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Floating Through: Boats and Boating in Contemporary Art

Antique Boat Museum, 2012


An exhibition exploring the intersection of the core mission of the ABM, boating history, with a fascinating emerging trend in Contemporary Art. The exhibition aimed to add new context to the familiar landscape of old boats by showing how traditional boats and boating history are being used as metaphor and material for new art. 


Being on the water in a boat is unique in this world, an evocative experience at once luxurious and dangerous, confining and greatly liberating. This makes boating a powerful method of personal discovery: a way of exploring ideas as well as coastlines. All boats and all voyages are ancient in concept, and have meaning for all people regardless of personal experience. The long story of our interaction with the water is a common history that artists can draw upon to speak to a broad audience. The way boats are used as symbols and mediums in art reveals the greater meaning of boats in our culture, for boaters and non-boaters alike.

Contemporary art commonly explores concepts through projects or events rather than focusing on the creation of physical work. A voyage, an experiment, or a performance can be a way to convey an idea or draw public attention to an important story. Boats and voyages by water have been of growing presence in contemporary art, and are often used to investigate themes of exploration, transformation, craft, history, and reclamation of space and personal freedom. In the waters of New York City, boating is a way of claiming public space and moving in a self-directed manner through a dense and strictly managed urban landscape. In any environment, boating is an activity that can provide escape from the traditional commerce of people and ideas. The deep history of travel by water can convey the scope of time and progress.

The Antique Boat Museum is proud to showcase recent work from some of the most influential artists working with boats as a subject or medium. The boats employed are traditional, historic, or salvaged, similar to the boats in our own collection. Though the genesis and content of these works can be quite different from one-another, with this common thread they comprise a unique message; a new way of appreciating the continuing activity of boating. In turn, these stories of old boats and unique excursions add unexpected context to traditional narratives of boats and boaters past.