“I didn’t want to build another fine art island,” explains Tara Dalbow, curator and gallery director of the brand-new Barns Art Center in Hopewell Junction. “When I was curating this, I thought: How do I make something accessible?” The center’s inaugural exhibition, “Tasting Menu,” features 30 contemporary artists, and runs until December 5.
The origin of the Barns Center is remarkable. Dalbow graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 2019 with an MFA in creative writing. For a year she taught classes at the New York Times Gap Year Program, while working on her first novel, As It Were. Then she heard that National Resources, a real estate development company which owns part of an industrial park in Hopewell Junction, was soliciting proposals. Dalbow, who had never worked in a gallery, dreamed up the Barns Center, a nonprofit art space focusing on food, ecology, and sustainable agriculture—and her pitch was accepted. She is 30 years old.
Dalbow began searching the internet for sculptors and painters with culinary themes, and sending out requests. “A few started saying yes, which I was shocked by,” she admits. “I had no experience as a curator, and they were still building the building. I was sure no one would say, ‘Yeah, take my $85,000 work of art.’”
I last saw a piece by Lucia Hierro at the Museum of Modern Art. Here she’s represented by Constancia Fine/Fare, a massive replica of a supermarket receipt reproduced on brushed suede, more than 10 feet high. (Sample line: “ORG BABY ROMAINE $4.29.”) A Fine Fare supermarket at 4211 Broadway in New York City produced the original.
Sharon Core has a pair of vivid photos: a banana split and “two cheeseburgers with everything.” Both are almost obscene in their curvaceous dripping excess. And both are real-life recreations of Claes Oldenburg sculptures. American food looks better than it tastes.
Nicholas Buffon’s diorama B & H Dairy is a meticulous reproduction of the famous—though cheap—East Village kosher restaurant, down to the sign on the door: “No Guns/No Phones.”
The subject of food lends itself to repetition. Jean Shin’s Floating Maize looks like a levitating cornfield. Each “cornstalk” is composed of Mountain Dew bottles (with the labels removed) taped end to end, decorated with “leaves” cut from the plastic bottles. Suspended from the ceiling, the Mountain Dew bottles lightly sway in the air conditioning breeze, their leaves fluttering. On a nearby table, Daniel Giordano’s 500 ceramic clementines, some ashen, some with a bright metallic gleam, caress the eyes like waves on the sea. The most abstract work is Rachel Major’s Still Life with Drips, in which a series of overlapping beef carcasses, rendered in childlike colors, drip a liquid that resembles multicolored blood.
Oranges haunt the exhibition, recurring in painting after painting. (Perhaps artists are drawn to their flaming color?)
“Barns” refers to the shape of the 3,200-square-foot gallery, and to the farms that covered this land before IBM began building this massive campus in 1963. The gallery leads into a food hall, still under construction, which will include the Sloop Brewing Co. Eventually the Barns Center plans to offer classes and artist residencies. Lost Arts, a three-screen documentary that follows 10 local farmers, debuts at the center on October 9.
“Tasting Menu” has a secret storyline, beginning with the harvesting of wheat—With and Without (Blue) by David Kennedy Cutler—and ending with a speeded-up video of decaying fruit by Sam Taylor-Johnson. Such is the tragic food cycle in the USA, where as much as 50 percent of our produce is wasted.
“Tasting Menu” will remain at the Barns Art Center until December 5.