WOODSTOCK TIMES | April 15, 2017

Abstract Evocative at WAAM

by Paul Smart

The new exhibit up at the Woodstock Artists Association & Museum through the month, Abstract Evocative, holds a hundred years of art history on its many surfaces. There’s hints of early modernist experiments, those years when New York museums were filled with Woodstock’s Non-Representational masters, intimations of Abstract Expressionism. But in the final round, something totally post-modern about the way in which everything’s been curated, hung, and annotated by juror Norm Magnusson.

Yes, there’s the fact that this exhibit includes whole segments of art by only two handfuls of artists, a big change from the group shows usually hung in WAAM’s main gallery. It’s the first of organization’s new FOCUS shows that are designed to provide a more in depth viewing experience and feature a wider range of art from the greater area.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, several art lovers and professional artists roamed the gallery, ready to note their favorites among the works on view, nodding as they pointed out which styles captured their imagination. The works themselves ranged from works reminiscent in their coloring and use of form to European masters from the early 20th century to contemporary explosions of color and materials that actually reached out from the walls they were hung on. There’s naturalistic sculpture, all sinuousness of shape and material, and several experiments in modular shapes, one apparent pointillist, as well as a pair of artists that mix recognizable elements with painterly flourishes. And one collage master working with antique papers to capture something ultimately au courant and utterly contemporary.

Among the ten artists — Gabe Brown, Mercedes Cecilia, Lucille Colin, Diane Dwyer, Christopher Engel, Ellen Jouret-Epstein, Paulette Esrig, Astrid Fitzgerald, Carole Kunstadt and Stephen Niccolls — are well known Woodstock and Saugerties names, some Kingston fixtures, and others from parts just a bit further afield. Ages span the gamut from somewhat young to fairly old. Not everything is totally original in itself, yet there’s enough overall newness on view to warrant repeat looks. The main gallery feels fresher than it has in years, and yet also redolent of all the many shows that stretch back through the Artists Association history.

“Abstract art seems to spring forth from one of two directions: from the soul or from nature, and either way it has its own evocative power. That’s what the title of this exhibition refers to: does the art take you somewhere? Make you think of something or feel some way or another? Is it evocative?” writes Magnusson of his choices, which he then augments with individual pieces by an artist statement for each individual’s body of work.

Highlights? Gabe Brown mixes up elements of landscape and plant life, decoration and collage-like layerings in a series of small, jewel-like paintings. Engel’s large pieces play with large gestures and a playful sense of design over underlying riffs that carry various possible meanings. There’s a sweet sense of ruptured detail, and yearning, that somehow emerges from Kunstadt’s weavings of musical scores and devotional texts. I’ve long wanted to capture Paulette Esrig’s evocations of a jazzier day in a gallery setting, and was not let down. And best of all are Jouret-Epstein’s lively wall constructions, some otherworldly mash-up of quilts and paintings and sculpture and something else altogether.

As for Magnusson, a longtime Woodstock presence (now living in Rhinebeck) whose own work has tended towards the metaphoric and surreal, he brings to this first FOCUS a grand sense of tradition and history. Plus his usual sense of play inherent in his “funism” web presence. But also something almost scholarly in its serious sense of appreciation and purpose.

It all adds up to an interesting new direction for WAAM, which is currently gearing up to its annual Beaux Arts Ball and Little Gems auction at the Saugerties Performing Arts Factory on Saturday, April 29, along with a free activities-rich Family Day this Saturday, April 14.

As for the next FOCUS after this first one, it’ll open July 1 around the theme, The Lay of the Land: Art Inspired by Nature. Artists get chosen (by June 4, in the coming case) from those who have signed up for Ulster Artists Online. To learn more about it, there’ll be a special training session for those looking to use this growing WAAM resource. It’s at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 22…but slots are filling fast. See www.woodstockart.org or call 679-2940 or for more information.