Installing River Crossings has been one of the highlights of my time at Olana

by Melanie Hasbrook

Evelyn Trebilcock, Curator

Chuck Close tapestry

One of the photographs that Lynn Davis lent to the exhibition was in her home. We literally took Horseshoe Falls, Ontario, Canada off her living room wall. Her photograph traveled from one artist’s home to another, from one artist arranged interior to another. Like Church, Lynn travels widely for her inspiration. Installed in the East Parlor, Davis’ Horseshoe Falls, Ontario, Canada hangs diagonally across from Church’s Under Niagara and is surrounded by his sketches of Ecuador, Italy, Jamaica and Olana.

The Chuck Close tapestry normally requires a large metal hanging device screwed into the wall. The studio was great; they immediately understood that was not possible in an historic house. They agreed to let us hang it from the nail that historically supported Church’s great Japanese scroll showing the death of Buddha. Installed Self-Portrait (Yellow Rain Coat) brings the stair hall alive and also pays homage to the scroll.

Maya Lin’s Silver Hudson is normally pressure fit directly into a sheetrock wall – again not an option for Olana. We needed some kind of fake wall. Guest curator Stephen Hannock combined stretched canvas and a dense foam core support to create a light weight fake wall that could easily hang from an historic picture nail. At one of the Cole House lectures I handed him a can of the paint that we use for the Sitting Room walls so that when the fake wall arrived it was a perfect match. When we unpacked Silver Hudson, it glowed like a piece of jewelry in the box. Once it was carefully attached to the fake wall and up, NYS conservator Heidi Miksch said “I think we should keep it.”

Martin Puryear visited Olana last summer to see the room Stephen Hannock selected for his work – the Court Hall. On the day of installation, Martin came with an idea of how the sculpture would be oriented. Once the work was in the room, and mostly unpacked, he carefully walked around the room, studied the interaction of his work and the room, asked questions about the circulation of visitors and realized he wanted a different orientation. He positioned Question to welcome visitors entering the front door and also to frame the quintessential views through the Ombra and of the Stair Hall.

Don Gummer made two trips to Olana to consider sites for his sculptures around the lake before they arrived on a flatbed trailer with a boom-truck to set them in place. Charles Le Dray spent 3 days installing his work on the half round porch, careful checking the visitors’ view from inside the Studio before each piece was secured.

There is a story for each piece and each artist. In the end, installing River Crossings confirmed something we probably already all know; great art always looks amazing in a great setting.