Resplendent Sunday evening at her gallery’s closing, Cross Contemporary Art’s owner and founder Jen Dragon’s platinum locks cascaded over the top of a black velvet dress. She was treating the presence of a similarly black broken-leg scooter almost as a fashion accessory.
Most of the talk that Dragon engaged in started with her answers about why she was closing after four and a half years on Partition Street in Saugerties. In local pre-history, the place had started as an art-exhibition experiment in the rambling studios of the late painter-philosopher Bernard X. Bovasso on Cross Street a short distance away.
For years, Dragon said, her art endeavor – which brought together a sparkling constellation of some of the region’s top full-time artists and writers, abetted by regular additions of implants from New York City and elsewhere – was made possible by her work as a professional art restorer with a specialty in old maps. She had served as a caretaker of a Malden mansion, where she was allowed to throw soirees for the artists that she gathered. She made just enough from sales, largely online, to keep everything afloat. She moved first a few doors down Partition Street, and then into supplemental storefronts when they emptied out, awaiting new tenants. Eventually outside curating events in Woodstock and elsewhere came to be.
“As we live, we collect, and what we collect becomes our totems — reliquaries of our hopes and poignant representatives of who we are and want to be,” Dragon wrote in her first Cross Contemporary show at 81 Partition Street, which brought together pieces she’d collected through various means over the years. “The private art collection is an installation that becomes a personal environment. Each collector acquires objects made by others and creates a private museum …. The attempt to connect to timelessness through art acquisition is heroic. To seek connectivity through disparate elements is an art in itself. The dispersion of a collection is natural to its life cycle as paintings and sculptures scatter again across the world to be recombined in another space and time. And a new installation is born.”
That first exhibit included pieces by friends and teachers, teachers of friends, friends of teachers. There was an Albrecht Dürer print, something by the noted British abstract painter Sir Terry Frost donated by his sculptor son Adrian, whom Dragon showed while still working with the raw space on Cross Street. The show was a knockout.
Then Dragon dug in and started producing strong solo shows, group undertakings, and matchings. Gallery openings spilled out onto Partition Street (she started off where Imogen Hollaway Gallery had helped pioneer a Saugerties arts renaissance).
Dragon helped start a Saugerties sculpture festival. She helped other commercial spaces start showing art. She was contacted by realtors who wanted to bring buyers around by having art events. Cross Contemporary got kudos in the local press. The New York art media began to pay attention to what was happening in Saugerties. Dragon moved her gallery to a larger space up the street, at 99 Partition.
“With a heavy heart, I have to announce that Cross Contemporary Art will close its doors on Sunday, December 23, 2018,” she wrote. “In the past four and a half years, I have curated, installed and exhibited the work of 92 artists and 840 artworks in 56 exhibitions. It has unfortunately become increasingly difficult to sustain the gallery in its Saugerties location. However, I am still pursuing other options, and it is likely that Cross Contemporary Art will resurface in a new venue in the not-too-distant future.”
Dragon said she would continue to curate shows under the name Cross Contemporary Projects, “so please stay in touch and continue to follow Cross Contemporary Art.” She expressed gratitude “to all of the artists, visitors, journalists, art lovers, poets, writers, art critics and art collectors who have helped make Cross Contemporary Art a unique place to see extraordinary contemporary art.” Though she’s miss everyone, “at least now I’ll have more time to attend other openings and events.”
Sunday’s closing party was crowded. Pollock-Krasner award winners mingled with Guggenheim fellows and a who’s who of the Hudson Valley’s more serious arts scene. Conversation was witty, full of new opportunities and great sightings.
Dragon’s current push, she said, was to find “a big girl’s job, with big-girl money.” At evening’s end, artists and critics all headed across the street to Pig to gather around a long table and celebrate, salon-style.
It was a fitting end for a fine experiment in the roles aesthetics can play in a tempered, saddened world.