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Winter 2001

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The Tang comes true

     Nothing but a dream for three decades, Skidmore’s Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery became a sensation in October when it opened to enthusiastic visitors and raves from regional and national media: “Not your ordinary museum”… “Out of this world” … and (from the Boston Globe) “Aesthetic exhilaration.”

Swashbucklers: Museum director Charles Stainback, Saratoga’s mayor Kenneth Klotz, president Jamienne S. Studley, trustee chair Joan Layng Dayton ’63, donor Oscar Tang, and architect Antoine Predock prepare for the ribbon-cutting.

     But success like that doesn’t come easy.

     The galleries weren’t quite finished for the campus preview celebration during Family Weekend; the only piece on view for the weekend’s “Tang Shebang” was Artspeak by Beverley Estabrook Mastrianni ’76, an outdoor sculpture whose brushed-aluminum curves shone in saucy contrast to the angular, rock-clad Tang. Nothing daunted, the gala event rolled on with refreshments, speeches, student music, dance, and a live performance of sound artist Gordon Monahan’s Speaker Swinging that electrified the crowd.

Benefactor Oscar Tang poses with architect Antoine Predock on the Tang’s long exterior staircase; sculptor Bev Mastrianni ’76 gets inside her Artspeak, just outside the museum; and in the Tang gallery named for her, former Skidmore first lady Anne Palamountain previews the Vik Muniz photography exhibit with the artist himself.

     Then, with just two weeks before the major debut weekend, student interns frantically painted walls, electricians swarmed, and professional exhibition installers (young guys with ponytails) did some heavy lifting. Mere days before the opening, Albany’s weekly Metroland reported “the walls are…mostly bare.” The Tang’s Dayton Director Charles Stainback, dashing from gallery ladder to cell phone to coffee cup, didn’t go home until 4:30 a.m. on the Friday of the opening, because a few hours later it was showtime: a press preview whose RSVP list included Tang architect Antoine Predock, Skidmore trustees, exhibiting artists, and writers from Architectural Record, the Wall Street Journal, House and Garden, and more. All three opening exhibitions —SOS: Scenes of Sounds, the Vik Muniz photographs, and recent acquisitions—had to be ready for viewing. Miraculously, they were.

     Tang-founding trustees like Joan Layng Dayton ’63, Edgar Wachenheim III, and Janet Lucas Whitman ’59 were giddy with disbelief and ecstasy: the Tang was more beautiful and exciting than they had dreamed. Dancers in fiber artist Nick Cave’s large, rustling “sound suits” sprang and slunk outside the lobby’s glass walls and weird noises burbled from SOS as Skidmore president Jamienne S. Studley told the Tang’s first official visitors, “The Tang is an idea…. And ideas don’t come in little boxes.”

     Over the next forty-eight hours, the museum hosted a full gamut of audiences, from trustees in tuxedos to babies in backpacks. At a Friday night banquet, benefactor Oscar Tang received a Skidmore honorary degree and spoke poignantly of himself and his late wife, Frances Young Tang ’61, in their youth as Chinese student immigrants. Like them, he said, “Skidmore has always stretched for goals beyond reach.” Later that night Skidmore students pulled a funky all-nighter called “24 Hours of Tang” with bands, dancing, and karaoke.

SWAT team? The Tang staff managed to pull off the public opening of the building simultaneously with the debut of three ambitious exhibitions.

     At Saturday morning’s ribbon-cutting, a scarlet banner was sliced through with ceremonial swords, and architect Predock happily called his building “climbable and danceable—a building for the body to engage.” Within a couple of hours what seemed like the entire surrounding community was engaging the Tang, not just touring the galleries but enjoying live music, lemonade and cookies, and pony rides on the lawn. At one point, in front of Martin Kersels’s Attempt to Raise the Temperature of Water by Yelling at It, four bellowing teenagers were hilariously trying it themselves. In the Muniz exhibition, an elderly gentleman chortled at the photographer’s huge side-by-side prints of Mona Lisa rendered in peanut butter and in jelly. “I think it’s great,” he said. “They’re exploring everything.”

     “Welcome to the Tang,” Stainback beamed, his fatigue magically lifted. “We are open for business.” And how. —BAM


© 2001 Skidmore College