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Public Art in the Age of Plague

From Leonia, NJ Up to North Bennington, VT and all through the Hudson Valley, Outdoor Exhibits to Feed Your Art-Hungry Soul

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James Meyer, "Piston Orange,"  Mt. Tremper Rail Explorers Train Station - PHOTO BY DAVE CHANNON
  • Photo by Dave Channon
  • James Meyer, "Piston Orange," Mt. Tremper Rail Explorers Train Station

With most museums and galleries are shuttered until who knows when, what’s a socially distanced art lover to do? Go online and view pixels of the Prado? While the proliferation of virtual exhibits from the world’s top museums has been a welcome adaptation to life under COVID-19, it is no substitute for seeing art in person. So, here is one ironclad reality-based alternative.

If the sky doesn’t fall this summer, get out of your fusty Corona bunker and breathe some fresh public art. Art parks. Sculpture gardens. A new crop of photo ops growing up where you least expect them, all over town, out in the fresh air. This year, the Annual Shandaken Studio Tour plans to forgo the indoor visits and focus your 2020s on a sculpture walkabout in the Great Artdoors. “Out-Doors of Perception,” perhaps?

I have been showing in and organizing art in public spaces for a long time. There is a warm society of artists like me, helping each other and sharing opportunities. If liquor stores are essential services, I declare we artists are providing a mood elevator just as important! Hats off to towns, store fronts, and everyone who provides a venue for indefatigable makers of delights for sore eyes. We might call it delight manufacturing.

Franc Palaia has curated many outdoor shows over the last 40 years, including two at the achingly beautiful Wilderstein historic site in Rhinebeck. It’s a biennial, so look for a new show there in 2021. “If we want to be outdoors, we can get our nature and culture fix by visiting a sculpture park where we can see artworks of all kinds, either alone or with a small group keeping a safe distance throughout the tours,” Palaia says.

Naomi Teppich, "Cactus Conundrum," Rail Explorers Mt. Tremper Station - PHOTO BY DAVE CHANNON
  • Photo by Dave Channon
  • Naomi Teppich, "Cactus Conundrum," Rail Explorers Mt. Tremper Station

For those coming up from New York City, if you can get over the GWB, check out Leonia NJ’s Art Walk. Feed an imaginary banana to Coco, my massive steel silverback gorilla, and groove on work by many other artists who have braved the virus, loaded their art in trucks, and are taking it to the street. “Nearly 50 outdoor sculptures are on display in Leonia, which is just one square mile wide, and right near the George Washington Bridge,” says Mary Martire of Leonia Art Walk.

All the way up the Hudson Valley to Garrison, Kingston, Woodstock, and the piney peaks beyond, are the makings of a scenic road trip. Saunders Farm outside Garrison is a stampede of cattle and cattle-proof creations. Perhaps a hundred colossal sculptures rock on rolling pastures staged and coached by Collaborative Concepts. Kingston’s brilliant murals are wonderfully non-contagious.

Woodstock Art Exchange on Route 28 near Route 375 has a sculpture garden with 10 of my “Scraptures” (rapture inducing scrap metal sculptures), including Detroitus the discus hurler, Gladiator, Ostrich, Wonder Woman, and Napoleon. The proprietor, glass artist Pablo Weinschenk, invites you to browse the property, visit his glassblowing studio (masks, please!), and enjoy your picnic lunch at our outdoor tables. In Woodstock, check out WAAM’s ongoing street view window exhibition. According to director Diane Dwyer, “It says loud and clear to our artists and community, ‘Hello, and we miss you!’"
Detroitus at Woodstock Art Exchange. - PHOTO BY DAVE CHANNON
  • Photo by Dave Channon
  • Detroitus at Woodstock Art Exchange.

Just west of Boiceville on Route 28, see Steve Heller’s custom cars and flying saucers at Fabulous Furniture. Worship Emile Brunel’s giant Native American totemic statues at Brunel Park on Desilva Road. These large, little known cement statues were adopted by Cynthia Nikitin and are preserved on the National Historic Register. Nikitin adds, “The Friends of Brunel Park is a nonprofit organization that oversees the Brunel Sculpture Garden. Tax deductible donations are welcomed!”

Mount Tremper train station is next along the track. Between the Emerson and Phoenicia Diner, you find an art depot run by Rail Explorers, which offers people-powered rail ride. Power to the pedal! REX director Michelle Davis wants you to know that the art park is open seven days per week to the public during daylight hours. “Visitors are encouraged to stroll the sculptures, which makes it a great activity for all abilities to be outside, while maintaining social distancing,” she says.

REX rail rides resumed in May. A dozen major sculptures are on display, like Suprina’s colossal DNA Totem, Cactus Conundrum by Naomi Teppich, Piston Orange, a double-dutch jump rope plasma torch cutout by James Meyer, and Hidden Pockets, mighty skyward beseeching hands by Susan Buroker. 

Susan Buroker, "Hidden Pockets," Mt. Tremper Rail Explorers Train Station - PHOTO BY DAVE CHANNON
  • Photo by Dave Channon
  • Susan Buroker, "Hidden Pockets," Mt. Tremper Rail Explorers Train Station
Across 28 is a private (do not disturb) collection of fantastic ancient tractors that serendipitously reverberate the rusty splendor of the art depot. There’s even a secluded stretch of the Esopus Creek behind the depot that you can reach by a short trail. Be careful of ticks when bushwhacking. You don’t need Lyme with this Corona!

Visit the Rail Explorers Phoenicia train station and see more sculptures: Joe Chirchirillo’s cubist concrete Peace Sign, my Goldzilla and Esopus Creek Monster. There’s a bunch of ancient trains parked there, impressive sculptures in their own right. Look, but don’t cross the tracks!

The Catskill Visitor Center has had some ambitious outdoor art shows over the last decade, and might have more in the future. There are still a few very impressive works on display. Adrian Landon’s anatomically correct Dung Beetles roll huge globes of colorful recycled debris near the nature trail. Climb the new fire tower if you have good legs.

In Big Indian Park, hail the heroic scale “Chief Winnisook” of legend, carved from a mighty tree trunk.

If you want to get high, drive up to Highmount, past Belleayre Ski Center, to the road frontage of the Galli-Curci historic mansion on 49A. There you will find my archer Diana, and Tree Hugger, Kevin Green’s Wild Horse, and a dream-catching Orb by Jon Byer.

Closer to the Arctic Circle, visit NBOSS, the North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show in Vermont. Curated by artist Joe Chirchirillo, the openings are always a hot dog, blue ribbon beer, and rock ‘n’ roll blast for the entire community. Adapting to our new circumstances, this year will be different. “I think it is possible for sculptors to deliver and viewers to experience the work in a responsible, self-distancing way,” Chirchirillo says. “The NBOSS exhibition may be smaller this year but will continue to offer the public an event that engages them in a positive way during this difficult time.”

So, grab your small-batch craft-brew hand sanitizer, inventive sanitary napkin face mask, and living gloves if you got ‘em. Ten feet is a good distance to view big art from, but you can get a lot closer, assuming there’s no crowd.

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