A Tale of Two Art Shows

Sheila Trautman, After the Blizzard

Recently I drove up to Catskill to visit the current Members Show on display at CREATE, Greene County’s Council for the Arts gallery on Main Street. One needn’t be a resident of Greene County, which comprises most of the Catskill Mountains, to be a member and participate in their exhibitions, but given the in-person, “Community” nature of CREATE, it draws most if not all of its membership (and thus its art) from the surrounding areas.

Artworks by Sharon St. Clair

The theme of this show is Winter Worlds and it attracted a welcome variety of creative interpretations of the theme—that is, it isn’t exclusively variations on snow scenes, beautiful as these are: I single out particularly an artist with whom I was previously unfamiliar named Sharon St. Clair who entered three paintings in small dimensions and two beautiful hand-painted vases. Among the “regulars” participating in the show is Sheila Trautman, whose painting of a much-lamented abandoned Catskills resort, seen several years ago in a Hunter gallery exhibition, opened up a new world of artistic possibilities to me and inspired me to experiment with processing my photographs in a “painterly” way.

Sheila Trautman, Stormy Sunday

One of my two entries depicts the theme conventionally and features a snow-kissed mountaintop in the southeastern Catskills photographed in early morning sunlight; the other depicts a rough winter sea, with rows of breakers fast-tracking toward the viewer, on the Rhode Island coast. I felt comfortable being in this show, comfortable among the other artists and their art. This has far less to do with conformity to a particular theme than with, in a general way, a shared aesthetic. “Regional” shows are like that, whether or not they’re based around a given theme.

Nancy de Flon, Winter Waves

After viewing Winter Worlds, I headed to Saugerties to catch the Emerge Gallery’s opening reception of “Exit 20,” so titled because that’s the number of the Saugerties exit on the NYS Thruway, and the unifying “theme” here was work limited to residents of Saugerties Village and Town. Thus the variety of works was vast—the works weren’t required to portray Saugerties and they included several different types of media from painting and photography to collage and sculpture. Immediately on entering I felt a sense of unease. This is not a negative comment on the show itself: gallerist Robert Langdon is an experienced, thorough professional who is very kind and encouraging to his artists. Rather, my reaction was a reflection on me. First, I think, it was a kind of “culture shock” produced by my having come directly from a very different sort of exhibition. It’s something of a paradox that a show inviting entries from a limited geographical area would have a greater variety of work than a show without such a limitation, but then, “Exit 20” has no theme affecting content, and a professional gallery will attract more adventurous, experimental work than do shows organized by locally sponsored venues. Again, I emphasize that this is not a negative judgment on different types of shows or on the two specific shows I’m describing here. An artist will discover that the nature (not the quality) of the work that is hung in art exhibits will depend on the nature of the individual venue, and the sensitive and serious artist will and must learn to negotiate those differences.

The second cause of my unease was quite prosaic: I tend to be claustrophobic, and an opening reception for a gallery exhibit attracts a crowd (my idea of what constitutes a “crowd” is very conservative!), and people tend to stand around and talk rather than to circulate, This ended, as it nearly always does, with my thanking Robert and adding “You know how I am with crowds; I’ll be back later.” And indeed I did return yesterday to give “Exit 20” a fair look, prepared to judge it objectively. More about that in my next post.