Art and the City: Gallery Walks
A few weeks ago, I experienced what can only be described as a location-warp when a friend and I were strolling down Main Street in Brattleboro taking in some terrific art exhibits before catching a movie at the Latchis. It was late afternoon on a Friday, a mini rush-hour was taking shape and, because it was the town's monthly Gallery Walk, the sidewalks were filling up with a growing stream of cheerful pedestrians, brollies at the ready beneath an ominous sky.
Like a sensorial scene change, it was as if every element of our surroundings began shifting so that, by the time we'd walked two blocks, this small Vermont town had transformed into a bustling city that could have been mistaken for New York's Tribeca, London's Soho or San Francisco's South of Market. Having run a gallery in the latter for a number of years, my mind was awhirl with fond memories of lively hordes of art lovers peering at paintings over each other's shoulders while munching on cheese and crackers and clinking plastic cups of wine. The street vibe is what did it, though.
Something about the dimming light of day, windows aglow in handsome storefronts, taillights bleeding into the sheen of a light rain, horns beeping, the occasional siren all swirled together into decidedly urban experiential amalgam. When a group of people poured out of one of Brattleboro's many outstanding galleries and we were caught up in a socializing eddy for a bit, running into friends who commented on the impressive exhibit they'd just seen, it really did feel like old times.
It's not just the art or the play or the concert that inspires us to take time out for such events, it's the human factor as well. As a species, our health and happiness is contingent upon connecting with each other and, with long winters that tend to keep us inside more, I've found such community events to be positively soul-nourishing.
While I cherish the serenity of Vermont, I confess that I'm periodically compelled to spend a couple of days in New York or Boston, taking in as many galleries, museums and other favorite spots as possible, and it's for the hubbub as much as the art. Every time I head out of my village for a bright-lights fix, I think of a wonderfully wry, citycentric poem called Mediations In an Emergency by Frank O'Hara, who was the Assistant Curator of Painting and Sculpture at MOMA in New York in the late '50s and early '60s. In it he reveals a fear and slight loathing of the countryside that is both comical and slightly poignant in its hubris:
"One need never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes -- I can't even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there's a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life."
There was a point in my life when I felt the same and could only stand to be away from my urban roost for a day or two before I'd get antsy and have to return to the comforting commotion of cars, people and noise. Now, however, the tables have turned so even my city jaunts are becoming fewer and farther between.
From my driveway to Zabar's deli on 80th and Broadway -- always a good first stop -- it's about 4 hours, which used to seem like a quick trip. Each time I go, however, the drive seems longer and, though that's partly due to rising gas prices, it's also because there are more and more high-caliber exhibits and events right here in Vermont that keep my cultural tanks brimming.
This area is fortunate not only to be steeped in outstanding regional art, music and theater but also occasionally to have in its midst original creations that come direct from the Big Apple, though sometimes the path is a little more circuitous, as in the case of the show that's up at Catherine Dianich Gallery in Brattleboro through June 28th.
In Dianich's wonderfully sparse, whitewashed industrial space, a dozen sculptures by Newfane artist James Florschutz are on display, work that came directly from his superlative show at OK Harris Gallery in New York City. Working with found materials, including wood, slate, rubber, wire and tar, Florschutz creates archaeological commentaries on the nature of consumption and the consumption of nature in the form of wall-hangings and freestanding pieces into which the detritus of everyday life has been deftly, poetically integrated.
"Beehive," a concentrically layered, elongated dome which stands 40" high, is constructed with small blocks and wedges of raw wood interspersed with chunks of asphalt and chips of slate. A slim, vertical aperture reveals an inner cavity that is black with shadow, compelling viewers to peer within. Several pieces from Florschutz's "Stations" series are also on exhibit, hanging at eye level and sparking both curiosity and conversation, with Bible sections, pencils, telephone cords, antique utensils and other recycled artifacts of civilization jutting out from between slivers of wood and sections of dowel.
It's no surprise Florschutz's work is being shown in a premier New York gallery; it's as evolved and potent as so much of what I see in major art institutions and yet, here it is, in a modest but visionary Vermont venue for us to ponder and discuss during a vibrant night of camaraderie with friends and neighbors.
Art-oriented evening strolls -- during which numerous businesses often stay open late in addition to galleries -- take place on the third Friday of the month in Bellows Falls, the third Wednesday in Manchester and first Friday in Brattleboro, though with July 4th falling on a Friday, the next Gallery Walk there is slated for the 11th. Make sure to stop in at the Windham Art Gallery for their timely group show, "Red, Black & Blue: Patriotism, Planet & Politics," which is sure to draw astute crowds and perhaps even some good-natured jostling for a better view.
[On July 18], Bellows Falls holds its 3rd Friday Art Walk, which includes [Bellows Falls artist Ailyn Hoey's works in charcoal] at The Framery of Vermont, right around the corner from an excellent Farmer's Market that offers local, organic produce, scrumptious prepared dishes and great live music.
At Manchester's Live After Dark on July 16, there will be a free performance by the Dorset Theatre on the town green, with neighborhood galleries and shops open after hours as well.
For the health of our local economy and our collective community disposition, I highly recommend heading to one of Southern Vermont's monthly art events, with a friend or two or three in tow.
As author Martha Beck puts it, "Basic human contact -- the meeting of eyes, the exchanging of words -- is to the psyche what oxygen is to the brain."
That's precisely what last month's Gallery Walk in Brattleboro felt like -- oxygen to the psyche, with a little city deja-mojo thrown in for good measure. And, yes, the movie we were headed to after doing the galleries was "Sex and the City," which proved to be the perfect ending to what felt like a delightfully, albeit vicariously, urban evening.
Copyright 2008, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont