By Martica Sawin
A major asset of the Artists Housing complex known as Westbeth is the large ground floor exhibition space that opens off a central courtyard and is accessible from both Bethune and Bank Streets. Its location, four blocks directly south of the new Whitney Museum, has provided an incentive to mount exhibitions that will draw a wider public as well as reaching out to artists beyond the immediate Westbeth community. This is the hope of the gallery’s newly appointed director,
Karin Batten, a 15 year Westbeth resident and veteran of some 28 solo exhibitions in New York and beyond. There were sixty proposals for exhibitions to fill the ten time slots available in 2016; the deadline for 2017 proposals is June 30. The selection will be made by a committee including a representative from the Whitney’s curatorial staff, other outside advisors, and representatives from the Westbeth Artists Council.
“I hope we will become a vibrant part of the city’s art community, reflecting its diversity, attracting younger artists, and maintaining a high standard of quality,” Batten says of her aims in the voluntary position she has taken on. Although her professional life has been largely as an artist and designer, Batten also ran, together with Margo Machida and Al Loving, the 22 Wooster Gallery in SoHo for three years in the late seventies, a space devoted to showing the work of young artists. She studied at St. Martin’s in London, has an MFA from Hunter College and has been the recipient of many grants and artists’ residencies. Among the latter was a Lower Manhattan Cultural Center residency on the 91st floor of World Trade Center Tower One when all her work was lost.
Interviewed in her studio, on the second floor of the studio wing south of Westbeth’s main building, Batten was surrounded by paintings to be included in her upcoming solo exhibition at the June Kelly Gallery in SoHo. Scheduled to run from June 30 to July 30, this show, titled Turning Tide, will be her fifth exhibition at the gallery. The title reflects Batten’s desire to make work that is “organic, spontaneous and intuitive, like swimming in a vast sea.”
On her travels she draws and takes photos of the natural world that find their way into her paintings, which also make reference to space technology, seascapes and aerial views of urban landscapes. Drawing on past experience with ceramics and metal sculpture and using many different materials, she works from above on the floor, building a single unified richly textured surface which has the tactile appeal of sculpture. This unorthodox approach lends a certain mystery to the outcome, yielding artworks that transcend specific category and reach for an implication of universality. “I ruminate over them a long time,” she says. “It probably started with trying to transcend my inflexible upbringing in the bleakness of bombed out Hamburg in postwar Germany. When I came to New York in 1973 I found freedom and I felt at home.”