DownStreet Art draws visitors

It’s no secret that most Williams undergrads visit North Adams to go to Wal-Mart or McDonald’s, not to check out its cultural offerings. Ephs aren’t alone in this transgression – although thousands frequent the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) each year, few of those patrons make the short walk to see the many other galleries located as nearby as a two-minute walk down Main Street.

In an effort to generate interest in these oft-overlooked cultural gems of the Berkshires, visual art galleries of downtown North Adams have collaborated to create “DownStreet Art.” The effort to generate interest in the galleries by providing visitors with a map and signs to clearly mark each gallery and provide their hours and contents goes until Oct. 31.

Among the included galleries is the unforgettable “Maya III” by artist Jarvis Rockwell, son of the well-known American painter Norman Rockwell, located at 73 Main St. “Maya III” completely defies any expectations the notable last name might imply. Rather than an iconic painting of Americana, “Maya III” is actually a Mayan-style pyramid covered from top to bottom in thousands of action figures. The massive installation is both entertaining and evocative. Boasting toys from pop cultural phenomena as recent as The Dark Knight, “Maya III” conjures images of reincarnation and reinvention as well.

The artist is in residence at the gallery working on original wall drawings, so visitors have the unique opportunity to not only meet the creator of the work on display, but also watch him producing a new piece.

While a pyramid of action figures might bend the definition of art for some, another nearby gallery, the Massachusetts Liberal Arts College (MCLA) Gallery 51 Annex does further to use ordinary objects in a creative and artistic purpose. “Lumens,” by Matthew Belanger, Sean Riley and Ven Voisey is an interactive light installation featuring dozens of lamps donated by area residents. Located in a simple storefront, the lamps are switched on by the presence of patrons in the gallery, and are connected to matching lamps at the Greylock Arts gallery in Adams, simultaneously illuminating lamps at the other location and thus connecting the two Adams towns. The lamps themselves are not only aesthetically pleasing and fun to turn off and on with one’s presence, but they are also connected to an online version of the gallery at www.turbulence.org, where visitors to the Web site can read the personal stories behind each lamp and in doing so turn on that lamp in the gallery where it is located.

Nearby at 82 Summer St., artist Eric Rudd has created an unparalleled installation occupying the entirety of a historic church called “A Chapel for Humanity.” The installation features hundreds of life-size human forms made of polyurethane foam in various postures and neon colors assembled throughout the chapel. The surreal experience of walking amongst these human-like figures is akin to viewing the ruins of Pompeii and witnessing the shocking spectacle of life suspended in lava and time. Rudd expertly employs this combination of the grotesquely beautiful, and an epic classical soundtrack completes the visitor’s full immersion in the large-scale installation, making the chapel a museum in itself and also a place for contemplation. In an adjacent room, a smaller memorial for those affected by the events of Sept. 11 adds to the meditative atmosphere, as forms are suspended from the ceiling in almost cherubic postures and benches are provided for visitors to sit and reflect.

DownStreet Art also features the North Adams Co-Op Gallery, featuring the work of 29 local artists in a variety of mediums for purchase, in addition to 18 other stops on the walking tour of nearby streets. Visit DownStreetArt.org for more specific information about gallery times and locations, and never complain about having nothing to do on a Williamstown afternoon again.