The Coffins of Paa Joe and The Pursuit of Happiness
Quest For Transcendence
The School, gallerist Jack Shainman’s three-year-old exhibition space in Kinderhook, NY, “creates dialog” with a summer-long show entitled 'The Coffins of Paa Joe and The Pursuit of Happiness'.
By Stephen Greco
25 Broad St, Kinderhook, NY 12106
On view Saturdays through Fall.
11am - 6pm until Labor day. Post Labor day Saturdays 11am-5pm.
Or by appointment.
On view until August 25th at 524 West 24th str. NY NY 10011
Photos Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery
Who hasn’t contemplated the delicious distinction made by the Michelin guide between destinations that “merite un détour” and those that are “vaux le voyage”? One cultural destination in upstate New York that belongs in both categories is The School, the lively 30,000 square-foot exhibition space in Kinderhook, New York, opened by noted New York gallerist Jack Shainman in 2014. For locals who live in this Columbia County town, situated twelve miles from the burgeoning cultural hotbed of Hudson, The School is a fun, inviting place to see great contemporary art — whether on a scheduled visit or an impulse stop on the way to a local farm stand. For art lovers from New York, 130 miles away, as for visitors from around the world, The School has in three years become must-see cultural destination—and it’s especially compelling this summer, with an exciting, large-scale exhibition entitled The Coffins of Paa Joe and The Pursuit of Happiness, on view Saturdays through Fall.
According to Shainman, one of the show’s main themes is transcendence, using art in the human quest to better one’s self.
“I really enjoyed putting the show together,” says Shainman, who grew up in Williamstown, MA, and cites childhood visits to the Clark Art Institute as a major inspiration for a career in art. “It isn’t all solemn and awful. It includes some really fun things — although the search for happiness does sometimes go askew, we all know.”
The Coffins of Paa Joe and The Pursuit of Happiness is in two interrelated parts, on view at both The School and Jack Shainman’s Chelsea gallery. Comprising the work of over fifty artists, including rising contemporary stars like Nina Chanel Abney, Carrie Mae Weems, David Altmejd, and Lynette Yiadom Boakye, as well as established greats like Max Beckmann, Andy Warhol, Sherrie Levine, and Ed Ruscha, the show honors the Ghanaian legacy of abebuu adekai, or fantasy coffins. The artists in the show, says the gallery, “address in their own distinct way the notion of art as celebration, as a vehicle for personal salvation, or more broadly, creating beauty out of—or despite—one’s surroundings. This diverse collection of works and objects reflect the wide-ranging influences that guide the gallery’s program.”
Among the splendors now on view at The School: Ghanaian artist El Anatsui’s hanging “tapestry” of metal bottle caps, Gravity and Grace (2010), backdropping three wood-and-enamel, fort-shaped fantasy coffins (2014-’17) by fellow Ghanaian artist Paa Joe; Menina (2017), a witty paraphrase of classic Spanish Baroque painting by American artist Titus Kaphar, paired with the 17th-century Portrait of Maria Teresa of Austria, attributed to the circle of Diego Velasquez; and Nick Cave’s sumptuous Hustle Coat (2017), a mixed media work incorporating a trench coat, a cast bronze hand, metal, costume jewelry, watches and chains, displayed against a jazzy wall mural by Cave and his partner, artist Bob Faust.
“I enjoy juxtaposing different kinds of works — in this case, contemporary with historical,” says Shainman. “The show tends to ask more questions than it answers. It creates dialog. I was really interested in juxtaposing things that would normally not be juxtaposed—like Ad Reinhart [1913-1967] and Paul Anthony Smith [b. 1988] with carvings from northeast India. It didn’t have to be a whole scholarly or precious thing — it was just about making connections. Sometimes a grouping of works in a room is just about shapes.”
The atmosphere at The School on the show’s opening day was festive and friendly — where respect for the art took the form of hungry curiosity and buoyant colloquy among art lovers of all levels of connoisseurship. Welcoming visitors from the front lawn of The School’s Federal Revival edifice — built in 1929 as Martin Van Buren High School — was sculptor Mark Di Suvero’s boisterous, red-steel monster Chonk On (2000), which seemed to set the tone of high spirits. Inside, the show’s thoughtful installation cannily channeled the interest that viewers found in any particular work into interest in a neighboring work and then in the one neighboring that — thus encouraging happy new discoveries. In this way, The Coffins of Paa Joe and The Pursuit of Happiness feels even more effective than the excellent Whitney Biennial in bringing viewers bountiful news of the new — fresh art expressing some fairly enduring ideas about life and death. A visit to The School is well worth your time, whether you’re stopping only for the art or you’re on your way to the farm stand for a half-bushel of nice tomatoes.
Stephen Greco wrote about Joan Juliet Buck and Glenn O'Brien in issue #4 of Upstate Diary. Previously for the magazine he wrote about Duncan Hannah. His current novel is Now and Yesterday (Kensington, 2014).