Summer Guide: Hit the Arts Road!


Y’know what’s wrong with you people who came to New York City from Nowhere, Nebraska, with five bucks in your pocket, dreaming of being the next Donald Gaga or Lady Trump? You don’t know nuthin’. You can’t guess where the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel goes. You’ve never driven over the Throgs Neck Bridge—you don’t even know what a throg is. Worst of all, you don’t realize that you live in a region. Back and forth you go on your chunk of the 4 train, with no clue that while a five-hour drive south gets you to frickin’ Virginia, five hours north won’t get you out of the Adirondacks—which is still New York State, bonehead! They’re mountains! You think Yale’s in Massachusetts, the Amish speak Dutch, and Lyme is just a disease. Pathetic!

Even those of you who suspect that New Jersey has more to offer than Skee-Ball and Snooki still think that culture “out thaere” consists of orchestras in gazebos playing Beatles medleys for comatose seniors—well, sometimes it does, but nowadays every county fair practically has a museum of modern art attached to the petting zoo. So get over the stereotype and get out of your urban Habitrail this summer—you can hit the commuter rail or the highway and get cultured without lowering your standards. “But hey,” you cry out, “where do I go?” We thought you’d never ask.

Though it lacks rides and cotton candy, the open-air sculpture museum known as the Storm King Art Center, located on 500 green acres in Mountainville, New York, an hour north of the city right next to I-87, brims with crazy postwar art by highfalutin’ stars like Alexander Calder, Alice Aycock, and David Smith. In 2008, Maya Lin created a “wave field” of 10- to 15-foot-high grassy hills across 11 acres there. This year, for its 50th anniversary, Storm King has commissioned works by five previous and five new artists, as well as an exhibit chronicling the history of the museum.

DIA:Beacon may be a relative upstart at seven years old, but it’s huge—240,000 square feet of contemporary art space in a former Nabisco factory in Beacon, New York. The length of its exhibitions tends toward the epic as well—many of the current shows, which opened in 2008, will end this summer, including an installation of Sol LeWitt drawings and Zoe Leonard’s You see I am here after all, a work that consists of thousands of postcards of Niagara Falls. Somewhat farther north, you’ll be able to get a great meal in the still-fashionable Hudson, on Warren Street at Red Dot or Swoon, after a hard day of antiquing along the same street, and perhaps of envying the sumptuous Vanderbilt Mansion on the Hudson in Hyde Park.

Unsated art hogs can also gorge at the trough of Saratoga Springs, primarily at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, which hosts the NYC Ballet’s summer season (July 6–17), and this year will also present works by modern-dance powerhouses José Limón (June 10) and Bill T. Jones (July 23 and 28). Also check out the Saratoga Jazz Festival (June 26–27), followed by the Philadelphia Orchestra‘s performance of Peter and the Wolf (August 6) featuring Alec Baldwin as the narrator—though with Jack Donaghy in mind, it might prove hard to take him seriously.

Edge your way up Saratoga Springs’ Broadway and snarf down some great grub at Max London’s or the Wine Bar on your way to Skidmore College in June or July for a series of free literary readings during the NY State Summer Writers Institute (June 28–July 23). Like swallows to Capistrano, many of the same scribes return yearly, but this crew you’d want to see more than once: Russell Banks, Jamaica Kincaid, Jim Shepard, Mary Gaitskill, Amy Hempel, Michael Cunningham, Joyce Carol Oates, Charles Simic, etc. If you’re in a criminal mood, you might even stalk them at the nearby Yaddo Gardens, or their pals, who may be in residence at the eponymous artist’s retreat.

If you’re cutting back on illegal activity, gambling at the Saratoga Race Course in August will have to suffice, or tours of wine regions. The Finger Lakes has some vintages to rival California’s, especially Dr. Konstantin Frank and Hermann J. Wiemar‘s Rieslings, and a few vintners even have great estate reds now—some of Damiani‘s 2007 crop seems supernaturally jammy, and Ravines‘ 2007 Cabernet Franc is worth the hike to Keuka Lake. If you go on July 24 or 25, get buzzed on a tour and then peruse the 50 Mile Long Garage Sale along Cayuga Lake’s Route 90—caveat emptor, to say the least.

For those with geekier vices, like Trekkies, there dost proliferate a multitude of fantasy festivals region-wide, including the Sterling Renaissance Festival (July 3–August 15) on Lake Ontario in Sterling, New York, and the Southern Connecticut Renaissance Festival in Danbury (weekends, May 29–June 13). Edgier obsessives may steer their dirigibles and bathyscaphes to The 2010 Steampunk Bizarre—The Experiment (July 9–16) in Hartford. Truly psychotic nerds can flock to former Spock Leonard Nimoy’s project ‘Secret Selves’ opening July 31 at Mass MoCa in North Adams, Massachusetts. It consists of photos and videos he has compiled while interviewing people about their inner lives. Better, one might hope, than his poetry.

The Amtrak Acela runs like poetry in motion—Leonard Nimoy’s—but hop on the comfy-yet-inefficient train to Boston (technically Cambridge) anyhow, where the American Repertory Theater is set to explore the inner lives of the once-accursed Boston Red Sox in the world premiere of a musical called Johnny Baseball (through June 27). It’s not likely to play well in New York, but it will give Newyorquinos the exotic flavor of life in enemy territory. While Western Massachusetts’ Williamstown Theater Festival (June 30–August 20) plays it safe this summer with “American Classics” including, drearily, Our Town—a text unenlivened since the Wooster Group did it in blackface in 1981—their “Nikos Stage” takes a risk on three world premieres by alt-theatermakers Mat Smart, Amy Herzog, and Michael Kimmel.

Alt-rock hipster types who venture to the New Brooklyn—Philadelphia, that is—in search of dreamy/gloomy music will find plenty at the Northern Liberties Music Festival (June 5) and the 2nd Street Festival (August 1). Heavier on hip-hop (and presumably lighter on hipsters) will be Camp Bisco outside Schenectady (July 15–17), whose performers include Ghostface Killah, Method Man, LCD Soundsystem, and Disco Biscuits. The same month, Grass Roots in Ithaca (July 22–25), with Rusted Root, Burning Spear, and Merle Haggard performing, promises to be heavy on hemp, both in terms of garments and smokeables. The eternal truth about the countryside remains: You’re sure to return to the city feeling relaxed.