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Nicole Carroll Art Consulting

The Samuel Dorsky Museum: SUNY New Paltz's crown jewel of the artsby Ross Rice

It’s easy for one to overlook the Samuel Dorsky Museum snugly tucked into the hilltop campus at SUNY New Paltz; there is no large street front facade inviting the casual passerby. But though one may have to look a little to find the entrance, the quest will be worth the effort, as four galleries delving into an extensive 5000-piece permanent collection await even the most casual art lover, offering a rich cornucopia of objects and images covering hundreds of years of often locally generated and inspired artwork.

Though well known to regional cognoscenti, the Dorsky will likely become even more popular and appreciated by the general public in coming years, thanks to the tireless efforts of the recently formed partnership of museum director Sara Pasti and curator Brian Wallace, who have carried on the mission of long time director Neil Trager: the man responsible for taking the museum to its present prestigious level. The mission is threefold: to support and enrich the academic programs of SUNY New Paltz, to present a broad range of world art to the public for research, and to serve as a center for Hudson Valley arts and culture, emphasizing the heritage of this particularly fertile region. The Dorsky succeeds on all counts, and in the coming months you can see for yourselves, with four varied shows going up this month, and a student-curated Warhol photography exhibit to come in April.

To be honest, most college and university galleries and museums exist pretty much to provide a showcase purely for student and faculty works, and as such can be fairly modest affairs, with occasional surprises and triumphs. Similarly, the Dorsky started out as a series of campus art exhibitions that were organized by a group of faculty wives through the 30s and 40s, with artworks being shown in hallways and corridors of the College Union building. This eventually coalesced into the College Art Gallery in 1964, creating the first museum within the state collegiate system. The Arts Commission—those faculty wives—had long been acquiring works to start a permanent collection, which was then absorbed by the SUNY New Paltz Foundation which continued the process, resulting in over 2,000 works by 1994.

When Neil Trager took over as director in the mid-70’s, the campus museum started taking off. An avid photographer who was instrumental in helping Howard Greenberg get the Center for Photography at Woodstock started, Trager brought additional emphasis to those arts in both curation and education, firmly establishing photography as one of the pillars of the museum, while bringing a major energy boost to the director position. Meanwhile, the burgeoning collection was quickly outgrowing the modest Chandler Gallery space.

Trager had become good friends with Samuel Dorsky, who had made his fortune as a children’s clothing manufacturer and who had a deep abiding interest in art, with a gallery of his own in the 57th St. area of New York City. At that time New York had money available through the State University Construction Fund, but only as a matching donation. Thanks to philanthropist Dorsky’s generous donation matched by the state grant—plus additional donations from an anonymous donor in 1997—construction of the Samuel Dorsky Museum commenced in 1998, with completion in 2001. Sadly, Dorsky passed away before he could see the final results, but his family and descendants continue to this day to be actively supportive and involved in the museum.

When Trager got married in 2008, he decided to move to Santa Fe, NM, where his new wife resided, and the search was on for his replacement. Brand new curator Brian Wallace, who had been in the position for only a year, knew someone who might be just right for the job.

Brian was one of many people from the art world who migrated from New York to Seattle in the late 90s. With a combined appreciation of contemporary art and art history, Brian graduated from Bard in 1997 with a major in curatorial studies, the second year that major was offered. He had himself a pretty nice job curating at the Bellevue Art Museum in Washington when certain events transpired.

“I know I’m one of those people who felt very far away from New York after September 11th. I was working at a museum; we had just built a new building. We worked with an artist who had a residency in the Twin Towers, helped her recover some files with some high tech software we had in Seattle. All these things started to feel like they were standing in for something, rather than being the thing itself.” Soon he was back East, and after a brief stint at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, made his way to his current position at the Dorsky.

But while in Seattle, he had crossed paths with fellow New York ex-pat Sara Pasti, who was doing consulting work, and always seemed to be the kind of person who could get things done. Sara herself had a similar reaction to 9-11. “My gut response was that I have to go home. But I didn’t want to go to New York (City) because I’d already moved out. I wanted to buy a house, live in an area where it was green, have a garden. So I called some friends and asked ‘where should I look in the Hudson Valley?’ And they said—Beacon.”

Sara moved to Beacon in 2002, and started the Beacon Cultural Foundation while continuing to do consulting work in New York City, much of it in Harlem, then later further upstate in Peekskill, at the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art. By the time she was tapped by Neil for the Dorsky job—thanks to Brian’s suggestion—she had a gallery space in Beacon called the Project Space, had helped to set up the Newburgh Arts and Cultural Commission, and worked with the Ellendale Arts Alliance. “I had my hands all over…that’s why this job was so perfect. I knew so many artists in the Hudson Valley. By the time this position was available, I already had six years of involvement (here), and I knew there were so many great things going on, and I thought they should all find a locus here in the museum.”

Though the Dorsky’s director’s chair bears the title “the Neil C. Trager Director,” Sara is maintaining a course for the museum into a bright future. These four upcoming shows provide an excellent example of the museum’s mission in action, any of which warrant a sojourn in the heart of the New Paltz campus.

Carolee Schneemann: Within and Beyond the Premises,
curated by Brian Wallace (Morgan Anderson Gallery, Howard Greenberg Family Gallery, Corridor Gallery, 2/26 through 7/25.)

One of the ways that the Dorsky fulfills its mission to serve as a center for Hudson Valley art and artists is through their Hudson Valley Masters series—now in its sixth year—taking an in-depth look at a special regional artist selected by the Dorsky staff.

This year it’s New Paltz-based artist, Carolee Schneemann, featured with a 75-work exhibition titled Within and Beyond the Premises. Schneemann operates in a wide variety of formats, and the diversity of her work will actually be presented in chronological order. The exhibition will also be accompanied by selected films and videos, a panel discussion with internationally recognized scholars and artists, and a “performative lecture” by the artist herself (Wednesday March 3, at 7 PM, Lecture Center 102).

As the curator of the retrospective, Brian is clearly enthused by the project and artist. “Carolee is known internationally, usually fairly superficially as the artist behind quite a few provocative projects. She has made hundreds and hundreds of artworks, performances, paintings, installations, video projects, writings, artist books, the like.”

“In 1965 she came up here from the City, bought a little place with her then-partner. And once you know that, and you look at her work—which seems to be all about this sort of mid-60s downtown vibe—you start to realize that there’s a lot more going on in the work. She’s really becoming deeply intimate and familiar with herself and her own surroundings. And that—to me and to others—is one reason why her work seems to be of continuing interest to people. Once the political moment of the work passes, there’s a whole cadre of folks who were doing the necessary agitational propaganda—agitprop work—who then went on into other fields. She stayed true to her vision of making really powerful, personal, deep stick-with-you work.”

Even the most cursory glance at Schneemann’s work reveals a lively, often kinetic spirit…hard to pin down. Things often seem caught in motion, or completely captured—rarely in between. And though wide-scale notoriety and fortune may have eluded her thus far, her considerable and varied body of work has been getting notice with shows at the Whitney Museum of Modern Art (NYC), Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the New Museum of Contemporary Art (NYC), and her recent multi-channel video installation Precarious was presented at the Tate Liverpool “Abandon Normal Devices” Festival in September 2009. The illustrated catalog that accompanies the exhibit comes courtesy of SUNY Press, and combines key images from over a 40-year career with an insightful essay by Maura Reilly—Senior Curator of Exhibitions at the American Federation of Arts—as well as a revealing interview with producer/artist/educator Emily Caigan.

Body, Line, Motion: Selections from the Permanent Collection,
curated by Amy Lipton (Alice and Horace Chandler Gallery, 1/30 through 4/11. Gallery Talk with Amy Lipton Sa 2/27, 3 PM)

Though the 5000-plus piece permanent collection offers a myriad of possibilities for curation, Brian himself admits that he finds himself gravitating to certain works he will tend to repeat in installations. So in the case of the Body, Line, Motion exhibition, he’s glad to defer to a guest curator. Amy Lipton is the East Coast curator of ecoartspace, a non-profit that “creates opportunities for addressing environmental issues through the arts,” and was recently curator of the sculpture park at Art Omi, in Ghent.

Lipton is intimately familiar with Schneemann’s work, and provides a sympathetically peripheral view of the artist with the goal—as Brian puts it—“to not presume to be a historical backdrop for the Schneemann exhibit, but to give a different perspective on some of the themes, and contextualize them.” Lipton has selected works that emphasize movement, motion, and dance; elements that clearly inform the featured artist’s work.

Renée C. Byer: “A Mother’s Journey” and Selected Photographs,
curated by Brian Wallace. (North Gallery, 1/30 through 4/11)

In an absolutely heartbreaking series of Pulitzer-winning images, photojournalist Renée C. Byer documents the plight of Cyndie Madsen and her son Derek, diagnosed with neuroblastoma—a rare childhood cancer. This year Byer is on the SUNY New Paltz faculty as the Ottaway Journalism Fellow, and as Brian tells it, “When our faculty colleagues mentioned that she’d been awarded this year’s professorship, the name popped up on the radar screen right away. We looked at the work, and thought: what a great show this would be.”

“We have strength in photography, though it tends to be in certain realms. Photojournalism was an interesting stretch conceptually for the museum, a nice little challenge for the folks in the art department who teach photography. And also a great way to help them connect to the people in media and communication. So here’s the museum helping to get over these interdisciplinary boundaries that can hang up a school. It’s going to be great for the students to see this working, very busy photojournalist, and the work itself is extremely compelling.” Brian is blending in selected photographs in context with the narrative, but this show is a potent reminder of the fragility of the human condition, and the sustaining power of love.

Panorama of the Hudson River: Photography by Greg Miller
(Sara Bedrick Gallery, 2/6 through 3/28)

Inspired by last year’s Quadricentennial, celebrating the mighty Hudson River, this series of panoramic shots of locations along the Hudson River comes the closest to capturing the scale and breadth of the local scenery. Greg Miller’s images went hand in hand with last year’s Hudson River School paintings exhibit, but will have to suffice here without. Even if you only casually appreciate the amazing river that cuts through this valley, it’s worth seeing this offering.

Please visit or call 845.257.3844 for additional information and directions to the museum. Museum hours are We-Su 11 AM-5 PM.

Events at and around the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art:

Tu 2/23- Creative Conversation: Entrepreneur and museum innovator David Ross (Shepard Recital Hall at College Hall, 6 PM)
Sa 2/27- Gallery Talk with Body, Line, Motion curator Amy Lipton (Alice and Horace Chandler Gallery, 3 PM)
We 3/3- Performative lecture by Hudson Valley Masters featured artist Carolee Schneemann (Lecture Center 102, 7 PM)
Sa 3/6- Creative Conversation: Trumpeter/composer Ben Neil (Black Box Theater, Fine and Performing Arts Center, 4 PM)
Su 3/7- First Sunday Free Gallery Tour with museum educator Kevin Cook (Morgan Anderson Gallery, 2 PM)
Tu 3/9- Creative Conversation: Video artist Jaanika Peerna and musician David Rothenberg (Shepard Recital Hall, 6 PM)

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