If there is one thing that Dorsky Museum is dedicated to, it is supporting and uplifting the artists of the Hudson Valley.
On Feb. 9 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., the Dorsky Museum did that by hosting their opening performance and reception for their Spring 2019 exhibits. The ceremony featured acts by the artists featured at the Dorsky, including a live performance of laying in a coffin by performance artist Linda Montano and musical performance by painter Angela Dufresne and guest artists, as well as a collaborative performance to conclude the show.
The ceremony celebrated the official opening of the Dorsky’s Spring exhibits: “The Art Life Hospital” by Montano, an interactive exhibit about life, art and death, “Just My Type” by Dufresne, a series of portraits centered around typology painted by Dufresne, “In Ceremony,” a collection of photographs by photographer Marcuse Pfeifer and “Mohonk Mountain House at 150,” a collection of art and paraphernalia surrounding the Mohonk Mountain House in Ulster County.
The exhibits were respectively curated by former Dorsky curator Anastasia James, independent curator and professor of Visual Culture and Critical Theory at Carnegie Mellon Melissa Ragona, Dorsky curator and art collections manager Wayne Lempka and SUNY New Paltz art history professor Kerry Dean Carso. They are set to close on April 14, coinciding with a final performance by Montano.
The centerpiece of the ceremony was the collaborative performance between Montano, Dufresne and her fellow performers, which included guitarist Zach Layton and artists David Humphrey and Jennifer Coates. The collaboration occured when Dufresne wanted to hold a performance at her exhibit while Montano was performing.
“We asked Linda if it would be cool for us to also perform, hoping it wouldn’t interfere with her performance,” said Dufresne. “She loved the idea and proposed we come fetch her out of the coffin. We clearly were happy to do so.”
The ceremony opened where Dufresne’s exhibit was hosted, in the Morgan Anderson Gallery and Howard Greenberg Family Gallery, with an improvisatory guitar piece by Layton. The untitled piece consisted of Layton playing an electric guitar with a bow and having it played back through a synthesizer. Layton made extensive use of feedback and reverb for the duration of the 20 minute piece. The piece was specifically written for the opening ceremony.
When Layton concluded, Dufresne, Humphrey and Coates took the stage and performed an improvised cover of German singer-songwriter Nico’s “Janitor of Lunacy,” a song written about Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones. Dufresne sang while Humphrey and Coates played saxophone and violin respectively. Dufresne performed the piece out of the personal connection she felt with it, in that it reflected her artwork at the Dorsky.
“I was really interested in many of the lines in this and other songs written by Nico,” Dufresne said. “As they pertain to both the impulse to know someone and the impossibility of that knowing,”
The final portion began when Dufresne began to direct the audience to where Montano’s exhibit was hosted, which was in the Alice and Horace Chandler Gallery.
“We’re gonna migrate everybody over to excavate [Montano] out of the casket, which is an honor I didn’t realize that I’ve been waiting my whole life to to do,” she said before the second performance.
After the audience had been gathered at the exhibit and around Montano’s coffin, Montano’s group of performers (known as ‘Gland Doctors’ who were tending to her and the audience during her two-hour performance) helped Montano out of the coffin and began to dance with her to the tune of “Addicted to Love” by Robert Palmer. Audience members were encouraged to join in on the ‘resurrection’— many of whom did.
Reception to the new exhibits and performances have been positive, especially from the students at New Paltz.
“It was super cool, I liked the colors and paintings,” said undeclared first-year student James McKinney. “The performance was interesting [too]. I thought it was gonna go one way [but] it went another.”
Neil C. Trager Director of the Dorsky, Sarah Pasti, wanted patrons to walk away feeling inspired by the performance and the art work.
“Performance is just another way of engaging in the public. You can look at the painting and it’s more passive, quiet reflective engagement with the art. So when the performance happens it means that people have more of a physical engagement with the art and the exhibition,” Pasti said. “So it’s simply another way of experiencing art, and hopefully inspiring the people who come and look to think about what they can do in their own lives.”
Ragona hopes that the newly opened Dufresne exhibit challenges how people perceive relationships.
“It contributes to a rethinking of conventional communities and families, because in a way this is a presentation of a very broad, wide, extended queer family, in a way. Even though it’s all different sexualities,” Ragona said. “[It’s] a diversity that’s to notions of difference in community, like rethinking community and what it means, especially within this extremely conservative political background that we have going on. Not just in the U.S. but all over. It’s more important than ever.”