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.
A lot has been written about the role of museums in the 21st century when collections can be seen and learned about in virtual galleries rather than taking the trip.
Traditionally, museums have played the role of research and educational institutions, not just as mere collectors and guardians of cultural artifacts. They have also been economic engines, strengthening local business climates through cultural tourism. The museum giftshops are amongst the most meaningful and artful shopping experiences that can capture wider and wider audiences. In recent years museums have begun playing a social and community function as well by offering services otherwise outside the scope of their mission, such as hosting training programs and other events. By visiting MoMA nowadays you can enjoy not just modern art, but also culinary art at its finest: the museum’s restaurant The Modern, which overlooks The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, has gotten a great review in The New York Times, Art on the Walls and on the Plates, as well as in the New York Magazine, Modern Love. At the Corning Museum of Glass you will not only explore thousands of years of glass history, but you will also learn to make glass yourself. At the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, upstate New York, you will be taught to print holiday cards, make lavender and rose water, and other 19th century activities, not just be told about them. Actors enacting different periods of time may also be on site, making it a “living” history experience to remember. In recent years holograms have emerged as a new way of experiencing a visit to a museum, understanding its artifacts, and be part of something you will never forget, as exemplified in an article for Gizmodo magazine.
Museums are community assets, and an integral part of the social fabric of our communities. According to Ford W. Bell, president of the American Alliance of Museums from 2007 to 2015, as quoted in a 2013 interview with CNN, “Museums hold more than 1 billion objects, and together these constitute our shared heritages cultural, historic, scientific, natural. As the keepers, protectors, interpreters and exhibitors of these heritages, museums play an essential role. In recent years, museums are playing perhaps an even more essential role, but one that is less tangible. In an increasingly virtual world, museums are among the last bastions of authenticity.”
How do museums remain relevant in the 21st century? In 2013 Linda Norris and Rainey Tisdale, two scholars and museum professionals, published a book titled Creativity in Museum Practice, replete with creativity exercises and stories from the field as a guide to developing an internal culture of creative learning in museums, and delivering an increased value to museum visitors. Creative leaders are looking for interactive programs, love to improvise, engage the community in conversations, and take risks.
There is a project underway called #FutureMuseum Project which explores this very question: how will museums of the future look like? According to Oliver Vicars-Harris, director at Connecting Culture, a museum consultancy based in London, “Museum curatorship will have evolved beyond preoccupation with preserving and presenting collections, to propensity for encouraging connections. A genuine two-way relationship will exist, with the audience given agency to drive the agenda. The distance between past and present will be reduced, with history providing meaning. The division between high and low art will be dissolved, with heritage providing contrast to popular culture.” The museums of the future will provide context to contemporary events. This is just one point of view. You can add your voice to the conversation by submitting your opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some of the best museum experiences are the ones we go to not just to learn, but also to socialize and converse. A visit to a museum will not only satisfy our curiosity, but it will also benefit our social life. It is by far more stimulating to gaze at a work of art with a friend, and muse over its meaning or aesthetic value, rather than doing it alone (although that has its own merit, especially for researchers and critics). Younger generations are increasingly driven by experiences rather than purchasing tangible goods: they prefer “collecting” memorable moments to physical objects. Museums, large and small, can benefit from this trend by offering “instagrammable” experiences to engage millennials, and making it part of their brand.
Among innovators, one can certainly name Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which has recently introduced a program called The Art Hive that brings together art and well-being. The aim of the project is to form “a creative studio supervised by an art therapist, with art materials provided free of charge.” This will be a space “where participants can meet to discuss, participate or exhibit.” As a step further, as outlined in an article for Quartz magazine, doctors in Montreal will prescribe visits to the art museum.
You may be accustomed to visiting art, history and science museums, but in recent years museology has expanded to include for instance a National Language Museum, which opened in Washington DC in 2008, and currently operates only as a virtual museum, although some of its exhibits are available for loans; or the National Museum of Mathematics, which opened in New York City in 2012, and whose exhibits include seeing math as everyday experiences, news from the world of mathematics, but also more fun and playful activities such as using math symbols to create quirky logos, and other math inspired games.
It will be fascinating to see what the future brings in museum practice, and how the makers, collectors, curators, preservationists, and educators will transform visitor experience in the years to come.
ART CONVERSATION AND WRITING WORKSHOP WITH AUTHOR SIMONA DAVID
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2018, 1 – 2:30 PM
THE ZADOCK PRATT MUSEUM, 14540 MAIN STREET / RTE 23, PRATTSVILLE, NY
As guest of the Zadock Pratt Museum, Simona David, author of “How Art Is Made: In the Catskills” (2017), will talk about her experience interviewing artists, and discuss what moves and inspires the creative mind, how a new artistic project is born, how materials are used and different stylistic choices are made, how setbacks are dealt with, and how success is celebrated.
Ms. David will then teach a workshop on art writing, and discuss various research and writing techniques.
To register, call Pratt Museum at (518) 937-6120.
This event is funded in part with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
BLINK GALLERY, 454 Lower Main Street, Andes, New York 13731
Author Simona David will talk about her latest book How Art Is Made: In the Catskills (2017), and provide insights into a long-standing tradition that dates back to the days of Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church.
How Art Is Made: In the Catskills pays homage to the place where American art was born through a series of conversations with creatives who live and work in the Catskills.
The book explores various artistic choices, what inspires and moves the artists, what draws them to their discipline, what materials they use, how they approach a new artistic project, how they deal with setbacks, and how they celebrate success.
Artists featured in the book include sculptor Brian Tolle, 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 – Tolle’s replicas were installed on Flatbush Avenue by the Manhattan Bridge in December 2016. Like many contemporary artists, Tolle maintains a studio and works in the Catskill Mountains.
AMR (Andes – Margaretville – Roxbury) Open Studios Tour 2018 will take place Saturday and Sunday, July 28 – 29 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.
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 in August 2016 “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.”
Participating artists this year include Adam Cohen, Amy Masters, Ted Sheridan, Alan Powell, Lisbeth Firmin, Ellen Wong, Peter Yamaoka, Gerda van Leeuwen, Frank Manzo, Helene Manzo, Tabitha Gilmore Barnes, Gary Mayer, Barbara Alyn, Oneida Hammond, Ken Hiratsuka, Roshan Houshmand, Agnes Freas, Esther de Jong, Lesley A. Powell, Rosamond Welchman, Robert Axelrod, Deborah Ruggerio, Gary Mead, Anthony Margiotta, Rebecca Andre, Patrice Lorenz, Sharon Suess and Gail Freund.
A good place to start the tour is the Wawaka Grange in Halcottsville. Several artists will be showing at this location, including painters Agnes Freas and Oneida Hammond, and photographer Rebecca Andre. Art in the Catskills will present and sell autographed books – “How Art Is Made: In the Catskills,” which features a host of Catskills creatives, including sculptor Brian Tolle and urban realist painter Lisbeth Firmin, will be offered at a discounted price.
Still in Halcottsville, ceramicist Rosamond Welchman, who has participated in the tour every year since it launched in 2012, will open her studio located at 266 Halcottsville Road. For forty years, Welchman taught mathematics and education at Brooklyn College. Since retiring and moving to the Catskills, she has returned to her earlier love of visual design and ceramics. Her professional interests in mathematics (especially geometry) and in teaching (especially problem-solving) have had a strong impact on her ceramic work as well. Welchman’s pottery is hand-built with an emphasis on surface texture, often with patterns influenced by her travels around the world. “Wherever I go, I look for new forms and textures,” she says. “This year I am particularly interested in architectural pieces made from cut slabs of clay fastened together,” she adds.
Painters Robert Axelrod and Sharon Suess will also open their studios in Halcottsville at 261 and respectively 239 Halcottsville Road.
In Arkville, painter and printmaker Amy Masters, and architect and printmaker Ted Sheridan will open their studios located at 222 Chris Long Road. Over the past two years Masters has had a prolific time producing a new host of works: etchings and colorgraphs, as well as paintings from her summers spent in Maine. The artist is inspired by the natural world and the actual objects and vistas around her studio in the Catskills, but what she mostly likes about her work is re-arranging and re-envisioning the landscape in the abstract. One can see in her recent paintings a slight departure in color and texture compared to previous works.
Masters’ husband, Sheridan will be showing new works on paper using iron and iron oxides in addition to drawings and watercolors. A few years ago, Sheridan began experimenting with metallic compounds, corrosion, and magnetic fields to create original patterns of rust on paper. Coming from the world of architecture where everything is controlled and precise, in recent years Sheridan sat to explore the randomness of the oxidation process in metallic prints, and gradually began working on more and more elaborate projects.
Painter Anthony Margiotta will be showing at his studio located at 355 Route 3 in Halcott Center, while multi-media artist Alan Powell and painter Lesley A. Powell will be showing at their studios located at 993 Main Street in Fleischmanns.
“The canvas is now my stage,” says multi-disciplinary artist Lesley A. Powell. Since childhood, Powell has been attracted to non-verbal means of artistic expression whether be dancing or painting. As a choreographer, her interest revolves around the dancer’s ability to change the performance space, working under the influence of German expressionist dancer Rudolf Laban. Over her decade-long career, Powell has produced numerous shows for whom she designed anything from costumes to posters, brochures, and playbills.
As a visual artist, Powell focuses on human anatomy and body movement to depict either dance or circus scenes as well as nudes. She is drawn however to a broad range of media and thematics. Watercolors are prone for still life because of the space required to do the work, she explains, whereas oil paintings allow for more creativity and give the artist more time for reflection and revision. The tone, the feeling and the expression, Powell adds, are also different in oil compared to watercolor. When working in watercolor, the artist uses a more subdued color palette given the spontaneity of the medium, whereas in oil she prefers bolder and richer colors.
In Margaretville, urban realist painter Lisbeth Firmin will open her studio in the Commons Building at 785 Main Street, and show recent works and works in progress. For over four decades Firmin’s work has been in hundreds of solo and group shows across the country and internationally. She was the cover artist for the 2008 spring issue of Epoch, Cornell University’s literary magazine, and was the featured artist in the 2008 summer issue of the Gettysburg Review. This summer Firmin is showing a new series of paintings and monotypes at Rice Polak Gallery in Provincetown, MA. “What’s happening these days is that I see something about the light on a figure, and this is what interests me,” she says. She insists that her work is not about the colors, but about the light and shadow in the composition, apparent in works such as Fifth Avenue (1995), and Woman on a Train (2014). Firmin is one of the artists featured in “How Art Is Made: In the Catskills” book by this author.
Still in Margaretville, poet and furniture designer Gary Mead will open his studio and gallery located at 1289 South Side Road, painter Barbara Alyn will open her studio at 806 Main Street, and painter Patrice Lorenz will open her studio at 359 East Hubbell Hill Road.
In Andes, participating artists include sculptor Ken Hiratsuka, who will open his barn at 34325 State Hwy 28, and painter Roshan Houshmand whose studio is located at 495 Main Street.
The largest group of participating artists this year is in Roxbury: painters Ellen Wong, Adam Cohen, Helene Manzo, Esther de Jong, Gail Freund and Deborah Ruggerio, ceramicists and printmakers Peter Yamaoka and Gerda Van Leeuwen, photographer Frank Manzo, and textile artist Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes, will all open their creative spaces and engage in dialogue with visitors who often enough are artists themselves. One might dedicate one of the two days to visiting Roxbury’s studios only as driving from one place to another can take a bit of time.
Poet and painter Esther De Jong, a former fashion model, will be showing her pencil drawings and Catskill landscape oil paintings while working on a new large figurative work during the open studio; visitors can watch her paint and ask questions. De Jong, 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,” reflections of her poetry. De Jong’s studio is located at 50 Maple Lane in Roxbury.
Abstract painter Adam Cohen, 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, 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. Cohen is currently working on a new series of paintings as many of his works have sold out in various galleries. He was recently featured in a solo show at Abmeyer + Wood Fine Art Gallery in Seattle. Cohen is one of the artists featured in “How Art Is Made: In the Catskills” book by this author. His studio, located in Roxbury’s Historic District at 53856 State Hwy 30, will give visitors a glimpse into the creative process and the naissance of new works of art.
Still in the Historic District, painter Deborah Ruggerio will open her studio located at 54096 State Hwy 30 for the first time this year. “Through a variety of media and techniques I hope to encourage the viewer to look a little more closely at nature’s intricate beauty at different times of the day, changing with the seasons to experience and savor the essence and beauty in nature,” she says. “Whether it’s in the solidarity of a rock formation or in the delicacy of the flower petals that bloom in the spring for only a short period of time, there’s a magnificent canvas to experience every day. All one has to do is take the time to look, see and experience,” she adds.
Mixed media artist Gail Freund will also be showing at 54096 State Hwy 30.
Across the street, at 54091 State Hwy 30, painter Helene K. Manzo and architect and photographer Frank Manzo will open their studios and show works produced over the past year.
Landscape painter Ellen Wong will open her studio located at 121 Shephard Lane in Roxbury. Initially trained as an abstract painter, Wong discovered in time that what she really wanted to do was landscape painting: “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 says. 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. She has been painting the Catskills since the 1970s when she opened her studio in Roxbury.
Ceramicists and printmakers 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. Yamaoka studied at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, while Van Leeuwen received a degree in art from the University of Utrecht in her native Netherlands. In college both artists studied painting, but later on they switched to printmaking. Since moving to the Catskills in the early 1990s both artists became ceramicists: Yamaoka prefers voluminous mythology-inspired vases, while Van Leeuwen makes small porcelains inspired by animal life. Both Yamaoka and Van Leeuwen work and teach in a fully equipped ceramics studio in Roxbury, while exhibiting extensively throughout the Catskills and New York City. Van Leeuwen’s latest show “Diamonds & Rust,” which includes recent works produced over the past winter, is on view at Longyear Gallery in Margaretville through August 6. Both Yamaoka and Van Leeuwen are featured in “How Art Is Made: In the Catskills” book by this author. Their studios are located at 777 Carroll Hinkley Road.
Also featured in “How Art Is Made: In the Catskills,” textile artist Tabitha Gilmore-Barnes will open her studio located at 424 Carr George Road in Denver, an idyllic hamlet of Roxbury. Trained at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and the Center for Tapestry Arts in New York City, Gilmore-Barnes designs both functional and aesthetic products using traditional American patterns. Her work can be seen in museums and gallery exhibits, and at various arts and crafts fairs throughout the region. “Weaving is one of the oldest forms of a blend of art and function. The techniques of twisting fibers to make them stronger and durable started out probably in the earliest times of mankind history. From those twisted fibers men and women learned to do basketry, learned to create fabric, and also to use it for decoration.”
The AMR – Andes, Roxbury, Margaretville – Open Studios Tour 2018 is funded by the Delaware County Department of Economic Development – Tourism Advisory Board and The Lindsay A. and Olive B. O’Connor Foundation, and by the 29 participating artists and their 35+ community business sponsors. Additional community support from the Longyear Gallery (Margaretville) and the MARK Project (Arkville).