Art Omi celebrates 30 years with new exhibition and curator


Celebrating 30 years in the Hudson Valley this month, Art Omi is looking to the future with the appointment of Sara O’Keeffe, the first senior curator to its Sculpture and Architecture Park, and plans for an additional 190-acre site: the Pavilions of Chatham.

The Ghent-based nonprofit arts center welcomes 45,000 visitors annually with more than 60 works on view at a 120-acre sculpture and architecture park and the 1,500-square-foot Newmark Gallery. It also hosts public programming and residencies for artists, writers, translators, musicians, architects and dancers.

Art Omi has always had a park director, but this is the first time a senior curator has been appointed. “We were ready to have someone thinking about the program long term, making connections, going deep with the artists, making sure that Art Omi’s relationship with the artist is thoughtfully planned, and then thinking about the interpretive experience for visitors,” said Art Omi Co-Executive Director Ruth Adams.

Before coming to Art Omi, O’Keeffe was assistant and associate curator at the New Museum in New York City, and more recently, associate curator of modern and contemporary art at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“What I’m really excited about is being able to think about artists with a 360-degree view,” O’Keeffe said. “I love to work with artists over time. Art Omi can be a site lab for generating work, conversations and thinking about the moment. Artists allow us to see the world in unexpected, new ways and ask questions. Exhibitions can be these platforms. It doesn’t stop when you install works. That’s really just the beginning.”

Art Omi is commemorating its 30th anniversary with a slate of special events throughout the year. On June 25, the arts center will unveil three new installations: Alexandre Arrechea’s “Orange Functional,”  Iván Navarro’s “This Land Is Your Land” and in the Newmark Gallery, “Portia Munson: Flood.”

Walking around the park, sculptures come into view, appearing to rise from the landscape as you round a turn by a rolling hill. Arrechea’s “Orange Functional” was already on the site during a recent visit. It’s a sculpture with orange branches 20-feet high that seem to blossom into 25 functional basketball hoops. Sitting in the middle of the park field behind the Benenson Center, it appears as if Arrechea “planted” it there.

“I think the implication of this is if we change the traditional rules, what happens?” said O’Keeffe. “It’s about rethinking structures that we know very well but can be reimagined.” 

“Orange Functional” will be officially celebrated on June 25 with basketballs available for visitors to shoot hoops, interacting with the tall orange sculpture. With each shot attempt, the basketballs drop like oranges fall from the multi-limbed hoop and land in the high grass below, mimicking fallen fruit from a tree. The sculpture engages viewers’ perceptions of form and function, playing with the ability to reimagine the familiar.

“I gravitate toward work that repositions and rejuxtaposes things that you think you know well, but are forced to see in new ways,” said O’Keeffe. “I really love work that incorporates play or humor, because I think you can really engage with serious topics while having a good time.”

“Orange Functional” by the Cuban-born artist Alexandre Arrechea. Visitors will be able to shoot basketballs at the hoops.

“Orange Functional” by the Cuban-born artist Alexandre Arrechea. Visitors will be able to shoot basketballs at the hoops.

Barbara Reina

“This Land Is Your Land” consists of three water towers. Visitors can stand beneath each one and look up to see a different neon word or phrase that lights up more brilliantly as the sun goes down. The exhibition title is from the 1940 Woody Guthrie folk song, and the project approaches issues regarding social structure and how language can simultaneously manifest liberation and oppression.

Catskill artist Portia Munson’s upcoming show in the gallery looks at cultural codes latent in the mass-produced items that surround us. It brings together new works made specifically for the show along with past works.

“What I love about her work is that looking closely at these objects can make you think about the culture you’re in,” said O’Keeffe. “I think it brings up a lot of issues to discuss. What’s exciting for me is the conversations that can be propelled by these exhibitions.”

Installations in the park and the gallery are always changing. “It’s about surprise,” said Adams. “Expect the unexpected.” And, with at least one free public event for every residency on site, there’s always something happening.

The Pavilions of Chatham, a new campus planned for Route 66 in Chatham, could include up to 18 buildings, each dedicated to a living artist or collector. “Art Omi was visionary in helping up-and-coming and mid-career artists,” said Art Omi Co-Executive Director Gavin Berger. He said the Pavilions will help create a legacy for established artists. Groundbreaking is tentatively set for the fall of 2023.


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