The School opens, this time as major gallery

KINDERHOOK—Hundreds of people showed up on Saturday, May 17 for the opening of The School, an offshoot of the Manhattan-based Jack Shainman Gallery. An outdoor performance by featured artist Nick Cave drew a large crowd to the front lawn, but the renovated building—built in 1929 as a public school–has had its interior redesigned by Spanish architect Antonio Jimenez Torrecillas, and was as much on display as the art.

Jack Shainman, the owner of the gallery, bought the building from the Ichabod Crane Central School District and started renovations about two years ago after the school was closed as part of consolidation. Mr. Shainman has owned a house in Stuyvesant for 15 years and spends two or three days a week there. He described finding the old elementary school building in Kinderhook as “fortuitous,” saying, “I happened to be driving by and I saw a ‘For Sale’ sign.”

In a blue suit and Nick Cave t-shirt, Mr. Shainman seemed as close to giddy as his laid-back demeanor allowed. “I feel like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” he said as he led a troupe of photographers and reporters from room to room. “Everybody has the fantasy to do something like this in New York,” he said, but the space is unavailable or prohibitively expensive.

The renovation is not yet complete. Mr. Shainman described the progress of the renovation as at the end of “phase one.” Most of the interior is painted standard gallery-white, but some works of art were displayed in spaces with exposed concrete that will eventually be a freight elevator “in phase 999.” Evidence of the building’s history as a school could also be found in sections of the hardwood gym floor, although most of what used to be the gym dropped about seven feet in order to create the large main gallery space.

Mr. Shainman, who works closely with his artists, said that the room was designed with 24-foot ceilings because, “We have lots of artists who need large spaces for their work.”

According to Carlos Vega, an artist who is Mr. Shainman’s business partner in the School venture and whose work is displayed at the gallery, much the demolition and construction has been done by local contractors. “We were trying to get people from Manhattan” to figure out how to enlarge what became the main gallery space, “but they were going to bankrupt us,” Mr. Vega said.

The gallery will eventually receive power from solar panels on the roof, and the heating and cooling is done with geothermal energy sources, making the space “carbon-free,” Mr. Shainman said.

Mr. Shainman described the gallery’s reception in Kinderhook as positive. “We’ve been so welcomed,” he said.

Robin Guthridge, a visitor who said she attended third grade in the building and whose parents are neighbors of Mr. Shainman in Stuyvesant, agreed that the gallery was a good use of the space. “It’s amazing” to see the transformation the building has gone through, she said.

The building will be used for storage of the gallery’s collection, but also has plenty of space for displaying artwork. The gallery spaces will be able to display work for longer periods of time than can be accommodated at the Jack Shainman Galleries in Manhattan—Mr. Cave’s new work will be exhibited until August, when it will be moved to the two Manhattan galleries. For now the gallery will be open by appointment only.

As the event got under way, visitors drifted from the galleries to the lawn behind the building, where a huge white tent was set up. Servers weaved through the crowd with trays of brown-wax-paper-wrapped hors d’oeuvres. There were several crowded bars.

Aside from the building itself, the main focus of the exhibition was the work of Nick Cave, the American sculptor and performance artist who danced with the Alvin Ailey company (not the Australian singer of the same name).

His work on display inside was sculptural collage, rarely employing a single medium, and usually including found objects. In addition to one of his ceramic dogs—the series is called Rescues—that greeted visitors coming through the front door, other pieces incorporated gramophones, glass hands, stuffed-animal monkeys and the artist’s grandfather’s shaving kit. Many of the pieces were draped with webbed canopies of beads.

Mr. Cave’s new work, titled “Made by Whites for Whites” and displayed on the second floor, often featured bits of appropriated racist Americana, such as “a container…shaped like the head of a black person,” which Mr. Cave discovered was a spittoon.

The Invasion performance took place first on a stage on the front lawn, then on the lawn itself. Drummers and percussionists played for a group of dancers outfitted in Mr. Cave’s most recognizable works—his Soundsuits. These particular Soundsuits were shaggy, colorful costumes like full-body Hawaiian grass skirts. Some of the suits were designed to look like horses. Others were reminiscent of technicolor Sasquatches.

As the performance ended, the drummers and dancers formed a procession that made its way through the crowd with a comet-trail of kids who instinctively joined in.

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