The David Rockefeller Creative Arts Center, which opened in October on the grounds of the Pocantico Center in the Pocantico Hills hamlet of Westchester, is a major new addition to the Hudson Valley arts scene. The center will allow the Rockefeller family to leverage their collection of modern art and longstanding support of the arts in general to provide exhibitions and events that are accessible to all sectors of our region, including underserved communities. . According to notes written by David Rockefeller, Jr. and handed out to visitors at the center’s preview, it “will host rehearsals, performances, exhibitions, artist residencies and community groups as well as a robust series of related public programs”.
An example is the centre’s first exhibition, “Inspirational Encounters: Women Artists and the Legacies of Modern Art”, which brings together works by women artists from the Rockefeller collections, such as Lee Bontecou and Louise Nevelson, in dialogue with a group of seven women artists, including Sonya Clark and Elana Herzog, who still walk in an art world too often dominated by men.
Another example is a two-month studio residency that comes with a $25,000 prize. The first winner is Peekskill-based artist Athena LaTocha. The prize will be awarded annually, alternating between local and national artists. Importantly, an additional prize of $25,000 and a six-month residency will be awarded to a local arts organization; this year it goes to Arts 10566, also based in Peekskill, whose goal is to “meet the varied interests and needs of Peekskill’s diverse youth community through the arts”.
“We’re looking at the whole Hudson Valley,” says Elly Weisenberg Kelly, manager of public programs at the Pocantico Center. “We want to be part of this whole cultural ecosystem – the name of the game here is to be accessible.” Tickets for most events cost between $15 and $30. Through its ties to community groups, the center provides free transportation as well as free tickets to events when needed. The new gallery is free for all visitors.
The center’s performance facility is the Bloomberg Philanthropies Performance Space, a 180-seat indoor theater with cushioned bleacher seats that can be telescoped out to provide additional floor space. Pivoting doors provide access to an adjacent exterior patio creating an indoor/outdoor playhouse. Upcoming programs include “Untold Tales,” a multi-disciplinary production by Pablo and Anna Mayor of Folklore Urbano NYC on November 16 featuring music, dance and theater inspired by the stories of immigrants living in the greater New York. A performance incorporating music, text, video and visual art by Kyle Abraham’s award-winning dance company AIM will take place on December 1.
The building itself is a work of art, a prime example of adaptive reuse. Originally designed by William Wells Bosworth in 1908 as an orangery for John D. Rockefeller and now restored and updated by FX Collaborative, it retains the elegance of its original exterior as well as the high ceilings supported by columns close to its historic interior. The overall look as well as the versatile functionality of the space is definitely 21st century – the building’s electrical needs are met entirely by solar panels installed on site. The installation uses state-of-the-art audio and lighting equipment. It also uses abundant natural lighting through large windows and skylights that can be covered with sunshades or blackout blinds.
The The “Inspired Encounters” exhibition on view through March 19 features works not only by Bontecou and Nevelson, but also other luminaries such as Marisol Escobar, Anni Albers and Grace Hartigan from Nelson A. Rockefeller’s extensive collection, in visual conversation with works recently commissioned by seven other women artists. Joining Sonya Clark and Elana Herzog are Maren Hassinger, Melissa Meyer, Fanny Sanin, Barbara Takenaga and Kay WalkingStick. The exhibition was co-curated by Katrina London, Head of Collections and Curatorial Projects at the Pocantico Center, and Jeremiah William McCarthy, Chief Curator of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art.
Highlights of the artistic dialogues on display include Takenaga’s large painting on six hollow wooden doors, Two for Bontecouwho cites Bontecou’s dark, gritty work in canvas, metal, and wire: Untitled,1960. Another is an autobiographical suite of nine prints by Anni Albers, Connections, 1925–83, paired with a small sculpture fashioned by Louise Nevelson with Plexiglas and gilt machine screws. (The Albers Suite is on loan from the Johnson Collection; Rockefeller’s collection includes an Albers, but the curators wanted to give it a greater presence in the exhibit.) Kay WalkingStick poses the perhaps rhetorical question “Whose countryside ? in his two Hudson River School-style works, homages to Cole and Durand, subtly emblazoned with Native American motifs.
There is also a dialogue about the complexities of reason and emotion between the paintings of Melissa Meyer and Grace Hartigan. by Meyer Wink at Grace featuring both poised and playful painterly calligraphy is next to Hartigan’s lovely Salome, between abstraction and representation, between body and mind, and deep within the emotional poetry of gesture and color. London notes that in the Rockefeller’s Kykuit mansion, the piece “was in a service tunnel on the ground floor which was turned into a gallery where it was difficult to grasp the work”. It is now visible to everyone.