Thursday September 6, 2012

NORTH ADAMS -- If my vote counts, I give it to North Adams as the county’s crowning destination for non-institutional art spaces. And I’m not talking about those ephemeral attractions spawned by DownStreet Art, although they do add a seasonal luster. This review casts a quick glance at some of the top perennial sites dotting this city.

Nestled in the Eclipse Mill, the Brill Gallery triennially offers a show on the nude, and the current manifestation is "Kaitlyn 5x5." Five photographers, one female and four males, each present five nude images of Kaitlyn, a smoking model -- seriously. The exhibit is intended for selective viewers.

The contrast between the female and male lens is striking. Draining sexuality from her subject, Donna Feldman Lasky focuses on the model’s sculptural beauty. Her image of Kaitlyn, heraldically perched on an exercise ball, is a visual essay on texture and form; it easily earns a best-in-show rating.

The other photographers mostly cast Kaitlyn in a variety of roles and poses conforming to male fantasies and expectations. I found these images ironically similar to Hannah Wilke’s famous series of self-photos which condemningly satirize how a spectrum of males would eroticize a single female model; I’m certain that this parallel was unintentional.

That said, the show’s most seductive image is undoubtedly Dmitri Belyi’s "Feather."

Need more incentive to stop in? The gallery also has the best nude oil painting I’ve seen in the Berkshires outside The Clark. Nadine Robbins is developing into a superb figure painter, and her double portrait, "The Golden Gown," is an American masterpiece, both technically and artistically. One of the great unwritten stories in art history is how good painting somehow survived decades of modernism.

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Across the hall from the Brill Gallery is River Hill Pottery, where Gail and Phil Sellers busily produce ceramicware worthy of heirloom status. These handsome pieces combine pottery with the language of basketry, and their woody-branch handles are delightful examples of trompe l’oeil. Also unique are the three-dimensional art tiles which pleasingly blend organic and geometric elements.

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Studio21south has quit its Beaver Mill location for a storefront on Eagle Street. This small startup has been surprisingly successful in staging exhibits that are competitive with the leading galleries in the county. While not stellar, the show "Black & White (More or Less)" has its highlights.

The exhibit’s strongest participant, and one of the gallery’s mainstays, is New York artist Eric March -- a genuine talent. His small oil "Dune Shack" nicely balances suggestion and description. Although leaping from style to style, Frank Curran’s expert etchings and woodcuts frequently command attention.

Sam Good sell is a consummate pas telist, and his image of a contemplative young black male, "Thresh old," displays keen artistic and psychological sensitivity.

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William Oberst Studio at 16 Holden Street allows visitors a peek into a traditional artist’s work space. Oberst has mastered an old painting system ignored by todayís art schools, and itís a real education to view his process. Walls and easels are filled with finished paintings, studies, work in progress, and student pieces. Every art student should take the tour, and perhaps even consider taking a class.

Oberst participated in last year’s "The Mill Children" at the Eclipse Mill, and an independent party is initiating efforts to raise funds to purchase his "Mill Girl" from that show. Plans are to donate the painting to the North Adams Public Library -- the former mansion of the mill owner.

This glimpse at the North Adams art scene barely skims the surface, and visitors are encouraged to explore on their own. Contact information for these and other sites can be found at: berkshirevisualarts.org/down
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