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ALMANAC WEEKLY : T Space Gallery and Trail in Rhinebeck now Open to the Public on Sundays

May 31, 2018


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Sequestered on a 30-acre wooded preserve bordering Round Lake in Dutchess County, T Space is barely visible from the road, a floating plane of weathered wood blending in with the scrim of trees. A wisp of a building, inside it consists of a series of skylit spaces enclosed by white-painted plywood-paneled walls: a blank canvas that throws down a different gauntlet to each exhibiting artist.

Last summer, Pat Steir responded to the challenge with gusto: She painted the walls and ceiling Prussian blue, gridded them with fine red lines and then painted a series of thick gestural white lines on the surface, several of which traversed the corners, which seemed to dissolve. In stark contrast to painting’s convention of creating a three-dimensional illusion on a flat surface, Steir used geometry in her Floating Line piece to create the illusion of two dimensions in a three-dimensional space, noted critic Claire Gilman – seeming to immerse the visitor in the artwork, an effect intensified by the blue light used to illuminate the gallery. The T shape of the gallery deepened the mystery, in that the piece could only be experienced by perambulating through the space; architect Steven Holl noted that he chose that shape because a portion of the space is always hidden from view, even though the scale of the building is small. Steir’s “inside-outside painting,” as Holl called it, unwinds in time and hence is “never completely revealed or explained.”

Since its inception in 2010, T Space has been making waves within a small-but-distinguished community of artists, architects, poets, musicians, composers and their friends. As chronicled in handsomely produced “yearbooks,” which describe each summer’s events in a series of beautifully written essays and photographs, the exhibitions and performances held at T Space over the summer have been challenging assumptions and stretching imaginations, positing new connections between creative media and languages as well as between cultural creations and nature, which is experienced intimately, rather than as spectacle. It’s an arts-renaissance happening, in which the opening of each of its three exhibitions features concerts by genre-bending musicians and readings by nationally recognized poets. Operated by the Steven Myron Holl Foundation, a nonprofit founded in 2007 by the world-renowned architect (who was recently featured in Almanac Weekly, visit https://bit.ly/2Hbn3CW), T Space has showcased the work of such art-world heavyweights as Martin Puryear, Richard Artschwager, Ai Weiwei and Carolee Schneemann.

The mission of T Space is to educate the public on current issues of art and architecture and provide a forum for the exchange of ideas in the context of today’s political, economic, cultural and technological conditions: goals that are in direct opposition to the commoditization of art, noted Susan Wides, a photographer who serves as T Space’s director. “We’re getting back to the core of what art is about, which is a certain kind of creative freedom,” she said. “We want to explore the creative and spiritual aspects of art and where it can evolve to in the 21st century.”

T Space is yet another node in the upstate art-world firmament, but it has been off the official map: a rather informal, family-run operation whose openings were a word-of-mouth affair. That will change this summer, when the gallery will be open to the public on Sunday afternoons from noon to five p.m. The suggested admission price is $10.

The roster of experimental musicians has included Christopher Oldfather, Patrick Higgens, Daniel Carter, Michael Bisio, Brian Dewan and the Esopus Chamber Orchestra. Poetry, which along with music has inspired many of Holl’s buildings, was represented in a reading last year by Susan Stewart, a National Book Critics’ Circle Award-winner and MacArthur Fellow. T Space also honors one poet each summer with an award; past recipients are Ann Lauterback, Anne Carson, Carter Ratcliff, Robert Kelly and Mei-mei Berssenbrugged. T Space even commissioned a poem by Kelly: titled “Phases of Earth,” the verse “We build – isn’t/it our business to turn/space into language/so we can live in it?” could serve as Holl’s epithet. Another verse, “Just like a field/it goes on into sky/unbroken, horizon is a kind of breath/around the visible, keeps us/in our place,” celebrates the secure embrace of the individual in the landscape, which is another important component of many of Holl’s buildings.

T Space also commissions outdoor sculptures, which grace two trails: one a path from the gallery down to the lake and the other a two-mile loop on a sister property across Round Lake Road. They include Oscar Tuazon’s Tent, a rectilinear structure of curved steel rods with an arched roof tucked under a row of dramatic cantilevered beams, which rise as if the structure were either levitating or being gutted in a storm; Artschwager’s giant aluminum figure, a thick silver silhouette sitting on a dock facing the lake, which seems to be begging for company; and Mike Metz’s Wrench/sled, which suggests a futuristic piece of furniture whose functions remain to be discovered. There’s also a cluster of pieces by Holl, consisting of cutout shapes and the block from which they were carved, the resulting negative space forming a kind of shadow play.

This summer, Richard Nonas is constructing a 900-foot-long piece out of railroad ties and stones along the property: a straight line etched on the hillocks and hollows, echoing and inverting the sense of layered time conveyed by abandoned railways and the other industrial and agriculture ruins that permeate our region. The piece will accompany an exhibition of Nonas’ drawings at T Space, which opens on June 2; there will be a reading by David Shapiro, who is T Space’s sixth annual Poetry Award recipient, and music by Stefan Zeniuk.

Both trails are accessible to the public on Sunday afternoons. A bonus sight is a glimpse of Holl’s Watercolor Hut: a skylit tarpaper shack facing the lake from which many of his inspirations are first sketched out.

Following Nonas’ exhibition, which closes July 1, T Space will exhibit the drawings and models of celebrated Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao (July 21 to August 5), and after that, Ricci Albenda’s Open Universe installation, consisting of three-dimensional willow “drawings” made in collaboration with David Drew (the installation was previously exhibited at Art Basel; the show is up from August 18 to September 30). Bilbao’s July 21 opening will feature poet Valeria Luiselli and musician Martin Maugeais, while Albenda’s August 18 opening will feature a reading by poet Darren Bader and music by Jim Crewson.

“T Space is an outgrowth of the cross-fertilization of music, poetry and architecture that has always been integral to Steven Holl’s architectural practice,” Wides said. That multidisciplinary approach is shared by his brother, artist Jim Holl, whose paintings were featured in the first T Space exhibition in 2010. Wides, who is married to Jim Holl, noted that her husband’s book, All the Living Things, is about painting and its relations to philosophy and spirituality. She herself grew up playing the piano and painting. “What makes T Space unique in that our team’s made up of makers – architects and artists,” she said. “T Space aims for a synthesis of the arts. Stimuli from different disciplines are central to Steven’s work, and to Jim’s and my photography, which is animated by painting and music. These kinds of cross-inspirations drive new ideas and forms.”

Wides, who with her husband resides in New York City and Catskill – Steven Holl, his wife, architect Dmitri Tsachrelia, and their young daughter spend weekends at a house on the Rhinebeck preserve – said that Jim Holl does the graphic design of the foundation’s books. (Besides the yearbooks, they include Winter Music, a volume pairing Kelly’s poems with the light- and color-inflected, nature-inspired photos of Susan Quasha). There’s also a hands-on educational component to the T2 Reserve, as the entire complex is called: Each summer Tsachrelia runs a residency for five architectural fellows. It’s held for a month in a studio located on the property across the road. Each year the fellows, who work with Holl, Tsachrelia and other architects, are assigned a project; this year they’ll design an observatory.

The studio, a former hunting lodge, has been transformed by Holl into a light-filled, white-walled space whose plywood walls and tarpaper-covered exterior continue the Arte Povera aesthetic of the T Space gallery. Holl added several “light turrets” (“Instead of guns shooting out, light shoots in through the turrets,” said Wides). The fellows stay in a renovated 1940s cottage next door.

But the centerpiece of this portion of the preserve, which is also 30 acres and was destined to be a subdivision of McMansions before Holl snatched it up in 2014, is his celebrated Ex of In House(“ex” being short for “explorations”). Open to visitors as an Airbnb, the 918-square-foot, off-the-grid building is structured around the intersection of spheres and tesseracts; in both its compactness and multilevel, multiuse soaring spaces, it is the antithesis of the banal, oversized suburban house. You enter into a hollowed-out orb formed of layers of plywood, a shape that’s both sacred and primal; light angles down through various carefully placed skylights, fragmenting the space as it were a prism. Views of a small reflecting pool at the building’s base and the surrounding woods are framed by windows curved and straight, bringing the outdoors in. (Writer Mark Morris, in one of T Space’s yearbooks, described the building’s “fragmented moon windows” as “ogling” “eyes.”) The sparsely furnished house, which sleeps five, mixes mahogany with birch plywood; the spherical theme is repeated in the light fixtures, which are 3-D printed in organic cornstarch: a material that resembles spun silk.

The Ex of In House is accessible on a two-hour private tour, which takes in Holl’s other structures, the outdoor sculptures and a hike on the paths. Visitors can also see the dimensions, marked out on the ground, of Holl’s next building: a library storing his archives, which will be located adjacent to the T2 Studio.

“The biggest challenge is to grow T Space so that the nonprofit will be sustainable in the future,” said Wides. “We want to keep both the intimacy of an art salon and the excitement of a place in which people can experience new art and architecture.”

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