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This article by F.R. Rivera was prepared for the August 25, 2004
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
A Destination Equal to the Art
The 19th century Victorian painter Frederick Edwin Church (1826-1900) was one of the first New York artists to re-locate to the Hudson River Valley. More recently the sculpture studio of Max Protetch and the Dia Art Foundation have followed suit. All had their start in Manhattan – Church in his West 10th Street studio; Protetch and Dia in Soho and Chelsea. By their move to the Hudson Valley, a mere three-hour drive from downtown Princeton, they have made sure that old art and the new join company.
Given its spectacular views, the Hudson River Valley itself qualifies as an art destination. It is a region where the trip is as visually stimulating as the arrival.
Not merely a famous American landscape painter, by 1880 Church was one of the most famous Americans in the world. He adored the Hudson Valley, the splendor of its sunsets, its mighty river. A wealthy man, he bought a hilltop above the river where he planned to build a French chateau – until he visited the Near East and fell in love with color and pattern. Moorish arabesques are the East’s answer to Western abstraction.
Church’s obsession with ornamentation and his lavish use of it in his house are little- known. The design and decoration of his house continued unabated for decades, consuming much of his adult life. The result is the ultimate Persian fantasy palace, which Church called "Olana."
His attention included not only Olana’s interiors, but also the 126 acres surrounding the house. Church wrote: "I have made about 1 1/2 miles of road this season, opening entirely new and beautiful views. I can make more and better landscapes this way than by tampering with canvas and paint in the studio."
When he started "tampering" with his land for art, Church stumbled – quite unwittingly – into the concept of site-specific art. Church carried the concept even further when he designed and excavated a lake so that its contours would echo the graceful bend of the Hudson.
In one of those bizarre twists of art history, one of America’s most conservative and populist painters anticipated the Earthworks artists of the early 1970s.
In the shadow of the Church estate is the village of Hudson. Driving in on Columbia Street one might think one has entered a 1950s back lot set at Universal Studios. Everything changes just a few blocks away on the gentrified Warren Street. Like a retro West Broadway, Warren Street boasts 75 galleries and antique shops.
The serious art quotient falls somewhere between New Hope and latter-day Soho. More co-existence here; locals thrive alongside outsiders with recognizable names. Some of the locals take a stab at the Church painting tradition and succeed. There is lots of painting on Warren Street as well as works on paper, but very little sculpture.
Sculpture is found just down the road at Beacon where the "serious" quotient gets a giant bump up, starting at Max Protetch Sculpture, located at the east end of Main Street. Here the viewer finds the work of the Iraqui-born Zaha Hadid, and Americans Sol Lewitt, and Scott Burton.
Protetch, who must be called one of most important movers and shakers, has always had an uncanny eye for the next big breakthrough in sculpture, as well as a penchant for concept drawings by architects, which may be seen at the gallery.
He was a 23-year-old graduate student in political science at Georgetown University when he opened his first New York gallery in 1969. He gave early one-person shows to Vito Acconci and Joseph Kosuth.
Of the same stature are the co-founders of the Dia Art Foundation (1974) – collectors Philippa deernational Paper Corporation – the sprawling vistas of Dia-Beacon are ideal for exhibiting large-scale sculpture, such as Richard Serra’s "Torqued Ellipses." In keeping with Dia’s project- support tradtion, many of the galleries contain single artist instaernational Paper Corporation – the sprawling vistas of Dia-Beacon are ideal for exhibiting large-scale sculpture, such as Richard Serra’s "Torqued Ellipses." In keeping with Dia’s project- support tradtion, many of the galleries contain single artist insta feet of skylights allow flexibility for installations; and an exceptional north light is particularly well suited to the work of subtle minimalist painters like Robert Ryman and Agnes Martin. Martin’s series "Innocent Love" (1999) is at Dia.
Because Dia’s feet of skylights allow flexibility for installations; and an exceptional north light is particularly well suited to the work of subtle minimalist painters like Robert Ryman and Agnes Martin. Martin’s series "Innocent Love" (1999) is at Dia.
Because Dia’s permanent collection is a full roster of 20th century art gods, it is often referred to as a "shrine" and its visitors as "pilgrims." It is also a fun destination.
If you happen to be there on Saturday, October 2, for example, you can catch a chef-artist event – one of several that celebrate Hudson Valley farmers. Master chef David Bouley, paired with artist Lothar Baumgarten, will explore the concept of rawness. The artist will serve up an audio piece featuring the guttural sounds of toads, the trilling of insects, and the patter of rain.
Given its proximity to central New Jersey, Dia-Beacon alone would be worth the trip, but there is so much more. Below is my short list:
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