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Converse Welcome, But Not Required

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The Wassaic Project (TWP) began in 2008 as the location for a summer arts festival curated by co-founders Bowie Zunino, Eve Biddle and Elan Bogarin. Jeff Barnett-Winsby joined the group shortly thereafter, and now TWP hosts not only the annual summer arts festival, but a subsidized visual artists' residency program.

Here's what I really like about TWP: I can wear my beat up chucks and my checked shirt and my cutoffs without irony and still feel like I'm in the middle of a creative swarm. When I am up there, I have the distinct feeling that everyone around me is hard at work - making art, talking about art, making dinner, talking about making art while making dinner, etc - and their intention is genuine. I am concerned that people have one of two misconceptions about TWP, and I'd like to take a moment (let me kick of my top-siders and pour a bourbon, won't you) to elucidate. TWP is neither Brooklyn-Gone-North, nor cultural bagatelle for bored, wealthy summer folk. All kidding and GRE words aside, TWP does a real service to the Litchfield and Duchess County communities (as well as the artists shown in Maxon Mills and in residency at TWP) by providing exhibition and workspace for local, national and international artists and public arts programming to be enjoyed by the community-at-large. Residencies are subsidized and provide artists with living and workspace throughout the summer. The grounds include a shop and print studio. NYC is easily accessible by train. Many of the artists are emerging and mid-career, and a residency, like the one offered by TWP, will help them move forward with their aesthetic and their career. TWP isn't trying to be cool - it is cool because of the high quality work it helps make possible and community of dedicated artists and administrators who keep it going. It's wonderful to watch a program like this grow over time. Zunino, Biddle, Bogarin and Barnett-Winsby have been thoughtful and deliberate about how TWP has expanded - keep it up folks, and your success will continue.

So now that all my speechifying is done, let's talk about what I saw and loved this weekend when I went up for the third annual Summer Festival. Mind you, this is a mere smattering of the many artists represented. Would that I had all the time and space I wanted, I'd write about you all. Congratulations to all who exhibited on a fine show.

The Maxon Mills exhibition space is a location geek's dream. A seven-story grain mill, it's a rambling affair, with walls made from compressed 2x4's and various accoutrement and machinery from its days as a working mill. You'll want to wear comfortable shoes to climb up and down all the stairs. It's nice to work for your viewing pleasure.
Ryan Frank, who I've known since my days at chashama, is living most of the time in Litchfield County now. For the past five (has it really been that long?) years Ryan has been creating photo installations with industrial materials that reflect the environment in which they are set. Ryan's work smirks at you a little as you gawk at its beauty. This weekend he featured a portrait of a deer set between the fence posts on the lawn, and a scene from a suburban neighborhood phographed and set inside a mailbox. A skilled photographer and crack carpenter, I'm always a little in awe of my old friend's handiwork.

Josh Atlas, hailing from Los Angeles, is a fascinating artist with a love of comedy and a background in performance. He orders donuts wholesale, covers them in resin and urethane and creates sculptures out of them in tandem with other materials. He also has a series of charmingly lewd illustrations. Josh's work is more amiable than Tim Burton's and more eerie than Fairy Tale Theater, and equally reminiscent of cherished juvenilia, and yet completely unique.

Red Bucket Films was presented in a newly opened section of the mill called the New Hotel Gallery, in a smaller exhibit titled DIS-ROBED, curated by Kathleen Smith and Ava Rawski. Red Bucket Films is a collective of filmmakers dedicated to the quotidian, and their piece in DIS-ROBED was an elegantly edited selection of shorts made on flip-cams. Sure, it sounds like something you've already thought about doing yourself or seen in your friend's loft in Bushwick, but all that aside, the content was just beautiful, and I could have watched it for hours. Catch Red Bucket Film at BAM and other NYC locales in the future.

I found a player piano silently working on one of the upper floors, having been installed there by Brinton Jaecks. (Sure Connor Oberst, you can use that as an album title.) Jaecks' other piece, a gorgeous installation of linked together twin bedframes, was found on the ground floor. But the player piano haunting the upstairs kept me enraptured for quite some time.

Stephen Eakin and Kate Johnson make a nice couple on one of the upper floors. Eakin uses infra-red cameras set inside handcrafted wooden boxes to illuminate photos. The boxes usually have some ability to be opened by the viewer, changing the image. Eakin's small installations are simple and beautiful, unassuming and provocative, and I hope you enjoy them too. Kate Johnson has constructed a panopticon of sorts that is far more accessible than anything Foucault ever wrote, I assure you. I am not sure what I liked more about Johnson's piece: viewing it myself or watching a group of young children fight over who got to enjoy it first/longer.

Eve Biddle's elegant bone sculptures are subtly disarming, set against a window overlooking the hamlet of Wassaic. I was taken aback at the sight of the bones against the lush greenery of Wassaic. A little haunting, yes, but mostly, just beauty pointing towards more beauty.

For me the piece de resistance is Henry C. Klimowicz's cardboard installation located on the seventh and final floor. My pal Ryan Morrison disagreed, but I felt like I had landed on the moon as I mounted the last stair. Specifically, a sci-fi silent film era conception of the moon, which is the best kind, IMHO. Klimowicz is a Dutchess County resident.

As I conclude this piece, I'm intrigued by the number of times I described work as haunting. Maybe it was the ramshackle feel of the mill, or perhaps it was a consistent aesthetic throughout the show, but I'd love to hear if any of you got the same impression.

The Maxon Mills exhibition space will be open Thursday, August 19th through Sunday August 22nd from 12PM-6PM each day. Trains leave from Grand Central regularly, and you can walk from the station to the mill quite easily. So put on what feels good and make your way north this weekend - you'll be glad you did.