“I feel so blessed to be able to do this each year,” said gallerist Jack Shainman this past Sunday, during a tour of the School, his 30,000-square-foot exhibition space inside a former high school in Kinderhook, New York. The scattering of press followed Shainman as he led us into the building for a trip around this summer’s assemblage of art, “A Change of Place,” the third seasonal show to grace the gallery’s upstate annex since its founding in 2014.
Glass enclosures housing honeycomb-encrusted metallic shapes occupy the school’s foyer. These so-called “apisculptures” are the work of Garnett Puett, a beekeeper with 2000 active hives in Hawaii. “I’m four generations into beekeeping so it comes naturally to me, working with the bees,” Puett said. Later, Shainman would take us to a room upstairs where Garnett had two pieces, each a “collaboration” with 30,000 bees. “They all get along in harmony, they’re all women, they never fight,” Shainman offered as reassurance.
Puett coats his geometrical structures in beeswax, provides some sugar-water and a queen for the colony, and then lets nature do the rest. I asked him how he knows the bees’ work is complete. “It’s sort of like baking bread,” said Puett. “Sometimes it’s a few weeks, sometimes a month.” One of these works, a cabinet with three guns inside of it, was already half-engulfed in honeycomb after just a week. A rogue bee on the wrong side of the cabinet inspired my next question: Has your art ever killed anyone?
“No,” Puett nervously laughed.
Downstairs from the bees, Irish-born artist Richard Mosse’s photos were on prominent display. The first of two bodies of Mosse’s work on show is a series he completed in 2009 showing members of the U.S. military within the former palaces of deposed Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein.
“I’m starting to feel like I’m in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” said Shainman, continuing to lead the tour with a spirited step as we whizzed past these images, stopping briefly to admire another wall of portraits by Malian photographer Malick Sidibe, before making our way down to a large atrium, which formerly housed the school’s gymnasium.
A massive photograph of a sprawling valley in the Eastern Congo region takes up most of the atrium’s back wall. Masked in psychedelic hues of pink, Mosse created this image along with the rest in the series, titled “Infra,” with Kodak Aerochrome, a discontinued infrared film used by the military for reconnaissance missions.
Mosse explained his use of the film as an attempt to capture something “otherworldly.” In this instance, the history of violence baked into the land after decades of political turmoil and outbreaks of the Ebola virus. “You can’t see the traces of it,” said Mosse. “So it’s really about the topography but [the image] also highlights the shortcomings of the camera and my frustration with myself.”
In a later conversation with Mosse, he told me more about his experience taking the work back to the Congo last year as part of the Salaam Kivu International Film Festival. “It was a completely different set of value judgements to what we’d been used to in the West,” said Mosse, recalling the reactions. “A lot of people also were very unsatisfied because it didn’t show a positive side to the Congo and [they] wanted to know why the fuck I did them.” This seemed like a fair question to ask. “That’s the thing about my work,” he said. “It’s got a vague purpose but it’s not trying to spoon feed you information. It’s about asking questions rather than answering them.”
The final stop on the tour found us facing paintings commissioned specifically for the space by Canadian artist Pierre Dorion. In lieu of any actual physical descriptions of the School, I’ll defer to Dorion’s paintings, which the artist himself described to us as being in “dialogue” with their surroundings, “not only pictorially, but in terms of mood, atmosphere, colors, and everything.”