HUDSON, N.Y. -- The last time I checked in, shortly after Valentine’s Day, I’d met my girlfriend, Amy, at the train station in icy Hudson, N.Y., for a weekend of leisure, delicious food and a Soviet propaganda-style panorama of well-heeled urbanites frantically capsizing over frosted sidewalks. We spent two nights in the square mile of this culturally potent little city, not more than 30 minutes away from Great Barrington by car.
The other night of our trip took on a distinct personality. We had an art opening to attend, after all, and drinks were in order beforehand. Amy is a dedicated and educated painter, printmaker and installation artist who lives in Brooklyn and prioritizes her studio time and engagement with the New York City arts community above her day jobs in museum and arts education. As a result, she knew weeks in advance of our holiday that Retrospect Gallery, a brand new space opened on Hudson’s Warren Street by notable Manhattan-based gallerist Zach Feuer and Joel Mesler, was hosting an opening reception for a show by her friend and fellow painter, Van Hanos.
We visited the painter in the afternoon, as he hung massive canvases covered in hyper-realistic images of people and objects, distorted by shape and color to appear as if edited on an analogue version of Photoshop. Retrospective Gallery is simple, white and sparse with an Art Deco façade of plate glass windows surrounding a recessed entryway, permitting passers by to step between two glass walls displaying mounted art even when the gallery is shuddered. On this sunny afternoon, the space overflowed with natural light and energized voices.
Zach Feuer Gallery in Chelsea has become one of the art world’s most celebrated, known for introducing strong new talent to an eager public in collaboration with museums and professional curators. Emerging artists often step out of his gallery and into exhibition in the Whitney Biennial, Museum of Modern Art and Guggenheim, to name a few. With the 2014 opening of Retrospective Gallery, Feuer brought this approach of fostering "emerging and mid-career artists" to the Capitol Region, according to the gallery’s Facebook page. "In Hudson, selected artists will have opportunities to produce new artworks, take part in short-term residencies and organize public events."
No wonder city artists, who measure possibility by square foot, are clamoring for space in Retrospective. For the time being it’s open weekends from noon until 6 p.m., though, I imagine that as Hudson’s businesses blossom with spring weather, so will this fledgling artistic outpost that’s sure to bring some new and exciting images and ideas to our area in the coming year.
But the opening wouldn’t kick off until 6 p.m. and we’d have to arrive fashionably late. In the art world, this apparently means arriving just as the event is scheduled to end. But first we had to get drinks.
We spotted an old, dark looking bar near the train station. It bore the outward trappings of a vintage saloon where sincere culture goes to degenerate in the most intoxicating of ways. Some would call it a dive bar with a stage and poolroom. Others might dub it a roadhouse or speakeasy and not be far off. It’s isolated tables surrounded by high, comfortable stools, vacant stage flanked in shimmering curtains, darkened corners glowing faintly only from nearby neon signs and hip rock music playing at a tick louder than conversation volume draws the word "lounge" out of my associative lexicon. That’s just about the only thing a person can do in there.
The Half Moon is my kind of bar because it facilitates the three categories of public behavior that attract me: Solitary rumination or work on one end of the spectrum, private conversation in the middle and gregarious conversation mixed with the meeting of new people on the other end. The long ‘70s modern bar, fluorescing like a massive arcade game, was lined with stools and provides a social zone for the more gregarious patrons.
We arrived around 6 p.m. and chose a small table near a window, the sun now dimmed to the point that our only illumination was neon, and chatted over beer as the bar’s population grew several times over. By 8 p.m., as we strode artward, the Half Moon had descended into a playful, sloppy hullabaloo of hipsters in their 20s and 30s. I can picture the deep, wide and largely unobstructed barroom, with the stage protruding from the rear wall, serving as a fantastic venue for punk and rock bands as well as performance and audiovisual art.
Back at Retrospective, now 15 minutes after the opening’s official closure, the space was packed. This is far from a criticism. An opening in our region of the country in the dead of February, featuring work by a largely unknown artist, was attended to capacity for more than an hour after the gathering was slated to disperse. Van’s impressive work received plenty of deserved attention. And the conversational topic of the evening, I learned, was the significance of Feuer’s selection of Hudson as his out-of-town base.
Hudson excites me. It’s changing quickly and in unexpected ways, so I urge you to spend a sunny weekend day there before it changes too much. While in town, pop into Nevin Moderne to see a museum-quality collection of mid-century modern furniture, lighting, industrial fixtures and even beautiful examples of Memphis Group design. If Hudson follows Nevin’s model of sanctifying prized and idiosyncratic design that has endued due to its intrinsic power, in this case by birthing new businesses and arts spaces in the city’s renovated Victorian buildings while maintaining the authentic, high-quality standards of aesthetics and utility that its preserved downtown displays with pride, then I look forward to this nearby city growing more valuable to all of us.