Inside WAAM’s vault

Hannah (Small) painting by Austin Merrill Mecklem will be in WAAM’s Feb. 6 opening.

Hannah (Small) painting by Austin Merrill Mecklem will be in WAAM’s Feb. 6 opening.

Spring cleaning, a little color on the walls and preparations for the beginning of the 2016 season have kept everyone at the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum busy behind closed doors this January. On Saturday, February 6, (2 p.m.-4 p.m.) the doors open wide for the inaugural reception of the year, highlighted by Director’s Choice: The Responsive Eye, a show of 30 works from WAAM’s Permanent Collection in the Phoebe and Belmont Towbin Wing.

“It’s one of my great pleasures and privileges to have access to WAAM’s collection of over 2000 objects. There’s nothing better for me, just to be in the vault, and to be quiet and intimate with these pieces,” says Janice La Motta, Executive Director and Curator of the Permanent Collection. “It’s a privilege, as an artist and as an arts administrator, and it’s an act of discovery. There’s the kinetic part of looking at them one by one, opening boxes or pulling them out of racks. It’s the first time I’ve gone through this collection,” she adds, “and it’s an odd phenomenon. When you look at an object online or as a reproduction, your eye sets it at a certain size. You might think of a piece as being 30×40, but surprises happen when it’s larger, or smaller, than that.”

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The breadth of the collection spans 60 years, from founding members to more recent artists, like Mary Frank and Ernest Frazier. A display of photographs by Harriet Tannin will feature some of the artists represented in this show.

The show reflects not only the historic nature of the WAAM collection, but also La Motta’s personal artistic aesthetic. “I have an interest in quiet works that reveal themselves more slowly, more subtly. One of them, a work on paper, is a very small, very charming little piece. And, there are some pieces that may have never been shown here, or at least infrequently. It’s not all about being recognizable, although there are some hallmarks from the collection.”

“There are certain artists that I would have enjoyed being friends with, and Ernest Frazier is one of those people,” La Motta says. “He created beautiful, expressive works.” And, a work La Motta refers to as “THE” Coffee Cup by the artist Philip Guston is one of the collection’s signature pieces. “It has been much reproduced and many of Guston’s pieces are equally exciting. When I came here, for my interview, and entered the vault, my eye immediately went to that piece on the rack. It’s small, but it’s a big painting. I couldn’t ignore the way it revealed itself,” she says. As the title The Responsive Eye implies, “I am responding to the selections I’ve made. One by one, I’m not only looking at them in a singular way, but it’s also a cumulative process. There are associations, groupings, conversations…and I’ve been jotting notes for future exhibit ideas. Themes and historical references arise, and you can’t help but look at these works of art from a lot of different perspectives.”

“I hope to include Lilith 2, a wild figurative piece by John Carroll. It’s a woman lying prone with a cloth draped over the lower part of her body. The way the pose is set up is a little bizarre, and she appears to have almost no eyeballs. It’s an eerie figure study, very surreal in its tone. It’s a sizable piece — I’m guessing 50×80 — and it’s pretty fantastic. We have lots of John Carroll’s photographs from earlier in the last century, and I think this painting is from the late 1920s,” says La Motta.

The galleries of WAAM will feature works by solo artists, young artists and founders as well. Larissa Harris, curator of The Queens Museum, is WAAM’s 2016 Solo Show Artists Juror: she has selected a handful of artists from a highly competitive field of 90 applicants, the first of whom is Greg Slick, an abstract artist who lives in Beacon. Slick’s Solo Gallery exhibit at WAAM, The Fertile Rock, features works influenced by a recently completed artist residency at Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughan, Ireland, where he explored Neolithic sites and studied archeological surveys.

Ellen O’Shea, President of the Barrett Art Center, has juried a show of Small Works for the Founders Gallery, and James Martin, an artist who lives in Kingston’s Lace Mill, will show still life drawings and landscapes on the Active Member Wall. Martin, whose work has been shown in several Ulster County galleries since he left New York City in 2009, works with graphite and charcoal and enjoys the obvious challenges of balancing light and shadow.

Amy Frolick, art teacher at Saugerties High School, will showcase works by her students in the Youth Exhibition Space. “Over 100 students participate in the Saugerties program and Amy asked them for their best work, so the show is student-driven,” says Beth Humphrey, Director of Education and the Museum Educator for WAAM. Humphrey, who has served in that position for the past eight years, says, “WAAM offers free programming to public and private schools that request it, but since NYS has switched to Common Core, it has impacted the program. In the past, I have worked with Kingston, Saugerties, Onteora, Coleman High School and Woodstock Day School — all in the same year — but now teachers feel they have less time,” Humphrey notes.

WAAM also partners with the Teaching the Hudson Valley initiative from the FDR Library to offer professional development for teachers. Shortly after she began her position at WAAM, Humphrey teamed up with an ESL teacher at Kingston High School to mount a show with the theme of “kids new to the U.S. One of the students from that show was incredibly talented, and applied for a solo show intended for adults — and got it — at WAAM. This student recently graduated from Cooper Union and many students who show work in WAAM’s Youth Exhibition Space go on to FIT, Purchase and other art schools. There’s nowhere else for students to exhibit in the area, except in a café or someplace like that. Most of the work exhibited comes through our outreach program in the schools,” says Humphrey, adding that young Woodstock artists will show their work at WAAM in March.

As you enter the building, you’ll notice La Motta has initiated a series of changes in the gift shop area, too. “It has suffered a bit from a lack of organization and focus, and I’d like it to be a little more reflective of our historic Woodstock artists. I’m thinking about some site-specific installations that will tie into Woodstock’s history with the WPA mural work, to carry that tradition forward. It’s one of the first things you see when you walk in the door, so I’d like to be a bit more intentional about it.” A computer station, with access to the WAAM website, Ulster Artists Online and the Hudson Valley Artists Consortium will be available too.

And, look for the first Potluck Slide Show on February 18 at 6:30 p.m. Admission is $2 (or a food dish to serve four) and the deadline to submit images for work to be included for discussion has been extended to February 7. This new forum for community, food and art is open to all, with a format designed to encourage casual creative conversations among artists and friends. “It should be a nice social evening, and I hope it catches on. It was successful in Hartford, and is a fresh, immediate, fun way for artists to engage in easy conversations about their work, especially new work,” says La Motta.

 

Director’s Choice: The Responsive Eye opens with a reception on Saturday, February 6 from 2 p.m.-4 p.m. and the exhibit continues through Sunday, April 30. The shows in the Solo Gallery, Founders Gallery and the Youth Exhibition Space will open on February 6 and continue through February 28. For more information, see ulsterpub.staging.wpengineart.org.