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Wassaic Project's Summer Show a Hit

by Carola Lott
Fri Jul 15th, 2016

Natalie Baxter, Warm Gun (series)

In 2008 when the Wassaic Project began, it consisted of a summer festival, an exhibition for emerging artists in the Maxon Mills building and an artist in residence program in the Luther Auction Barn. Since then the project has expanded to include a number of other events as well as multiple education programs. Over 500 visitors came to the first festival; last year more than 4,000 showed up. 

As Co-Executive Director of the Project Eve Biddle says, “we are dedicated to investing in the future of our community.” For the past two years the Wassaic Project has celebrated community day in collaboration with the fire department. Artists in residence teach classes at the Webutuck High School. A variety of summer workshops for both children and adults are held at in the Maxon Mills Building. Wassaic jointly administers a scholarship fund for six graduating high school seniors who are continuing their education in the arts. Last January part of the Maxon Mills Building was winterized so that exhibitions can now be held on the ground floor and children’s classes can continue in the Art Nest. 

The summer exhibition “Appetite for Destruction” curated as always by executive directors Eve Biddle, Bowie Zunino and her husband Jeff Barnett-Winsby is exceptionally fine this year. 

Of the 56 artists in the exhibition 45 are former residents. Although there are paintings, photographs and sculptures as well as videos, the majority of the work is comprised of large installations, some of which were commissioned specifically for the space. A recent $60,000 grant from the Warhol Foundation over the next two years will support Wassaic’s exhibition program especially for large installations that while worth are unlikely to find private buyers.

The exhibition theme – this year it is “Appetite for Destruction” – invariably emerges as the three curators choose the works for the coming show. According to Eve Biddle, they begin the selection process with no definite idea in mind, but as they view the submitted works a synchronicity emerges and they discover what seems to fit a common theme. 

Two works by David Granger begin and end the show. As one enters the Maxon Mill building one encounters an enormous deer seemingly transfixed by two large lamps on the wall. The lights are surrounded by metal rays that give the effect of headlights that their driver has neglected to dim. The seventh and top floor is given over entirely to Granger’s installation “The Endurance Awaits Release from the Pack Ice,” a scale model of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s three-masted barquentine that was caught and finally crushed in the ice off Antarctica. Granger has surrounded the ship with a mass of dazzling white “icebergs.” 

“Warm Gun” by Natalie Baxter can be found on the third floor. Brightly colored stuffed animals are hung on the walls and suspended from the ceiling. At first glance they seem to be cute children’s toys. Closer examination reveals that they are actually shot guns. Other firearms hang beneath them near the floor. Are these creatures agents of their own destruction, perhaps? 

On the fourth floor one comes upon an amazing installation by Sabrina Barrios, “Coup D'etat: How They Did It.” With nothing by white string Barrios has created a series of “rooms” in a variety of geometric shapes – rectangles, squares and triangles with passageways between them that allow one to walk through. Illuminated by black light, they suggest a house one might come upon in some strange realm whose existence we were unaware of. Although I am not quite sure how it fits into the theme of destruction, it is intriguing and my favorite work in the exhibition.

On August 5-7 visitors will have a chance to see not only this exceptional show, but a myriad of other entertainments offer at the summer festival.