Clarence Schmidt “Let’s Call It Hope”

Ricco/Maresca Gallery

poster for Clarence Schmidt “Let’s Call It Hope”

This event has ended.

“The hands are pleading for help in this cruel world that we have.
It’s a mixed-up world. Let’s call it Hope.”
- Clarence Schmidt

Perched on the slope of Ohayo Mountain in Woodstock, NY, Clarence Schmidt’s “House of Mirrors” once existed. Outside: a titanic architectural mashup resembling many residences stacked and clumped together, seven stories tall and drawn-out in all other directions. Inside: roughly 35 alcoves and caverns housing endless wonders, interlocked in a circuitous system of corridors, galleries, and staircases. Now a place of legend, the House of Mirrors is accessible only though the documentation of a number of chroniclers, photographers, and filmmakers, as well as through the few pieces of sculpture that survived its doom. “Let’s Call it Hope” presents a selection of such works, inviting viewers to conjure the mood and mystery of Schmidt’s remarkable creation and to consider the relevance of the artist’s oeuvre in the wider landscape of modern art.

Schmidt was born in 1897 in Astoria, Queens and was trained as a plasterer and stonemason. In 1920 he inherited a five-acre property in Woodstock, it was there where he started building what would eventually become the House of Mirrors. The interior of his massive complex—part madcap greenhouse, part hoarder’s utopia—and later the rooftop and alleyways below the house were where Schmidt, the compulsive builder, started to become an artist whose output overlapped with major currents in 20th century art. By the late 1960s, Schmidt had created an eerie microcosm of American culture embedded in the Catskills, willed into existence with the simplest materials and glued together with tar. In the process of pursuing his own truth, he touched on the theatricality and the teasing antilogic of surrealism, the notion of the readymade, the improvisational vitality of abstract expressionism, the psychological fabric of assemblage, environmental sculpture, and light phenomena as subject matter.

The House of Mirrors burned to the ground in 1968. Then 71, Schmidt returned to the grounds a few months later and started building something new. Piggybacking onto a Studebaker station wagon, he made a small residence named “Mark II” with a deck up top overlooking the Ashokan Reservoir. This second house was conceived in symbiosis with a lyrical mise-en-scène called “Silver Forest:” winding trails entwined throughout a shimmering silver woodland populated with suspended or speared sculptures made with altered dolls and their parts. In 1971 another fire destroyed this last environment and the artist’s saga reached its nadir.
Schmidt’s work had a brief window of notoriety during his last years and in the immediate aftermath of his death—exhibition venues included the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis, the Robert Hull Fleming Museum at the University of Vermont, Hayden Gallery at MIT, the Neuberger Museum at Purchase, The Currier Gallery in New Hampshire, the Hayward Gallery in London, and the Edith C. Blum Art Gallery at Bard College—after which it nearly vanished from public awareness. Recently, Schmidt’s environment resurfaced as image projections included in “Outliers and American Vanguard Art,” curated by Lynne Cooke at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. “Let’s Call it Hope” pays homage to Schmidt’s extraordinary story, while emphasizing the power and autonomy that his individual works continue to have outside the narrative of their original context.
(Adapted from the exhibition essay by Alejandra Russi)



from June 14, 2018 to August 17, 2018

Opening Reception on 2018-06-21 from 18:00 to 20:00

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