artforum.com / July 20, 2010

"Park Life"
CALLICOON, NEW YORK

IT’S NOT VERY OFTEN that a bleeding-edge gallery from Bushwick is forced to compete for attention with an oblivious herd of alpacas, but such was the unusual situation in which Guillermo Creus’s start-up Fortress to Solitude found itself on a Saturday afternoon. Occupying a homemade pop-up booth in Callicoon Creek Park for NADA’s County Affair, Creus and crew made the best of an unusual setting, sipping iced lemonade as excited children and adults skipped past their neat display of paintings en route to the gawky animals’ enclosure nearby. But the collective members were scarcely the only city types braving the sun in the upstate New York burg; half of Brooklyn seemed to be in attendance at this laid-back outdoor event.

Kicking off at midday on a grassy stretch between Callicoon’s main drag and the Delaware River, the Affair mixed displays by artists, galleries, and a single publisher with contributions from local commercial and nonprofit concerns such as Beechwood Barns and Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy. It seemed like an awkward mix on paper, but the reality was wholly congenial—if the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance planners were at all puzzled by the antics of Jack Hanley or Nightboat Books, they kept their bemusement well hidden. Metropolitan outfits kept their presentations consistent with the rustic aesthetic, Mulherin Pollard Projects basing its on-site operation out of a shack-like hut and Klaus von Nichtssagend mischievously doling out free temporary tattoos.

No county fair would be complete without a few performances. After a brief but enthusiastic demo by Zintus Yoga, the stage was occupied by Prince Rama, an avant-pop duo from you-know-where. Unofficially “assisted” by a precocious Park Slope preteen—his origins declared in his own lengthy introduction—the band successfully kicked things up a notch from mellow to relaxed. A little later, Callicoon Fine Arts director Photios Giovanis introduced a free-form performance by dance troupe MGM Grand, which began in the same spot but quickly invaded the crowd. But this group too soon found itself shadowed by a younger contingent, here a trio of little girls who added further complications to the existing challenge posed by repeated wardrobe malfunction. And was that critic-curator Carlo McCormick blithely walking his dog through the middle of their routine?

Other performers roamed the park throughout the day. Artist Lex Vaughn revived her oddball drag persona Peanut Brittle to the confusion of many, while NACL Theatre cofounder and artistic director Tannis Kowalchuk elected to negotiate the grounds in fish costume and on stilts. Entering deeper into the spirit of things, my companion and I forked over fifteen bucks to Melora Kuhn and Laetitia Hussain for a portrait photo in period costume, then ducked into Frankie Martin and Rose Marcus’s teepee at the far end of the park for a spot of improv comedy and, uh, metal detecting. Also making the rounds by now were artist Michele Abeles, writer Domenick Ammirati, Foxy Production directors Michael Gillespie and John Thomson, and Red Art Projects director Maureen Sullivan. And following up on a vague tip from NADA boss Heather Hubbs—“Someone said that Brad someone-or-other from Shutter Island is here…”—we discovered Mark Ruffalo, holding court and looking the part in wide-brimmed straw hat and stubble.

Around 5 PM, with Katie Schetlick’s homemade jams and Catskill Confections’s basil- and corn-flavored ice cream running low, the fair began to pack up and we strolled over to local gallery Callicoon Fine Arts for the opening of “Thirty-One Days,” a show of photographs by Daniel Gordon and sculptures by Ruby Sky Stiler. Cold beer was flowing in the tidy suite of upstairs rooms, but we had a bus back to Port Authority to catch. A kind lift took us to local Dirty Dancing–style resort Villa Roma, but traffic from a Santana concert (really?) at nearby Bethel Woods Center for the Arts delayed our ride and left us wishing we’d stayed a little longer, or at least had an alternative means of transportation. Now, where were those alpacas?

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