“Spring is officially here and with the accompanying warmer weather our Western Massachusetts cultural cul-de-sac (and therefore, by extension, arts indie) has shifted into high gear. We began our foray into 48 Hours of Culture in the Berkshires with the “Royal Jubilee Honoring the Czarina of Cultural Affairs” on Friday, May 16th, held at Dottie’s Coffee Lounge on North Street in Pittsfield for the inestimable Megan Whilden. We at arts indie don’t ever need much of an excuse to either hang with Whilden or chill with a latte at Dottie’s, so of course we jumped at the chance to do both at the same time – but it was a bitter-sweet kind of treat, because the party was held to say farewell to Whilden as she leaves her post as Pittsfield’s first official Director of Cultural Development. Just about everbody in the local art community showed up; we had to park on the grass and the crowd spilled out of the packed café onto both sides of the surrounding sidewalk, despite the overcast gray skies and the occasional light drizzle.
Whilden was working the room and enjoying herself thoroughly, resplendent in her bejeweled crown and lace-embellished SUPERSTAR sash; there was a fur-trimmed royal purple cloak to complete the ensemble, but the day was too warm for that level of royal finery and she quickly ditched the cape. However, the headgear multiplied as the evening progressed. A pair of shamrock antenna wound up combining with the crown and the cloverleaves were bopping along in rhythm with the absolutely adorable kids from Youth Alive as they performed various group dance routines outside. An amiable crowd of creatives combined with a little wine and some excellent hors d’oeuvres made for a wonderful early evening.
We left Whilden’s party in time to get seated for “Opera Notte” at the Whitney Center for the Arts. Opera nights are a frequent offering at the Whitney and Friday’s performance was entitled: “Deception and Desire.” Beautifully pulled together by Musical Director (and solo pianist) Ron Ramsay, the show features the talents of six very gifted singers, evenly divided down the gender line. Both the Whitney’s Opera Notte’s and its Cabaret Series are held bistro-style, with wine and tapas available to order; so you sit at little candle-lit tables amid the artwork in the resplendent Gallery W, currently featuring the “Respringenation” exhibit (covered in the last article from arts indie) and sip a little Chardonay while the performers sing about love, unrequited and otherwise.
One need not be an opera afficianado to enjoy one of the Opera Notte’s, as Ramsay has taken the fact that many of us aren’t as well-versed in the classics as we might wish to be into consideration and put together a show that combines a little Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with a little Steven Sondheim. To our delight, we found ourselves quite comfortable with the classical and we laughed out loud throughout John Demler’s delectable updating of a piece from “Don Giovanni” involving an i-Pad and numerous photos of a bevy of famous females – only to be brought close to tears ten minutes later by his wife Kara Demler singing an aria from “Faust” called “The Jewel Song.”
In addition to the Demler Power Couple, there were fabulous duet and solo performances by Joseph Sicotte, Monica Bliss, Richard Miller and Amber Naramore (whose husband served all the food and drink while she sang – the husband-and-wife Power Couple thing turned out to be a recurring theme this weekend). The Whitney plans another Opera Notte in June and we heartily recommend attendance; it’s fun, romantic, and a marvelous date night.
The rain moved through Friday night and Saturday dawned into the first day of a post-card perfect spring weekend. The day also brought us a trio of art gallery receptions in South County and with the May sunshine and everything in bloom, the drive down was so gorgeous it almost counted as a fourth art exhibit; winter dragged out so long and hard this year, it’s easy to forget just how beautiful it can be in the Berkshires. We began at St. Francis Gallery in Lee for the opening of “The Eyes and Soul of An Artist.” An eclectic mix of nine artists with vastly different styles, the show sprawls across the walls of the wonderful repurposed church and onto its inner partitions, creating a maze of paintings, photographs, illustrations, and assemblages. The exhibit runs through June 15th and it’s a show you don’t want to miss.
We enjoyed ourselves immensely as we gawked at the amazing creatures and critters featured in the funky black-and-white illustrations by Linda Baker Cimini and perused through the fascinating trompe l’oeil still-lifes by Susan Powers. The metallic paint splatter abstracts by Jürek were a surprise, as they are a big departure from his normally hyper-realistic work and we couldn’t help but admire the way the stained glass windows of the gallery compliment Paul Solovay’s exploding, contrailed, color-saturated Mardi Gras photographs. In the middle section of the gallery, we discovered a series of amazing mixed media assemblages by Robert Rosegarten. Utilizing the faces and hands of department store mannequins, his artwork is simply stunning; it’s compelling, mesmerizing, and a bit spooky.
Next we drove on to the charmingly quaint town of Stockbridge for the 3rd Annual Juried Photography Exhibition at Sohn Fine Art Gallery. Run by proprietress Cassandra Sohn, of another Power Couple with her husband Alex, the space consists of two petite, well-lit rooms that create an intimate atmosphere in which to view the photographs competing for this year’s prize. The show was juried by Van Shields (Executive Director of the Berkshire Museum and husband of local artist Peggy Rivers – another Power Couple), Maria Mingalone (Director of Interpretation at the Berkshire Museum) and Eric Korenman (Photographer). The judges first narrow the field of competitors by selecting a number of the best pictures – this year there were twenty-one artists represented – and then vote on the three best. However, there is also a “People’s Choice” award and voting on that was open to the public.
We got there fifteen minutes before the voting closed at 5:15 and found the place packed to the rafters and spilling out into the street. Everyone milled around chatting and soaking up the gorgeous mix of photography on the walls whilst awaiting the tally of the vote and at six sharp the crowd emptied out onto the sidewalk to await the results from Cassandra. 1st Place went to Eric Levin for “Downpour”; 2nd Place went to Susan Sabino for “Grace”; finally, 3rd Place and The People’s Choice went to Denise B. Chandler for “Cloud.”
The final show in our trio of openings was in Great Barrington at Barnbrook Realty, where mixed media artist Irmari Nacht has a solo show. Nacht constructs photo collage assemblages in linked groupings and each series has its own name. For the Barnbrook show she combined two: “Facades and Backgrounds” features one photograph cut into circles and glued to the tips of roofing nails, which are then superimposed over another photograph; and “Pages” is a series of window-pane collages festooned with slivers of newsprint in curling, festive ribbons and sealed with a thickly-textured encaustic coating. A close inspection reveals that each curl of paper is actually a line of text; the quotes all relate in some way to the background. Nacht says her source of inspiration “comes from the ever-flowing stream of life.” She was a real pleasure to meet and every bit as fascinating a person as her artwork. Her show will run through June 26th and she has another series of paper sculptures fashioned from repurposed books she calls “Slivers” that will be on display at the Yale Museum in October.
Sunday was just as beautiful as Saturday and we broke up a lazy afternoon by attending a photography exhibit by Nicholas De Candia called “Babe” at the Lanesborough Public Library. In his artist’s statement, De Candia explains that in June of 1968, a beautiful girl named Renee (a.k.a. “Babe”) asked him to take her picture…“and the rest is history.” The show is a series of black and white portraits taken over the course of their first year together, a glimpse through time to the beginning of a love story that has since spanned decades. Again and again, young Renee turns her face towards the camera, her expression at turns pensive to playful, winsome to joyous; she is shown playing in the snow, lying in a summer hammock, and laughing on a carnival ride at the Cummington Fair and in each photograph it is abundantly clear how much the man taking the pictures loves the woman posing for them. They were at the opening together and more than forty years later it’s clear that nothing has changed; they are card-carrying members of the tribe of Power Couples who are also soul mates. We left them as we’re leaving you – with lines of poetry by William Butler Yates floating through our heads:
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.”