There has been a lot of talk and attention given to our 2015 show, and the first press release hasn't even been sent out yet. First, the basics: It's an exhibition of contemporary art, opening May 1st, installed into the historic rooms and onto the landscapes of both the Thomas Cole Historic site and the Olana State Historic Site, which is just two miles from here. It is the first time that these two historic sites have collaborated on an exhibition. It is the first time that Olana has had contemporary art inside its Main House, although we at the Thomas Cole site have done some of this before: Stanley Maltzman in 2014, the late Thomas Locker in 2002, the esteemed scholar Barbara Novak in 2009, and over 200 artists in our "Postcards from the Trail" shows in 2012-14. This year, however, something is different. In fact, lots of things are different. First of all, we've invited outside curators to choose all of the art and artists, and one of the curators is an artist himself: Stephen Hannock. He recruited Jason Rosenfeld, PhD, to be his partner on this project, thereby bringing on a professor, curator and art historian. Stephen's paintings have referenced Thomas Cole and Frederic Church for decades, and for a long time it has been a dream of his to organize this exhibition. Through excited phone calls and emails, together they've recruited some of the best-known names in contemporary art to participate, including Romare Bearden, Chuck Close, Maya Lin, Martin Puryear, Cindy Sherman, and Kiki Smith. Wow. Not many people haven't heard a few of those names before. And what has excited us the most is that each artist jumped at the chance. They were thrilled to be part of this cross-centuries conversation with Cole and Church.
To kick things off, we invited a speaker to come and tell us about other examples of historic houses that have invited contemporary artists to create exhibitions and performances inside the period rooms, and to tell us about how it was perceived, what happened to attendance at the sites, and what kinds of things have been tried. What struck me, after seeing his entire presentation, was how widespread this practice has become. What struck our staff was how much attendance increased at the other historic sites as a result of these projects. (We need to get ready!) We realized also that there is something about our particular exhibition that is unique. It is summed up by the subtitle of our exhibition, "Contemporary Art Comes Home". This is where the whole trajectory of American art began, and now it is coming home. When Thomas Cole was alive, his house was not filled with already antique paintings by European "Old Masters". No. It was filled with his own art, fresh from the studio, i.e. contemporary art.