Bringing Art to Life: Linda Montano

Linda Montano’s “Linda Montano: The Art/Life Hospital” was curated by Anastasia James and opened to the public on Jan. 23 and will be closing on April 14. Montano’s art relates to her life and explores themes regarding death, aging and healing. Museum goers are encouraged to participate in this interactive exhibit by holding the doll and rocking in the chair.

*Editors Note* Museum goers should be advised that this exhibit covers themes of death which may be triggering.

The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art has introduced three new art exhibits this semester; “In Celebration: A Recent Gift from the Photography Collection of Marcuse Pfeifer” and “Just My Type: Angela Dufresne,” have not yet gone live, but Linda Montano’s “Linda Montano: The Art/Life Hospital,” curated by Anastasia James, opened to the public on Jan. 23 and will be closing on April 14. 

Montano is a Saugerties-based performance artist who has been active for over sixty years. She studied and earned her degree in sculpture at the College of New Rochelle, and then went on to receive her M.A. at Villa Schifanoia and her M.F.A. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Afterwords, Montano sought to dedicate herself to performance artwork, one of her most famous performances being the year she spent tied to Taiwanese performance artist Tehching Hsieh in “Art/Life One Year Performance” from 1983 to 1984. Other pieces performed by Montano include her “Seven Years of Living Art Project” and its sequels “Another Seven Years of Living Art” and “Another 21 Years of Living Art.”

“The Art/Life Hospital” is an incredibly personal exhibit for Montano. She sees her art being directly tied to her life, and explores themes of death, aging and healing. The seeds of this exhibit were planted when Montano had an unique experience with a palm reader, who had told Montano that she would be in a hospital at least twice.

Montano found this “prediction” to be unethical, and in response she decided to radically transform her household. “The ‘fear’ was, ‘oh my God, this palm reader told me I was gonna be in the hospital!’ and I made my house into a hospital,” Montano explained. She dubbed this space “The Art/Life Institute.” 

Much like “The Art/Life Institute,” “The Art/Life Hospital” is designed to be a space of healing, and the exhibit aims to satisfy that goal by being incredibly interactive. A series of chalkboards in colored light dubbed the “Chalkboard Healing Stations” are set up so that patrons can come in and write messages on the chalkboard that correspond to their respective chakra. Similarly, a “Gratitude Nursery” is set up; dolls with the face of the Virgin Mary are placed in cribs that are all the colors of the chakra with their related prayers above them. They surround a rocking chair and a small doll and patrons are encouraged to hold the doll and rock in the chair. 

The exhibit also features over five hours of video performance by Montano, projected onto the walls of the Dorsky. These date back to her first video, “Mitchell’s Death,” released in 1977 to her most recent film “I’m Dying – My Last Performance” released in 2015. “There’ll be an invisible prize to anyone who sits through five and half hours of video,” Montano said. The videos are also on Youtube for free.

Finally, the exhibit features a model skeleton in a coffin with a mirror over its face. Leading up to the coffin are drawn interpretations of chakras done by her left and right hands, as well as a small photo stand of influences on Montano’s life. This includes Catholic and Hindu religious figures as well as family members. Currently, Right below it are two CRT monitors, both of which are playing a video of artist Christina Varga nursing her newborn child, directed by Tobe Carey. Carey also edited and directed several of the films present at the exhibit. 

Montano elaborated on the contrasting imagery of the piece. 

“Varga nursing her child [is] a symbol of life, a symbol of nourishment. And a lot of people are really freaked out by coffins and death, and it’s the great mystery, and it’s the great question, and for many of us the great fear and the great trembling,” Montano said. “I’ve always been fascinated by it and encouraged and go to that mystery and get to know it and acquaint myself and become friends with death.”

The process to get this exhibit set up was a positive experience between the Dorsky Museum and Montano.

“Most of the work on this exhibition was undertaken by Anastasia, working directly with the artist,” said Sarah Pasti, the Neil C. Trager Director for the Dorsky. “In the last few weeks, the museum’s staff worked with Linda to help install her exhibition. We found that working with Linda was a pleasure. She was full of ideas, but also very open to ideas from the installation team.” 

Pasti also appreciated the uniqueness of the exhibit. 

“This exhibition brings many things to The Dorsky,” Pasti said. “It is unique in its combination of video art, installation art, and performance. The exhibition also provides opportunities for visitors to interact with the art.”

Montano ultimately wants the experience at the exhibit to be a positive one. “We all have a lot of suffering and a lot of junk, and I’m hoping that space is a little resort, it’s a little spa, it’s a recuperation from everyday mind,” Montano said.

Montano will also be making appearances at the Dorsky on Feb. 9 and April 14. She will be performing her art by laying in the coffin for two hours, with designated “Gland Doctors” moving through the audience and interacting with them. Montano will also be at the Dorsky on April 13 to have a conversation about the exhibit with patrons.