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At The School, Jack Shainman Gallery pays tribute to the legacy of the prolific, artistic polymath Michael Snow

MIS04.017 In the Blue (Hi-res).jpg

Michael Snow's "In the Blue" is on view as part of "Michael Snow: A Life Survey (1955-2020)" at The School in Kinderhook, N.Y.

KINDERHOOK, N.Y. — When New York City gallerist Jack Shainman opens this year’s exhibition on Sunday, May 21, at his upstate showcase, The School, the moment will be bittersweet.

The show “Michael Snow: A Life Survey (1955 - 2020)” celebrates the Canadian artist known as a multifaceted painter, photographer, sculptor and jazz pianist who also created ground-breaking — and polarizing — experimental films.

In January, right in the midst of planning this much-anticipated exhibition, Snow died at the age of 94.

Shainman was introduced to Snow’s work in 1984 by his late gallery co-founder, Claude Simard.

“Claude was Quebecois and an artist, and Michael is a living legend in Canada. But at that point in my life, I never imagined I could be working with him.”

In the quarter century he knew Snow personally and represented him, Shainman presented shows in New York City and saw the artist’s work exhibited around the world. Over the years, whenever the subject of a show at The School arose, “Michael would say, oh, I’ve got to make new work, I’m not ready. He was always busy.”

“I had always planned on working with him to install the show,” Shainman said. Instead, recalling Snow’s ideas, he thought, “how would Michael have liked this?”

In the decade since reopening the century-old former high school once dedicated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Shainman has presented major shows by world renowned artists — Soundsuits by Nick Cave, bottle-cap tapestries by El Anatsui, collaboration paintings of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat — as well as compelling art of Africa and the diaspora.

Shainman, who grew up in Williamstown where his late father, Irwin Shainman, led Williams College’s music department and co-founded Williamstown Theatre Festival, also curates group shows; but for this exhibit, the entirety of The School is dedicated to Snow.

There are 86 works in the solo exhibition, representing the breadth and depth of Snow’s often interwoven creative disciplines seen around the world during his long career.

“Some pieces have stickers on them from all the shows in different places they’ve been,” Shainman said, “the crates are like old steamer trunks.”

The show includes nine film works, one on a slide projector. A highlight of the show is rare 16mm screenings of Snow’s iconoclastic 1967 film, “Wavelength,” at 1 p.m. every Saturday and at the opening. Shot over a week, for 45 minutes the camera slowly zooms across a sparsely furnished room with minimal human activity towards a photograph on a windowed wall. A shorter 15 minute digital version “WVLNT” is also on view. “He cut it in three and overlapped it, so you’re seeing a very different film,” Shainman said.

A site-specific video, “The Corner of Braque and Picasso Streets,” named for its inaugural 2009 Barcelona screening, projects a scene from outside the gallery on to piled-up white museum plinths. Shainman will screen images of the corner of 20th and 10th Avenue, where his Manhattan gallery is located. “It adds this urban edge to the show which I really like,” he said. “It was Michael’s idea and I think it’s wonderful.”

Snow, a professional jazz pianist, features his music in the film “Piano Sculpture.” “It’s four screens with just his hands playing the piano,” Shainman said. “It’s a really whimsical piece.”

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Michael Snow's "Adamic Auto," paper on board, 1957.

“He was such a master at making stuff out of nothing. You know those artists where sometimes people aren’t sure if it’s art or not? That’s when you know it’s really good.”

Snow’s “Walking Woman” series is a centerpiece of the show. Developed and expanded during the artist’s decade in New York City from 1963 to early 1970s, it depicts a single female silhouette in multiple media, from drawings and sculptures to a life-size cutout photographed around town. “There’s the sculpture he hauled all over the place, it feels like a piece of folk art in a funny way,” Shainman said.

While in New York, Snow associated with avant garde artists such as Richard Serra, Chuck Close and Steve Reich. Ultimately, he returned to Canada.

If he’d stayed, things would probably have been different for him, Shainman said. “But he was never about notoriety, he wanted to do new things and be exceptional. Even up until the end, he was working and pushing it.”

As a photographer, Snow created composite images such as the multilayered “Fish Story” long before Photoshop, Shainman said. In one large photograph, three naked women seen from behind view Cezanne’s bucolic masterwork “The Large Bathers.”

“Michael once told me it was a play on painting versus photography,” Shainman said, “but also he wanted to set the viewer one step away, too.

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around all of Michael’s levels of meaning and content. You can’t really define him, he’s not part of a school per se, although he’s revered in the experimental film world.”

As one of Canada’s premiere artists, iconic public sculptures in his native Toronto include “The Audience,” gilded clusters of hyper-enthusiastic baseball fans looming over the Blue Jays stadium entryways; and “Flight Stop,” a flock of geese flying through Eaton Centre Mall’s atrium.

Among numerous awards and honors, Snow was made Companion of the Order of Canada and Chevalier de l'ordre des arts et des lettres by France.

Openings at The School are always festive occasions, with music, refreshments, and copious pizza from nearby La Bella’s that the art lovers — many bused by Shainman from New York City — pounce on with abandon.

Besides the Snow exhibit, outdoor sculptures by various artists on The School grounds range from Fernand Léger’s “Walking Flower” to Hank Willis Thomas’ giant cartoon speech bubbles and oversize silver hair pick.

“Michael was not only a great artist,” Shainman said, “but also such a lovely person, really generous and kind and funny. And humble.”

“I hope people will leave with a better understanding of the complexity and breadth of his work.”


What: “Michael Snow: A Life Survey (1955 - 2020)” 

Where: The School, Jack Shainman Gallery, 25 Broad St., Kinderhook, N.Y.

On view: Through Dec. 16

Gallery hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays. 

Opening reception: 1 to 6 p.m., Sunday, May 21.

Information: 518-758-1628, jackshainman.com

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