It’s a quiet time of year for the performing arts in our region, so my suggestion is to take advantage of that and set your sites on what’s inside the region’s best galleries and museums. As it just happens, exhibitions at the three major art institutions in the Berkshires all speak to each other from various vantage points, beginning with Frank E. Schoonover: American Visions, at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. Schoonover’s legendary adventure paintings were inspired by the belief that artists should live what they paint. He lived among the Blackfeet Indians of the northern plains, and with Alaskan Eskimos to experience, first-hand, the world portrayed in Jack London’s To Build a Fire, a short story about a protagonist who ventures out in the sub-zero tundras of the Yukon Territory accompanied only by his dog. The artist’s wilderness experiences would inspire his art throughout his career, making authentic portrayals of the far reaches of America possible.
At the same time, at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown Mass., there is an exhibition called Extreme Nature!, Featuring more than 35 prints, drawings, and photographs. This exhibition reveals how artists sought to mitigate nature’s dangers, transforming the hazardous and remote into awe-inspiring portrayals of natural phenomena. In that context, these mostly 19th century works become remarkably relevant for the 21st century. Extreme Nature is on view at the Clark at the same time as Turner and Constable: The Inhabited Landscape, featuring more than fifty oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, and prints that explore the importance of the built environment and the human figure within the landscape. These two early 19th century English landscape painters lived and worked during a period of great political, social, and industrial change for England. They were aware of modernizing farming practices, improvements in nautical safety, the rise of tourism, and the urbanization of England. In the exhibition, Turner’s and Constable’s works reveal the social, cultural, political, and personal significance of the subjects depicted. The figures and buildings within these works place their landscapes firmly within the moment of their production.
Make it a triple-play, and head over to MASS MoCA in North Adams, where Los Angeles-based artist Liz Glynn presents her most ambitious project to date in MASS MoCA’s signature Building 5 gallery, a sprawling sculptural experience of sight, sensation, sound, and scent stretching nearly a football field in length, and one that promises to speak across the centuries to what Turner and Constable were getting at. In The Archaeology of Another Possible Future, Glynn explores her interest in the rise and fall of empires, the assignment of cultural value, and labor and production. Her multi-level presentation — which invites viewers to experience the museum’s former factory spaces from catwalks 18 feet above the floor — examines our physical and psychological relationship to our increasingly abstracted world. The catwalks may not be for me - I have a devastating fear of heights - but Glynn's three-dimensional, nearly tectonic forms and cave-like structures made of shipping pallets that host a number of analog sensory experiences, focusing on touch, sound, and scent, are more than enough to engage any viewer of any age or any limitation.
Seth Rogovoy is editor of the Rogovoy Report, available online at rogovoyreport.com