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A  scale model of Camp Iris, which was installed at the Hyde in May.

A scale model of Camp Iris, which was installed at the Hyde in May.

The Landscape Re-Imagined

By Anthony F. Hall

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Victoria Palermo’s Outdoor Sculpture Will Change How You See Warren Street

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the artists responsible for Running Fence in California and The Gates in Central Park, without question the most famous outdoor installations in the United States, “re-articulate the landscape, creating works that both contrast with and complement the landscape. Some find it intrusive; I find it poetic,” says Victoria Palermo, the sculptor who happens to live and work in Warren County.

Palermo was at work in her studio in Glens Falls’ Shirt Factory, discussing a show that opened at The Hyde Collection in May: Christo & Jeanne-Claude: The Tom Golden Collection. It’s an exhibition of more than 125 drawings, sculptures, collages, and photographs related to the work of the husband and wife collaborative.

According to Erin Coe, The Hyde’s executive director, “The pieces have both aesthetic and documentary value, because for Christo and Jeanne Claude, the process of making and installing a work, including their battles with governmental bureaucracies, was as important as the final product. The process was the product.”

Victoria Palermo in her studio with the model for Camp Iris.

Nevertheless, Coe felt that the show still needed something more galvanizing than sketches and notes to convey the power of the work, which is ephemeral and experiential, much like a performance.

“It’s not as though we can wrap The Hyde in fabric, like they did the Reichstag in Berlin,” quipped Coe.

To create a similar effect in Glens Falls, Coe approached an artist whose own large scale and site specific installations have acquired an international renown of their own – Palermo herself.

To complement the exhibition of work by Christo and Jeanne Claude in the Charles R. Wood gallery, The Hyde unveiled Palermo’s Camp Iris, a set of three, eight foot high triangular structures made from multi-colored plexiglass and native wood.

They will rest on The Hyde’s lawns throughout the summer before being dis-assembled and removed, leaving no trace of their brief existence.

“This summer will be the first time The Hyde has mounted an outdoor exhibition of art since 1964, the year sculptor David Smith created a show of his own work here,” said Coe.

“Outdoor installations are not something The Hyde has embraced, but that’s changing, and Camp Iris is a first step,” Coe continued, adding, “This is also a first step toward a greater engagement with local artists like Victoria Palermo.”

According to Palermo, the invitation to create an outdoor installation at The Hyde emerged after years of conversations with Coe about the possibility of a collaboration of some sort.

“They began when Erin was The Hyde’s curator and they resumed when she returned as its director. She was familiar with my site specific projects and when The Hyde decided to exhibit the Christo material, the timing seemed right,” said Palermo.

Palermo said she meant the shapes of the structures to refer to architecture associated with the Adirondacks, such as tents or A-frames.

“For the framing, I used white cedar, milled near Saranac Lake. I felt it was important to use wood from the Adirondacks for this project, since Adirondack forests served as the financial source that built The Hyde,” said Palermo.

The three structures could also be said to be allusions to the three houses on the Hyde campus, each one built for one of the three daughters of Samuel Pruyn, who co- founded the Finch Pruyn forest products business in 1865, said Erin Coe.

The installation was constructed with help from architect Gary McCoola and art fabricator Nicholas Warner.

“And,” said Coe, “the reference in the piece’s title to Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow, is especially appropriate for an installation at The Hyde. Greek mythology, the classical tradition, the history of art – these all inform The Hyde and its collections.”

Coe continued, “the allusions to the region’s recreational architecture, to the culture of the museum, to the three houses, all re-enforce the site specific character of the piece.”

As drivers or pedestrians approach The Hyde, the structures will first appear as colorful abstractions: startling, incongruous erratics in Warren Street’s commercial and industrial terrain.

According to Coe, that’s one reason why Camp Iris is in the spirit of Christo and Jeanne Claude.

“The landscape from the viewers’ perspective, the experience and the expectations of the viewers – that is all now altered,” Coe said.

Victoria Palermo will discuss Camp Iris and other site specific works of hers such as Bus Stand, commissioned by MassMOCA for North Adams and up and down,  which she created for the Albany International Airport, on Thursday,  August 4 at 7pm at The Hyde. Christo & Jeanne-Claude: The Tom Golden Collection will remain on view at The Hyde through June 26. The Hyde is located at 161 Warren Street in downtown Glens Falls. Call 792-1761 for information.

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