Last Saturday through Monday marked the fourth, largest, most illustrious edition of Upstate Art Weekend throughout New York’s Hudson Valley since Stoneleaf Retreat founder Helen Toomer assembled its first edition with just 23 participants in 2020. This year’s roster nearly doubled to a total 130 participants, as art world heavyweights like NADA and Mendes Wood have come on board. I contracted major FOMO last summer when I first heard of the event during a lonely stay with an art dealer atop Hollywood. When summer rolled around this year, I made sure to attend.
Though I learned a litany of lessons last summer, I’ve always known how to make a glitzy getaway. Last summer I left that house unannounced two days after my birthday to pick up a drop-top rental with Alabama plates — that part was a gift from the universe. I realized last summer on the striking nine-hour stretch between L.A. and Santa Cruz, its shifting panoramas, how another person can be key to those experiences. Someone to take pictures, navigate. When I connected with Toomer in late June to get the lowdown on this year’s edition, I knew I’d end up renting a convertible to do UPAW the way I wanted. I didn’t know I wouldn’t go alone.
In the leadup, I also read Annie Armstrong’s Wet Paint entry on last year’s edition and was struck by how she always seems to be at the right place at the right time, relaxed. My art career is teaching me that too. At Art Basel Miami Beach last year I wrote two news articles a day, still managed to cover the fairs for another magazine and party at night, to my sanity’s detriment.
Wiser by Frieze Los Angeles, I made my itinerary for that fair and painstakingly slashed it in half. Everyone gets different adjectives over their lives. ‘Relaxed’ will be new for me. My partner and I set out for our convertible in Jersey City — he takes cars regularly, but I’m only ten years out from an upbringing where my father wouldn’t buy new shoes without five-point persuasion. We’re all changing. I insisted we take public transport, that it was faster, but the MTA made me eat my words — in our (my) rush, rancid subway ceiling water dripped in my eye and I broke down in tears on the PATH, terrified of going blind.
Before this trip, no other person had ever witnessed the way my body melts from anxiety to release once I’ve got fifteen minutes under my belt on the highway. When we got to Urban Art Projects in Rock Tavern and I got my first hug from Toomer, I was almost better, lost in the magic of their working foundry and fabrication shop. Upstate Art Weekend is not exactly like an art fair week. There’s commercial events, but it’s equally if not more about education and exploration. As an art writer and a person, I can get lost in the ephemeral concept, away from critical material realities. Here, our tour witnessed the way public artwork literally gets made — crazy projects for private clients and Thomas Price’s iconic sculptures alike. We saw Nicole Eisenman, Roy Lichtenstein, and more in action. I almost forgot about my eye.
My partner and I left, spiritually satiated, for a quick change at our accommodations, The Starlite Motel in Kerhonkson. That first day I did slip back into my old ways — we made most all the marks I’d set out, starting at Art Omi for the Hudson Valley Intertribal Noise Symposium, which accompanied the release of a succinct volume on the legacy of Native American tribes across the Hudson Valley by multidisciplinary artist and composer Nathan Young (Lenape / Delaware Tribe of Indians / Kiowa Tribe / Pawnee / Cherokee Nation). Pulitzer-prize-winning composer Raven Chalcon (Diné), who I saw on an episode of PBS NewsHour in January, was on the bill, but we solely saw Young mix ravenous bear growls and eagle screams that unsettled the room. Then we forest bathed on our drive down the Taconic to Magazzino Italian Art in Cold Spring for UPAW’s posh opening party. En route I got this sense I’d had in California of acting as a bastard heiress, grateful for this beautiful land which isn’t technically mine. At first, the party reminded me of a gala I attended at LongHouse Reserve in summer 2021 where I felt entirely othered without a romantic partner — resenting that dynamic had kept me from taking a partner since. This was not that kind of party though — by the end of the night, people were really dancing to the D.J., aptly named Disco Bambino. The euphoria of letting go kept the mosquitoes off.
Work from the previous day perpetually rolls into the next. It’s a blessing, a dance, not a finite race. The illusion still fools me. Working at the Starlite Motel was bliss in several senses — each room comes with a wooden back patio, sundrenched during the morning. I’d wanted to leave at 10 a.m., but ended up needing to write for a few hours. We made it out at 3 p.m., after a morning of paradise amongst the Atlantic woods, the soothing sherbert decor, and sunshine.
First, The School, a sprawling exhibition site by Jack Shainman in Kinderhook. Michael Snow’s wide-ranging, at times iconic retrospective sparked conversations amongst our tour, led by Shainman’s associate director Irem Ikizler. We ran into Brooklyn-based artists Marie Ucci, Moko Fukayama, and Joel Morrison, who were on the UAP tour with us, traveling with Joiri Minaya, who we’d run into at the opening. This is a non-commercial commonality Upstate Art Weekend shares with commercial counterparts. Each coalesces a momentary squadron of New York friends I run into like motifs. There are many wonderful, passionate and whole people working across this contemporary art world. NADA Foreland — an unplugged edition of their infamous art fair at artist-run work and exhibition space Foreland in Catskill — hosted a number of them.
Liberated from the white walled confines of fair booths, Susan Jenning’s gorgeous glasses twinkled when crystals on woven pink strung clinked against them. On the third, top floor, we watched Craig Jun Li’s resin-coated plush tigers (which had “theatrical sweat and tears” included in the materials of its wall text) melt in the sun while cycling crowds got startled by Chris Bradley’s “Cinnamon Scent Machine II” (2023), which went whirring every five minutes. Blending the kratom powder I’d bought with orange juice from a corner store at a park nearby, we talked to a local shaman who lived on a boat about the birds in the flowers on the walls. The community of Catskill blossomed further as we left Foreland for dinner up Main St., marveling at the inventive cat sculptures on the street by local artists along the way. A young band of musical magicians performed to a huge, rapt crowd at NADA Foreland’s after-party concert that night.
I’m sentimental for every hotel room I’ve left these dizzying past three years since I started writing full-time. After documenting our room pre and post-cleaning, we set out for open studios at StoneLeaf Retreat, taking back roads at 30 mph, half our average speed throughout the trip, on yet another bucolic blue-skied day. The crowd felt like family once again, echoing the intimate nature of the cabin and barn studios Toomer’s program offers. My partner and I skipped the brunch, still full from the muffins Starlite provided each morning. We met Roxy Savage, who told us she had work alongside spectacles like Michael Rees’s inflatables at ArPort in Kingston. It was awfully auspicious advice, because Kingston was the kingpin of my again amended schedule that day — though not before a trip to see Geary Contemporary in Millerville, over by the Berkshires. The drive’s rolling hills were particularly memorable, along with the bustling town — and the sophisticated uses of material on view, from custom matchboxes to curly cardboard.
At last we arrived in the estuary-side gem of Kingston and went straight to ArtPort, a towering, two story barn where a tantric sound bath was underway alongside their group show “Joy Ride,” rife with tantalizing mixed media installations, artwork that makes you want to crawl inside of it from painting to textiles and mirrors. Some, you can. We met Kristopher Hauser, also known as Kozmik Sirkus, amongst his sprawling, misting installation. Both he and the barn’s headmaster recommended we head “500 feet” to Art Buoy, a new cafe with a backyard transformed by a team of ambitious young artists who are outfitting it with fences and furniture. Hauser even installed a running shower that looks like the tube of a water park slide. There’s cornhole too, but no bean bags. Fortunately they assembled us bags of driveway rocks that mostly held up. It was magic. I bet $100 fully prepared to lose and won, knew I would’ve paid, knew he was trying.
We celebrated the win with a regenerating spread at Brunette just up the hill in town, just before the rainstorm swept through, before heading home. It quieted while we finished up. I looked across the street and noticed there was the very bakery the daily muffins had been from. I thought about Roxy, the weather, this time last year, and now — the other side. I think no matter the kind of trip these synchronicities matter most, proof you’re headed where you need to go.