Working Vacations

Where Does the Art World Go in the Summer?

Where are you going on your summer vacation?" Ask any artist this question and the inevitable response is "What vacation?" Artists don't take vacations—or don't admit that they do—and the summer months, when the art world goes on hiatus, is often their most productive time of year. The lucky few have second homes with fully equipped studios, where they can continue working (and networking) in places that are supposed to be relaxing. But the luckier ones have a full schedule of fall shows with deadlines that make relaxation almost impossible.

"Boy, do I need recuperation," says Joel Meyerowitz, who has just spent the last eight months photographing the terrible beauty of ground zero. Meyerowitz's classic series, "Cape Light," defines the serenity of summers past: serene skies and ocean views framed by the weather-beaten porch of his home in Cape Cod. This summer, however, when he gets to the Cape in August, Meyerowitz is faced with the formidable task of editing the more than 8000 pictures he has taken at the World Trade Center disaster site. The photographer has already selected the images for two upcoming shows. "September 11: Images of Ground Zero," sponsored by the Museum of the City of New York, is tentatively scheduled to open in a public lobby in Lower Manhattan at the end of August, supplemented by an exhibition already set for the Ariel Meyerowitz Gallery, run by the photographer's daughter, that inaugurates her new Chelsea space in September. "Determined to see something other than 3.5 tons of rubble," Meyerowitz took three weeks off in July, but this was a working holiday, shooting Italian landscapes for his forthcoming book, Inside the Light: Four Seasons in Tuscany. Meyerowitz needed this respite and the peacefulness of the Cape to clear his mind for the task of sorting through his images of violence and destruction.

Julian Laverdiere, another artist whose career became inextricably enmeshed in the aftermath of September 11, will not get such a pleasant break. Laverdiere, one of the creators of the Tribute in Light memorial, is recuperating from that project on the roof of a building in Chelsea, where he has just erected his new studio. "I bought an airplane hangar online, and I just finished constructing it," says the artist, who is a bit of a mad scientist. His only vacation plan is a trip to the Adirondacks to visit his father and collect specimens of rare mosses, which he wants to grow into future sculptures. For Laverdiere, who has upcoming shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami and Lehmann Maupin in New York, summer is about getting back to work. "It feels like I didn't get any of my own work done this entire year," he says. "My big joy is finishing the studio. After September 11, this is a kind of personal reconstruction project."

Summer is about getting back to work for Julian Laverdiere, shown here with Imperial Dragster (2002), a work in progress.
photo: Robin Holland
Summer is about getting back to work for Julian Laverdiere, shown here with Imperial Dragster (2002), a work in progress.

June is traditionally the month when the art world escapes from New York and artists escape from the art world. Art colonies, such as Yaddo in Saratoga Springs and MacDowell in New Hampshire, provide hundreds of artists each year with a place of refuge, needed now more than ever, according to painter Andrea Belag, who lives and works within blocks of ground zero and will be returning to Yaddo this summer. "I feel safe there," says Belag, "which is a big consideration these days."

In these idyllic settings, reminiscent of upscale sleep-away camps, artists are given uninterrupted time to work on new ideas, a "lifesaver," according to filmmaker Abigail Child, who will be joining Belag at Yaddo. "During the year, I teach," Child says, "so the three months of summer vacation is actually when I carry the bulk of my workload, but to be honest, as an artist, making the work feels better than anything else." Melissa Meyer, Whitfield Lovell, and Geoff Hendricks will also be out of town, as artists in residence at Skowhegan, a prestigious summer school in Maine offering workshops and studio critiques for recent art-school graduates. Still more exclusive is the little-known Acadia Summer Arts Program, fondly called Kamp Kippy, an aesthetically oriented think tank on Maine's Mount Desert Island where artists, writers, and curators convene at the invitation of its founder, Marion Boulton Stroud. William Pope.L, whose retrospective opens at the Maine College of Art in July, and Dawoud Bey are among the artists attending this summer.

"I usually don't do anything interesting, but this summer I have a residency in France at Alexander Calder's house," says Sarah Sze, who is currently preparing a project for the Public Art Fund and an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Calder left his estate in the Loire Valley as a foundation, providing six-month residencies for contemporary sculptors, by invitation only. Sze, like her benefactor, makes works that soar through space, albeit using thongs, Tupperware, and blowup dolls, rather than steel and aluminum. Given her proclivity for consumer-culture materials, it would seem impossible for her to go off to France without crates and crates of flea-market finds. But, no, Sze plans to pick up what she needs at her destination. "You can find the same things in shopping malls in France as you can in New Jersey," says Sze, who is only afraid that Calder's massive studio—a towering greenhouse with windows on four sides—will prove too intimidating to work in. "It's a little overwhelming, and it may be just too much."

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