“And the Lord told Noah, ‘go build an ark and fill it with one of every piece of artwork on Earth,’ ” joked our friend Ken upon leaving Rochester’s bizarre and wonderful ARTISANworks.
On a quest to break up the winter doldrums, friends Ken and Mary, the Sig Other and I didn’t know what we were in for. It wasn’t anything we expected.
Not a gallery nor museum, ARTISANworks literature states, “To be a place where people experience creation and inspiration,” and “ARTISANworks is a complex, huge, mysterious and intriguing place.” OK, we think?
Wall upon wall, ceiling after ceiling, every inch of floor space – ARTISANworks is crammed with paintings, sculptures, photos, woodworking, stained glass, metal works and objects that defy description. (Naked Barbies in a birdcage?)
Throw in taxidermy, funky memorabilia, a bunch of artists’ studios, and that almost sums it up. Overwhelming at times, it goes on and on. Your eyes don’t know where to look first.
Founder Louis Perticone’s goal for ARTISANworks was to “bring art to life in a dynamic model that’s a partnership between artists, students, local corporations and the community.”
ARTISANworks is self-funded through the in-house events it hosts and its art leasing programs. All art is purchased or donated, and most, but not all, items are for sale. Art from local, national and international artists is featured. No price tags, so if something strikes you, just ask.
Situated in what once was part of long-gone industrial buildings, we were told ARTISANworks houses more than 500,000 pieces of art. We believe it.
Refreshingly, very little is labeled. We liked being able to simply view, rather than read. If galleries have turned you off, don’t pass up the opportunity to explore ARTISANworks’ wild weirdness. It simply exists, no art degree required.
How to touch on all we experienced? Impossible, but here are some things we encountered. Following a map, our meander began in the Main Room:
• We loved the wooden chairs and table ensemble here. At a distance the darker “leather” jacket hanging off a chair looked real, but is wood. Guarding a door, we delighted in what looked like an “Ent” (a tree creature) from “Lord of the Rings.” Resident artist Ross Rider’s gigantic everyday wooden sculptures – a beer tap, iron and pencil sharpener – appear here and throughout ARTISANworks. Don’t miss the full-sized wood car, motorcycle and Zippo lighter.
• Next up was Les Krims’ Photography and 1950s Dental Exhibit where nudes of folks in intriguing situations might not be for everyone. (Kids under 16 are not permitted.) Paired with the Pepto Bismol pink dentist equipment, it’s a peculiar space. Are you old enough to remember milk glass trays and spit bowls? We snooped patients’ dental records in the file cabinet. (Only $4 a visit back then!)
• The 1960s Firehouse Room has a fire truck, along with a jukebox and “calendar girl” type photos of local fire women. Heading up spiral stairs, we came upon photographer Dan Burkholder haunting shots of New Orleans post-Katrina. Using high dynamic range technology, multiple exposures were used to bring out details and produce an image much like a painting. Devastation is shown in intimate details. Everyday items taking on new meaning. Whose shirts hang in the destroyed “Clothes In a Green Room”? A face tableau made from a lips sofa (a la Dali’s Mae West lips sofa) and fringed lamp shades for eyes sits in a nearby corner.
• The 1950s Retro Room had great memorabilia (an ancient clothes dryer, wringer washer, Coke cooler and classic chrome dining room) mixed in with art.
• The Frank Lloyd Wright dining room and library looks sparse compared to other spaces. Is the table practical? You decide. Be sure to check out the funky African mask and what looked like hunting darts outside this room.
• Vertigo Heights has artwork as high as the eye can see. We noted paintings by resident artist April Laragy Stein, whose work is influenced by Chagall, Matisse and Kandinsky. She escorted us on a 2 p.m. tour and pointed out the giant moon face above the Juke Joint we never would have seen otherwise. Beautiful photos of blues legends grace the walls of the Joint that includes a beautifully carved wooden bar.
• The manly Tap Room has working foosball, shuffleboard and pool tables. Again, the walls are loaded with art and, of course, beer memorabilia.
• The Triangle Theater is just that, a triangle shaped room running an animated film at the long end, and the coolest wooden chair fitted into the point. The flat back looks almost three-quarters of a good-sized tree. Impractical, but fun.
• George Eastman, Kodak and photography have a large presence in ARTISANworks, with antique camera displays, along with plenty of images, including Douglas Kirkland’s famous 1961 session with Marilyn Monroe for Look magazine. ARTISANworks has an entire Marilyn Monroe room, too.
• Taxidermy of exotic animals are everywhere. While they seem out of place (and disturbing to some), these animals are part of history. Many are older than 60 years and were donated. Often rich, the famous (including Eastman) shot them on safari, then gifted to museums.
We’d recommend at least two to three hours for a visit; more to chat with artists who may be working on site. ARTISANworks also hosts shows in a more gallerylike room. Currently, Richard Quataert’s “The Arresting Image” is on display.
ARTISANworks is located at 565 Blossom Road, Rochester, artisanworks.net; (585) 288-7170. Open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Adults $12; seniors and students $8; children under 5 free. Free tours at 2 p.m. begin at the front desk. Note, while child-friendly, some subject matter may not be suitable. Parents are advised to decide for themselves. Tours are at 2 p.m. and begin at the front desk.
More to do
Around the corner from ARTISANworks is Amore Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar by Wegmans. The warm, serene setting was welcome after our sensory-overloaded experience. Complete with host, bar and wait staff, the menu features pastas, wood-oven pizzas and an impressive wine and cocktail list. Service was superb and the food was great (still dreaming about the meatballs). Wegmans is visible off exit 20 (Winton Road exit, off I-490E) on the way to ARTISANworks. Lunch and dinner served.
Wegmans, 1750 East Ave, Rochester, (585) 452-8780. wegmansamore.com
We braved heavy snow to visit Hedonist Artisan Chocolates in Rochester’s South Wedge (southwedge.com) neighborhood for salty caramels and ice cream on the way home. The Spicy Toffee Swirl made with cinnamon, nutmeg and cayenne warmed us up. Alas, bad weather cut our visit short, otherwise we would have explored Banzai Sushi & Cocktail Bar next door (banzairochester.com) and Mis En Place Market & Restaurant (miseenplacemarket.com) across the street.