Magazine article Artforum International

"Watershed": Various Sites

Magazine article Artforum International

"Watershed": Various Sites

Article excerpt

Three hundred years ago, discriminating travelers in the European countryside might have carried with them an optical instrument called a "Claude glass" after the seventeenth-century French landscape painter Claude Lorrain. A small, tinted mirror, it lent the scenes it reflected a painterly quality evocative of Claude's idealized landscapes. By the early nineteenth century, a set of colored lenses that could be held to the eye was available to American sophisticates searching for scenery on steamboat trips through the Hudson River Highlands. Voyagers used their filters to sweeten the vistas (source of dramatic landscapes by homegrown Claudes like Cole and Durand) with the golden flush of dawn or the silver-blue glimmer of moonlight.

The Claude glass, and the metaphor it provides for how our understanding of nature is culturally constructed, is the inspiration for Matts Leiderstam's View, a key work in "Watershed: The Hudson Valley Art Project," an ambitious program of public art organized by Minetta Brook and installed for the next two years at twelve locations along the Hudson. View consists of a pair of observation deck style binoculars, one on each side of the river, fitted with colored lenses that add "expressive" color to views from a dock near the Bear Mountain Bridge and a belvedere at Boscobel, a grand neo-classical mansion outside Garrison. With its twinned subtexts of sightseeing and voyeurism, Leiderstam's work asks why nature often appeals to us most when framed, and examines how aesthetic gestures within the landscape transform sites into situations.

View interrogates the notion that cultural framing improves the experience of place; meanwhile, the core conceptual ambitions of "Watershed"--to "raise awareness of the imaginative and physical landscapes" of the area through art--rely on it. The exhibition's parameters are loose enough to accommodate a range of engaging site specific public artworks--from Par White's charmingly goofy animal-form barbecue grills at gear Mountain State Park's Hessian Lake to Constance De Jong's Speaking of the River, a pair of audio-enhanced park benches that feature sound tracks documenting the area's history through recorded interviews with local residents, to two conceptually, if not physically, site-specific 16 mm films about the Hudson by Peter Hutton and Matthew Buckingham, respectively, which are shown in adjacent Beacon storefronts. …

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