The University at Albany’s Art Museum celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The Museum opened in October 1967 with an exhibition titled Painting and Sculpture from the Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection, which featured over fifty works by some of the most prominent artists of the 20th century: Picasso, Miro, Braque, Klee, de Kooning, and Calder, among others.
In 2015 the Museum hosted a retrospective show titled Bordering Utopia: Sculptures by Brian Tolle, dedicated to alumnus Brian Tolle, an internationally acclaimed sculptor 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 last year. He is one of the artists featured in our book How Art Is Made: In the Catskills.
To learn more about the University at Albany’s Art Museum, visit www.albany.edu.
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 Collectormagazine, 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.
Jen Dragon is the director of Cross Contemporary Art in Saugerties, a gallery dedicated to showing mid-career artists with a connection to New York City, the Catskills and Hudson Valley regions. Dragon has background in online marketing, but she’s also had an extensive career in the arts – over the years she has curated numerous exhibits for non-profit spaces, and organized various community-wide art projects. Dragon holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Purchase College.
Simona David: Please, talk a little bit about your background, your education, and interest in art.
Jen Dragon: I studied at Purchase College in the early 1980s. And there I was trained as a printmaker and painter. I also had a scholarship to study fine arts in Italy for a year. I was trained there as a restaurateur of antique maps and prints. Afterwards, like many artists, I was drawn to the Catskills. Together with my ex-husband I bought a tavern to use as a studio – we fixed it ourselves; this was near the Phoenicia area. I lived there until about a year and a half ago.
SD: Talk about your curatorial experience, and your vision when it comes to putting together a new art show.
JD: I got into curating with non-profit spaces like the Kleinert / James Center for the Arts in Woodstock, and under-utilized spaces like this place at the Emerson Resort that at the time was not being used. It was a challenge, because I was interested in showing large abstract art, and in the country, like where we live, it’s very difficult to find houses that have really big high-ceilings. I was always on the look-out for a loft, a good space to show big paintings. A year ago I had the opportunity to take over a lease on a gallery in Saugerties. It’s tiny – it’s only 650 sq ft, but it has high ceilings, and it has a lot of wall space. And I am now able to show the kind of art that I have always been passionate about. I much prefer to be in the gallery and act as a docent introducing people to art rather than trying to rally everybody behind a large community arts project.
SD: Talk about the curatorial process: where do you start, what is your vision, and how do you get where you want to be with a project?
JD: It’s interesting, because I get to live with an art show for about a month – each show is four week long. And I really get immersed in the artist’s work. At the end of each show I can probably write a dissertation on it. A lot of my choices are governed by the location of my gallery. Given the fact that I’m in Saugerties, which has extraordinary landscapes, I don’t feel like it’s appropriate to show urban art. The artists I tend to choose have an obsession with nature, and I also look for human drama. In sum, the criteria for choosing art have to do with where I am, but I also consider myself as some sort of an educator. It’s more about creating a beautiful show than being a salesman. I encourage the artists to really own the space, and create an installation.
SD: How do you look for artists, or is it the artists who approach you?
JD: I’m always looking at art. It’s important for artists to have their art seen. Because of my limitations, I can only show as many artists. But I keep a file, and I also refer artists to other places. A lot of time artists that I show are referred to me by other artists. The artists that I have been generally showing are in museum collections, or have shown in museums, and to show with me is a certain investment on their part. And they take very seriously who they want to be seen with. And they also refer people to me that they think that I would like. Sometimes I come up with something that I discover on my own. I have shown over eighteen artists so far. I’ve only done one group show.
SD: I like what you said before, that artists like to be seen in the company of other artists, and that’s why art communities are so important. We often judge people by their associations or affiliations, or by the company they keep. Are there any commonalities of themes or styles amongst the artists that you’ve shown? You did mention before that you looked at art centered on nature or human drama.
JD: Yes. I also have a sweet spot for printmaking. I was trained as a printmaker when I was in college in the 1980s, and what was trending back then were these Neo-Impressionist like prints. There were these intense, dynamic painters like Julien Schnabel, Gregory Amenoff, Richard Bosman – these guys were powerhouses. In retaliation to the abstract art, they were going back to figurative painting. And just like the German expressionists, they were also into printmaking. What I learned from artists like these is that the power of the wood cut supports the power of the painting. I knew I was doing something right with my gallery when I approached Gregory Amenoff and Richard Bosman, who were like my rock stars when I was a student, and they agreed to show their work with me.
SD: And I should add that when people think nature, they shouldn’t necessarily think representational art or landscape painting. It could be non-objective art as well. Take for instance Heather Hutchison, who you’ve shown in your gallery.
JD: Yes. What’s fascinating about Heather Hutchison is that her subject matter is light, so she is probably more of a landscape painter than anyone else that I’ve shown. Even though it doesn’t look like landscape, and it looks like a box that is constantly changing colors because of the way the light is coming through it, Heather’s literal subject matter is the changing light itself.
SD: Her work has been shown in many prestigious locations like The Smithsonian in Washington D.C., and she’s also received numerous awards including The Pollock-Krasner Foundation Award.
JD: Yes. She’s also very active locally. She’s in the James / Kleinert Center for the Arts in Woodstock. Her husband Mark Kanter teaches at Columbia University. All the artists that I show are actually very active in the community. In addition to being educators and making art in their studios, these artists are also great art communicators.
SD: What kind of experience do you want your visitors to have when they visit your gallery?
JD: What’s really interesting about showing all these artists is that they work so well together – I can easily have a group show with any of them. Even though they have different styles, they all seem to have the same sort of fascination, the same sort of obsession with art. The common denominator is that they all create amazing spatial environments that the viewer can occupy. That’s my criterion for what I consider art. The mark making is also terribly important. A gestural mark is a brush work with intention, and a certain kind of velocity to it, and these kinds of creations need to form a space that you can inhabit. If art doesn’t have gesture, and it doesn’t have space, it becomes illustration, which is a fine thing, but it’s not deep enough for me. What I look for in art is the space, the intent, and the passion. What I find beautiful is the thing that changes me by looking at it, and changes my relationship to where I am.
SD: You hosted recently a show by Iain Machell. Let’s talk about that.
JD: Iain Machell is the head of the Visual Arts Department at SUNY Ulster. Last summer he got a grant to study at Platte Clove arts residency near Saugerties. And created all these drawings, and paintings, and even some photographs enameled in metal, that were inspired by Platte Clove – he did it in a very short period of time as well. The show at Cross Contemporary Art Gallery included close to thirty pieces of art that Iain created at Platte Clove this past summer. It was an installation – some sort of meditation of ground and water and rocks and crevasses.
SD: I do want to mention that Platte Clove played such an important role in the formation of the Hudson River School of Painting in the 1820s. What is your next show?
JD: My December show is Shira Toren, an Israeli-American artist, who works in New York City, but also has a place in Great Barrington, MA. She does abstract paintings, and also makes prints. Her show is called “Eternal Return.” It opened December 5, and will remain on view through December 27.
SD: What are your plans for the holiday season?
JD: I have been invited to participate in The Decorator’s Holiday Show at the Senate House in Kingston. The Senate House Museum owns a large Victorian house that is being made available to interior designers to decorate it for the holidays. I am the only gallery that was invited to participate. The grand opening was December 4 as part of The Snowflake Festival. I am featuring artists that I have shown over the past year.
SD: What are the gallery’s hours?
JD: The gallery is open from Thursday to Monday from 12 noon to 5 pm. And also by appointment.
For more information about Cross Contemporary Art Gallery, visit