The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art held its monthly Free Sunday Gallery Tour on Feb. 7. The tour showcased two of the museum’s newest exhibits, “Made for You” and “The Floating World.” To the artistically untrained eye, the artwork can be hard to comprehend. Still, each piece has a rich human story behind it, easily appreciated with a little push. That’s where the tour’s esteemed guide, Kevin Cook, comes in.
“This gallery tour brings the artwork down to Earth with someone who is knowledgeable on the subject so it’s not so intimidating,” Program Director Janin Benincasa said.
New Paltz resident Reeva Miller said she has attended Cook’s tours before and enjoys them because she is “interested in seeing what modern artists are doing.” While the tour group consisted of local senior citizens looking to learn about new, advanced artforms, the tour was equally interesting for a college student like myself. Cook broke things down so simply, in a way that people of all artistic backgrounds and all ages could relate.
Cook, a landscape painter and SUNY New Paltz alumnus, has been directing these tours since 2009. By leading a tour of the artwork, he hopes for attendees to gain “an appreciation they may not have had before.” To do this, Cook does not just present each piece and move on. He begins a light-hearted, honest conversation about it that engages tour-goers. Today, that conversation focused on the merging of traditional and modern art.
The first exhibit, “Made for You: New Directions in Contemporary Design” began with a traditional medium, woodwork. Each piece in this exhibit held a strong storytelling aspect. Cook called this “a backlash against mass production.” In other words, many of the pieces were practical, common items with personal, uncommon back-stories. For example, Kingston artist Joshua Vogel’s “Wooden Spoons” was a series of wooden spoons, each one purposely different from the next. Another piece was a textured rug of a woman’s portrait (the artist, Kathy Ruttenberg) who felt she had been “stepped all over in relationships.”
As the tour went on, the pieces became more and more contemporary (from wooden spoons to 3D–printed doilies). Before each tour, Cook said he not only meets with some of the artists to discuss their work, but visits the Dorsky to determine the path he will take the group on the next day. The order in which the pieces were presented made all the difference, giving a sense of time passing in the art world (although all the pieces were created in the past 1-8 years). Cook mentioned the gallery was arranged so that “everything naturally leads into the next.”
Cook also emphasized that even the tech-based pieces contain traditional elements within. Ceramicist Sharan Elran, based in Brooklyn, New York, used software to curate 6.2 billion slightly different designs for each of his pieces, which he then used traditional methods to create. This distinct mix of technology and tradition lent itself well to the theme of the tour.
At the end of this exhibit, we reached two extraordinary pieces. The first was Mellitus Series by Doug Bucci of Philadelphia, PA, the art of a diabetic who creates pieces based on data of his own and other people’s bodies. Second was the work of Courtney Starrett of Kingston, New York, a range of 3D–printed, enlarged plastic doilies arranged on a wall (they reminded Cook of shrinky-dinks). A piece truly embedded in technology, we were able to scan the doilies with an iPad. Each scan led to a different piece of data about women in society and the workforce.
“The Floating World,” a series of holograms, had just as many storytelling elements as the tour’s first exhibit. The room was surrounded by hanging 12 x 16 inch glass fixtures, each backlit by a lamp. When you stood in front of each one, an abstract, vibrantl and colorful hologram would appear. You wouldn’t think there is much to this besides the aesthetic, but there is. The artist, Rudie Berkhout, based many of these pieces on his experiences as a gay man in New York City in the 1970s.
After experiencing this tour, it became clear that there is more to artwork than simply what meets the eyes. Cook did an exceptional job of bringing these pieces to life. He made it more about the conversation than solely what is on the surface. These pieces, while intriguing to look at, tell so much more about people, issues, and history than words can.
At the tour’s end, Cook posed the question to the group: “What do we make of 3D printing? In 30 years, what will it be?” One woman commented that if copy machines became the norm, so will this. Among the group, one thing was certain: what we witnessed this afternoon was more than just art.