Though terribly missing my diehard downtown tribe along with a plethora of art at my fingertips, my lucky stars have me sequestered in a remote area upstate that boasts a lovely sculpture park on the grounds of Salem Art Works or SAW. Located on abandoned farmland totaling about 120 acres, SAW opened in 2005 with the core aim of providing a collaborative art environment, via flexible residencies.
Initially geared towards sculptors working in mediums and at desired scales difficult to create and exhibit independently, the sculpture garden was integral from the start and is a rough-cut cultural gem in this rural region. Today, SAW’s programming includes diverse classes and workshops as well as a considerable schedule of special events and expanding residencies. All of which, in diverse visual and performing art forms, right now is stalled at a high point of increasing momentum.
WHAT: Cary Hill Sculpture Park at SAW
WHERE: 19 Cary Lane, Salem, NY, www.salemartworks.org
WHEN: On-going; rotating. Currently open with safe-distance advisory; please see SAW’s website for a Covid-19 policy statement, and updates on all other facilities and programs, which are temporarily closed.
“We’ll get through it,” Anthony Cafritz, SAW’s founder, told me in a phone conversation last week. “It’s always been hand to mouth … you just don’t give up.” It took thirty years for Cafritz, a sculptor and painter, to realize his vision of an “art farm”—a notion he had since he was an undergraduate at Bennington College, about thirty miles east of SAW.
An early inspiration was Black Mountain College in North Carolina, an innovative art school founded, ironically, during the Great Depression. The ethos of a self-contained art-learning community at Black Mountain has remained crucial for Cafritz in his ongoing stewardship of SAW.
To reach the sculpture park you can park your car and walk through or continue driving through the center of the complex, a warren of barns, sheds, stables, and domestic-scale spaces repurposed as workshops, galleries, offices and residences, punctuated with industrial equipment, make-shift scaffolds, scraps of raw materials, and sculptures.
At the edge of a small pond are a cluster of small residences–“art houses” (Cafritz’s term) that have been designed and constructed inventively around frames of discarded trailers and campers. This introductory insight into back-of-the-house operations provides a nice conceptual foundation for the expansive natural backdrop and distilled presentation in the park. Cafritz has been working towards a three-year rotation of most of the works. Right now, it’s a mix of permanent and other artwork produced on-site and shown on loans. A rolling call for submissions can be found on the website. Cafritz works to facilitate the subsequent circulation of such hard-to-place art, whether in other exhibition contexts or through sales.
An enormous, pre-historic-like two-part concrete, “Ode” (2018) by Peter Lundberg, piece looms at the base of the park’s rolling fields.
Slow-moving cars are permitted on an intersecting dirt road, but, if you don’t park at the SAW main entrance, park here for a perfect art-and-nature walk of approximately half a mile up a gentle slope with detours to approach the art close up. As you proceed, the colonial-era village (part of the town) of Salem below is framed through the contours and hollows of various works, along with distant wooded panoramas. I noticed that a wire mesh construction by Kelly Cave, “Eve” (2014), near the start, encircles, from one viewpoint, a church steeple in the distance.
This lower area is dominated by a monumental red-painted linear welded girder assemblage that many will recognize as a Mark DiSuvero, titled “Double-Tetrahedron” (2004).
Likewise, an even larger horizontal DiSuvero piece at the summit in a slightly different hue, “For Euler” (1997), that really communicates the formal power of boldly manipulated, bounded negative space, light, and color at majestic scale on the viewer’s body and the landscape.
Cafritz worked for DiSuvero for a short time and credits him as a guiding light for his perseverance in turning a former dump site in Long Island City, Queens, into Socrates Sculpture Park (also currently open with cautions), now part of the NYC park system and one explicit model for SAW.
Indeed, Cafritz and colleagues looked to many relevant precursors in bringing SAW to fruition, including the extensive precedent, Storm King Art Center, not too far from Purchase College/SUNY, where Cafritz attended grad school.
The other well-known sculptor represented is Mia Westerlund Roosen, with a cast concrete work comprised of teasingly balanced disks and spheres titled “Juggler” (2009).
For most visitors, the majority of the artists here will not have name recognition, nor will you find standard, consistent names or information provided throughout the expanse of the park. Unfettered and unexpected art experience is the fulcrum.
Of the twenty or so others works currently installed, the one that especially resonated on my maiden visit is Vivien Collens’s whimsical, aluminum “Cloud Catcher” (2018), with its mobile ribbon of color hovering on a curvy stable base.
I look forward to communing further with many others now that I will be frequenting the grounds for the foreseeable future.