What does it look like when states fail, or the world as we know it collapses?
In an atmosphere with daily headlines tracking potential climate catastrophe, political division and inequality, a new exhibit from Peekskill’s Hudson Valley Museum of Contemporary Art places a spotlight on dystopian contemporary paintings.
Titled “Where is the Madness You Promised Me: Dystopian Paintings from the Marc & Livia Straus Family Collection,” the exhibit runs through April 21 at the nonprofit museum, which is just outside downtown Peekskill on Main Street.
The 14 artists with work displayed in the exhibit come from around the world. Their paintings each represent dystopian interpretations that “go beyond the typical gray, post-apocalyptic landscape,” the museum promises in its official description of the exhibit.
“The theme that runs through all of this is that each of these artists is imagining a future where there is a lot of distress,” says Effie Phillips-Staley, executive director of Hudson Valley MOCA.
It is the second exhibit at the museum to draw from the Marc and Livia Straus collection. Marc and Livia Straus founded the museum in 2004 and have been collecting contemporary art for more than 50 years.
“It is an extraordinary collection,” says Phillips-Staley. “In the art world they are well known for what they collect and how long they have been doing it.”
For the dystopian exhibition, some of the artistic interpretations don’t feel far from the world we live today. An untitled painting from the German artist Sven Kroner shows a somewhat tranquil watery landscape that appears inviting, initially.
“But when you look more closely, you see remnants from an earlier world; a washing machine in the corner, a backhoe floating in the water” Phillips-Staley says. “People who might otherwise be swimming and out enjoying themselves, they suddenly take on a different context.”
Asked whether the exhibit is meant to respond to today’s anxieties, Phillips-Staley notes that artists are always interpreting and responding to their environment. “So what these paintings do is they are each artist’s interpretations of their fears of the future. Each one of them is considering how might things go. What are my worst fears and how might they look?”
“Where is the Madness” is the second major exhibition the museum has launched since it rebranded last fall to its new name. The museum was previously the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art.
The museum features more than 12,000 square feet of exhibit space, but is in a former housing supplies warehouse building that can be overlooked by drivers down Main Street. Philips-Staley, who started as director last year, said the museum hopes the new title brings attention to the strength of the museum’s collection.
“The exterior of the building doesn’t really let on to what you see when you walk through the door, which is often shock and amazement that the work we have here is world class,” Phillips-Staley said. “The work we have here you would see in the galleries of any major contemporary art museum in the world. The quality is genuinely that good.”
Phillips-Staley said visitors have picked up since the museum rebranded to the Hudson Valley MOCA name, including for its major exhibition, called “Death Is Irrelevant: Figurative Sculpture from the Marc and Livia Straus Collection.” That collection is still on display at the museum and features sculptures exploring the human body.
The museum also recently expanded its hours. Doors open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays; noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $10 for adults; $5 for seniors, students, children and Peekskill residents and free for members and children under 8 years old.
More information at hudsonvalleymoca.org.