Berkshires Art Road Trip: See Picasso, Warhol, Rockwell And More

If you had to choose between art exhibits, which would it be? Pablo Picasso or Grandma Moses? Sol LeWitt or Helen Frankenthaler? Andy Warhol or Nick Cave? Robert Rauschenberg or Norman Rockwell? A Laurie Anderson virtual-reality experience or a James Turrell sensory-deprivation experience?

This summer, nobody has to choose. All of those exhibits, and more, are just a two-hour drive from Hartford. It's time to book a hotel, jump into the car and set out on a arty road trip to the Berkshires.

Four museums in that mountainous region — The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute and the Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown, Mass.; MASS MoCA in North Adams, Mass.; and Bennington Museum in Vermont — as well as Williamstown Theatre Festival and three hotels have teamed up for a promotional initiative dubbed ArtCountry.

Still, the tourism gambit (artcountry.org) covers only a portion of what's available for culture vultures in the Berkshires. In addition to the Williamstown festival, Tanglewood and Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival are there for performing-arts mavens, and the region boasts museums galore.

Clark Art

The Clark Art Institute has a flair for flashy summer exhibits. Last year it presented "Nudes from the Prado," featuring works by Titian, Rubens, Velázquez, Zurbaran, Tintoretto, the Brueghels and other Old Masters. The year before, 40 Van Goghs competed for attention with "Whistler's Mother."

This year, 35 prints by Picasso, as well as two paintings — the artist's 1901 self-portrait and his 1937 "Portrait of Dora Maar" — beckon from one gallery. Frankenthaler reigns in other galleries, with a collection of 17 woodcuts and 12 large-scale, nature-inspired paintings, both of which span the decades-long career of the leading abstract expressionist.

Jay Clark, the curator who oversaw "Picasso Encounters," said the exhibit has two focuses: Picasso's muses and his collaborators. "Generally, one of the myths of Picasso is that he created everything on his own," Clark said. Publishers, printers and dealers who worked with him, Clark added, are "unsung heroes behind the scenes." "He really enjoyed that give and take, that creative collaboration with others," she said. "They commissioned work and pushed Picasso to experiment."

Unsung heroines were the wives and partners — Fernande Olivier, Olga Khokhlova, Dora Maar, Marie-Thérèse Walter, Françoise Gilot, Jacqueline Roque — who posed for Picasso and gave him inspiration. Clark pointed out that while Picasso once famously said "there are only two types of women: goddesses and doormats," he needed women to light his creative spark. Portraits of these women — as well as a sweet 1952 lithograph of his daughter Paloma — are seen in the gallery alongside more metaphorical depictions of the women as bullfighters or figures from mythology.

A 1934 depiction of a bullfight casts Picasso himself as the bull, who is caught between Walter and Khokhlova. In the 1935 etching-engraving, "Minotaurmachie," Walter is a bullfighter who battles a minotaur, the creature beloved by surrealists, while a Christ-like figure watches from a ladder above her. Walter appears again with the creature in the 1934 aquatint-drypoint "Blind Minotaur Led by a Little Girl," accompanied by a dove, which symbolized peace.

Maar was the model for Picasso's "Weeping Woman" series of prints, an image most vividly remembered in the artist's legendary "Guernica." A collection of the "Weeping Woman" prints surround the oil-on-canvas "Portrait of Dora Maar," on loan from Musée national Picasso-Paris.

Gilot, whom Picasso met while he was married to Khokhlova and sleeping with Maar, became his new mistress and, in the end, claimed to be the only woman ever to leave Picasso rather than the other way around. Gilot is seen in a print with her hands on the window, as if considering doing just that. Roque, who became Picasso's wife after Gilot left and Khokhlova died, is seen as an elegant and homey figure, knitting in a 1954 oil on canvas.

Picasso borrowed themes from great artists of the past: Lucas Cranach the Younger, Rembrandt and, most memorably, Edouard Manet, whose "Dejeuner sur l'Herbe" inspired a 1968 colored linocut. Five in-process prints are on exhibit, demonstrating Picasso's experimentation with color.

"No Rules: Helen Frankenthaler Woodcuts" and "As in Nature: Helen Frankenthaler Paintings," span the 1950s to the 2000s. Like the Picasso display, the Frankenthaler shows explore her collaborations with printers, publishers, woodcarvers, and papermakers, who pushed her forward and into different directions. clarkart.edu.

MASS MoCA

Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art just unveiled an addition — B6: The Robert W. Wilson Building — that adds 105,000 square feet of gallery space, bringing the museum's total to 250,000. The enormous art mecca in a former mill building gives creative talents an unparalleled stage to mount their work, for exhibits lasting months and often years. Spokeswoman Jodi Joseph said a Louise Bourgeois marble sculpture on view now has never been shown in this country because it didn't fit in any other museum. The MASS MoCA gallery in which it now sits was specially constructed to hold artworks weighing many tons.

The showstopper at MASS MoCA, however, is a football field-sized room taken over by Nick Cave. Visitors ramble through a field of thousands of glittering, spinning pendulums in many shapes and colors. The mesmerizing display is deceptive. Look closely at the objects: They are shaped like guns, bullets, targets, tears. The title of the exhibit, "Until," is taken from the maxim "innocent until proven guilty," which, in the case of many black youths killed by police, should be flopped to "guilty until proven innocent."

At the end of the pendulum field hangs a crystal cloud, on top of which is a tightly packed array of knickknacks and tchotchkes: birds, flowers, animals, sporting goods, holiday decor. Climbing up a ladder to get a closer look, one sees in the midst of the paraphernalia several lawn jockeys, those garden ornaments usually in the form of an African-American youth. With "Until," Cave is asking the question, "Is there racism in heaven?" The answer to that question is up to the viewer's interpretation.

While Cave asks a cryptic question by assaulting viewers with images, James Turrell uses very simple imagery — fields of monochromatic light — not to ask questions but to alter perceptions. While many artists use light with other media to achieve an artistic goal, with Turrell light is the goal, the medium in itself. Darkened bays in the galleries lure spectators in with light projections that seem to be solid objects. Turrell's "ganzfeld" chamber is a room-sized light projection (viewable by appointment) with no clearly defined corners. Visitors walk into a field of brilliant light, losing a sense of place.

Laurie Anderson takes viewers to another place, too, in a 15-minute virtual-reality experience of floating in the clouds while objects whiz by. Another Anderson installation, a series of large-scale charcoal-on-paper drawings, was inspired by the death of her rat terrier, Lolabelle.

Other artists on show at MASS MoCA now include Jenny Holzer, Gunnar Schonbeck, Rauschenberg, Sarah Crowner and Barbara Takenaga. In addition, a retrospective of 105 large-scale wall drawings by Sol LeWitt takes full advantage of the venue's massive space. massmoca.org.

Other Museums

Bennington Museum owns the world's largest public collection of work by Anna Mary Robertson, "Grandma" Moses, and is presenting the work of the legendary primitive painter in a unique new light. "Grandma Moses: American Modern" will exhibit her paintings alongside works by Frankenthaler, Andy Warhol, Fernand Léger and Joseph Cornell, as well as other folk artists, to show how all of them drew inspiration from found images, collage and their own memories. The show will be up until Nov. 5. benningtonmuseum.org.

Like MASS MoCA, the Williams College Museum of Art is showing Rauschenberg this summer. The exhibit "Autobiography" uses as its center the artist's large-scale 1968 print that juxtaposed an X-ray of his own body, a childhood photograph, an astronomical chart and other elements to create a self-portrait. The show, which also will include work that illustrates how Rauschenberg saw himself, will be up until Aug. 20. wcma.williams.edu.

The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., isn't in the ArtCountry collective, but it's in the Berkshires and it's getting its Warhol on this summer, too. "Inventing America: Rockwell and Warhol" studies the similarities in the work of the two very different artists: self-portraits, depictions of Jackie Kennedy, cereal boxes, political figures and fashionable men, and other overlaps. That exhibit is complemented by "James Warhola: Uncle Andy's and Other Stories," an exhibit of work by Warhol's nephew, who was a prolific illustrator of book covers. Both shows continue until Oct. 29. nrm.org.

Until Sept. 4, the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Mass., will show "Guitar: The Instrument that Rocked the World." More than 70 instruments are on display to study the science, sound and cultural impact of the guitar. The world's largest guitar, 43.5 feet long and 16 feet wide, can be played by visitors. berkshiremuseum.org.

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