Artist Christy Rupp opens new show in Saugertiesby Paul Smart /September 29, 2017/
There’s a moving image of a tadpole swimming upstream in murky waters on the website of Christy Rupp, whose exhibition, “Catastrophozoic,” opens at Cross Contemporary Art in Saugerties with an artist’s reception this Saturday, September 30. There are skeletal sculptures, embossed glassware, collages and posters. An entire world of the fragile and natural is under attack from manmade objects and methodologies.
Rupp’s latest show, named after the Greek root word for “long emergency,” is dominated by an installation of 16 birds taken from centuries of art history, but now ensnared by discarded plastic net bags: a real-life scourge brought into more cultured settings. There are also collaged works that bring fuel trains into classic Hudson River School settings, as well as Russian-doll-inspired “nesting pesticide dolls.”
Ever since this Buffalo-born artist emerged in to the late 1970s New York arts scene with “The Rat Patrol,” sculptures and posters tied to the garbage strike of the times, Rupp has mixed an ironic sense of humor with a penchant for well-researched takes on our civilization’s increasingly tragic dealings with the natural world. She has created new skeletons for coming adaptations to a polluted world, a massive ear of corn tethered to a snail out front of Manhattan’s Flatiron building (entitled “Social Progress”), cardboard sculptures of fish attacked by PCBs and other pollution elements, toxic molecules and genetically-modified insects, labels for new GMO foods, water glasses embossed with images and words of water toxins, a globe made from chicken wishbones, fake ivory, felted oil containers, and a regular flow of similarly witty but provocative works.
Years ago, the artist would come up and rent a Catskills farm or woodsy cabin with outdoor spaces for her welding. Eventually, she bought land and built a home and studio in the rolling fields of Delaware County. Almost a decade ago, Rupp spent several years looking to replicate her deep Catskills experience closer to the Hudson River, the easier to make her back-and forth travels to New York City, where she’s long been on the arts scene. She was in Colab, (The Times Square Show) and she participated in the Real Estate show’s unlawful occupation of a city-owned storefront that later gave birth to the still alive-and-kicking ABC NoRio.
Does her art change depending on where she is? Her property is blessed with long, relatively untamed vistas reaching down towards a sliver view of the Hudson River. It’s obvious that the artist needs time alone observing the world as it’s always been, as well as participating in the culture so abundant in New York City. Spending time increasingly in the Hudson Valley and Catskills, she knows where her birds nest, where the coyote and bears hide. She’s also learned to listen for sounds that tell her when impending trains will roar down the CSX lines near her house. She builds videos of those fuel cars for her collage work.
“It’s our attitudes towards wildlife that I care about,” Rupp said.
Looking through pieces for the new Cross Contemporary show, I’m struck by her take on a 17th-century painting, The Goldfinch, seen on the cover of Donna Tartt’s best-selling novel. The Dutch original shows the small bird held captive by a delicate chain. Rupp’s goldfinch is made exclusively of plastic netting, with discarded pieces of packaging layered to simulate the luminous plumage of the bird itself. The whole thing has a lighter feel to it than Carel Fabritius’ dark original. Rupp was inspired in her bird pieces by a variety of other artists: Brancusi, Frida Kahlo, Lee Bonticou, Louis Bourgeois, Escher and lots of Miro. John James Audubon would have shot the birds he drew and painted.
Off in the distance, a train rushed past. It has been hard to find a Hudson Valley spot after 25 years in Delaware County. Saugerties to her “is still the Catskills.”
“I couldn’t see parting with the great expanses of forest and field, that big green thing, that I had before,” she said. “But then I realized the expanse, the peace, is all in the river. Once I figured that out, this property materialized.”
From her studio we walked into Rupp’s simple, window-oriented home and then out onto porches that look down over fields to that sliver of shining water in the distance. All looked natural, unblemished, comforting, peaceful.
Christy Rupp’s creativity and caring, evident in all her work, made sense. “I think the river is such a great metaphor,” she said.
Off in the distance, the Hudson was still, suspended between its northern and southern pulls. -Paul Smart
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