Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Public weighs in on proposed art murals


Step Right Up Peekskill, Take a Chance on Art

To the editor: A proposal by Peekskill artist Steven Erenberg and a coalition of Peekskill waterfront businesses to replace the aging canvas murals decorating the massive arches alongside the Route 9 overpass has sparked controversy and ire, especially from a local artists coalition.

The existing art features 10 large panels depicting abstract shapes that evoke (depending on the viewer) microscopic cellular activity, undersea coral, vascular pathways, or algae. There was a moment, in the heat of the pandemic, when I swear that I saw a depiction of the COVID virus hidden in the complex paintings. The installation is called “Life” by artist Peter Bynum as part of the Peekskill Project 6 exhibition organized by Hudson Valley MOCA (then called Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Arts) in 2015.

Erenberg’s proposal would replace the now faded printed panels with fresh panels featuring his series of paintings called “Three For a Quarter.” Each panel depicts Erenberg’s boldly painted renditions of “knockdown dolls” from the Coney Island carnival games of his youth. At 35 feet tall, each character — including a cute cat called Sparks, a cringing moon face character, and a freaky maniacal-looking clown — certainly commands attention and opinions.

Some members of the Peekskill Arts Alliance, a group whose stated mission is to “promote and serve the vibrant and diverse arts community in Peekskill and the Hudson Valley” acknowledged the artistic skill of the artist but described the proposal as “terrifying” and “scary” and expressed a desire for their group to be involved in a curatorial process to “look at what else can be there.”

“Three For a Quarter” refers to the mechanics of the knockdown game depicted in Erenberg’s proposal. Back in the day, a carnival hawker (“step right up!”) would challenge a passerby to knock down a character — three chances, three balls to throw, for a quarter. It was a gamble. The deck was stacked against you. The faces of the dolls, some cute, some terrifying, all a little odd, taunted you with their crooked smiles and piercing eyes. All eyes were on you: the dolls, the hawker, the carnival goers peering over your shoulder.

And such it is with art. Artists put themselves out there, they step right up with their talent, their years spent honing their craft, and they stand in front of those glaring eyes and give it their all.

Peekskill markets itself as a progressive artist town, an alternative to the rest of Westchester that can be stereotyped as stuffy, snooty, homogeneous, and conservative. But the reaction to one of our own stepping right up seems downright hostile to art. Process, committee, scrutiny, bureaucracy — I get it, but I don’t like it. Save it for the corporate boardroom.

Isn’t having to get art approved by the Common Council and the Department of Transportation(!) deflating enough to the artistic spirit? Makes one start to understand the draw of guerilla street art movements.

We as a town need to take on an artist’s mentality and step right up and take chances.

We’ve done it before. Start with Peter Bynum’s organic veiny amoebas. Serge Onnen’s kaleidoscopic naval mine porcupine. William Logan’s metal macaroni on a stick. Jong Oh’s beach ball slingshot. Job Koelewijn’s empty billboard. Leon Reid’s anthropomorphized crosswalk creepers. Geoff Feder’s pierced ribbon of warped firearms. The children’s doodles on the tile benches around town. Aaren Connolly’s blobby jersey barriers at Esther Place.

Are these examples universally loved? Is their meaning easily digestible? Is there a unifying theme between them? Do they offend no one? No, no, no, and no. Each represents an artistic risk taken by both the artist and the city, and our city is better because of them — no matter an individual’s opinion of them. Whether they were vetted by a small team of credentialed experts or voted on by the entire community doesn’t matter — art takes on a life of its own when released into the wild.

Note that I haven’t shared my opinion on Erenberg’s proposal, or any of Peekskill’s public art installations. Whether I love or hate everything in the museum does not negate the value of the museum. And luckily, our urban museum has no shortage of canvases for more art to appear on.

So let’s knock down the scary clowns that hold us back. Let’s lift our artists, promote them, and fill every arch and cranny of this town with diverse art. There’s a big prize hanging there for all of us to win if we stop being so conservative and playing it safe when it comes to art. The old idioms are true: nothing ventured, nothing gained. Step right up, Peekskill.

Disclosure: I’m working on a pro-bono basis to develop the website for the Historic Peekskill Waterfront coalition, the group of waterfront businesses behind this proposal. My Peekskill Exurbanist project (also a labor of love) is committed to promoting and facilitating the growth of the arts, music, and small businesses of Peekskill.

Fred Dennstedt, Ringgold Street

Peekskill’s Character is What Needs to be on Arches 

To the editor: As a resident of the City of Peekskill for the past 37 years and counting, I think the proposed murals are inappropriate, artistic but inappropriate. For instance, “Bad Cat.” What has that got to do with Peekskill and that is my point. With all due respect to the artist(s) who, admittedly, are very talented, the proposed murals have an angry look to them and nothing to do with the history, character, architecture, or festivals of our city. Each chosen mural tie-in closely to Peekskill. Here are 12 ideas in no special order:

1. Wizard of Oz or our claim to the Yellow Brick Road which I have researched in the past and is a very valid claim.

2. Famous people who were born here: Stanley Tucci, for one. I believe his father taught art at the high school before moving elsewhere (Mel Gibson, Elton Brand, among other possibilities).

3. The Tall Ships coming up the Hudson (I said this was in no special order)

4. Good ole Abe

5. Downtown Farmer’s Market

6. Music festivals by the river or in the downtown area

7. The dining scene

8. River Walk

9. Architectural highlights like the Peekskill Museum, the Victorian houses that grace our city streets, the Gazebo and so on.

10. Artist Studios (maybe you could depict that with an “Open Studios” sign)

11. The historic Paramount Theatre

12. Connection with the film industry (Mildred Pierce, Wunderland, Along Came Love, Unfaithful (the one with Standard House as the end scene)

This is just from the top of my head but, truthfully, I don’t know how one can argue otherwise. The murals must be representational of the City of Peekskill!

Stella Johnson, Overlook Avenue