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Still Life, Without Horses
All along Broadway in Saratoga Springs, galleries offer first-class fine art—but one needn’t head indoors for an aesthetic experience

By John Rodat
Photos by John Rodat

If you’re neither an elaborate-hat nor a boxed-trifecta type, you may be less than entirely convinced that Saratoga is, in fact, the August place to be. The equine vibe of the Spa City in summer is so pronounced as to almost preclude any thought of other attractions; which is a bummer for the more modestly adorned and/or the financial-risk averse. (We’ve got nothing against hats, really, just startlingly outsized craniums; in an appropriately festive seasonal chapeau we’d look like parade floats. And we’ve got nothing against gambling, exactly, but as the track doesn’t allow punters to make nickel or leftover-drink-token bets, we’re not really able to participate in comfort.)

Fortunately, there is more to our neighbor up the Northway than that famed dirt oval and its beautiful people: As full-time residents of the region, we have 11 non-tourist months to cozy up with Saratoga Springs and gain near-inside information, so we know that there are a slew of fine-art-viewing opportunities—including the impressive Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery on the Skidmore College campus and a handful of galleries along Broadway, like Gallery 100, the Lustyk Gallery and the Design Studio—that make the city a fine day trip. And, if it’s worth the while in March, why not in August, amid the his-and-her-Rolex crowd?

So, on a gorgeous day in the thick of the season, we headed up to Saratoga for an afternoon of non-track- related culture. The ultimate—though unfulfilled—goal was the Tang, where the current exhibits include a collection of international contemporary painters, and an enticingly titled show, Elevator Music 2: Investigations in Experimental Sound. (Both of which, we reasoned, had a pretty low likelihood of stallion. These works might show up at the Whitney, but we didn’t think the reverse would be true.) But first, full of art-appreciative optimism, we stopped at one of the smaller galleries along Broadway, where in a quiet, well-lighted and comfortable space we found lovingly rendered paintings of . . . aaaaccck! The track!

Actually, there was just one depiction of the track—and that one was of the course buried under a thick blanket of snow, rather than replete with dirt-churning hooves—but the bulk of the paintings were in some way celebratory of Saratoga and its general upstate environs. There was a series depicting Lake George so adoring it made the Hudson River School look blackly humorous by comparison; and there were two different artists—among not more than a half-dozen, or so—who seemed to specialize in Saratoga street scenes. The same scenes, it should be noted, that could be viewed out the front windows of the gallery. In fairness, there were two artists whose work was utterly horseless, and lovely besides, but still this just didn’t seem right. And then we overheard a gallery staffer discussing a painting with another patron: “You know which painting I could sell 20 times? This one here. You know who loves this one? Mary Lou . . .”

We didn’t give the door the chance to hit us in the ass.

The Tang’s call increased, but we didn’t want to dismiss all the small galleries based on the mercantile motivations of one. In window after window, though, the ponies: Watercolor ponies, pop-art ponies, action-painting ponies, Japanese-woodcut-style ponies. We wandered, amazed, until in the window of a clothier we saw horses modeling sportcoats—then we just had to sit down.

And good thing we did. Otherwise we might have missed it. There on the side of a newspaper-vending machine: art! Unexpected and obscure, it suddenly reordered the town around it. The stenciled figure of a cartoonish face, greeting passersby with what was either a winking or a wounded eye represented by a simple X. Crouching down to get a better look allowed a dual view, of both the picture and of the street life strolling past, as if the stencil were offering comment and testimony to the impact of the August crowd. Is Saratoga’s guerilla-art mascot (the machine was, after all, dispensing The Saratogian) amused or angered by throng of tourist life in summertime Saratoga, we wondered. Is this ageless, somehow androgynous figure—reminiscent of Belgian illustrator Herge’s Tintin—a protest of Saratoga’s trammeled innocence, or a snarky acknowledgment of a secret resistance? A scrappy “you’ve come a long way, baby” pride?

OK, it’s probably the logo of some garage-based skateboard-apparel entrepreneur. But, it didn’t have any horses—so it was cool. And it opened our eyes to the variety of stray and/or synchronistic moments of artsy frisson along Saratoga’s main stretch. Like the scrollwork iron fence set back between two storefronts on Broadway. Partially obscured by climbing greenery, the white-painted gate invites the viewer forward to press against the bars, beyond which a well-manicured yard sprawls. Back across the lawn, two white plastic lawn chairs are set side by side; one stacked with a small pyramid of bright red apples. It’s an Edenic scene of temptation and—due to the locked gate—the implication of punishment that heightens desire and drives temptation to irrevocable action.

Or, maybe it’s just hard to carry a whole armload of apples. But still, no horses. (Or, maybe the apples are there just to taunt the horses? Horses that would be there if not for the fence? Brilliant use of negative space to parody the very defining character of the city during track season!)

After these chance viewings it was fun to try to interpret all of Broadway in this manner. There was the provocative performance piece that featured a stream of coffee-colored water streaming down Washington Street, a piece that challenged Starbucks-bound pedestrians to reconsider their motivations: How far out of your way will you go for that Grande Mocha Latte? Will you attempt to leap the muddy current, cross nearly to the Eddie Bauer, or boldly remove your flip-flops and ford the muddy gush—as did two hippieish girls, only to pass the chain caffeinator altogether. A consumerist parable? Hey, why not?

And the cut-out choirboy bearing the stringless guitar, silent soundhole formally reiterated by the character’s wide-open and voiceless mouth? Scathing commentary on the scandals plaguing the Church, the legacy of mute shame? Well, probably not. That seems like a stretch. It’s just an street-level come-on for a guitar shop, after all.

But what of the youthful neo-primitivists gathered on the park benches that line Broadway, bedecked in ragged black, festooned with metal bangles, bright and inky with body art? Reminders that art is everywhere, that creative expression is an inborn instinct—as is its apprehension? Mobile emblems that even in the most commercially vetted and sanctioned districts and seasons art conspires to disrupt? Or, you know, just kids?

Dizzy with such weighty, theory-heavy considerations, we grabbed a snack and slid back down south without ever making it to the Tang. But there’s always next August.

 

Saratoga CALENDAR

Concerts

Aug. 19-25

Congress Park (Saratoga Springs, 587-3241). Tue: the McKrells (7 PM).

Clubs

Aug. 19-25

The Alley Bar (Long Alley Road, Saratoga, 587-9766). Sun: karaoke with Wayne from King Entertainment. Tue: karaoke with Mark the Shark.

Bailey’s (Phila and Putnam streets, Saratoga Springs, 583-6060). Thu: Kevin Mullaney Trio. Fri: Acoustic Circus. Sat: Pangaea. Sun: Richie Ortiz. Wed: Soul Session.

Brindisi’s Restaurant (390 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 587-6262). Fri: Bobby Dick and the Sundowners. Sat: the Bluz House Rockers. Sun-Mon: Al Bruno.

Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, 583-0022). Thu: open mic (7 PM); Melanie. Fri: Tracy Grammer. Sat: Songs of Woodstock with the Sean Rowe Project. Sun: Laurel Masse.

Club Caroline (13 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 580-0155). Thu: Bipolar. Fri: karaoke with DJ Chris. Sat: Bipolar. Sun: karaoke with DJ Chris. Tue: karaoke with DJ Chris. Wed: Thirteen Four.

The Club House (30 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 580-0686). Fri-Sat: DJ Daniel Van D, hiphop, club mixes.

Costanzo’s Lounge and Restaurant (168 Saratoga Ave., Mechanicville, 664-9033). Fri: John D’Aloia.

Doc’s Steakhouse (63 Putnam St., Saratoga Springs, 581-7011). Fri: Folding Sky. Mon: open mic with Sean Rowe.

Horseshoe Inn (1 Gridley St., Saratoga Springs, 587-4909). Thu: the Groove Syndicate (6 PM). Fri: the Burners UK (6 PM). Sat: Blue Hand Luke (6 PM). Sun: Bourbon Renewal (6 PM). Mon: Jeff Walton (6 PM).

The Inn at Saratoga (231 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 583-1890). Sat: the Ria Curley Jazz Group.

9 Maple Avenue (9 Maple Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-CLUB). Fri: Lou Smaldone Quartet. Sat: Adrian Cohen Quintet.

One Caroline Street (1 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 587-2026). Thu: Joe Gitto (6 PM); Dave Payette Duo (9 PM). Fri: Joe Finn (6 PM); John Sauer, Mike Delprete (9 PM). Sat: Joe Gitto (6 PM); Joe Gitto Trio (9 PM). Sun: Jason Ennis Duo (7 PM). Mon: Mike Flanagan Duo (8 PM). Tue: Masters of Nostalgia (7:30 PM). Wed: Lee Shaw Duo (8 PM).

Panza’s Restaurant (Route 9P, Saratoga Lake, 584-6882). Thu: Noreen Pratt (6:30 PM). Fri-Sat: Colleen Pratt, Peg Delaney (7:30 PM). Sun: Noreen Pratt (7 PM).

The Parting Glass (40-42 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-1916). Fri: Midlife Crisis. Sat: Cryin Out Loud. Mon: the Off Track Band. Wed: the Burners UK.

Saratoga Gaming and Raceway (342 Jefferson St., Saratoga Springs, 584-2110). Fri: the Bluz House Rockers.

Saratoga Springs Brew Pub (14 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, 583-3209). Thu: Kevin Mullaney and Electric Life.

Siro’s (168 Lincoln Ave., Saratoga Springs, 584-4030). All shows at 6 PM. Thu: TS Ensemble. Fri: Milo Z. Sat: the Big Smoothies. Sun: Soul Session. Mon: the Smooze. Wed: Barrence Whitfield and the Savages.

Theater

Opening

Dysfunctional Divas, Saratoga Arts Council Theatre, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. Nancy Timpanaro-Hogan and Laura Roth star in a cabaret spoofing divas old and new. Through 8/28. $25. 793-8442.

Classical

Performance

Alsop Hall, Davidson Drive, Saratoga Springs. 8/22, 3 PM: The Beaux Arts Piano Quartet will perform. $22. 584-4132.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs. 8/19, 8:15 PM: Pianist Martha Argerich joins the Philadelphia Orchestra for a program of works by Schumann, Stravinsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. $57.50-$15. 8/20, 8:15 PM: Marvin Hamlisch conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra in a program of music from the movies. $62-$15. 8/21, 8:15 PM: Charles Dutoit conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra, with mezzo-soprano Nancy Maultsby and the Boys Choir of Harlem, in Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. $57.50-$15. 587-3330.

Spa Little Theater, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs. 8/22, 2:15 PM: The Saratoga Chamber Music Festival concludes with Who Knows the Glass Armonica, featuring Dennis James. $33.50-$28.50. 587-3330.

Literary

Readings/Signings

National Museum of Horse Racing, 191 Union Ave., Saratoga. 8/19, 10 AM-noon: Bill Heller will sign copies of Saratoga Tales. 584-0400 ext. 117.

Discussions/Workshops

Saratoga Springs Public Library, 49 Henry St., Saratoga Springs. 8/19, 7:30 PM: Writers on Reading group, featuring author Lynn Veach. Free. 584-7860.

Lectures & Learning

Discussions/Speakers

National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, Union Ave., Saratoga Springs. 8/25, 11 AM-noon: Guests in the Gallery: Racing Officials. Free with museum admission. 584-0400.

Saratoga Springs Public Library, 49 Henry St., Saratoga Springs. 8/24, 10 AM: Brown Bag presentation in the Community Room, “Remembering the Oklahoma Training Track: Voices from the Backstretch.” Free. 584-1198.

Kids

This Week

Children’s Museum at Saratoga, 69 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs. Tuesdays, 10 AM-noon: Tuesdays for Tots, for ages 5 and under; create projects and experience new art materials. 584-5540.

Creative Sparks, 42 Phila St., Saratoga. 8/25, 10 AM-noon: 6” round plaque of your own design workshop. Every Saturday, 7-9 PM: “Kids Nite Out,” pizza and pottery. $20 per child. All workshops ages 8 and up without supervision, younger children welcome accompanied by an adult. Registration required for all workshops. 583-2030.

Farmers Markets

Saratoga Springs Farmers Market. High Rock Park, Saratoga Springs. Saturdays, 9 AM-1 PM; Wednesdays, 3-6 PM.

Sports

This Week

The Mohawk-Hudson Cycling Club hosts its annual Century Weekend at Saratoga Spa State Park on 9/11-12. Cyclists may ride routes from 25 to 100 miles. Advance registration is $10, $6 for MHCC members. For more information and registration form, visit www.webmhcc.org.

Et Cetera

Special Events

Homes for Orphaned Pets Exits (HOPE) is holding a silent auction on 8/26, beginning at 6 PM, at the Arts Center, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, to raise money for veterinary care and nutritional needs of shelter animals. 428-2994.

Galas & Benefits

Moolah, a fashion show with a twist, will take place at 7 PM on 8/20 at the Gideon Putnam in Saratoga Springs. Proceeds benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. $75 per person, includes cocktails, fall fashion show, and live auctions. 218-1148 or e-mail moolah820@aol.com.

Saratoga Race Course

Open daily through Sept. 6, except Tuesdays.

Location 267 Union Ave., Saratoga Springs, 584-6200.

Admission $3 grandstand, $5 clubhouse; children under 12 free; seats are $6 and $7, respectively.

Parking $10 per car at the track side and $5 across Union Avenue at the Oklahoma Training Track. General parking is free.

Racing Nine or 10 races a day; pari-mutuel wagering on every race.

First Race Post Time 1 PM (except Travers Day, Aug. 28, when it’s 12:30 PM).

Major Stakes Races The Alabama Stakes (Aug. 21); the Hopeful Stakes (Aug. 21 ); the Saratoga Breeders Cup (Aug. 22 ); the Travers Stakes (Aug. 28).


Saratoga SHOTS
By Martin Benjamin

Horse trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velasquez are all smiles while walking through the clubhouse at Saratoga Racetrack, and small surprise: Pletcher has 19 winners to his credit so far this season, and Velasquez has been to the Winner’s Circle 32 times. And as if that weren’t enough, in the recent $200,000 Vanderbilt Stakes the duo tied the six-furlong record, unmatched for 32 years.

Spotted in Saratoga
By Ashley Hahn

Where: outside the Saratoga County Arts Council
Who:
Lydia Parks
From:
Philadelphia, Penn.
What are you doing here?:
“I’m here for the Flute Institute.”
What’s the best part about Saratoga?:
“I like the architecture and I like the choice of colors on the houses.”
If Saratoga were a movie, what would it be called?:
The Adventures of Spit and Spat


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