A Former School in Upstate New York Is Now a Sprawling Arts Venue

The Campus has opened with six New York galleries jointly at the helm.

A neon sign, Climate change is Real, by Andrea Bowers at the Campus. Photo: Katya Kazakina.

Hundreds of art lovers poured into a sprawling former public school building in Claverack, New York, on June 29. Inside, amid a maze of classrooms and bathrooms, a gym and a library display paintings, sculptures, video installations, and neon signs by 80 contemporary artists. More pieces are installed outdoors, in the overgrown fields, where football games and tennis matches had once taken place.

Dubbed “The Campus,” the project is a collaboration by six New York galleries: Andrew Kreps, James Cohan, Bortolami, Anton Kern, Kaufmann Repetto, and Kurimanzutto. Friends and neighbors in New York, the dealers jointly bought the school building for $1.2 million in 2021. At the time, still deep into lockdowns, their primary goal was to find affordable storage. But the 78,000 square feet of space was ample enough to stage exhibitions as well, and so the partners tapped curator Timo Kappeller to organize the first survey.

8-foot-wide pastel on chalk board of a nude as seen from above

A pastel on chalk board by Sanya Kantarovsky at the Campus. Photo: Katya Kazakina.

The opening day on Saturday drew about 2,500 people and 450 more came on Sunday, according to the organizers. Toddlers and pets were in abundance. Curator Matthew Higgs DJ-ed outside. Collectors Marty Margulies, and Jill and Peter Krause stopped by for a VIP brunch. Later, the crowds included fellow dealers Rachel Uffner and Alex Logsdail, entrepreneur Tracey Ryans, curator Shamim Momin, publicist Allison Rodman, and Marfa Invitational founders Michael Phelan and Melissa Bent.

“It’s fucking mayhem,” James Cohan shouted to Andrew Kreps, both men covered in sweat and laughing, visibly pleased.

The Campus joins a thriving—and growing—community. Just north, Jack Shainman has been operating The School in Kinderhook, New York, since 2013. Art OMI, with a sculpture park and small gallery, is another attraction. To the south, there’s DIA Beacon and Storm King. Major collectors, including the Krauses, have houses in the area. Artist Jeffrey Gibson, who represents the U.S. at the Venice Biennale this year, has a studio—in a converted school—nearby. In Germantown, New York dealer Alexander Gray opened a satellite gallery.

“There’s so much creative spirit upstate,” said Kappeller. He wanted to tap into the community of artists in the area—such as Jenny Holzer, Sanya Kantarovsky, and Francesca DiMattio—in addition to drawing from the rosters of the six galleries.

an abstract painting by Cecily Brown on a green wall

A small painting by star artist Cecily Brown at the opening of the Campus. Photo: Katya Kazakina.

Another goal: transform the building into an exhibition space through art intervention, while leaving its existing topography intact. Instead of turning it into yet another white cube, the galleries left the strange blues and greens of the walls unchanged along with the library’s wooden paneling and shower fixtures.

“The task was quite complex and unheard of,” Kappeller, a former director of Andrew Kreps, said. “No collaboration of that level and scale has been done before.”

a black woman beholds a painting of a nude white woman on the floor

A painting by Philip Pearlstein at the Campus. Photo: Katya Kazakina.

While many works have come out of the galleries’ inventory, some were created specifically for the space. These include Kantarovsky’s eight-foot-wide nude in pastel on chalkboard, a summer-theme mosaic by DiMattio featuring birds and bugs, and choreographer William Forsythe’s earth art, installed outside.

In the gym, a massive neon green sign and sculptures by Andrea Bowers draw attention to climate change. A staircase leading nowhere by Yinka Shonibare looks familiar—it was shown in 2021 at the Meridians section for large works at Art Basel Miami Beach. In the library, figurative paintings by the late Philip Pearlstein echo the patterns on the floor and the walls. The Campus collaborated with NXTHVN, Titus Kaphar’s non-profit in Connecticut, showing works by the latest cohort of artists, including Alexandria Couch and Adrian Armstrong.

a red-brick school building

A former public school in Claverack, New York, is now an art storage and exhibition space. Photo courtesy the Campus.

Kantarovsky, who first saw the building a year and a half ago, was drawn to its “haunted quality,” he said in an email, responding to questions from Artnet News. He imagined “the school in its heyday, filled with students and teachers, intrigues, aspirations, and other narratives.”

He decided to intervene with a material that would be “native” to its former history: “chalk, or in this case pastel, which is essentially heavier pigmented chalk,” he said. “I wanted to stay in the language of the classroom.”

a man in a yellow t-shirt

Andrew Kreps at the opening of the Campus. Photo: Katya Kazakina.

For Andrew Kreps, who stumbled on the listing of the school online three years ago, the Campus’s launch “exceeded all expectations,” he said.

The building’s previous owner was an interior decorator, who specialized in working with diplomats, said James Cohan. There were rooms filled with hundreds of chairs, and others full of armoires and couches. The dealers inherited it all. Clearing the building took more than 20 dumpsters; the local community was invited to come and take whatever they wanted.

“It was like urban archaeology,” Cohan said. “Histories of stuff which we didn’t really know the stories of.”

A third of the building, or about 26,000 square feet, was turned into climate-controlled storage. The rest of the building is not winterized and can only be used when the weather is warm enough. The partners said they are contemplating another show next year.

figures in 19th century clothes done with African fabrics, with travel bags, going up an ornate staircase

A sculpture by Yinka Shonibare at the Campus. Photo: Katya Kazakina.

In the meantime, they plan to enjoy the spirit of collaboration, hosting the locals and touring museum groups, as well as the unexpected dialogues between artists, rarely shown under one roof.

“It’s a real opportunity to see art outside of New York,” Cohan said, adding that the opening day showed “how hungry the world is for culture and for opportunities to engage with contemporary art.”

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