Art Now Rockport was conceived as a different sort of art event. Not a buying event. Not strictly an exhibit. Something more immediate, interactive. An upbeat, conversational evening that would depart from the wine-and-cheese-and-murmuring-while-gazing-at-paintings sort of thing that usually takes place at art events. Frankly, Art Now Rockport was designed to be a bit of a kick in the pants for all of us interested in seeing art thrive on Cape Ann by asking us a tough question: do we have a role to play in the success of young artists in our community, especially the artists creating unconventional work? Rockport’s emerging artists have the weight of 150 years of artistic heritage on their backs, and while it’s an incredible thing to follow in the footsteps of Fitz Henry Lane and Edward Hopper, it can also make it difficult to break into a culture that knows just how it likes its art served up, thank you very much. A culture that doesn’t think it needs any changes, whether this means a new art institution or a new artist.
Art Now Rockport took place on September 17th at the home of Greg & Abby Cahill O’Brien in what was the perfect setting. Not only because the home is so beautiful, but because it served as a metaphor for the event itself: a historic home with a storied role in the community (the house is the former Rockport Lodge) that has been modernized and updated — brought into the 21st century — while still retaining a sense of the past. The same thing will happen — must happen — to the art scene in Rockport if our status as an art colony is going to continue long into the 21st century.
Art Now Rockport featured five local contemporary artists, each one bringing a single piece of work to represent where they are right now. The artists themselves were all present, hanging out with the other guests outside where the food and drink were set up on a cold, crisp night. The menu reflected the change of seasons: comfort food such as miniature apple pies and chocolate chip cookies, an amazing cheese selection accompanied by the contrasting flavor of quince paste. Abby’s hummus made with fresh zucchini along with fresh baguettes from local favorite Alexandra’s Bread and bowls of roasted nuts. For drinks: a locally-brewed ale and a cocktail called Autumn Wind: fresh apple cider laced with cinnamon schnapps, bitters, and just enough whiskey to warm the belly. A fire roared in the outdoor fireplace — the perfect place for gathering around with our plates of apple pie and drinks — before entering the house for the centerpiece of the evening: a presentation on the state of contemporary art in Rockport. We sat, galley style, in Abby & Greg’s long, narrow elegant drawing room, surrounded by the work of several of the featured artists, a room punctuated in the middle by an antique chandelier over a Saarinen tulip table with a gorgeous arrangement on top, flowers cut from one of the attendee’s own gardens and given to Abby in honor of the evening.
Lydia Barry Kutko, a sort of emerging figure in the art world herself, offered up a presentation at Art Now that served to enlighten and to motivate. Lydia is an Art Advisor based in New York with a strong aesthetic connection to art and a practical appreciation for the intricacies of the marketplace. She talked about Rockport’s past, our history of Fitz Henry Lanes et al. before moving on to the present. Each of the five showcased artist stood up to take a turn discussing their work, placing it into the context of art history by making the parallel between their own work and a respected and prominent artist. Karen Tusinski’s work in relation to Matisse, for example, or the work of Nina Samoiloff next to the work of Louise Nevelson. Lydia closed the presentation by challenging us to collect, and to collect boldly. To treat our homes as salons, places where our art collection is on view, ready to be discussed, understood, mis-understood — whatever the case may be. Where art comes alive, comes to be known, and, by extension, where the artists themselves come to be known.
Presentation over, we talked for a while longer, meeting each other, most of us strangers until now, showing up at the event out of an interest in collecting, an interest in contemporary art, or maybe boredom, and all of us curious: so what is Art Now Rockport? A few of the people who came to Art Now: a tourist who loves contemporary art and took a cab to the event from her hotel, a few artists who came to meet other artists: a sculptor, a print maker, a painter. A musician who just released his latest album the same week, a young investor who lives in Rockport and who generously offered his financial support to Art Now Rockport out of a desire to see the arts not only survive here, but thrive, into the 21st century and beyond. It’s a sentiment we can all agree on.
Raise a glass of Autumn Wind to Art Now Rockport, long may the word Now be a part of the equation.
photos courtesy of Sandi Hickey and Abigail Cahill O’Brien
Lula’s Pantry (provided the cheese selection)
Wernau Asset Management (sponsored the event)
5th Joy (Abby Cahill O’Brien’s blog)