WAAM shows focus on the abstract

White + Red Center by Agnes Hart.

Abstraction is a fickle mistress. It rarely works in literary, musical, or film formats, and takes precision to capture a dance audience’s admiration. In our visual arts, the element of abstraction is always present as a device, and sometimes a taunt. Moreover, it tends to swing in and out of favor, at least for critics and curators.

From the look of the Woodstock Arts Association & Museum’s new exhibits opening this weekend, with receptions set for March 24, abstraction’s back in town…if it ever really left. Abstract Heart is the name of the latest WAAM Focus show, drawing together ten artists juried by Garrison Art Center director Katie Schmidt Feder. It’s also key to appreciating the cool aesthetic within architect Richard Scherr’s sculptures, showing in the gallery’s solo space. And it’s certainly key to the Agnes Hart exhibition that will be filling the Phoebe and Belmont Towbin Wing with the singular artist’s still-contemporary work through June 10.

Agnes Hart (1912-1979): A Journey Towards Abstraction includes 22 paintings drawn from WAAM’s Permanent Collection, private collections and the artist’s own estate, creating a timeline that stretches from her early gouache on paper works from her years in New York City, where she started fracturing the cityscapes she lived in and manipulated into two dimensions, through years of abstracted still lives in which her supple use of line grew ever-more lyrical and subtle, to later large-scale works that incorporated sand and fabric as she explored new frontiers in organic shape and coloration.

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Hart was born and raised in Connecticut, studied art at the Ringling School of Art in Florida, married painter Josef Presser in 1941, and then moved to Woodstock where they set up studios within the rough-and-tumble Maverick Art Colony. She showed at the Roko Gallery on East 10th Street in New York, where Milton Avery and Alex Katz were introduced, as well as in two group shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the early 1950s before spending years teaching art (and surviving her tumultuous marriage to Presser.) In 1977 she was invited by President Jimmy Carter to the White House Reception for Outstanding Woman of America.

A catalog emphasizing Hart’s natural inclination for abstraction, almost as a pioneer of what would become Abstract Expressionism, will be released to accompany the exhibition.

The latest in WAAM’s Focus series of shows, one that concentrates on the work of ten mid-career artists, will advance the concept with its own emphasis on today’s widening sphere of abstraction, inclusive of painting, sculpture and photography.

“Passion, emotion, deeply-held beliefs,” reads some of the defining themes for the show, as outlined in its tagline definition of the term Abstract Heart. “…Work that speaks from the soul through a personal visual language.”

Participating artists from throughout the region include Paulette Esrig, Nils Hill, Henry Klimowicz, Jerry Michalak, Samantha Palmeri, Tracy Phillips, Stephen Rose, Barbara Smith, Kat Stoutenborough, and jd Weiss, representing a wide range of individual styles and approaches to media.

“I had a visceral response to the work of the ten artists chosen for this exhibition,” curator Schmidt Feder has written of what she’s pulled together. “Each offered a strong and diverse point of view which speaks to one or many facets of emotion and human experience. It could very well be that the thoughts or emotions behind the creation of these works are not at all the same thoughts or emotions which entered my mind upon experiencing the work — but that is the power, wonder and gift of art.”

Scherr, a renowned teacher of architecture and architect who designed his home in Kingston and New York City apartment, as well as his former home in Texas and a number of key residential and commercial buildings, including several on the Pratt Institute campus in Brooklyn, will be exhibiting his own abstract takes on the pliability of key architectural concepts. It’s fun work, and a perfect gateway between WAAM’s two new shows, which open alongside a Small Works and Marc Bailey Middle School show of student works based on word play downstairs in the association’s galleries.

The exhibits all open Saturday, March 17 and stay up, per WAAM’s new curatorial policy, through April. An Abstract Heart gallery talk with Schmidt Feder and WAAM Galley Director Carl Van Brunt will take place Friday, March 23; the exhibition opening receptions will then run from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 24, with future Hart show events featuring curator Janice La Motta to be announced.

The Woodstock Artists Association & Museum (WAAM) is located at 28 Tinker Street, across from the Village Green. For further information call 845-679-2940 or see woodstockart.org.

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