14 exhibitions to visit this summer in upstate New York

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The geographical region north of metropolitan New York City known as upstate New York is brimming with great exhibitions to visit this summer.

(Photo: Beatrice Wose-Smith, Little Falls, 1940, Oil on canvas, 48 x 54 inches, Everson Museum of Art; Gift of the Wose-Smith Collection, 72.23)

Despite having the characteristics of a rural hinterland, upstate New York is certainly not short on culture. The region has tons of museums and other cultural venues that play host to exhibitions and other events throughout the year. If you’re visiting this part of the state this summer and would like to know what’s on, we’ve picked out 14 of the best exhibitions taking place here throughout the coming months.

Forever is Composed of Nows

Whether artists respond to history or look to the future, creativity exists in the moment. Titled after and inspired by the Emily Dickinson poem of the same name, this exhibition examines a multitude of snapshots of the present moment, grouped by theme, image, or idea across different time periods and media. By exploring how artists spanning three centuries have approached their present, the exhibition shines a light on how values, societal customs, and art subjects have evolved over time.

Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse / Through 31 December 2022

Thomas Cole’s Studio: Memory and Inspiration

(Photo: Thomas Cole, Landscape with Clouds, 1846-47, oil on canvas, 48 x 72 in., Private Collection.)

The artwork that English-American painter Thomas Cole left behind in his studio when he died suddenly at the age of 47 in 1848 shaped the course of American art. This exhibition reassembles many of those significant works and explores how Cole so powerfully affected the evolution of art in America. It presents a selection of major paintings and artifacts that allows visitors to reimagine what they would have seen upon entering the artist’s studio – a building that the artist designed himself.

Thomas Cole National Historic Site, Catskill / Through 30 October 2022

Scarred Landscape: The Adirondack Photographs of J. Henry Fair

The impact of human activity in Adirondack Park – where thousands of people come each year to rest, relax, and rejuvenate surrounded by mountains, forests, lakes, and streams – is often easiest to grasp when seen from above. Scarring of the landscape from mining, paper mills, agriculture, recreation, and climate change are not always apparent from the ground, often hidden from road view and scenic trails. Featuring a series of colourful aerial prints by photographer J. Henry Fair, this exhibition sheds light on how this place that’s loved by so many bears the marks of nearly 200 years of use and abuse.

Adirondack Experience, The Museum on Blue Mountain Lake / 1 July – 10 October 2022

Bottle exhibition

If you’ve never visited Ballston Spa’s National Bottle Museum, there’s no better time to do it! With displays including Uranium Glass, Paperweights, a Pharmacy section, and many other fascinating exhibits, you’re guaranteed to learn something new. Stop by to find out why bottles are so important to our country’s history and learn why the bottles in the picture glow! New exhibits are coming soon, so keep an eye out for them. While you’re there, don’t forget to get your Orphan Bottle to take home with you, which is their gift to you for any $5 donation.

National Bottle Museum, Ballston Spa / Permanent

Creating Carvers: Celebrating Carving through Student Works

(Photo: Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum)

The Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum has been hosting carving classes for 40 years. This exhibition focuses on the works of ten students from the museum’s carving classes, with each piece showcasing the historically accurate style of carving, while also expressing the individuality of the carver. Among the eclectic pieces are Santas, chickadees, eagles, and more, all supplemented by historical carving photos and a dedication from the instructor, Doug Bathke.

Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum / Through 30 December 2022

Radwood Saratoga – A Celebration of 80’s & 90’s Cars & Culture

(Photo: Saratoga Automobile Museum)

The 1980s and 1980s was one of the most iconic eras for automobile design and this exhibition celebrates some of the most legendary cars from the period. Set to  a backdrop of nostalgia filled music and movies, the exhibition features a diverse assortment of cars, each boasting their own distinctive aesthetic hallmarks. Among the cars on display are a 1993 Isdera Commendatore 112i, a 1987 Porsche 959, a 1993 Jaguar XJ220, a 1994 Bugatti EB110, and a 1991 Callaway Corvette Speedster.

Saratoga Automobile Museum, Saratoga Springs / Through October 2022

Past | Present: Expanding the Stories of Glass

Detail of I SPY, about 1956. Sari Dienes. United States. Broken and cut glass; wood, adhesive. H. 25.4 cm. (Photo: The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York)

The stories objects tell are always evolving. This exhibition explores how objects reveal stories about people across time and place. Distinct presentations feature objects and stories with visitor prompts, digital displays, and written activities designed to spark conversation and encourage visitor participation. Much of the accompanying text that complements the objects on display emerged from dialogues among curators, educators, scholars, artists, and other community members.

Corning Museum of Glass, Corning / Through 8 January 2023

Bonnie Gordon: Mapping Image and Word, Stumbling into Streams of Consciousness

Installation in Bonnie Gordon: Mapping Image and Word, Stumbling into Streams of Consciousness (Photo: Courtney Grim)

This exhibition celebrates Bonnie Gordon, who pioneered techniques in the early 1970s that presage digital manipulation of photographic and print media. She altered imagery and text – literally stretching it – to create works that range from single two-dimensional cyanotype prints to enormous, gallery-filled, multi-media sculptural installations. The exhibition recognises Gordon’s development of ideas and methods by including intricately drawn notes and studies, early prints, cyanotypes, globes, and scroll sculptures. Some believe that Gordon has not been well enough recognised for her achievements in the art world, and that her highly complex images, objects, and installations are long overdue for the attention they deserve.

Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo / Through 27 November 2022

Touchstone: Remembering the 20th Anniversary of 9-11

(Photo: FASNY Museum of Firefighting)

This exhibition honours the heroes of 9/11 by remembering the brave souls who made the ultimate sacrifice on that day, as well those who aided in the search and recovery efforts for many days afterwards. On display are a huge variety of objects and artefacts, many of which were found during the recovery efforts that took place at Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island, when hundreds of NYPD and FBI forensic experts sifted through the debris from the World Trade Center tragedy site, between September 2001 and July 2002.

FASNY Museum of Firefighting, Hudson / Through September 2022

Unveiled: Wedding Wear in 19th-century New York

In choosing their wedding clothes, brides and grooms are influenced by fashion, economics, technology, religion, geography, celebrity, personal taste, and their role in society – and this was as much the case in 19th-century New York as it is today. Wedding attire holds memories, and pieces – dresses, shoes, suits, and head wear – are often preserved and passed to subsequent generations. Some garments also find their way to museum collections, which is how this exhibition took root, unveiling stories of select New Yorkers, their Big Day outfits, and what it reveals about both the individuals who wore them and those who made them.

New York State Museum, Albany / Through 2 October 2022

Outlooks: Brandon Ndife

(Photo: Jeffrey Jenkins)

Working primarily with domestic items, including hand-made furniture, artist Brandon Ndife manipulates objects’ appearance by casting them in polyurethane foam and resin. Encircling the trunk of a maple tree in the Storm King Art Center’s outdoor Maple Rooms, Ndife’s sculpture, Shade Tree, is embedded with whole cast tables, chairs, headboards, and bedposts – household forms fused together and embalmed in a perpetual state of decay. With it, Ndife interrogates the legacy of redlining, or the systematically sanctioned racial segregation of real estate during the 20th century, which many believe left poorer communities in urban areas with fewer green spaces and less tree cover.

Storm King Art Center, Windsor / Through 7 November 2022

Sam Gilliam

Sam Gilliam, Double Merge, 1968 Installation view, DiaBeacon, Beacon, New York, 2019 © Sam Gilliam/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York (Photo: Bill Jacobson Studio, New York)

This exhibition showcases the early work of African-American painter Sam Gilliam from the 1960s and 1970s. Installed alongside the museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition situates Gilliam’s practice in dialogue with that of his Minimal and Postminimal peers, such as Robert Morris and Anne Truitt, who, like Gilliam, considered painting in an expanded form. Exhibition highlights include one of Gilliam’s Beveled-Edge paintings, titled Spread, as well as two of his Drape paintings, both titled Carousel II, which are suspended in concert with one another to form Double Merge, a large-scale canvas installation hung from the ceiling.

Dia Beacon, Beacon / Through 31 July 2022

Norman Rockwell

Throughout his six-decade career, Norman Rockwell illustrated the everyday moments in America, featuring diverse races, nationalities, economic backgrounds, and creeds. Through two world wars, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights struggles, Rockwell promoted an optimistic world in the face of hardship and struggle. Featuring more than 50 original artworks including full-scale oil paintings, photographs, drawings, archival magazines and tear sheets, this exhibition presents Rockwell’s story-filled scenes of American life as well as the people behind the images – from presidents to postmen.

Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica / Through 18 September 2022

Unmasking Venice: American Artists and the City of Water

(Photo: Evening at Venice, 1879. George Loring Brown. Oil on canvas. Collection of Mattatuck Museum; Museum Purchase, Acquisition Fund, 1965)

Between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Venice was a major artistic hub for American artists, who were captivated by the city’s unique atmosphere, singular waterways, volatile coastal climate, and blend of East and West architectural styles. This exhibition features paintings, etchings and three-dimensional objects that explore the two Venetian worlds depicted by American artists during these eras. The “picturesque” demonstrates the attraction to Venice felt by American tourists, while the “realistic” depicts the grittier realism of an everyday Venetian’s life.

Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown / Through 5 September 2022

By Paul Joseph