Ask yourself: “When was the last time I saw nature inside a white-walled gallery?” No, not paintings of nature—Mother Nature herself with her many faces and moods. “When did I have a rich conversation about nature and ecology as art (call it eco art) without coming up only with some outdoor, far-flung 70’s Land Art?” Ask: “Though Mother Nature is beleaguered, can I still celebrate her?” Well, you’ll soon find out. “Dear Mother Nature: Hudson Valley Artists 2012,” the group show exhibiting through November 4 curated by artist and environmentalist Linda Weintraub at the Samuel Dorsky Museum, is a sincere expression of the answers you might allow yourself.
The work on view by 42 Hudson Valley artists is an offering that both problematizes and celebrates our commitments to our mother. It invites many questions, without requiring that any one answer dominate any other. So if you suppose that the story on view at the Dorsky is the story of Mother Nature herself—concern and celebration—the art here invites an open-ended, life-affirming, and endearing conversation, one that won’t end when you walk out of the museum doors.
In effect, the museum and gallery context, here, has been reformatted to suit contemporary eco art. We’re not being lectured by seemingly heroic “land artists” like Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer; we’re chatting at eye level. Take for instance, Portia Munson’s installation as reliquary, a house to hold all our mistakes. Jim Holl’s piece suggests we’re one turn, maybe one mistake away from Mother’s wrath; our fortunes swing by her strings. Christy Rupp’s sculptures of microscopic filter feeders suggest that though Mother’s looking out for us, there’s only so much she can do. Eventually the filter feeders that have helped clean the detritus of the Gulf oil spill will show up in our food supply. Leila Goldthwaithe offers up a trophied feast of handmade creatures you can’t find in any local body of water. This, because we’ve destroyed the ecosystems that until recently sustained what are now near-extinct populations. We carry much of the blame for our mother’s condition.
Yet we should celebrate our mother. And how better to celebrate her than to consider ways to revitalize her constitution? Consider, then, Daniel Mack’s installation of detrital driftwood that suggests idols in twilight, that one gesture or a few marks the difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary. Polly Giragosian’s earth-caked clothes for Mother’s wrathful children might just calm their rage. (I hope so; especially during this drought-ridden summer.) Khem Caigan’s careful alchemical turns refine our mother’s hidden bounties in a way I, in my slapdash painter ways, can’t fathom; though I suspect I’d be a better person if I did.
Paul G. Stewart’s precariously balanced sculpture makes material mother’s balancing act and suggests we must balance our own priorities better if we are to save her. Kathleen Anderson’s tribute—or better, pilgrimage—traces the contours of her body along the Hudson River. Angela Basile offers a view of technology on life support, infected and about to be undone by nature’s stealthy shoots. You might wonder, is this an aspiration or ironic commentary, or both?
Now, there are still 32 other discrete bodies of work I haven’t even touched on and a few are one-shot only performances. Each visit to the show can throw open a new view on the world, if you’ll allow it. So let us go then you and I and reconstitute mother to her working glory so that we need no longer defame our virtue nor dilute our commitments to the significant ends we’ve each proposed for our lives.
“Dear Mother Nature: Hudson Valley Artists 2012” will be exhibited through November 4 at the Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz. On August 25, at 2pm, curator Linda Weintraub will give a gallery talk. At 3pm, artist Mary Anne Davis will prepare a ceremonial meal with local food, part of her ongoing Mala Meal Project. (845) 257-3844; Newpaltz.edu/museum