NORTH OF NEW YORK: The New York School Generation In The Hudson Valley Region May 8-June 13, 2010- The Kleinert-James Art Center, Woodstock, NY
William Hazlitt, the great journalist, painter, philosopher, free thinker and literary critic of late 18th and early 19th century England, invents the term “protean genius” in his ambitious critical studies of the work of William Shakespeare, to describe a particular quality of Shakespeare’s artistry. Hazlitt was describing what he saw as a genius which could become, or embody, anything it considered. In the process of curating this exhibition, I realized that this group of work, representing artists from the New York School generation, demonstrates a similar protean power to embody its subject matter. This is as true whether in the landscapes of Paul Resika and Ruth Miller, the figures of Rosemary Beck, Charles Cajori, Mary Frank, Nicolas Carone and Conrad Marca-Relli, or the intriguing nexus of physical material and psychological space in the abstractions of Philip Guston, Andrew Forge, Mercedes Matter, Ted Denyer, Carone and Al Held.
Beginning as early as the 1930’s and 1940’s, the artists of this generation were all, more or less, interconnected, both through artistic concerns and through personal relationships. In the post World War II era, although New York had, by then, began to become the world’s most important international center of commerce, the New York art world was still relatively small. Everyone, artists, critics, dealers, curators as well as poets and performing artists, seemed to know one another. Many artists of lesser current public recognition were deeply respected as peers by the individuals who have since become the figureheads of the New York School/Abstract Expressionist generation; household names such as Jackson Pollock, Willem DeKooning, Franz Kline, Barnett Newman among others, were as much the recipients of the exchange of ideas as their progenitors. Members of the New York School generation, through proximity and habitual interactions (informally at the famous Cedar Bar and privately at the Artists’ Club on Eighth Street) benefited from each others' insights in a way which is difficult to imagine in today’s more fractured and ideologically divisive art community.
Even outside of New York these fertile connections persisted. Most famously in the Hamptons of eastern Long Island where Pollock, his wife Lee Krasner and Willem and Elaine De Kooning were centers of gravity, and as far afield as Rome, where Carone, first on a Prix de Rome in the late forties and later a Fullbright Scholarship, introduced Guston and Marca-Relli to the Italian Metaphysical painters, relatively un-exhibited in New York at that time (Giorgio Morandi became of particular importance to Guston’s middle and late work, 2 examples of which are on exhibit here). Less widely known are the places North of New York where these artists both gathered together, and sought refuge from the social whorl of New York City.
Half of this group of artists has important connections to Woodstock, N.Y. and the greater Hudson Valley. Philip Guston lived and worked in the Maverick Colony of Woodstock for the last two decades of his life. Rosemarie Beck lived in Woodstock and was a close friend and neighbor of Guston’s in the Fifties and Sixties. Marca-Relli was a frequent guest of both artists. Al Held lived much of the time in nearby Boiceville, now the home of The Held Foundation. Ted Denyer moved to Mt. Tremper, near Woodstock, in the Seventies and spent his last decades living and working at the home and studio he built himself. Mary Frank is still a part time resident of Woodstock, and Nick Carone has been, for the past few years, living and working in Hudson, N.Y., a half hour trip up-river, when not in New York City or at his home in Italy. Paul Resika has a long association with Provincetown, Mass., as did Mercedes Matter, dating back to their time as students of the great modernist teacher and painter Hans Hoffman, who taught in Provinetown every Summer. Andrew Forge, Ruth Miller, Conrad Marca-Relli and Charles Cajori have all been residents of the Housatonic Valley in Connecticut.
When visiting this exhibition one slowly notices that all the figurative work in the show is fundamentally organized through a deep understanding of abstract structure, structure without which space and form cannot exist on the flat plane or in sculpture can only be left lifeless in the inert material from which it is formed. The images we perceive have been arrived at, and made all the more real, through a process which is itself, by its very nature, an abstraction. By the same token even the most non-representational paintings included in the exhibit are evocative of imagery.
Each of these works of art are equally concerned with what we, as human beings, take in from the world through our senses (the physical, form and space) and what we project out into the world (the abstract and psychological). We could characterize these projections as being the result of our unique human capacity to reflect on our experiences, which are always at the same time solitary and subjective, and, paradoxically, universally shared. Each and every form with which these artists grapple becomes an opportunity to embody and, through the protean act of painting, drawing and sculpture, communicate what cannot be communicated through other means. By way of their individual and distinct poetics, these artists transmit to us, their viewers, the ineffable essence of the experience of being human.
William Hazlitt, writing about the romantic poet William Wordsworth, says something which I believe to be true about each of the artists represented in this exhibition: “His genius is the effect of his individual character. He stamps that character, that deep individual interest, on whatever he meets. The object is nothing but as it furnishes food for internal meditation.” I hope, in turn, that the works of art gathered here will afford the visitor similar nourishment.
Mark Thomas Kanter, Curator