North Adams owed its development into a small but important industrial city to its abundant water supply, above all, the Hoosic River. Often this reliable source of power and drainage for its factories overflowed its boundaries and flooded neighborhoods of the city with its water, which eventually became toxic from the wastes of the textile and dyeing factories. In the 1950s the US Corps of Engineers constructed concrete flood control chutes some 45 feet wide and 10-15 feet high, funneling the two branches of the Hoosic River through North Adams’ downtown. Today the factories are gone. A smaller North Adams, with slightly over half the population it enjoyed at its industrial peaks around 1900 and 1950, must now rebuild its economy and quality of life.
The past week has provided one of the most rewarding experiences of my adult life for a variety of reasons. My first trip to the Northern Berkshires centered specifically in North Adams and Williamstown, Massachusetts and began on Canada’s West Coast—on Vancouver Island, where I live . My purpose was to attend an opening of Artists without Borders at the Brill Gallery, located in the historic Eclipse Mill in North Adams.
The Brill Gallery is situated on the ground floor at the north end entry of the Eclipse Mill, and the mill is the first major building as one approaches the city from the east. The recently renovated, enormous, four storey red brick, former textile mill is now full of art galleries, studios and live/work studio residences. Within the Brill Gallery, with its large north facing small pane industrial windows, the artworks were displayed studio style with paintings and photographs either framed or pinned, some hung, some leaning on walls from the floor, and all numbered, titled, catalogued, and priced. Natural and track lighting showed the works well and all the artworks themselves were of great quality and variety.
This exhibition at Williams College Museum of Art is supplemental to the immense retrospective installation at MassMoca in North Adams. In some surprising ways it reveals more of the evidentiary by-products of the thought process of the seminal conceptual artist than the spectacular realizations at MassMoca.
After hearing Ani Kavafian and Mihae Lee’s recital of September 25, 2008 in Chapin Hall (reviewed here), Joanna Gabler felt inspired, especially by their playing of Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata. She went to her studio after the concert and began a series of mixed media drawings which recreate the impression the Ms Kavafian and Ms Lee’s playing of the sonata made on her that evening. The works, which involve a complex monoprint-like process created with water-soluble oils enriched by pen, pencil, and pastel overdrawings on layers of a very thin, semi-transparent paper and superimposed on a white background with an archival matte acrylic medium, took some time to complete, but they capture the immediacy of her experience in the concert hall.
With the chronological retrospective exhibition of the wall drawings of Sol Lewitt, Mass MoCA has duly taken its place on the stage as a magnet for contemporary art.
This is intended as no more than a preliminary reflection on the retrospective installations which just opened at Mass MoCA and the Williams College Museum of Art—a first impression gathered when the galleries were full of people, some of whom I see all the time and others not in years. Amidst all the champagne, the personalities, and the excitement, the wall drawings still made their presence felt, rather powerfully, I thought. His measured forms and resonating colors were able to make their Platonic statement above all that mundane human static.