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Lives of the Hudson

Posted: 09/18/2009

The Hudson River gets its full due in Lives of the Hudson, an interdisciplinary exhibition celebrating the river’s significance to American art, architecture, history, and culture. On view at the Tang Museum from July 18, 2009, to March 14, 2010, the exhibition reflects the mighty stream’s various “lives”—as a natural river, a river imagined, a river for commerce and community—with a rich array of artworks and objects dating from the 19th century to the present.

Artworks on view include major works by Hudson River School painters such as Thomas Cole’s Storm King of the Hudson (c. 1825) along with contemporary artworks from numerous artists including Bob Braine and Leslie Reed. Braine and Reed’s Hudson River Fish Mount consists of realistic replicas of four river fish (carp, bass, shad, and catfish) . Mounted on wooden plaques, the fish are made from river pollutants such as road salt, PCB-tainted river sludge, toilet paper, and autobody paint pigments dumped into the Hudson in the 1950s. Artist Margaret Cogswell’s installation, with a video view presented in its white-shuttered window, uses interviews with people living along the river to trace some of the river’s many “lives.” Other artists, like Matthew Buckingham, tell alternative histories of the river through film. Muhheakantuck—Everything Has a Name (2004) is a 16-mm film installation, installed in a darkened room with white cubes for seating. The film moves up the east bank and down the west bank of the river known to the Lenape as Muhheakantuck (meaning “river that flows two ways”) as the artist narrates “episodes from the ambiguously violent history of European colonization in the Hudson River Valley.”

One installation view of the exhibition captures Michael Light’s large archival-inkprint views of the Hudson in a heavily industrialized area of New Jersey, just beyond cases containing images of harshly logged mountains and choked rivers taken by 19th-century photographer Seneca Ray Stoddard.

Among the wealth of cultural artifacts and objects, standouts include the eight-foot-wide pilot wheel from the great river-steamboat “Mary Powell” and a gleaming china cabinet containing transferware earthenware platters popular in the early 1800s. The subjects depicted on the platters range from General Lafayette’s triumphant 1824 visit to New York City to picturesque river views near Albany, Troy, Fishkill, and the Catskills. The exhibition also includes early 20th-century picture postcards; rarely seen watercolors by John Marin offering near-abstract views of the Hudson River; and dozens more.

Lives of the Hudson is co-curated by Ian Berry, Malloy Curator of the Tang Museum, and Tom Lewis, the Skidmore professor of English whose 2005 book, The Hudson: A History, inspired the current Tang exhibition. Among Lewis’s earlier works are Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio, and Divided Highways: The Interstate Highway System and the Transformation of American Life, both of which became award-winning documentary films.

Installation photos by Art Evans and additional photos appear courtesy of the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery.