A remarkable exhibit opened at the Dorsky Museum on June 23. I was there for the opening, I’ve returned several times… and I will certainly go back before the show closes on Nov. 4.
Dear Mother Nature—curated by Linda Weintraub— is a stunning indictment, an apology, an offering of gratitude, and a cry for change, expressed through the distinct vision of forty-two Hudson Valley artists.
I knew as soon as I stepped through the doors to the main gallery space, that I would be back to revisit these works. I was immediately entranced. A mere walk through— amid the chatter of a large enveloping crowd — wouldn’t do. Why? Because, this is that rare exhibit that requires the viewer to truly spend time with the art, to engage, to consider what the artist is saying, to participate.
The sheer scope of this exhibit speaks to the diversity of our environment and to both the destructive force and creative nature inherent in our world and our selves. How often can one walk into a gallery to find oneself surrounded by work that compels you to look, to concentrate, to search for meaning? This exhibit demands that you look and asks you to see.
Ilse Schreiber-Noll’s “Oil Spill Book III”, asks that you gently turn the pages of a book of detritus left by an oil spill —Maria Cristina Brusca’s “Four Milagros” invites you to leave an offering in the form of a “milagro”, [milagro means miracle in Spanish].
I was very curious about how the concept for this show evolved. The creativity exhibited here must surely be the result of a uniquely articulate voice. One whose vision challenged a large group of artists to engage in a conversation with Mother Nature:
“Is that all?” were the words that led to the curating of the “Dear Mother Nature” exhibition, as well as the writing of my latest book, “TO LIFE! Eco Art In Pursuit of a Sustainable Planet”. These words were uttered by Skip Schuckmann, a near-stranger at the time, when I told him I had just acquired raw land in the Hudson Valley, New York and planned to live there the rest of my life. I described the rolling hills, wildflower meadow, forest stream, and a view of the Catskill Mountains to the West. My description culminated in an exuberant, “It’s so beautiful!” His question, “Is that all? Is it just beautiful?” triggered a journey of discovery that ultimately led me to refashion my personal life style and redirect my professional pursuits. Both morphed as I discovered that beauty was not ‘all’ the site afforded. Its visual qualities were gradually enhanced by previously unrecognized assets. Its botanical and zoological populations, for example, performed wondrous feats of resilience and set exemplary standards of resourcefulness. Over time, the resources that sustain these species sustain me and my family. At first, we harvested the stone, moss, berries, acorns, deer that were available for harvesting. Then, optimizing the productivity of this habitat became a life mission. Water management, soil creation, food production, animal husbandry, composting, fencing, terracing, winter gardening are hands-on primers in ecology and joy. Over time, I directed these newly acquired appreciations of eco systems to my profession.
I believe that responding to current environmental crises is the singular challenge of the current era. My goal as an art writer and curator is to enlist artists to this cause. Artists can make a special contribution because they possess the creative ingenuity to invent life-sustaining solutions, because art can inspire behavioral changes and awaken conscience, and because art’s public interface can disseminate the urgent need for environmental reform and preservation.
Regarding this project, “Mother Nature” is a widely recognized metaphor that stands for the material reality that throbs and pulses as it reacts to the continual flux of events on planet Earth. Because the concept of Mother Nature makes this vast and bewildering abstraction comprehensible, I hoped it would direct people to consider the planet’s aesthetic and functional integrity, its injuries and mortal wounds, and humanity’s responsibilities.—Linda Weintraub
As for the prosess of putting the show together:
Since my formal training is in studio art, I am predisposed to exploit opportunities for creative exploration. That is why I apply the strategies I learned as an artist to teaching, writing books, and certainly acting as curator. Each offers the potential to unleash previously unexplored cultural territories and present them through original formal and conceptual means. Four of the many creative opportunities that abound within the curatorial profession are in evidence in the “Dear Mother Nature” exhibition. The exhibition raises a question instead of asserting a thesis (What would you give to Mother Nature that reflects her current state and needs?)
It invited artists to create new works of art instead of submitting pre-existing artworks.
It devised opportunities for the audience’s creative participation.
The exhibition itself was like a work of art – a collage comprised of artworks that were invested with meaning and significance by existing within this context.
There will be several events in conjunction with the exhibit:
As curator, I do not simply select and hang works of art. I also seek creative means to intensify the audience’s delight and deepen its appreciation of the works of art in the exhibition. The catalog that contains letters from each artist to Mother Nature was one way of accomplishing this. Events provide another because they interpret the theme through fresh communication channels. That is why the “Dear Mother Nature” programming includes gallery tours, performances, ceremonial meals, poetry slam, hands-on workshops, drawing demonstrations, dance performances, and readings.
June 23. Mikhail Horowitz contributed to the festivities at the opening of the ‘Dear Mother Nature” by lugging an enormous globe upon his wearing shoulder. It set the tone for his poetry and song performance. Accompanied by Giles Malkin and Charlie Kniceley, he articulated many of the topics that the artists addressed with wit and humor.
July 21. Four artists (Portia Munson, Trina Green, Paul Stewart, and Claire Lambe) provided vivid examples of the ‘diversity’ guiding my curatorial decisions. My contribution to this presentation was to demonstrate their unifying core. I related all their themes and approaches to a single narrative about the turkeys on my homestead, a metaphor for Mother Nature.
August 25. The gallery tour is the prologue to a ceremonial meal, Mary Anne Davis’s art contribution. She engages the community in celebrating the bounty of Mother Nature by witnessing the blessings presented by representatives of many religious faiths. The public actively participates in the weeks prior to the event by glazing the ceramic bowls and preparing the local foods that will be served in them.
September 15. Three types of presentation comprise three opportunities for visitors to engage with the theme of this exhibition. As curator, I will set the stage with a brief gallery talk. Jan Harrison will perform ‘animals tongues’ which complements the powerful animal imagery she renders in pastels. Barbara Bash will demonstrate the unity of heaven, earth, and heart through exquisite drawing.
There are some art exhibits that have the potential to touch the viewer/participant in an authentic manner; to create a visceral response that will inform his life going forward and perhaps to help create change or awareness. This exhibit as a whole will change and inform your view. Don’t miss it…
Dear Mother Nature: Hudson Valley Artists 2012
Curated by Linda Weintraub
June 23 – Nov. 4, 2012
Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, SUNY New Paltz, NY
Alice and Horace Chandler Gallery
MUSEUM HOURS: Open on weekends only for the month of August
Wednesday – Sunday: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
(Closed Mondays, Tuesdays, and Holidays)
State University of New York at New Paltz
1 Hawk Drive, New Paltz, NY 12561
featured painting; Detail from Claudia McNulty’s “Major Credit Cards Accepted”
all photographs were taken by the author