The last time artwork adorned the walls of the Martin Van Buren school in Kinderhook, N.Y., it had been commissioned at the request of elementary school teachers. On Saturday, however, both new and retrospective pieces by the artist Nick Cave were installed throughout the newly converted 30,000-square-foot building, while dancers costumed in Cave’s idiosyncratic Soundsuits performed outside for a crowd of art-world cognoscenti and local residents. The early evening celebration feted both the opening of what is simply being called The School, Jack Shainman Gallery‘s colossal addition to two gallery spaces in Chelsea, as well as the 30th anniversary of the gallery itself.
Joining Dia Beacon, Storm King, the much-hyped forthcoming Marina Abramovic Institute and other new galleries that recently cropped up in the area, the reworked 1929 Federal Revival building and its five-acre property — situated near the main square of the quaint, picturesque village — offer yet another lure for art seekers heading north from the city.
Excluding two banners hanging on each end of The School’s facade, the outside of the building remains unchanged. Inside, however, the Granada-based architect Antonio Jiménez Torrecillas oversaw a massive three-level renovation, including an excavation below the building’s gymnasium and auditorium floor to open up a 3,500-square-foot, all-white space, replete with 24-foot ceilings. Certain architectural hallmarks revealing the gallery’s past life — the proscenium arch of the auditorium’s stage area, for example — remain intact. “I just love the building so much—especially its bones. Antonio really took it down to the basics,” said Shainman, who didn’t shy away from other, less visible modernizations, including geothermal heating. “We were pleasantly naive when we first took the project on,” he added. “Otherwise, we’d never have done this.”
In that downstairs area, an assemblage of Cave’s elaborate Soundsuits currently stand on a slightly raised stage of their own in an inviting semi-circle formation, while one of the artist’s large-scale beaded tondo pieces hangs upon the back wall. “The arrangement of the platform is deliberate. It’s really important that you come inside so that you feel captivated by this world,” said Cave, who had been at The School throughout the week to install his 44 various pieces.
That theme of immersion carried over to the pounding performance outside on Saturday. An ensemble of drummers from the Massachusetts-based Agbekor Society Friends performed traditional Ghanese music, while 13 dancers choreographed by Williams College’s dance chair Sandra Burton eventually descended the stage, spastically weaving in and out of the crowd, bringing nearby traffic to a momentary halt.
Despite The School’s imposing new presence in the modest small-town setting, Shainman, who has owned a part-time home nearby for 15 years, considers use of the word “exclusive” to be a detention-worthy transgression. “We’ve always wanted this to be inclusive, and we especially wanted to set that tone with the opening, by welcoming the town and making this open to the public,” he explained.
On the second level, former classrooms have been converted into a sprawling series of light-filled corridors to primarily house the gallery’s growing permanent collection. Other individual pieces by artists such as Carlos Vega, Barkley Hendricks and Kerry James Marshall are currently installed, along with a temporary collection of newer works by Cave — a visual compendium of reworked found objects that will compromise his upcoming September show at Shainman’s two Chelsea galleries.
The School is currently open by appointment. For more information, visit jackshainman.com/school.