Critics’ Picks

Up River (detail), 2008, mixed media, dimensions variable. Photograph of Wanton Island.

New York

Center for Land Use Interpretation

PARC Foundation Gallery
29 Bleecker Street
May 9–June 21

After its GM plant closes, North Tarrytown becomes Sleepy Hollow, an alluring name for weekend visitors. (Washington Irving, evidently, still casts a spell.) The citizens of Cementon vote against the principal remaining vestige of the area's once-prominent role in the concrete industry and revert to their town's nineteenth-century name, Smith’s Landing. A quarry operation cuts into its parcel of land ruthlessly but, to skirt the ire of the opposite bank’s residents, many wealthy, takes care to keep the excavation invisible from the vantage of the river. Local activists rally support to preserve the vistas that a school of prominent painters once reworked in their studios. Gas pipes and aqueducts run beneath the surface, PCBs settle into the soil, and the nation’s oldest FM-radio tower, doubly cluttered with antennae since 9/11, sends invisible signals through the air. The Hudson River, the Center for Land Use Interpretation tells us, is a “sculpted landscape”; it is also a weird tale.

The CLUI's “Up River: Points of Interest on the Hudson from the Battery to Troy,” on view at the recently opened PARC Foundation Gallery, could be the war room for the Hudson River Valley’s takeover by artists: At the gallery’s center, a twenty-foot topographic map runs the course of the Hudson from the Battery of Manhattan to Troy, New York. Both banks are dotted with numbered pins, each of which corresponds to an aerial photograph hung on the wall beside an accompanying text. It could be an alternative Michelin—except so many of these factories, power plants, and otherwise nondescript facilities are inaccessible. Hence, the CLUI performed four years’ aerial reconnaissance, accompanied by an assiduous unearthing of each site’s history. Layers of worn legends and current developments emerge from the sediment: Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton less than half a mile from what is now the Lincoln Tunnel.

The exhibition coincides with the release of “Up River” as a book. In this format, the CLUI’s narrative is less an idiosyncratic bird’s-eye view than determined by itinerary, north by northeast. The short episodes of powerful interests and buried secrets coalesce into a paranoid suspense novel—and become a story stranger than anything Washington Irving ever imagined.