Hudson Valley MOCA Unveils Impressive New Show After Major Rebranding

The museum has expanded its mission of sharing contemporary art with schools, communities, and people of all ages while ushering in a new era of high-profile exhibitions.

For Executive Director Effie Phillips-Staley, Hudson Valley MOCA’s new exhibition represents a watershed moment in the museum’s history. The show, Death Is Irrelevant, actually comes at a time of rebirth and rejuvenation for the 15-year-old institution.

“For the first time, we are adding the collection of our founders, Marc and Livia Straus, to the rotation,” explains Phillips-Staley. “These works are rarely seen and breathtaking. The Straus Collection contains some of the strongest, most challenging and canonical works of the late 20th century to the present.” The wide-ranging show will include pieces by such renowned artists as Damien Hirst and Kiki Smith.

Formerly known as The Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, Hudson Valley MOCA has just undergone a major rebranding, for which the show will act as an inaugural unveiling. The museum has expanded its mission of sharing significant contemporary art with schools, communities, and people of all ages while ushering in a new era of high-profile exhibitions.

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“The decision to rebrand was based on feedback we’ve received from our visitors for many years, which is almost always surprise and delight the moment a person walks in the door,” says Phillips-Staley. “New visitors simply don’t expect the beauty of the galleries, the power and quality of the exhibitions, and the range of international artists we feature when they pass through our doors.“

“Visitors will find much to explore and consider: autobiography, existentialism, feminism, current events, popular culture, and much more.”

For Phillips-Staley, the name is meant to signify a new chapter in the museum’s existence. “We’ve changed our name to better reflect our work over the last 15 years and our vision for the future,” she says. “We have been a resource for engagement with contemporary art for communities and schools in Peekskill. Our renewed mission is to be a leading center of discovery of emerging contemporary art and ideas for the Hudson Valley and beyond, for all communities and people of all ages and abilities.”

With this in mind, the inaugural show needed to be both eminently impressive and signify the museum’s ongoing evolution. With its liberal use of major-name works collected by the Strauses, Death Is Irrelevant certainly fits the bill.

“The opening of Death Is Irrelevant, an exhibition of figurative sculpture by contemporary artists from 15 countries, marks several important milestones for our organization and our region, including,” says Phillips-Staley, “the 15th anniversary of our founding, our growth from a contemporary center to Hudson Valley MOCA, and the transformation of our home, Peekskill, from a struggling post-Industrial Rivertown to a thriving, creative hub.”

She adds that “the vision for the show, from an institutional standpoint, is about our continued growth and vibrancy: When death is irrelevant, life becomes all the more important. The curatorial vision for the show is best summarized by a quote at the entrance to the exhibition: ‘Death is a mirror in which the entire meaning of life is reflected.’” 

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Phillips-Staley points to three notable works in particular that define the scope and concept of the exhibition. Inheritance, by Indonesian artist Entang Wiharso, depicts a large tableau of the artist and his family gathered around a dining-room table. Phillips-Staley notes that the piece is a powerful “commentary on the challenge of [the artist’s] children growing up in both Western and Indonesian cultures.”

Death Is Irrelevant by Damien Hirst; skeleton, tempered glass. Photo by Damien Hirst

Similarly, Phillips-Staley notes that Dutch artist Folkert DeJong’s Dust, a sculpture depicting a seated person surrounded by guns and bottles, “is an elegiac commentary on war, while the title work, Death Is Irrelevant, by Damien Hirst, slyly touches on religion, death, and immortality.” The Hirst work is predictably striking, featuring a human skeleton formed into a crucifixion-like pose, using panes of tinted glass.

Phillips-Staley hopes visitors will come away challenged, amused, and engaged by the works’ investigations into mortality and how we live. “[Death Is Irrelevant] shows the range of contemporary thought about the human figure and our impulse to convey complex ideas through representations of the human form,” she says. “Visitors will find much to explore and consider: autobiography, existentialism, feminism, current events, popular culture, and much more.”

Hirst’s compelling work is joined by pieces by artists ranging from Italy’s Italo Scanga to acclaimed South African sculptor Claudette Schreuders. For Phillips-Staley, the exhibition, which runs through August 2, is merely the opening salvo of an brand-new era for the museum. “We want to expand our reach to the entire Hudson Valley and beyond, and we are adding to the rotation of works that we show,” she says. “This exhibition is genuinely jaw-dropping, and we are going to be dropping jaws for many years to come, based on what we are rolling out.”

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