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“This is really a life dream, I have to say,” gallerist Jack Shainman said to a former classroom full of journalists a few weeks ago while giving a tour of his new project space The School, in Kinderhook, New York. “But I never thought it would be on this scale,” he said. Just two hours outside of New York City, the multi-purpose building boasts 30,000 square-feet, and was an actual school, formerly the Martin van Buren High School inaugurated by Roosevelt in 1931. “I heard we are going to have more people here than at that event,” Shainman said with a smile, referring to the public opening and celebration later that afternoon.
And Shainman was right, over one thousand people came to The School to see a special performance and exhibition by artist Nick Cave as well as a selection of works by gallery artists Yoan Capote, Kerry James Marshall, Carrie Mae Weems, Michael Snow, Carlos Vega, Richard Mosse, and Barkley Hendricks.
Shainman has had a farm in Stuyvesant, a town next to Kinderhook, for the past 15 years. He had wanted a storage space with a room to install and showcase artwork for some time. When he drove by the school and saw a “for sale” sign, he decided to buy and ultimately renovated the space with Spanish architect Antonio Jimenez Torrecillas. Classrooms on the first and second floor were transformed into galleries and the school’s gymnasium was excavated to create a huge exhibition space on the lower level with 24-foot ceilings, the better to display works by artists like El Anatsui in future shows.
With much more than a big storage facility, Shainman decided The School could act as a place to experiment and exhibit works for longer than the four or six week cycle of most Chelsea shows. When thinking about what to do for an inaugural exhibition, the gallery thought introducing brand new works by Cave, in addition to his well-known soundsuits, was best in the summer months leading to his forthcoming September solo show.
On view is “Made by Whites for Whites,” a range of new sculptures and installations by Cave that revolve around racist Americana, formed from objects the artist found at flea markets and thrift stores around the country. “It all started when I found a container at a flea market shaped like the head of a black person. The description read ‘SPITTOON.’ I was shocked. This lead me to begin collecting this extreme category of black inflammatory objects, carefully noting the way they were described and the places they were found,” the artist said in a statement. “These objects influence the general population, demoralizing a race through design. In this body of work, I aim to rehabilitate the problematic, loaded object and find a place of relevance and empowerment through reuse.”
The new works are incredibly powerful, especially Property (2014), which stands in the middle of the second floor where the principal’s office used to be. “I always thought I would have the principal’s office,” lamented Shainman. “I was so disappointed when we realized we had to tear it down.”
Property consists of a shoeshine statue, surrounded by an intricate armature, something we’ve seen before in a few of Cave’s soundsuits. But the carefully welded framework in this piece, and in the other new sculptures, takes on a different role. Covered in delicate porcelain flowers and birds that recall objects of European aristocracy and strung with beads, the structure transforms a discarded piece of racial propaganda into something beautiful and grand, almost regal. In front of the shoeshine statue is a long row of molds and drawers filled with items both found (like Cave’s grandfather’s shaving brushes) and fabricated (like a toy banana covered in rhinestones).
In another classroom is Sacrifice (2014), a wall piece composed of two cast hands and a cylindrical object at the end of a broomstick with a cartoonish face painted on it. The hands are cast from Cave’s own. “Nick has really beautiful, strong hands that have made stuff his whole life,” said Shainman, admiring the work. “This for me is one of the most amazing artworks that I’ve shown. When we put it up I was just blown away by it,” he said.
We found ourselves likewise blown away as we were lead into the lower level’s exhibition room. The architect intentionally kept the ceilings low in what was once the cafeteria, so that when you finally entered the 24-foot height space, it felt like an atrium. Cave’s soundsuits were displayed in front of several large tondo works made from beaded fabrics. We imagined how an Anatsui could feel right at home there.
Also feeling right at home that afternoon was a mix of New York’s art crowd and the community of Kinderhook. Everyone gathered on the front lawn at 5pm to watch a performance by dancers from Williams College and music by Agbekor Society Friends that included soundsuits, musicians from New England and West Africa, and Cave’s horses that so famously took over Grand Central last spring. As the horses paraded through the crowd, children couldn’t help but trail after them, trying to grab at their tails and tassels.
After the performance, everyone moved to the back schoolyard where drinks, a buffet spread catered by Hudson Valley, a DJ and dance floor, and a photo booth were enjoyed until well after the sun set.
The exhibition of Nick Cave at The School is on view through August 2, by appointment Tuesday through Saturday year-round, and to the public 11am-5pm through mid-August.