
Spillian, a retreat center located at the old Fleischmann mansion on Todd Mountain Road in Fleischmanns, is hosting Voices from the Catskills: The Seven Favorite Maladies of Ludwig van Beethoven this Sunday, February 22 at 4 p.m. The Seven Favorite Maladies of Ludwig van Beethoven is a play written and directed by playwright Carey Harrison , and featuring pianist Justin Kolb. Harrison is the author of forty plays, and six novels. He is the son of famed British actor Rex Harrison. Kolb is a worldwide known classical music pianist, and the chairman of the Phoenicia Festival of the Voice. The play will last until approximately 5:30 p.m., when dinner will be served. For more information about this event, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1403016860002066/?ref=3&ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular.
Have a great Catskill weekend!
Art in the Catskills, The Definitive Guide to the Catskills’ Rich Cultural Life is a compendium of one hundred and twenty-three arts organizations, events and other attractions in the Catskills and surrounding area, some in the neighboring Hudson Valley, and others elsewhere upstate New York. The guide includes anything from museums and memorial sites to summer festivals, art galleries and residencies, as well as theater and literary retreats. It walks the reader through a wide geographic area, from Woodstock to Livingston Manor, and Saratoga Springs to Cooperstown. Easy to digest, Art in the Catskills is a great resource for art enthusiasts travelling through the region.
The Red Violin at Bard College
Fisher Center at Bard College presents “The Red Violin” this Saturday, November 15 at 8 pm, a concert featuring violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn, and pianist Cynthia Elise Tobey. Pitcairn performs on a 1720 Stradivarius – the famous “Red Mendelssohn Stradivarius” – you can read more about it here. Pitcairn and Tobey will perform pieces by Beethoven, Fauré and Schubert, but also a new, less known piece by composer Sara Carina Graef – “Blue Vishuddha”. For more information, visit fishercenter.bard.edu.
Out Windham Way at The Zadock Pratt Museum
The Zadock Pratt Museum in Prattsville is hosting a book reception this Saturday, November 15 at 1 pm featuring “Out Windham Way,” a collection of 400 photographs, maps and ephemera by Larry Tompkins. “Out Windham Way” is a visual representation of the area from the 1880s to the 1940s. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/Zadock-Pratt-Museum.
Lies of the Poets at the Woodstock Artists Association & Museum
Woodstock Artists Association & Museum (WAAM) presents “Lies of the Poets” this Saturday, November 15 at 4 pm featuring poet Leslie Gerber. From WAAM website: “Leslie Gerber was born in Brooklyn in 1943. He graduated from Brooklyn College with a degree in creative writing. For 39 years he ran a mail-order classical music business, while writing thousands of music reviews and articles. In 1970 he moved to Ulster County and has lived there ever since. He began writing poetry in 1999.” For more information, visit http://waamblog.wordpress.com.
19th Century Learning Experiences at The Farmers’ Museum
The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown presents a series of workshops this Saturday, November 15 from 10 am to 4 pm covering anything from printing holiday cards to crafting bandboxes, baking in a brick oven, and creating fine essences like lavender and rose bottled water – all 19th century learning experiences. Just enough to get one in the holiday spirit. For more information, visit http://www.farmersmuseum.org/workshop.
Enjoy an artful weekend in the Catskills!