The smoke of wood-fired pizza twined with that of tiki torches, floating lazily across summer fields where a growing number of cars spilled arts enthusiasts and their families into the tall field grass. It is here, along the banks of the north branch of the Black River, that the campus of of the Hall Art Foundation is sited in Reading, Vermont. Backpacker is here to get a sense of First Fridays, a scintillating social scene designed to bring visitors to the Foundation and share their remarkable collection of post-War art.
To say that the Hall Art Foundation is both a singularly wondrous treasure and an idiosyncratic institution in Vermont is an understatement. The Hall Art Foundation, an educational non-profit that opened its doors to the public in the fall of 2012, arguably represents the state's most remarkable private collection of world-class art. That it is open free to the public on the first Friday of each month, June to November, makes it one of the State's most under-appreciated assets in the visual arts.
The campus of the Hall Art Foundation straddles a short stretch of State Highway 106, a stone's throw from the heart of Felchville, also known as Reading. Its five buildings -- most part of a former dairy farm -- consist of four exhibition galleries and a reception office that doubles as a gallery and resource room. Three of the buildings -- a stone farmhouse, cow barn and horse barn -- contain works from the Hall Art Foundation's collection, curated into the show, "Hope and Hazard: A Comedy of Eros" by the painter Eric Fischl. In the fourth formal gallery, known as the "tractor barn," a show of works titled "The Solace of Amnesia" is curated by the artist Alexis Rockman and curator Katherine Gass Stowe. The campus also contains half a dozen outdoor sculpture works that provide a leisurely tour of the grounds.
What makes both of these shows remarkable is the breadth of the collection and the force of its curators' visions. In the case of "Hope and Hazard," Eric Fischl has assembled a visual arsenal of sexual inventiveness -- from early works by the likes of Man Ray (1921) and Francis Picabia (1949) to contemporary portrayals of erotic energy by Jeff Koons (1990) and Nicole Eisenman (2005). In total, the show presents the works of sixty-five artists and more than eighty paintings, photographs, works on paper and sculptures from the Hall collection. "In this show," the catalogue explains, "Fischl illustrates the absurd extremes associated with romantic and sexual love." Anyone who is a student of modern art will find a visit to the Fischl show to be a deeply rewarding experience.
In the case of "The Solace of Amnesia," the curators draw upon the works of twenty-five artists to produce a vigorous show of thirty paintings, photographs, works on paper and sculptures. These include an exciting Robert Rauschenberg (1987), a playful Damien Hirst (1998-1999), and a completely surprising series of works by Shirin Neshat (1999). The theme explored here is the idea that, through these disparate works, we (collectively, as "society") can experience the effect of ritualized self-medication aimed at diminishing the melancholy we experience -- even if we deny it -- that results from our accelerated impact upon, and separation from, the environment. While the organizing theme of "Solace" is less tangible than "Hope," and for us its impact less direct, it is nonetheless an exciting opportunity to experience another cut at the remarkable Hall collection.
And of course, part of what makes a First Friday visit to the Hall Art Foundation notably enjoyable is the opportunity to freely explore the grounds, enjoy fresh made pizza, and discuss the shows with fellow arts enthusiasts. The pizza, made on-site in a converted Ford F600 farm truck, is the work of La Pizza Lupo. Beer and wine is also sold on premises and helps to chill the scene. Picnic blankets provided.
Learn more about the Hall Art Foundation here.
Learn more about La Pizza Lupo here.