Sculpture show has nature on its mind

He stands 10 feet tall, with a body of iron beams and welded scrap metal. His face is a bicycle wheel, with nuts and bolts are riveted to his hat and various water-faucet handles serving as shirt-buttons.

“I think he’s cute,” said Meagan Gallagher, referring to “Henry Hudson and the Half Moon,” a sculpture that looms at the water’s edge in Kingston’s Rotary Park.

Gallagher, 25, is the curator of the 2009 Kingston Sculpture Biennial exhibition, and she called the sculpture, created by miChelle Vara, “powerful yet whimsical.”

“With the quadricentennial, it’s such a great centerpiece,” Gallagher said, referring to the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage up the river that bears his name.

The theme of this year’s biennial, the ninth, is “Go Green and Keep the Hudson Clean.” It focuses on work that pays homage to the Hudson River’s impact and uses natural or recycled materials. Because of the river-centric theme, almost all of the sculptures in the city are located at Kingston Point, Rotary Park and Hasbrouck Park, with four sculptures in and around the Arts Society of Kingston headquarters at 97 Broadway. Previous biennials have included works scattered throughout the city, on public and private lawns and indoors.

But not everyone wholeheartedly supports the river-and-parks location. Alderman Thomas Hoffay (D-Ward 2), who represents Uptown Kingston, said that the Biennial had “lost something” by neglecting parts of the city where people work and go about their daily business. Although he understood the decision to focus on the river, he said previous biennials “had more of a visual impact, because people saw them every day.”

Nevertheless, Gallagher said that early word-of-mouth has been positive. “I’ve been told it’s a lot more fun than shows in the past.”

One of ASK’s goals was to create an exhibition that that fits the city and its history and getting people to rediscover the parks. “A lot of people have said, ‘I hadn’t been to Hasbrouck park in years, and it’s so beautiful’,”Gallagher said.

There are 50 sculptures in the exhibit, although one of them has surely melted by now — over a dozen ice boats carved by Itty Neuhas were launched at the July 4 opening ceremony, their waters joining the Hudson on its way toward the Atlantic. The title plaque, “Ice Boats Melt into the Hudson,” remains near the water’s edge in Rotary Park, long outlasting the work itself.

Gallagher and Vindora Wixom, ASK’s executive director, said that their goals this year were to create an exhibition that was accessible, fun and “kid-friendly.”

The kid-friendly theme extended to the official opening reception on July 4, which featured children’s activities — including boat-making and face-painting — guided tours, live music and hors d’ouvres.

“We tried to, rather than provoke the people here in Kingston, to attract them,” said Wixom, who has a sculpture of her own in the biennial, “Tear of the Clouds.” She added that no designs were turned down because they might be controversial.

In part because of the theme, this year’s exhibition will likely be less controversial than some past biennials. Two of the more controversial pieces in the event’s history were Tom Gottslieben’s “Spiral Construction” and Rita Dee’s “Atticus,” both of which were displayed on the lawn of the Ulster County Courthouse on Wall Street. “Spiral Construction,” from the 1999 biennial, resembled a blue screw made from bluestone, stainless steel and crystal, and some observers interpreted it as a commentary on fairness in the justice system. “Atticus,” a wooden horse sculpture with the Ten Commandments and other biblical passages inscribed on its wooden framework, was moved in 2005 after it was opposed by mayor James Sottile and others, who said it was promoting religion on government property. It was moved to the lawn of the Old Dutch Church, across the street.

Despite the emphasis on nature and whimsy, “you never know what will offend some people,” Wixom said, whether for political or aesthetic reasons.

But Wixom said that the nature of the exhibit will reward repeat visitors to the parks. There are “a lot of nooks and crannies,” and some of the work is not immediately noticeable.

Visitors to Rotary Park seemed to have positive reactions to the art that sprouted up there recently.

On a warm Thursday afternoon, two visitors to the park relaxed at a hilltop gazebo, listening to Mark Bernard’s entry, “The Tree Whispers Hudson,” a radio installation with motion sensors that greets passersby and then gives lectures on the history of the city and the river.

“Would you come over here?” the voice from the bushes asked. “I’m the tree over here. I’m this fallen log.”

“This is great,” said Katie Panchack, 23, of Saugerties, as the log continued with a speech about the Lenape tribe that settled the area before Hudson’s arrival. “I’ve been here all my life and didn’t know half of this stuff.”

Panchak said the biennial was “awesome.” “There’s so much stuff to look at.”

Her friend, Juan Valdez, a visitor from West Palm Beach, Fla., agreed. “This is very beautiful.”

Rick Van Dusen, a retired builder and Kingston resident since 1997, said that he liked the way the art fit with the natural surroundings. “It’s all about nature,” he said.

“Some of it I like, and some of it I don’t,” he said, appearing unimpressed with some of the abstract metal statues. His favorite is “The Dancer,” by Kathy Bruce, a tall bamboo and moss figure rising out of a bush that spreads around her waist like a skirt. “It’s the nicest one I’ve seen so far.”

Van Dusen, a frequent visitor to Rotary Park, made the trip with his dog, Mina, a 2-year-old Shitzu-Maltese mix, who also approved of the exhibition. “She likes the art,” Van Dusen said.

“I like the walkway at the entrance,” Panchak said. “It’s very bright and colorful. It’s not an eyesore.”

The pathway, entitled “Alive! A Path of Renewal,” is made from bluestones and planters hand-painted by residents of the Northeast Center for Special Care as part of their rehabilitation from brain injuries.

MiChelle Vara, the sculptor of “Henry Hudson,” said that she is happy with her statue’s central location. She pieced him together over the course of a year, with the quadricentennial in mind.

“He is very happy in the park, and he appears to be quite happy next to the Indian,” she said, referring to Dave Channon’s “Diana Lenape,” a large metal sculpture made with discarded garden tools including shovel heads and a rake, in the likeness of a Native American woman aiming a bow and arrow.

The art will remain on display until October. Later in the summer, ASK plans to sell catalogs commemorating the exhibit, which will have photographs of the art in its outdoor setting, an opening comment, artist statements and photos from the July 4 reception. Funding for the event normally comes from city coffers, but this year ASK carried the costs of promotion and is waiting to be reimbursed by funds from a state grant for the Hudson Fulton Champlain Quadricentennial. They have asked for $10,000, the same amount as in past years.

Other artists featured in the biennial include Melita Greenleaf, Scarlett Colsen, Michael Ciccone, Anne Dushanko Dobek, Robin M. Glassman, Karen Pignataro, Gary Pluschau, Randy Polumbo, the Student Art Alliance at SUNY New Paltz, Matthew Zappala, Casey Schwartz, Susan Togut, Anne Stanner, Cristina Ungureanu, Emily Puthoff, Bill Brovold, Pieter and Abby Heijnen, Bennett Wine, Terry L.H. Slade, Ze’ev Wily Neumann, Kelly McGrath, Patrick Sweeney, Stephen Reynolds, Pamela Wallace, Robert Giordano, Lucjan Nowinski, Franc Palaia, James Hixson, Sandra Schaller and Oreen Cohen.

Published by the Daily Freeman

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