A lively August art scene in Saugerties

Painting by Joseph Conrad-Ferm. (photo by Lynn Woods)

Saugerties’ gallery scene is seeking to transform the town into a must-visit destination for art aficionados. Four outstanding shows this month are clustered within two blocks. Paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures have overflowed the gallery walls and are showing up in storefront windows and inside restaurants.

On the piazza-like space in front of Kylie’s Sweet Shoppe and Gelateria, off Partition Street, dramatic, abstract metal sculptures by Alex Kveton, Jeffrey Schiller and others are on display.

This month’s shows reflect an urban sophistication that transcends regionalism, even as many of the artists represented are local.

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Cross Contemporary Art

At Cross Contemporary Art, 99 Partition, an exhibition entitled Site/Sight features six women artists, several of whom are represented in museum collections and/or have received Guggenheim fellowships. Guest curator Ellen Kozak, also one of the artists, notes in a statement that what unites the work of herself and that of Suzanne Caporael, Sharon Horvath, Jacqueline Gourevitch, Joyce Robins, and Martha Diamond is “the authority of perception” rooted in direct observation, though each body of work is characterized by an abstraction that initially obscures the representational motifs.

Caporael’s canvases depict arrangements of distinctive shapes floating in a neutral ground. They seem to be held in tension, as if pulled together by magnetic force, inspired by landscapes viewed 30,000 feet up from an airplane window. They are not so much maplike, as quirky constructivist compositions with edges both precise and muted, suggesting a lush texture, as though the shapes were cut out of felt.

Horvath paints flowing lines in ochre paint that form tendrils and delicate latticework patterns on white paper, tinted in places with pale blue ink. The sensual, linear designs, which evoke Indian paisleys and tattered tapestries, seem to describe boats, palaces, wheels, trumpets, monsters, etc. in their dreamy meanderings, even as they pull back from such literal imagery. The artist notes, in the excellent catalog that accompanies the show, that she structured the paintings after the Peaceable Kingdom series by early 19th-century folk artist Edward Hicks.

At first glance, Gourevitch’s vertical cloud paintings seem painted in grays, blacks and whites. A closer look reveals smudges of subtle color, invigorating the tonal patterns of dark and light, which are alternatively subtle and starkly contrasting.

Diamond’s gestural black forms on a white, cream or beige ground suggest edges framing or framed by empty space, which refer to the interstices between the tall buildings glimpsed in her native New York.

Kozak’s luminous color fields, ranging from light, transparent blues to dark green and blue, suggest subtle, scintillating reflections on water, perhaps glimpsed from her studio, which is located on the Hudson River.

From a distance, Robins’ flat ceramic wall pieces appear to be painted on torn tissue paper or tooled leather shapes. Up close, they reveal themselves as hefty objects whose surfaces are rich with smudged, atmospheric color, punctured with rows of circles, or covered in a dense web of black lines, resembling minute cracks. We read them simultaneously as object and image. As Carter Ratcliff writes in the accompanying catalog, “vision endows matter with weightlessness and a virtual translucency …. Shaping, piercing, incising, painting, and spattering her clay, Robins makes it into a vessel of memory and allusion” — which, by virtue of being flat, is open to all that “imagination can find in them.”

The artworks are beautifully coordinated in the spacious room, which gallery director Jen Dragon took over in April, significantly expanding Cross Contemporary’s square footage. Dragon, who works in a back room hand-coloring centuries-old maps and prints for a client, opened Cross Contemporary three years ago. She hosts 13 exhibitions a year, drawing on her extensive network of contacts and emphasizing the work of women (who account for 68 percent of the art shown, she said).

Two months ago, Dragon was accepted by Artsy, the on-line curated platform for selling and promoting contemporary art. In exchange for the monthly fee, “I get feedback from the marketing person” as to which posts are attracting the most clicks, she said, noting the gallery’s inclusion on the site vastly increases her exposure.

 

The Pop-Up Art Space

Across the street, at 114 Partition, Dragon’s former partner at Cross Contemporary, Alan Goolman, has started a pop-up gallery in an enormous loft space reminiscent of a Soho gallery. He is curating monthly shows in The Pop-Up Art Space, as he calls it, at least through November. “Married to the Paint” features paintings by a husband and a wife, Joseph and Sarah Conrad-Ferm. It is up through September 2.

Joseph Conrad-Ferm’s paintings on canvas, wood and paper are abstracts consisting of crisp, richly chromatic geometric shapes that congeal in a floating mass reminiscent of Constructivism. There is a graphic concision in the way the squares, patches and arcs of vivid colors are framed against the white ground, as well as an appealing painterliness. The works are both sensual and controlled. The artist is self-taught. He didn’t start painting until he was 26. He has shown in galleries in Miami (he was represented at Art Basel), Palm Beach and West Palm Beach as well as in Hudson, New York City, and Connecticut, and recently had a solo show at the Museum of Art in Coral Springs, Florida.

Sarah Conrad-Ferm paints large canvases in acrylic based on her photos, in a style that references Photorealism but revels in expressive brushwork, as is most vividly evident in her painting of white exploding fireworks. Other subjects — an open doorway of a suburban scene topped by a fan window, a sunset over a lake, a beige theatrical curtain cascading to a wooden floor, and a carnival ride at night — provide freshly imbue clichés with mystery, seeming to hide as much as they reveal. Sarah’s drawings are also masterful, and the collage inspired by Wyeth’s iconic Cristina’s World is as much a comment on looming McMansions and the displacements of the suburbanizing countryside as it is on disability.

The couple, who reside in Saugerties, is juggling art-making with family. Sarah is a stay-at-home mom, while Joseph is a full-time nurse in an intensive-care unit. Many of the works in the show are recent, indicating that despite busy schedules, both find time — miraculously, it seems — to paint.

 

The Dutch Ale House

Around the corner, in The Dutch Ale House, 255 Main, Josepha Gutelius is displaying 38 drawings and acrylic paintings in the light-filled, loft-like room off the darkened bar area. Gutelius, an award-winning poet and playwright who gave up writing to paint full-time in 2015, makes collage-like, disjunctive narratives in a figurative expressionist style that has echoes of German Expressionism and the punk sensibility of the 1980s.

Neon pink, red, orange, yellow, blue and green are combined with graphic black to unseat expectations in large-scale scenes of family gatherings, groups of schoolchildren, and portraits. The glaring colors are often accompanied by intrusions of sci-fi-like elements. Areas of abstract patterns suggesting trippy hallucinations. A spiraling chaos of what looks like rubble, distant nebulae and rotating disks (tires? bangles? flying saucers?) below the image of a woman’s face suggest infra-red images and by extension top-secret maps and investigations by the military. It’s as though the artist is an interrogator unearthing the vertiginous fears, fantasies and queasy anxieties lurking just beneath the surface of society’s banal superficialities.

Based on her own photos as well as images collected on-line and from newspapers, Gutelius’ investigations of notions of family and institutional life, class, war, religion, fashion, leisure, art, and other aspects of contemporary American culture undercut the sentimentalized or glamorized appearances characterizing such subjects in advertising and social media. While Pop appropriated from the techniques of commercialism, thus in a sense glorifying them, Gutelius portrays the seamy underbelly, the alienation, cruelties, vulnerabilities, and inhumanity underlying  exploitations. The self, within such a culture, is a shaky construct, and commercialism’s hawked pleasures are delusional. In the painting Psychic Beach, for example, the crowded beach, viewed from above, as if from a drone, flatten the scene, depicting corpse-like sunbathers as tense, awkward, and uncomfortably exposed, their proximity to each other claustrophobic.

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“The most I can hope for is to make paintings that have some kind of presence, that startle, that aren’t just wall coverings,” writes Gutelius in an email, noting that “art is a commodity and famous art and artists are brands.” She describes her subject as “the half-told story, the precarious balance between knowing and not-knowing, where the physical and metaphysical are constantly intertwining.”

Many of her scenes pivot between interior and psychological states to the public, technological and even cosmic. The work is cinematic in its abrupt juxtapositions.

Besides film, Gutelius’s work also references art history, often ironically. In Vibrational Museum, a work in acrylic and colored pencil, a figure rests against a background covered in rows of narrow pink, yellow and gray rectangles. The piece could be read as an interpretation of a Agnes Martin painting onto which Gutelius, lampooning Modernist orthodoxy, has superimposed a figure, complete with shadow.

 

Emerge Gallery

Across from The Dutch Ale House, at 228 Main, Emerge Gallery is exhibiting 24 artists in a show of black-and-white works. Somehow gallery owner Robert Langdon manages to display dozens of artworks, including paintings, drawings, jewelry, and small-scale sculpture, in a small space while maintaining a sense of elegance and order. The artists represented are Tara Bach, Joan Barker, Loel Barr, Alaine Becker, Edward Berkise, Diane Christi, Michael Ciccone, Arabella Colton, Shelley Davis, Robert Greco, Dominic Guerrra, Josepha Gutelius, Kathleen Heron, Linda Lynton, Ellen McKay, John Melville, Paul Mindell, Gina Occhiogrosso, Tim Petteys, Joan Reinmuth, Istar Schwager, Arlene Santana Thornton, jd weiss, Betsy Wilson and Gail Winbury.

Among the highlights for me were Ellen McKay’s mystical collages, Joan Barker’s photographs of arrows (which resemble monoprints; the artist has photographed arrows painted on streets and other surfaces from around the world), Michael Ciccone’s graceful, bird-like dervish sculpture fashioned from a shredded tire, and jd Weiss’s otherworldly photographs of Cooper Lake, one depicting birds swirling into a white sky bordered by black clouds and the other a moody reflection of swirling clouds.