The word "school" has different meanings for different people. "The School" is the new space owned and operated by gallerist Jack Shainman that occupies the former Martin Van Buren High School in bucolic Kinderhook. We can't vouch for the success of its first life, but we can attest that it's become just the sort of enlightening place every school was meant to be.
Now bathed in luminous light—the natural streaming in from outside and the artificial discreetly placed—the original schoolhouse has been transformed into a home for art and an artist. There is ample room for the 100 works by artists of 16 nationalities, a conservation room, and a studio for Carlos Vega. The School exemplifies the raison d'être of Shainman's business: unique voices and modes of expression. When Shainman goes to a studio he is "looking for artists who are individual and have their own statements."
In Manhattan, Shainman occupies two locations in Chelsea, although neither has enough of the height the gallery owner needs. "I was looking for space to install large artworks for clients to see," Shainman says. One day, while traveling with his business partner, Carlos Vega, to his farm in Stuyvesant, he noticed a "for sale" sign in front of the brick structure at 25 Broad Street. "We both saw the potential in such a beautiful place," he says.
Repurposing the school, which was built in 1929 and used to educate youngsters until 2011, was entrusted to their friend, architect Antonio Jimenez Torrecillas, who excavated the gymnasium floor in order to create a 24-foot-high ceiling. Windows were replaced and coats of white paint applied, rendering the walls the perfect background. Objective achieved: The School is an innovative art space that invites curiosity and contemplation.
Art is not confined to the interior. The five-acre property provides the perfect backdrop for outdoor installations. Yoan Capote's Open Mind is currently being erected on the back lawn and several more pieces are slated to appear.
The interest in the largest room (built in the former gym) is derived not only from the works themselves but also in the assemblage. Harmonious colors are present amongst several works— "a nice accident," Shainman says. The interplay of size and shape is intentional: "It's always interesting when you're installing shows, playing with balance and imbalance and scale change." The soaring height of the ceiling accommodates Adinka Sasa, one of Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui's masterpieces.
After entering the foyer that provides the perfect setting for a spiritual sculpture by Tallur L.N., peek into what was slated to be Shaiman's office. When one of multimedia artist Nick Cave's gargantuan soundsuits was placed there—supposedly as a way station—it looked too perfect, thereby trumping the office idea. When Cave wears the suit (supported by a concealed armature), sound is produced from the elements adorning it.
In Tim Bavington's Experienced, a spiral elegantly turns. His practice revolves around the transcription of music into color and line. Experienced is a visual expression of a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo.
Historical context is given more than the proverbial nod. A statuette of a little girl wearing a blue-and-white school uniform (the former school's colors, according to knowledgeable area residents) by Claudette Schreuders stands in a corner. A sepia print by David Hammons peers out from the fire extinguisher case. The two bathrooms, stripped of the original fixtures, are now "little chapels," each housing graffiti-free oeuvres by Gehard Demetz and Vibha Galhotra, respectively.
Fear of being sent to the principal's office? Not here. The room formerly occupied by the principal is now welcoming and filled with sculpture, with no threat of detention.
Vacant school buildings dot the countryside. The prospect of additional studios and exhibition space is intriguing.
Works from the collection of the Jack Shainman Gallery will be exhibited on an ongoing basis at The School, 25 Broad Street, in Kinderhook. Gallery hours are Saturdays from 11am to 5pm and by appointment. Jackshainman.com/school.
—Sarah Ellen Rindsberg