Sunday, September 24, 2006

John Van Alstine Outdoors (sort of)



Last Saturday I was exactly where I planned to be and that proved to be very lucky indeed. I don't go to Hudson every
weekend, although I should, but John Van Alstine had sent word of an opening on September 16, at the John Davis Gallery on Warren Street, where some of his life-size (as opposed to indoor) sculptures would be shown. I had missed an "open studio" he held at Wells earlier this summer, with Caroline Ramersdorfer, so although this was not quite the same as seeing the works in an open setting, it was nearby, which made it easier.

When I last saw the John Davis Gallery, it was in the throes of restoration. It is complete, with the carriage house area turned into galleries at three levels. The rope pulleys for the elevator once used to move whatever was manufactured there is now apparently functional, although nobody is sure what it was originally used for.
In the top floor gallery that evening there hung Robert Reitzfeld's sinister B2 Bomber quilts and watercolors, a single silhouette motif variously interpreted, including a series ominously named "Sleep Safe America." and an especially alarming a baby quilt.


Below, Ben Butler's cedar "Beast"
lay coiled at the back,

but the graveled courtyard, or sculpture garden, was otherwise dominated by JVA's works.

There was a soaring "Chalice" rising firmly at an impossible angle, with an elegant small loop at its base denoting a handle-- one of a long series (another "Chalice" seen here is in the park at Wells). John said some people tend to see the vessel inverted, as weaponry landing headfirst. This is not entirely surprising, as an act of recognition, since the cup of the chalice is made from the nose of a fuselage -- in any event, the chalice is not so figurative as to be taken literally either. It was meant to be seen in changing light, impossible after six p.m. in that charming setting, and particularly at this time of year, so I saw little of the effect of the textured surface of the vessel. Certainly, it was interesting to be able to amble around each piece, noticing the precision of composition and accuracy of the alignment of various elements. One guest became fixated on the meaning of the word "Cudgel," as another series is named, and was happy to report eventually that John said the word meant "blunt instrument." Blunt or not, this particular cudgel, weapon, was attractively poised in mid-flght (bang bang JVA's flying slate cudgel came down upon 'is 'ead....) There was another piece, possibly of a new series, that I heard John describe as "Hula," which certainly had a notable swiveling element in its midsection.

With so much poetry of violence and anti-violence in the air, I was perhaps not entirely taken by surprise to be only the second to discover a terrible burglary that same weekend. However, the spirit of violence seemed to move on like the shadow of a cloud across mountains by Monday, as I worked together with two friends, who had been not just Good but also Extremely Clever Samaritans when they caught the burglar red-handed, and not only gotten the necessary information out of him but written it down as well. I did some other stuff, and the New York State Police (as opposed to the Sheriff's Office) valiantly set forth and caught the burglar, threw him in the slammer (aka House of In-Laws in my mother tongue) -- for at least a couple of days before he was out again on bond, but with the stolen items recovered, antique dealers on Warren Street put on notice, and the burglar looking forward to plea bargaining ... This seems truly magical to me, the art of catching burglars. Although I do have a history of catching thieves, once letting a fellow go after giving him the fright of his life, I know I can never do it alone, especially when it comes to burglars, and I would not even have been able to play my part were it not for JVA sending me a post about the opening that particular day at John Davis' gallery!

On Monday, too, my friend Fortuna called to say she was off to see HH the Fourteenth, who, after his travels to Ulan Bator and Ottowa, had landed in the fairy mountains across the river and
driven down to Woodstock to address the peaceful, and was now back at the KTD Monastery in the Catskills. More on this later...

The Sculpture Garden show at John Davis Gallery runs through October 8th.

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