Summer brings new art to the Berkshires

More than just leaves have changed since most of us were last in Williamstown – in fact, the walls and halls of each of the area’s prestigious museums now feature new exhibitions that opened in the summer months. With no price tag to view them for the College’s students and a wide array of mediums, artists and subject matter on display, these new exhibitions are a must-see before they disappear as quickly as the warm weather.

At the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), three new exhibitions have been on display since late May. Open until Sunday is “Laser Show: Six Perspectives on a Chaotic Resonator” by the innovative local artist Nick Zammuto ’99. Zammuto’s installation combines the visual and audio in an intriguing exploration of the senses. Inaudible sounds cause tiny vibrations in a mirror that then reflects six laser points, creating constantly fluctuating shapes on a screen. The visual correlation of the fusion and interrelationship of the senses Zammuto explores in the exhibit is both thought-provoking and engaging to watch as it constantly evolves before the viewer’s eyes.

WCMA’s two other new exhibitions will close on Oct. 5 – “The Long Night and the New Day,” a collection of evocative lithographs by Benton Spruance, and an exhibition of detailed pen and ink works by the late Emily Driscoll ’05.

Only a slightly farther walk from campus is The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute featuring its newest exhibition, “Like Breath on Glass: Whistler, Inness, and the Art of Painting Softly.” The exhibition displays some of the finest works of the eponymous painters and others in their well known style, on view until Oct. 19.

The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) offers a whole other world of opportunity. MASS MoCA’s main exhibition, “Badlands: New Horizons in Landscape,” doesn’t disappoint as an offering of the museum’s signature curatorial style, including pieces by a wide variety of artists and mediums here focusing on the central theme of the volatile contemporary landscape. While once landscape art could be solidly associated with depictions of the beautiful and untouched natural world, it now also must include images of landfills, refuse, overpopulation and a plethora of environmental problems that threaten to permanently alter the landscapes of our planet.

The aerial photographs by J. Henry Fair epitomize this theme, appearing almost otherworldly in their vibrant colors and geometry. In actuality, these photos depict sites of toxic chemical waste produced as a result of human processes, a truth as shocking and disturbing as the brilliant neons seen in the photographs.

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the exhibition and certainly the most interactive is “Personal Biospheres” by Vaughn Bell. This series of biospheres made of plexiglass is suspended from the ceiling in the galleries, and patrons are encouraged to stick their heads into holes in the bottom of the spheres to experience the ecosystems for themselves. MoCA’s exhibition, on display until April 2009, is a fresh take on redefining the meaning of landscapes and confronts viewers with the implications of our actions on the natural world.

The College’s location presents students with the unique cultural opportunity to experience the world’s best in visual art both classic and contemporary. To returning students and first-years, these new exhibitions are an invitation to remember to appreciate what the museums of the Berkshires have in store for art lovers.