Totally Dedicated” at the Dorsky

by Claire Lambe

In addition to the wonderful Jan Sawka exhibition, previously reviewed by Roll Magazine, at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, SUNY New Paltz, the museum has a number of other exhibitions happening now that are well worth a visit: the late Leonard Contino’s “Totally Dedicated” and “Collecting Local: Twelve Years of the Hudson Valley Artists Annual Purchase Award,” both curated by Anna Conlon; “The Dorsky Collects: Selections from the Permanent Collection” and “War,” both curated by Wayne Lempka.

Leonard Contino, 1940 – 2016, was an extraordinary man who, despite being a quadriplegic, produced an enormous volume of art during his 50-​​year career as an artist. Some of this can be found at the Dorsky’s Alice and Horace Chandler Gallery and North Gallery – the exhibition runs through April 5, 2020. Brooklyn born, Contino turned his childhood interest in drawing into a  living “pin-​​stripping” cars and hot rods until, at age 19, a car accident resulted in a broken spine and paralyses from the shoulders down. While in rehabilitation, he became close to another young patient who was also recovering from a similarly terrible accident, the sculptor Mark di Suvero. They became life-​​long friends and, later, exhibited together. In the rehab Di Suvero encouraged Contino to return to drawing and eventually to paint; unlike most quadriplegics, Contino was fortunate to have retained some mobility in his arms and hands although required a brace for their function. Contino was also fortunate to have a mother dedicated in her belief in her son and who became his abettor in art-​​making; according to di Suvero, “she was a partner in his mission.”


Leonard Contino, Moon Year Majec, 1972, courtesy the Estate of Leonard Contino

Contino’s work at the Dorsky consists of abstract and semi-​​abstract paintings, and collages. The abstract works are geometric “hard-​​edge” pieces in which Contino uses three particular motifs: triangles,  squares and rectangles, and biomorphic shapes – often the shapes are fitted together in a pattern or tessellated. In some pieces, the shapes extend beyond the canvas. Contino worked in acrylic, applying the paint in thin layers to create a luminous effect as seen in Moon Year Majec from 1972 – although this particular piece has an op-​​art Vasarely-​​esque look, Contino has said his aim was to create paintings that are “like a field of energy.”

Another strand of Contino’s work was collage – these he made in the evenings after working all day on the paintings. They are reminiscent of both Hieronymus Bosch and the Monty Python’s Flying Circus graphics of the original TV series which first aired on the BBC in 1969. The collages combine images from advertisements, pop-​​culture, National Geographic magazines and pornography; they feature animal-​​machine hybrids, disembodied limbs, cars, birds, etc. They are curiously different from the day-​​time work of the paintings which he believed were spiritual in their inspiration. Don’t miss the very informative video presentation. This exhibition runs through April 5, 2020.


Leonard Contino, Untitled, n.d. Photograph by Claire Lambe

The museum’s Sara Bedrick Gallery is host to “Collecting Local: Twelve Years of the Hudson Valley Artists Annual Purchase Award.” Every year for the last twelve years, the Dorsky has sponsored and hosted the “Hudson Valley Artists” exhibitions – a series of open-​​call juried exhibitions for artists living and working in the Hudson Valley. Each year the museum purchases one or two pieces from the exhibition for its collection, and this exhibition showcases those purchases – this is the first time they have been exhibited together. For anyone who has been attending the annual exhibitions, it is a nice opportunity to revisit some of those works from over the years.


Richard Edelman, Rebekah Creshkoff in Search of Matilda, 2014, Archival Injet print on Rag Paper.

One of the works I was particularly pleased to see again is Richard Edelman’s remarkable photograph, Rebekah Creshkoff in Search of Matilda, from his Stolen Moments series – this from the 2015 exhibition (the Matilda of the title was, in fact, a cat). Richard, a long-​​time member of the Hudson Valley art community and proprietor of the Woodstock Graphic Studio, was among those lost to us in 2019. Olive Bridge’s Pat Kelley’s mesmerizing video, 175 Roman Churches, from the 2013 exhibition is worth spending time contemplating – in it, rendered in sepia tones, the churches slowly morph one into the other with occasional brilliance occurring from the appearance of stained-​​glass windows. Also worthy of note is Elisa Pritzker’s Zipped (tree) Trunk from the 2012 exhibition – a very incongruous and evocative piece. This exhibition continues through July 12, 2020. 

A thought-​​provoking exhibition on the subject of “War” is in the Seminar Room Gallery until July 12 and, as always, there is the joy of works on exhibit from the museum’s extensive permanent collection in the Corridor Gallery. This is an ever-​​changing but ongoing exhibition.

Featured image: Leonard Contino, LADY, 1967, courtesy the Estate of Leonard Contino

Museum Hours: Wednesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Closed Mondays, Tuesdays, holidays and intersessions. For more information, visit www​.newpaltz​.edu/​m​u​s​eum or call (845) 257‑3844

About The Dorsky Museum

Through its collections, exhibitions and public programs, the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art supports and enriches the academic programs at the College and serves as a center for Hudson Valley arts and culture. With more than 9,000 square feet of exhibition space distributed over six galleries, The Dorsky Museum is one of the largest museums in the SUNY system. Since its official dedication in 2001, The Dorsky has presented more than 100 exhibitions, including commissions, collection-​​based projects, and in-​​depth studies of contemporary artists including Robert Morris, Alice Neel, Judy Pfaff, Carolee Schneemann and Ushio Shinohara.

Claire LambeClaire 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: 

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