NEWBURGH, NY — Part of the mythology I absorbed growing up in New York City is the notion that no art of real importance or surprising innovation happens outside our metropolis, but the Upstate Art Weekend event effectively put the kibosh on that fairytale. Its second edition, which took place this past Friday through Sunday and featured 61 sculpture parks, museums, galleries, studios, and residencies, offered me glimpses of some of the myriad flavors of art in the Hudson River Valley. The number of places to visit was way more than I could stuff into three days, but I didn’t run through the spaces with a sense of desperation. Now that I live in the valley, in the town of Newburgh, I was able take lovely scenic drives on winding roads to catch some standout shows that I think are worth talking about.
I first visited Mohonk Arts in High Falls, which has a residency program that currently includes four artists, but for the weekend they invited several more creators into their shed-like building. The work there was all kinds of gorgeous. I particularly liked Suzy Sureck’s “Branch” (2017), an installation of stainless steel antlers jutting out from the wall, and precise lighting to make the object feel both beautiful and menacing. I adored Megan Pahmier’s “fall-out 20/21” (2021), which, on one side of the hall, consisted of one thin scrim of fiberglass that had been riddled by some violent force, and against the other wall the excised pieces suspended in perfect formation.
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Though it wasn’t on the Art Weekend’s list of participants, I visited the town of Hudson, lured by the gallerist Elizabeth Moore who had reached out to me about her exhibition of Paul Jacobsen’s drawings on paper for the show Visible Light. The work riffs on the achingly idyllic paintings of the Hudson School, made by famed artists Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, and Albert Bierstadt. Jacobsen essentially recreates their vistas monochromatically in excruciating detail with charcoal on white paper. These scenes are overlaid with translucent orbs of colored light in pastel, as if Jacobsen sees these vistas through a camera’s eye that’s being flooded by lens flare. The artist sets these drawings in wood frames he’s charred. The work feels a bit gimmicky, but it is also so finely rendered and deeply attentive that I can forgive that.
Next I visited Wassaic Project, and knew I had made the right choice because immediately on entering the space I ran into the work of an artist whose work I adore: Tamara Kastionovsky, who had her “Big Vulture” (2017) and “Every Color in the Rainbow” (2021) birds hung from rafters. She makes pieces that are concoctions of discarded clothing and upholstery fabric that looks like a version of Schrödinger’s cat to me — both alive and dead at the same time. The artist Marianna Peragallo had several cute installations at each landing on the staircase leading up the barn structure that made the whole journey up feel like an easter egg hunt. And then upstairs, I ran into a dazzling installation by Shoshanna Weinberger, including “A Sense of Sight” (2021), a collection of mirror acrylic versions of her fantastically elaborated woman forms that are a consistent motif in her work.
For the last day, I ended up in my own little village by the Elijah Wheat Showroom, which is run by Carolina Wheat and Liz Nielsen. I have visited their gallery several times before because they have consistently strong shows. (They also have an alluring ground floor space that is just a few feet from the Hudson’s shore.) They are now showing Ashley Lyon, in Tender Temper, a series of ceramic sculptures that deal with the tangled and tortuous issues bound up in motherhood that are rarely publicly discussed. For example, the piece “Mother” (2021) shows a woman’s naked torso with a seated baby replacing the rest of her torso and head above the midpoint of her chest. It’s as if her body has been partially taken over by another being. This is not the story that is typically told about the joys and struggles of being a mother, and it’s refreshing in its candor.
The entire weekend felt rejuvenating to me. And it felt like an adventure. What’s great is that there are all the other places I didn’t get to visit that are still up here waiting to be explored where the air is a little easier to breathe.