Summer in Billsville: Chill out at the museum

As summer begins its seasonal march across the Berkshire valley we call home, many a car stuffed with the odds and ends of the last few months can be seen rolling along Route 2 on the journey home. But for those of you lucky enough to look forward to retaining your Williamstown address a few months more, a surprising number of cultural curiosities lie in wait. From the Williamstown Theatre Festival to various museum exhibitions, the beautiful Berkshires annually offer a plethora of entertainment opportunities that are not to be missed. The summer of 2009 proves no exception, with the area’s artistic triumvirate (MASS MoCA, the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute) stepping up to cater to both connoisseur and casual art-consumer alike.

WCMA’s Prendergast in Italy: July 18 – Sept. 20

The grand opening of an exhibition 20 years in the making, Prendergast in Italy marks the culmination of a large body of works by prominent American artist Maurice Prendergast (1858-1924). As the largest holder of Maurice and his brother Charles’ collections in the world, WCMA has teamed up with the Terra Foundation for American Art, the second largest collector, to jointly curate this summer’s exhibit, which will feature over 60 works portraying Venice, Rome, Siena and Capri, as well as the artist’s sketchbooks, guidebooks, letters and photographs.

The first show devoted entirely to Maurice’s Italian oil paintings, monotypes and watercolors, Prendergast in Italy was made possible by the generous donation of Charles’ widow Eugenie. Her entrustment of approximately 400 works by the brothers, along with a $8 million gift for its care and educational purposes, “transformed [WCMA] from a typical small college museum to a highly professional institution able to carry out research, mount exhibitions and offer programs, including scholarships and internships for the students, for the college community,” said Nancy Mathews, the exhibition’s curator.

The show features 20 of Maurice’s best works from the Terra and WCMA collections, along with other works from approximately 50 lenders, and will travel on to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The organization hinges on the idea that Prendergast “brought the idea of modern art to a country [Italy] and a city [Venice] that had long resisted modernization,” Mathews said.
Opening celebrations begin on July 17 with gallery talks, a “watercolor slam” and debates on Venice’s artistic and environmental issues to follow.

The Clark’s Dove/O’Keeffe: Circles of Influence:
June 7 – Sept. 7

Home of one of the finest depositories of artworks in the country, the Clark will be hosting yet another exceptional exhibition in the coming weeks. The museum’s first foray in American modernism, Dove/O’Keeffe examines in a new light the relationship between Georgia O’Keeffe, beloved by many and known by most, and Arthur Dove, the lesser-known artist often attributed with the title of America’s earliest abstract painter. The first exhibition to fully explore the role Dove played as an influential figure in O’Keeffe’s aesthetic development, Dove/O’Keeffe will feature over 60 major oil paintings, drawings, pastels and watercolors that reveal the thematic and visual correlations between Dove’s sensual forms and vibrant colors and O’Keeffe’s subsequent interest in abstraction.

Located in the upstairs gallery, the collection will feature prominent works from 40 lenders across the world, including Dove’s “Moon” (1935) and “Fog Horns” (1929) and O’Keeffe’s “Jack-in-The-Pulpit No. VI” (1930) and “Dark Abstraction” (1924). Organizing categories range from New York modernism to Freud and gender, and the production achievements are largely due to both visiting curator Debra Balken, who specializes in American modernism and contemporary art, and Clark staff like senior curator Richard Rand.

After four years of planning, Dove/O’Keeffe promises to provide an engaging introspective into the lives of two of America’s premiere modernists. The installation, originally planned with concrete pairings between the artists’ work, now follows a loosely chronological order, but its merits speak beyond the gallery walls: As curatorial assistant Sarah Hammond said, “The show will present a side of O’Keeffe’s work that is rarely acknowledged. She’s seen as a kind of loner out in the Midwest, painting skulls and more representational work, but [Dove/O’Keeffe] focuses on her career in New York, pre-New Mexico, where her style is much more abstract.” Teresa O’Toole, curatorial and publications intern, agreed, further emphasizing that the show will also expand on Dove’s reputation and hopefully introduce his paintings to a wider audience.

The show, opening in tandem with Through the Seasons: Japanese Art in Nature, a collection destined for architect Tadao Ando’s Stone Hill Center that will pair traditional scroll and screen paintings with modern ceramics, will be introduced by June 6’s summer gala, the Sunset Supper, Moonlight Magic. Balken will begin the ceremonies on June 7 with the lecture “Dove, O’Keeffe, and the Critics,” and events throughout the summer will follow.

MASS MoCA

In addition to the constant array of events, exhibitions and educational programs the renovated warehouse museum holds, several exhibitions and cultural highlights will be added to the summer calendar. Besides the continuing collections (These Days: Elegies for Modern Times, Matt Bua: CRIBS, Simon Starling: The Nanjing Particles, and Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective, among others), opening shows range in subject from student representations of the process of making art to graphic novels. Festivities begin May 23 with MASS MoCA’s 10th Anniversary Ball, which will celebrate the opening of three new exhibitions and the museum’s first decade with dinner and an auction.

Major new shows include the work of a vast array of artists. This is Killing Me (May 23 – April 15, 2010) incorporates eight young talents in an exploration of the unease and self-conscious identities in the creation of art, while Guy Ben-Ner: Thursday the 12th (May 23 – March 31, 2010) showcases the artist’s humorous, low-tech films that muse on the state of the individual, the history of film and the role of family in society. Long Time Gone (May 23 – Jan. 2010) rounds out the trio, with an exhibition dedicated to the power of the graphic novel as art and a documentation of culture, with a 24-chapter piece created by artist George Cochrane and his six-year-old daughter, Fiamma, on display.