It is six years since the “Great Recession” officially ended and that time honored litmus test of the state of the economy, the real estate market, does appear to have gotten the message —albeit delivered by snail mail. The other litmus test is luxury goods and that includes the art market. In 2007 and the two years that followed, the bottom fell out of that market as heavily as it did in real estate. Then, faster than you can say “unpaid intern,” the so-called 1% rose from the ashes of the banking débâcle and lit a fire under the so-called blue-chip art market. But “trickle down” has been as absent in art as elsewhere and the lower tiers of the art market have remained stagnant. Despite this, one intrepid soul in Ulster County’s town of Saugerties seized an opportunity —the closing of the Imogen Holloway Gallery on Partition St.— to hang out her own Art Gallery shingle. That person is the aptly monikered Jen Dragon. Not that this is Jen’s first attempt at being a gallerist — CCA’s name pays homage to an earlier gallery of hers on Cross St., also in Saugerties. And Jen, herself a gifted artist, has independently curated shows around the area for some years, including at the Emerson on Route 28. I caught up with Jen as she was preparing to hang CCA’s 13th exhibition featuring new work by Mark Thomas Kanter.
Kanter’s exhibition, entitled Creation Myths, has to be the ideal show to kick off CCA’s second year. In addition to his art practice, Kanter is a scholar of art history who has led lecture tours at the Met and he is a drawing professor at Columbia University. He channels both of these passions into what he calls “Configurations” – sumptuous gestural works that are somewhere between painting and drawing. If, on first encounter, you are inclined to think “Jackson Pollack” – think again and dig deeper, back into the Baroque to works like Salvatore Rosa’s Heroic Battle or Annibale Carracci’s Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne. Then travel forward again through expressionism and, certainly, action painting, to arrive at Cross Contemporary Art in the year 2015, and that’s where you’ll meet Mark Thomas Kanter. The show opens October 3rd, with a reception from 6 – 8 pm (address details at end of article).
Claire Lambe: Jen, Congratulations on surviving your first year on Partition St. How many solo shows have you hosted in the last year?
Jen Dragon: Thanks Claire. The gallery has mounted 12 shows since it opened in 2014 and only 2 have been group shows. Oddly enough, it is easier for me to mount solo shows than it is for me to do multiple artist shows. Ultimately, it’s easier to promote one artist than it is to promote five.
CL: That’s a busy year. Do you have an over-arching agenda, a mission, for the gallery?
JD: The gallery’s mission is to show mid-career artists who have connection to New York City, Hudson Valley, and the Catskills region —that leaves me many to choose from. My calendar allows each artist 4 weekends without any breaks in between [shows]. It has been grueling at times since I am the one wearing all the hats! I do most of the installation, marketing, packing, shipping, curating and archiving. Most galleries have staff for all of this. However this reckless schedule allows me to show a lot of art!
CL: Woo, you need an unpaid intern… Would you say that CCA has a house style?
JD: After having been in business a year, I have to conclude that there has emerged a kind of “house style.” Because of space limitations, I have emphasized paintings and works on paper. Personally, I am partial to art that explores space and does not depict facts. To my eye “facts without space” are just flat illustrations. The ability to convey space in art is an experience that can be expressed as abstract, conceptual, representative or in the realm between it all. For this reason, the only common denominator in my shows is the rich visual portrayal of dimensional space as it intersects with time.
CL: How have the Saugerties residents responded to the gallery —do you get a lot of local foot traffic?
JD: Because of Saugerties’ excellent restaurants, boutiques, and practical stores (including three that have been in the same families for three generations), the town enjoys a lot of foot traffic. I see myself as a sort of cultural docent and people who may not know a lot about art are always made to feel welcome in the gallery. In fact, the past 5 big ticket sales were to collectors who had never purchased art before and who knew nothing about the artist. They just responded to the work and needed that art in their lives.
CL: That’s fantastic, and heartening! There is still an enormous amount of gender discrimination in the wider art world in terms of representation and prices for work. Last year, only a quarter of solo shows in the city were by women artists. Based on CCA’s exhibition history of the last year, you seem to be addressing that issue?
JD: I didn’t start out with an agenda to show mostly women artists, it just evolved that way. I gravitate towards art that resonates with me —sometimes the artwork is by a male artist and sometimes by a female. I suppose in the future, we will see more art done by artists who choose to be “non-binary” as the politics of gender will hopefully become increasingly irrelevant.
CL: I hope so. From an economic point of view, how does this local art scene compare with the wider art world in New York City?
JD: In this tier, our advantage is our low overhead and that makes a huge difference in the viability of any business. In Upstate New York, we are fortunate in that we can focus on the quality of the art when we don’t have a 25K a month rent bill like a blue-chip gallery in Chelsea. However it does take time to build a collector base. Customers need to feel like the gallery they are supporting is a robust establishment and that confidence can only happen with the passage of time.
CL: What would you say to someone who might be considering collecting art?
JD: My advice to collectors is to remember that it is affordable to buy art —remember Herbert and Dorothy Vogel who amassed an important modern art collection on their salaries as postal workers? Most galleries are happy to work out payment plans that cost less per month than a restaurant dinner.
CL: That’s a great way to think about it. Mark Thomas Kanter’s exhibition opens on October 3 —he is best known for large monochromatic gestural works. Is that what we can expect in this new show?
JD: I have always loved Mark’s work because of its classicism. He takes ancient themes and propels them into the 21st century. Sometimes it serves him to use color and sometimes he needs to create color from the monochromatic palette but, ultimately, Mark’s painting is always the passionate dynamics of space and the velocity of gesture. I think what we can expect from Mark in this show is a masterful meditation on being a mid-career artist in his prime.
CL: It is very interesting how his work references the great continuüm. After Mark’s exhibition, what is in store for us at CCA in November and December, leading up to the holidays?
JD: In November, we are showing Iain Machell, who is fresh from a residency at Platte Clove and his work reflects the intensity of that particularly historic Catskills canyon. In December, we have Shira Toren, a painter who hails from Great Barrington and also has a studio in Harlem. Ms.Toren’s art captures the whirlwind of small things in an infinite universe. I am still shaping the agenda for 2016 but I have had confirmations from Ford Crull, Catherine Howe, Anthony Haden-Guest, Claire Lambe, Dion Yannatos, Robert George and Adrian Frost.
CL: Well, I think I know at least one of those names! Seriously, I am thrilled to be included in such a terrific line-up. What would you say has been the most rewarding experience of this first year at CCA?
JD: The most rewarding experience was the discovery that good art will always find an audience, and it has been fulfilling for me to be the Master of Ceremonies.
CL: And you are a particularly gifted MC, Jen. Thank you for a most illuminating discussion.
Featured Image: Mark Thomas Kanter, “Untitled” 2015
Mark Thomas Kanter’s Creation Myths runs October 3 – 25
Opening Reception Sat. Oct 3, 6-8pm at:
Cross Contemporary Art — 81 Partition St. Saugerties, New York 12477
For more information, call: 845 – 399-9751 or visit the website here.
Claire Lambe is an Irish born painter whose works have been exhibited on both sides of the Atlantic; she is a graduate of the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and holds an MFA in painting from the City University of New York. Writing credits include contributing author to Teen Life in Europe (part of the Teen Life Around The World series), and articles and reviews for this publication. Claire Lambe’s art work can be seen here: