Are you a culture vulture who has grown weary of not being able to view art up close and personal on account of COVID? We don’t blame you. As of April, two full years will have passed since this publication — then in webpage-only format itself — printed a story titled “Virtual arts roundup” listing opportunities available to take museum tours from the comfort of your favorite keyboard and monitor. It was all that was available at the time. Better than no art at all, but still.
Among the beloved local arts institutions mentioned in that sad list was the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum (WAAM), which was offering its usual five winter exhibitions — online only. Happily, we have vaccines now; and despite the shock wave of the Omicron variant that has ravaged our county, cultural venues are gradually, tentatively letting live humans back inside, provided they’re willing to mask up and be respectful of the health of other patrons. Beginning this Friday, January 28, WAAM will be opening its doors to the public to unveil five new shows. Receptions with the artists will lag behind just a little, scheduled to happen on Saturday, February 19 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Four of the five exhibitions will run until March 13, while the one drawing on WAAM’s permanent collections will linger until May 8.
The Main Gallery will house “Focus: Art & Social Justice,” spotlighting the work of 11 contemporary Hudson Valley artists who address themes of political or social justice, including women’s rights, the Black Lives Matter movement, political freedom, immigration and migrant farm work. The show was juried by Nina Stritzler Levine, professor of Curatorial Practice at the Bard Graduate Center and director of the Focus Project. She is the former director of the Bard Graduate Center Gallery, where she also served as director of curatorial affairs and head of Gallery publications. As befits a Bardian, Stritzler Levine was particularly inspired by the work of Hannah Arendt, a major political thinker of the 20th century who taught at Bard for many years and is buried on the campus.
The “Focus: Art & Social Justice” presentation encompasses a range of media including drawing, painting, sculpture and photography, and unites them in its aim to encourage dialogue, build community and motivate individuals to promote social change. Visitors will find some familiar names among the 11 artists — notably Norm Magnusson, whose barbed and delightful mock historical markers can be found on the streets of a number of communities in our region (Uptown Kingston sports a bunch). Also on view are works by Nic Abramson, Joan Barker, Samantha Brinkley, Dorothy Brodhead, Barbara Esmark, Dan Goldman, Diane King, Barbara Masterson, Jason Mones and Suprina.
All 11 artists will join Stritzler Levine for a panel discussion on art and contemporary issues of social justice on Saturday, March 5 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. “Focus” runs through March 13.
A broad variety of artistic styles and media are represented in “Small Works: Winter 2022,” in the Founders’ Gallery. The works — all by WAAM members — were juried by Laura Vookles, chair of the Curatorial Department at the Hudson River Museum. The exhibiting artists are Gülnar Babayeva, Jay Ballesteros, Gwen Bardon, Joan Barker, Marie Cole, Miranda Crifo, Maxine Davidowitz, Mary Delaney Connelly, Jennie Duke, Alaina Enslen, Bobbi Esmark, Patricia Frik, Angela Gaffney-Smith, Ginnie Gardiner, Dean Goldberg, Leslie Hill, Barbara Holt, Carole Kunstadt, Iain Machell, Kate Masters, Alan McKnight, Edward Meyer, Jacqueline Oster, Suzanne Parker, Regina Quinn, Betsey Regan, Daryl Reis, Barbara Adrienne Rosen, William Scholl, Phyllis Segura, Roberta Sickler, Pat Sinatra, Judy Stanger, Margaret G. Still, Joyce Washor, Anna West and Dale Wolfield. The show closes on March 13.
One of the artists included in the “Small Works” group also gets to hog the spotlight in the Solo Gallery: This winter’s solo exhibition, “Dark Retrospective,” focuses on the oeuvre of Woodstock’s own Betsey Regan — specifically, a selection of mixed-media paintings completed during the 2020-2021 pandemic shutdown. Themes include the objectification of women, masked society and the American Pioneers, with the concept of constraint as the prevailing theme. “Betsey Regan: Dark Retrospective” will remain open through March 13.
As per usual, the Yes Gallery will promote awareness of the work of emerging young artists in our region. “Scout: Area Artists under 25” is an exhibition of work by six young artists addressing the mysterious and the liminal through drawing, photography, metal, painting and fiber artworks. On view are works by Macky Bowman, Ray Coco, Lydia Freier, Emmaline Nathans, Izzy Reed and Reed Humphrey Reed. This show also runs through March 13.
Finally, and staying open until May 8 in the Phoebe and Belmont Towbin Wing, is this year’s dusting-off of a selection from WAAM’s holdings: “Large-Scale Abstract Paintings from the Permanent Collection.” Curated by executive director Nicole Goldberg, this presentation features nine large-scale abstract paintings from the 1950s through the early 1980s. Inspired by “Large-Scale Modern Paintings” at MoMA in 1947 and “Epic Abstraction” at the Met in 2018, the exhibition looks to the revolutionary spirit in America that emerged after World War II and materialized as Abstract Expressionism in Modern art.
At WAAM, the huge canvases are at least 50 inches on one side. Figures and landscapes traditionally on view in this gallery are replaced by lines, amorphous shapes, large drips and swaths of color. The term “large-scale” serves as the springboard for a thematic installation that intersperses enduring, iconic figures of Woodstock art such as Ethel Magafan, Edward Chavez and Ernest Frazier with works by lesser-known artists like Gwen Davies (a close friend of Mark Rothko) and Lou Tavelli (a neighbor and friend of Philip Guston). Other artists include Roman Wachtel, Ezio Martinelli, Edward Millman and Richard Crist.
In tandem with the “Large-Scale Abstract Paintings” show, on Wednesday, February 16 at 7 p.m. WAAM will present an “Abstract Artists’ Chat” via Zoom. The gathering is intended to offer members and non-members alike a chance to build community through conversation among people who create abstract art in the Hudson Valley. Participants will use works on view in the exhibition to generate talking points about abstract art and their creative process. Participants will be able to show a two-to-three-minute slideshow of their own works.
To learn how to get involved in the chat, see samples of works by artists featured in these five exhibitions and otherwise find out more about WAAM’s offerings, visit the website at www.woodstockart.org. The Woodstock Artists Association & Museum is located at 28 Tinker Street in Woodstock. Gallery hours are Thursday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.