Radius 50, the new regional exhibit that’s up at the Woodstock Artists Association & Museum this month, pushes both WAAM and the Woodstock art scene into fresh territory via its serious inclusion of bold new visions, savvy Janus-faced simultaneous takes on a shared art history and emerging visual culture, and diverse receptivity to our contemporary world. It fills the meandering spaces of the grand old association galleries, upstairs and down, with a surprising sense of adventure, and simultaneously lends new gravitas, and currency, to the older works gathered in the Towbin’s Wing permanent collection show, L’heure entre chien et loup.
Yet something about its 29 artists’ prowess (culled from 208 submitting artists from around the region), as well as the essentially eternal elements of beauty that wafts through these rooms, seems to have gotten under juror David A. Ross’ skin.
“I was surprised that the vast majority of the work I saw was apolitical,” writes the former San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum, and Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston director in his catalogue essay for this first of a new sort of regional shows. “Surprising not because Woodstock and its environs ought to be somehow any more political than any other exurban community, not simply because Woodstock lent its name to one of the great counter-cultural events of the 60’s, not because of its earlier 20th century reputation as a hotbed of avant-garde art and music, not because of the proximity of Big Pink, and surely not because of the role Woodstock played in the conviction of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.”
Ross speaks of the “technical sophistication” of the art he chose, and the fact “that photography still has a strong hold on this creative community.” Yet he then asks why there’s not more engagement with a world he and so many feel is in crisis.
“Is it that the continuing Black Lives Matter movement has no relevance to the lives of this random group of artists who live well-insulated from urban violence, the conduct of misguided police, the corruption of state, local and federal governments, or the implications of a perverse electoral system that rewards cupidity, greed and convenient blindness with unchecked power?” Ross asks. “Or are we all just so burned out, so fearful, so deeply depressed and already without hope, that together we have arrived once again at a time when artists sense that the most political thing one can do is simply make art in the face of the horror; art that serves as a buffer of beauty and rationality — Matisse’s so-called ‘armchair for the weary businessman?’ This may be the case, but I suspect not. I hope not.”
How will these questions land this weekend after Charlottesville when Ross moderates a panel discussion at 2 p.m. Saturday, August 19 on the current issue involving everything from the new film Detroit to new academic concerns about how art gets taught, entitled Who Speaks for Whom: The Issue of Voice in the Visual Arts, with Hammer Museum curator Ike Onyewuenyi and Hyperallergic senior editor Jillian Steinhauer. Or how they’ll reverberate within listeners’ minds the day after, on Sunday, August 20, when composers Mimi Goese and Ben Neill perform their composition Fathom: Hudson River Hurricane Data Becomes Music at 2 p.m. Or even when the works of ten separate artists up for silent auction through August 27 find final buyers (visit woodstockart.org/radius-50-silent-auction for more on this).
There’s haunting work in Radius 50, drawn from 60 locales within the allotted miles from WAAM. Elizabeth Panzer’s pigment print florals are exquisite, Dan Goldman’s subtle revision of a Woody Guthrie classic, “This Land Ain’t Your Land,” gets a message across simply and with innate beauty. Jeffrey Weiner’s TV series, including an animation, is racy, fun and provocative. Avery Danziger’s shots of broken interior landscapes in the old compounds at Wingdale look like dream sets, or settings for bad dreams, while Norm Magnusson’s new word works are affectingly witty and Eric Forstmann’s intricate painting, Committee, is as impressive as any painting we’ve seen in years.
And yet Ross’s words still linger, and set a tone for what’s to come from our culture. Or at least how we see it and balance feeling cultured with being responsible.
“Regardless of my expressed concerns, there is some remarkable work in this exhibition,” he concludes his piece. “Some of it hints at overtly activist art, and there are images that may well worm into your memory. You might even find that, within the 29 artists whose work you will hopefully engage and enjoy, you will find seeds of a subtle contest between values and ideas. Because, like it or not, all art is political.”
As has been WAAM, too, over the years…albeit not so much now as it pushes beyond past battles over who shows what when into the larger concepts Ross has invited into Radius 50. Coming up on Thursday, August 31 will be the association’s general membership meeting, starting at 7 p.m., at which voting will take place for six Active Artist member seats and two Associate seats. Ballots with slates of confirmed candidates are being sent out August 17, although new candidates can come forward up to the date of the actual vote.
See www.woodstockart.org or call 845-679-2940 for further information on this weekend’s events at WAAM, the upcoming meeting and vote, or just stop in at 28 Tinker Street to see the show.