Pictures from a Pandemic: Woodstock Film Festival Benefit

The Band, Woodstock NY 1968. Big Pink Album Photo © Elliot Landy 1968.

By ANTHONY HADEN-GUEST, June 2020

The idea was born on a quarantine walk. Jen Dragon, a Saugerties-based art advisor and consultant, takes them regularly with Meira Blaustein, a co-founder of the Woodstock Film Festival, which has its 21st iteration this year. “The festival is the backbone of the culture of the Hudson Valley,“ says Dragon. “It makes a point of screening films in all the local theaters.” Without it, Woodstock would just be known as the place where there was a break-out lore-encrusted rock ‘n roll gathering over half a century ago. Covid-19, though, has shaken and unmoored the Woodstock Film Festival as much as it has other such group cultural events world-wide. “It totally depends on ticket sales,” Dragon says. As, of course, do the movie-houses. “All these cinemas are now closed for the foreseeable future”. Blaustein says.

They were walking up Mink Hollow Road on the outskirts of Woodstock, discussing such solutions as on-line and drive-ins, when Dragon came up with the idea: A benefit auction. Necessarily not a seated event – no auctioneer with a gavel, folk with paddles – but a so-called silent auction, with the art and bidding on-line. And she soon had the Hudson Valley artworld pitching in. Local painters riding to the rescue of a movie festival. Do I see a script here? You will find the fruits of Jen Dragon’s efforts on Artsy. And there’s an online presentation by Kunstmatrix.com. 

There is, I should say, a degree of irony to an art event motivated by the coming of Covid to Woodstock since social distancing has been a way of life there since way pre-virus. “It was a very lonely place unless you had a good network,” says Peggy Cyphers, an artist in the show who first came from Brooklyn to join the Byrdcliff art colony. “Everybody goes to their little places in the woods.”   Jicky Schnee, another artist in the show, says of Covid. “It has made zero difference to my life.”

But other work here documents Woodstock’s durable allure. The photographer Elliot Landy first came up because Albert Grossman, the rock manager, liked some photographs he had made of Janis Joplin and brought him there to photograph his group, The Band. He moved there from Brooklyn in 1968. “There’s  a strong spiritual vibe. It either attracts people or it doesn’t,” he told me. He has three pieces in the auction, the picture he shot for the group’s breakthrough album, Music from Big Pink, and two of another Grossman client, Bob Dylan, one of which has to be the sunniest published shot of the singer ever. 

Corona Owl Icon © Peggy Cyphers 2019 cyanotype and silkscreen.

Cyphers’ canvas, Corona Owl Icon, is one of the pieces in the show that references a specific issue of our troubled times directly. “The owl sits in its own quarantine,” she says.Viral shapes which channel the work of the 19th century German artist/biologist, Ernst Haeckel. Portrait of George Floyd by Jim E also channels contemporary event, and you might expect an allusion to current urban collapse in Christy Rupp’s sculptures, Rats. Five separate rats. “They are all in different poses,” Rupp says. ”Sitting … sniffing … jumping down … lying down … and there’s a dead rat.” But no contemporary allusion is intended.  Rupp like Jim E, is a sometime pillar of New York’s Lower East Side art world, and the rodents are an edition in plaster of the work that she put into the ground-breaking 1980 exhibition in a deserted massage parlor, the Times Square Show.

Other artists who have done their bit for the Film Festival by putting in strong work include Catharine Howe, Brenda Goodman,  Robert Mango, Heather Hutchison, Nin Brudermann, John Cuneo and Ford Crull. The art went online Friday and the auction will carry on until July 5. 

Artwork is purchased on Artsy here: http://bit.ly/wffbenefit20

and virtual gallery can be visited here: http://bit.ly/woodstockfilmfestivalbenefit. WM

 

Anthony Haden-Guest

Anthony Haden-Guest is an internationally known writer and artist. 

 

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