Hot Mud Arts and Music Festival

View of Hot Mud carved paths in grass fields, Photo Credit, Common Ground
View of Hot Mud carved paths in grass fields, Photo Credit, Common Ground

In April of 2017 I closed my gallery, 247365 in the Lower East Side. High rent and a falling art market pushed our modest operation to an end. This story was common and happening to many of our peers galleries all over the city, so I didn’t feel alone. Though there was an upset feeling running around people’s minds, I didn’t feel this as a defeat, but rather as an inspiration to do something more expanded than what my gallery was capable of. I started to see this moment as natural selection, and I was faced with an option, mutate or die. Mutation seemed wildly more exciting and open ended.

Come summer of 2017, I came to organize an event I was yet to know would be the largest, most highly attended art event I’ve ever put together. Set on the sprawling farm landscape of my good friends and artists Nick Payne and Christina Bolt, in Hudson NY, I set out to curate a summer show of mostly outdoor works. This farmland specifically offered a slew of unique settings. There was a huge farmhouse, with rooms stacked on rooms, a giant hay barn, forests, fields, rivers, and gardens. This setting offered a way for me to expand the ideas of how art could be placed and how it could be presented.

Very quickly, 35 artists responded in enthusiasm to have the opportunity to showcase their art in such a unique setting. The artists were quick to claim a spot in the rivers and bogs, or on trees, as they never had an opportunity as such, while others trusted my vision to place their work in the most ideal serene setting.

Amy Brenner work set in barn, Photo Credit: Jag Projects

One day, Nick Payne came up with the notion that we could use his tractor to plow paths into the fields of tall grass. This really made the show. I carved a meandering path through the field with splitting paths, which would lead to opened clearings used as nodes to present individual artists works. Every artist basically had their own private solo show set privately apart from each other. Viewers went on what felt like a journey of exploration happening upon the works. It was a “choose your own adventure” show.

Pooneh Maghazehe’s sculptures set in a bog, photo credit: JAG projects

Attached to the opening day was a full program featuring performances of music, poetry, and performance art. It was organized by Drew Gillespie of the art collective and band BOBO, which Nick Payne also is a member of. The stage was set in a natural grass cove, allowing a steep hill to act as an amphitheater for the audiences. A local restaurant in Hudson, Lil’ Deb’s Oasis, set up a grill and tables. They sold their hybrid Caribbean food and local brewers and drinks suppliers sold their refreshments.

Ioanna Pantazoupoulou’s Hammock set in fallen trees, Photo Credit: Jag Projects

 

Flier designed by Drew Gillespie for Hot Mud Opening: Credit: Drew Gillespie

It was estimated that approximately 500 people attended the opening day, of which everyone remarked was a very special day. People could view art, eat food, listen to music, nap in the grass, swim in the creek, and  jump off the bridge into a deep river. It was unlike any art show that most of us had ever been too. The feedback I heard was among the some of the most unique and inspiring I’ve ever heard in response to any show I’ve organized in my five years of running a gallery.  People would say, “this is the most fun I’ve had in a long time” or “this is so fun”.

Fun is unfortunately a word I never heard in the gallery. In NYC, there is a bit of armor people wear in pursuit of career or professionalism, but to see these same people up here now jumping in the water and running around, was the most inspiring thing to witness. People also asked me if this will be a yearly event, which I have decided now will be a biannual event, as it took a lot of planning and volunteered labor by many friends.

Andy Onderdonx sculpture set in field clearing: Photo Credit Jag Projects

To me, it was the perfect successful experiment in trying to expand on the realm of platforms capable for showcasing art. It made me think from this point on I would only do rouge operations finding the right settings for the artists, rather than having a sole space to offer artists. It was proof that if you let the art lead the way, before the market, or before the conditions of a sole contextual gallery, the art will build everything.

People swimming around Benjamin Phelans Sculpture: Photo Credit JAG projects.

The days success lead to an ongoing pilgrimage of art fans that lasted the whole summer. I decided I had to stay there and be able to facilitate peoples visits and guided tours, which lasted about an hour. I lived in the farmhouse; I would mow the fields and paths, and I would weed whack around the sculptures. I was reminded one day while on the riding mower that the term “curator” comes from the Latin work “to take care of” . And for the first time I did feel that I was not only organizing a show of art, but taking care and maintaining it. While living there, I was able to witness the sculptures in settings never before witnessed in galleries. I saw how it looked in the sun, rain, at dusk, with slug trails, cobwebs, bird nests, lighting, dark night, flashlights, and a solar eclipse. The works are alive and meant something different at every hour of the day.