Art

Invitation to a Voyage: On Sylvia Sleigh’s Other Portrait of the Late Art Critic John Perreault

Sylvia Sleigh, Invitation to a Voyage: The Hudson River at Fishkill (Riverside), 1979–99.COURTESY THE HUDSON RIVER MUSEUM

Sylvia Sleigh, Invitation to a Voyage: The Hudson River at Fishkill (Riverside), 1979–99.

COURTESY THE HUDSON RIVER MUSEUM

Earlier this month, the perspicacious art critic and artist John Perreault died at the age of 78. Perreault was the Village Voice’s critic from 1966 to 1974, writing about the most adventurous art of the time in a style that was deeply informed, breezily accessible, and witty. Thanks to Google Books, you can read many of those weekly columns. Here is Perreault in January of 1970, making predictions for the new decade (“the downtown gallery scene, now taking off in all directions, will be where the new art will be”). And here he is in May of 1972, reviewing a Robert Morris show and peeking his head into the back room of Castelli Gallery to spot furniture made by gallery artists.

Detail of Sylvia Sleigh, Invitation to a Voyage: The Hudson River at Fishkill (Riverside), 1979–99.COURTESY THE HUDSON RIVER MUSEUM

Detail of Sylvia Sleigh, Invitation to a Voyage: The Hudson River at Fishkill (Riverside), 1979–99.

COURTESY THE HUDSON RIVER MUSEUM

But besides being a superb critic, Perreault was also a fairly prolific muse for artists. As my colleague Alex Greenberger noted in an obituary he wrote last week, Philip Pearlstein painted Perreault in 1975, and William Grimes pointed out in a piece for the New York Times that both Alice Neel and Sylvia Sleigh depicted the critic nude, the latter in a painting called The Turkish Bath (1973) alongside fellow critics Lawrence Alloway and Carter Ratcliff. They are both stunning paintings.

I’d like to add one more Perreault painting to the pantheon of works that have been mentioned so far: Sleigh’s Invitation to a Voyage: The Hudson River at Fishkill (1979–99), which is owned by the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, New York, right over the border north from Manhattan. Calling it a masterpiece would be a bit too strong, but it is one of the great, strange, overlooked gems in New York–area museums.

Detail of Sylvia Sleigh, Invitation to a Voyage: The Hudson River at Fishkill (Woodside), 1979–99.COURTESY THE HUDSON RIVER MUSEUM

Detail of Sylvia Sleigh, Invitation to a Voyage: The Hudson River at Fishkill (Woodside), 1979–99.

COURTESY THE HUDSON RIVER MUSEUM

Made up of 14 panels, each 8 feet tall by 5 feet wide, Invitation to a Voyage shows Sleigh, Alloway (her husband), their cat Zelda, and friends hanging out in nature, lounging, painting, and picnicking in Upstate New York. It is divided into two sections of seven panels, with some people appearing in both sections. One half, now on view at the museum, has the gang by railroad tracks along the Hudson River, with Bannermans’ Island in the background; the other, sadly in storage, has them in a dense forest, all greens, yellows, and whites. It is a quietly joyous work—friends at their best, enjoying a perfect day. Sleigh invites us along.

Perreault appears in both sections. On the waterfront he sits next to his longtime partner and later husband Jeff Weinstein in a tan hat and beard, a boater cruising behind his head. In the woods, he’s standing over Weinstein (who is looking very cool in sunglasses), one hand stretched down so that he seems to be touching the back of his lover’s head. A gorgeous spread sits on a blanket in front of them, complete with a huge hunk of brie, a baguette, a pile of green grapes, and two bottles of Champagne.

Sylvia Sleigh, Invitation to a Voyage: The Hudson River at Fishkill (Woodside), 1979–99.COURTESY THE HUDSON RIVER MUSEUM

Sylvia Sleigh, Invitation to a Voyage: The Hudson River at Fishkill (Woodside), 1979–99.

COURTESY THE HUDSON RIVER MUSEUM

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