Can a new art space refresh a tired downtown?

This article is part of our latest special section on museums, which focuses on new artists, new audiences and new ways of thinking about exhibitions.

MONTICELLO, NY — Like its sister cities nestled nearby in the Catskill Mountains, signs are everywhere that the cultural and economic halcyon days of this Sullivan County seat were far in the past.

Amid nods to contemporary life in the city center – barbershops, a sports bar, a pizzeria and other casual eateries – the storefronts of 1800s buildings stand empty and the hotels of the borscht belt boom of the 1950s are still closed. Many buildings have been declared fire hazards.

But a new museum showcasing 21st-century international artists could be a step towards rejuvenation when it opens on May 21 on the city’s main street, Broadway.

“Museums are incredibly good anchors for the revitalization of main streets,” said John Conway, 69, the county’s official historian, who likened the city’s Broadway to a smile that has lost its appeal. “There are gaps everywhere,” he said. “I don’t want to be too negative, but it really is a disaster area. It’s been bad for decades. But, he added, “the potential is there for it to be great again.”

The new non-profit art space is the latest project from the prolific Mexican-born, Brooklyn-based artist Bosco Sodi. The new art space is called Assembly. To create it from what had once been a Buick dealership, Mr. Sodi worked with the Mexican architect Alberto Kalach to dig galleries in the yellow brick hangar-style building.

The Assembly’s inaugural exhibition is aptly devoted to cultural, social and economic exchange, a longstanding artistic concern also evident in the artist’s new solo exhibition, “What Goes Around Comes Around”, presented as a collateral exhibition. official of the Venice Biennale. (Mr. Sodi also has an ongoing exhibition of 30 sculptures at the Dallas Museum of Art until July 10.)

“I really believe in the exchange of information, ideas and knowledge between human beings,” Mr. Sodi said recently, as he walked around the 23,000 square foot space. “This is what makes societies evolve.

Mr. Sodi chose the name Assembly to underline his hope that it will be a gathering place and a forum for Monticello. Assembly will feature rotating exhibits throughout the year and provide educational and community programming. He also plans to add a restaurant. “To become a destination, you need a place to eat,” he said with a smile.

Mr. Sodi stumbled upon the spot in the fall of 2020 while celebrating his 50th birthday in Forestburgh, NY, where he and his wife, the designer Lucie Corredor, both based in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, have a country retreat with their three teenage boys and a menagerie of dogs, goats and chickens.

Mr. Sodi’s concern for “exchange” unites his big plans this spring with his famous art center Casa Wabi on the Pacific coast of the Mexican province of Oaxaca. Founded in 2014, named after the Japanese concept of embracing the ephemeral and the imperfect and designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando, Casa Wabi operates as a foundation with on-site art studios, exhibition space, and a residency program. Under the auspices of Casa Wabi, Mr. Sodi also operates an exhibition space called Sainte Marie in Mexico City and an artistic residency program called Casa Nano in Tokyo.

The Assembly’s inaugural exhibition was curated by Dakin Hart, senior curator at the Noguchi Museum in Queens, who worked with Daniela Ferretti to curate Mr. Sodi’s exhibition in Venice at Vendramin Grimani Palace on the Grand Canal. The work presented in Venice aims to explore the city’s unique history as a hub of global cultural and commercial exchange.

In Monticello, the first exhibition of the new museum is also about exchange, although in a more oblique way: all works of art are rescued from the isolation of storage boxes and reintroduced into the world, where they can play their role in the marketplace of ideas. . “If someone believes in the power of art like me, it’s very sad to have these powerful objects in a box,” Mr Sodi explained. The exhibition is aptly titled “Unstored”.

The concept of organizing the exhibition aims to solve a problem that plagues artists, especially those who produce large-scale works. “A lot of stuff comes back to you in crates,” as Mr. Hart said, “piled up in every corner of his studio.” ”

Mr. Sodi’s work will be displayed in the exhibition space on the ground floor, with mixed-media works in the same vein as those in Venice, and a series made on the commercial jute bags used to transport Mexican dried peppers.

There will also be sculptures: some in clay; others in ceramic, glazed volcanic rock; and a mini-version of one of Mr. Sodi’s best-known public works of art, “Muro,” for which Mr. Sodi created the 6-foot-tall, 26-foot-long wall in Mexican clay in the Washington Manhattan’s Square Park—and then the public tore it down brick by brick—in the first year of Donald J. Trump’s presidency when “Build That Wall!” had become an anti-immigration and anti-Mexican chant at rallies across the country.

This selection of works by Mr. Sodi will be placed on rocks painted by Izumi Kato and large pots by the famous ceramist Shiro Tsujimura. Mr. Sodi considers the two artists, based primarily in Japan, to be close friends and major influences on his work.

Dotted around the old auto showroom will be two more separate shows. The largest is a study of contemporary Mexican sculpture by Mr. Sodi and 16 artists, including Jose Davila, Gabriela Galvan, Puente Ale, Tania Candiani, who represented Mexico at the Venice Biennale in 2015; and Mario Navarowhich is the workshop of Mr. Sodi and the project manager of the new museum.

Also on display will be three large-scale works by another close friend of Mr. Sodi, the Harlem-based Swiss-born man. Ugo Rondinone.

“Bosco thinks of everything in terms of people.” said Mr. Hart. “This first exhibition is a great social map of Bosco’s artistic life as it reflects people important to him from Mexico, Japan and New York.”

Mr Sodi’s plan for year-round programming was good news for Monticello native Marina Lombardi, who runs Cultural Arts Nesin, a small community-based visual and performing arts education program for local children and teens. “Our population triples or quadruples in the summer, but those of us who live here year-round want to be able to do things in our community,” Mx said. Lombardi, who uses neuter pronouns.

Mx. Lombardi said the area has become much more ethnically diverse lately and expressed his joy that the Assembly brings a wide range of artists and artwork from around the world to the community. But it will be important, they added, that the new museum “doesn’t just serve tourists” and will help economically disadvantaged locals and those unfamiliar with museums “feel like they can set foot in such a place”.

Mr. Sodi said that just as Casa Wabi “emerged as a space that would celebrate art and the surrounding communities,” he hoped Monticello would also help shape his new museum. “At the end of the day, art is about better understanding yourself, the earth, other humans. All the artists here have elements of that in their work,” he said.

David H. Henry