The Hudson Valley art world’s year in review

Karen Davis showed her haunting McCann Family photos, a collection of portraits of a set of dolls with which she and her now-gone sister played as girls, at Cabane Gallery & Studio in Phoenicia.

Karen Davis showed her haunting McCann Family photos, a collection of portraits of a set of dolls with which she and her now-gone sister played as girls, at Cabane Gallery & Studio in Phoenicia.

It has been a very good year for art in the Hudson Valley: proof that difficult times do push creative sorts to new levels, mostly by allowing those who create a clearer field within which to work, along with a wider share of the spotlight often taken over by loud art.

On the institutional level, 2012 could be seen as a continuation of the recent rise in curation as an artform unto itself. And yet systemic fiscal problems are now threatening a number of major players in the regional arts scene, indicating a possible shift away from the big, thematically oriented multi-artist shows toward something more simple.

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Last winter, the Masters on Main program that my wife Fawn Potash was running to fill Catskill’s empty storefronts with art from students in some of the nation’s top MFA Studio Arts programs, took a detour when it welcomed artists from 2011’s Occupy Wall Street movement. The energy and artwork was strong at first, but eventually, the show ended up faltering along the same lines that rendered so much of the Occupy movement dismissible by the time that November’s elections rolled around: People ran out of steam and found that they could only go so far without money.

Over at Bard, meanwhile, the Center for Curatorial Studies’ big “Anti-Establishment” show ran into a similar giant shrug over the long run. There was great work on view, much of it multimedia with great dollops of video and digital imagery. But its edginess felt forced, overexamined and somewhat off-key, as everyone found their minds overtaken by the scary inanities of presidential politics.

At the big youth-oriented art events at Wassaic in Dutchess County and NADA in Hudson over the summer, things that felt edgy and mind-opening the previous summer felt similarly old-hat and oddly self-conscious this year. The one metaphor seen shared at several such art-fairlike shows was installations focused on trashed bathrooms with the toilets running over.

More interesting were the locally oriented and intimate exhibitions on view. The Center for Photography at Woodstock (CPW) filled its season with some beautifully conceived and well-managed shows that brought focus back from themes to individual artists – albeit artists who work conceptually. Among our favorites were a single-focus look at the cloud imagery captured by top nature photographers Yva Momatiuk and John Eastcott, as well as the personal elements in a twins-oriented blockbuster (and the Charles Lindsay installation that we’ll reference later).

The Kingston Museum of Contemporary Art (KMoCA) and One Mile Gallery, in Kingston’s Rondout District, continued to wow consistently with their well-balanced three- and four-person shows focused on process art or, most refreshingly, visual art by folks known for their work in other fields. It has reached a point where everything that these two spaces put up for view, along with Nancy Donskoj’s new Storefront Gallery on lower Broadway, resonates.

Similarly, Sneha Kapadia at the Woodstock Framing Gallery has similarly pulled out the best of her town’s more contemporary art scene, from painter Bill Mead – whose exhibition of new color-fieldlike paintings was a stunner – to Norm Magnusson’s ecstatically fun take on image grabs, “F.U.,” which included a host of local artists messing with classic album covers.

And the Muroff-Kotler Gallery at SUNY-Ulster in Stone Ridge had a very good year of shows, starting with a compendium of works based on flooding and water, curated by artist Portia Munson, and ending with a quickie featuring the multi-talented Julianne Schwartz of Stone Ridge and Bard, who has also been showing in top spots around the globe this year (along with Poughkeepsie-based Huma Bhabha, currently up at PS 1 in New York).

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