NORTH ADAMS -- Ten years ago, a private, commercial art gallery downtown was just a pipe dream.
But one of the Steeple City's newest exhibition spaces, Independent Art Project, aims to make that dream a reality.
In the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts' Building 13, owners Leslie Ferrin and Cynthia Reeves have opened the gallery as a collaborative project.
The 2,500 square-foot exhibition space, under the direction of curator Martina Caruso, will hold its grand opening today at 1315 Mass MoCA Way, while Downstreet Art fills the downtown with gallery openings and performances.
Ferrin and Reeves are both accomplished art curators in their own right -- Ferrin is the director of Ferrin Contemporary of Cummington and co-owned Ferrin Gallery on North Street in Pittsfield; Reeves, like Ferrin, is involved in art projects across the country.
They also graduated from Hampshire College together, Reeves said, and have remained close ever since.
"[Leslie] reached out to me when she became aware of the opportunity to lease space from Mass MoCA," she said. "The fact that it's right on the museum's campus is meaningful to me, especially because of the kinship I feel between our programming and the mission and programming of Mass MoCA."
The museum has a large amount of site-based installation, she said, and IAP does as well.
"With both of us presenting multiple projects simultaneously in various locations in the U.S. and abroad, our programs can feed one another," Ferrin said. "Establishing a base in the Berkshires provides our collectors and art professionals a place to see the artwork we represent in a public context.
Reeves expressed similar sentiments, and said she picked up on "a wonderful energy" around Mass MoCA.
"They've really done something phenomenal there," she said. "My sense is it's really coming into its own ... More and more [artists] are coming [to New England] because it's a nice place to live ... To me, that's really exciting."
The gallery has displayed works spanning both Eastern and Western artworks during its first month -- it opened as part of Downstreet Art on June 26 with art by Lianghong Feng, Lauren Fensterstock, Sin-Ying Ho and Sergei Isupov.
"With both of our galleries representing artists who live, work and show internationally, there will always be subject or content expressed in the art they produce exploring issues of cross cultures," Ferrin said. "Our exhibitions and works shown will change regularly. Martina Caruso is looking at curatorial themes for the future that help make connections between the artists and their audiences."
From July 31, IAP will present work by artists Tanya Marcuse and Christopher Russell, Shuli Sadé, Steven Young Lee. Works by Ho and Fensterstock will remain until Thanksgiving.
Born in Hong Kong, Ho emmigrated to Canada in the 1990s and is now based in New York City. She has returned to China many times, she said.
She was struck by how the country has changed, she said. Much of her art speaks to the accelerated commerce and increase in consumer culture in China.
Two seven-foot vessels will be on display in North Adams: "One World, Many People No. 2" and "Temptation: Life of Goods No. 2." She completed both in several sections in her New York studio.
"Temptation" combines floral motifs with the shape of a human figure. Inside the human outline are small circles with a square in the middle, representing Chinese currency. Inside each circle are numerous international brand name logos -- Coca Cola, Chanel and Disney, to name a few.
She said she has a particular interest in what these symbols mean to her and how they connect to today's society.
Fensterstock, of Portland, Maine, has been a working artist for nearly 20 years, she said. Her site-based installations are examples of the art of quilling -- pre-cut strips of paper are coiled around a heavy pin and arranged to create three-dimensional designs. Labors of love, her pieces on display at IAP ultimately took between one to four months.
"Everything is carefully glued together with tweezers and my fingers," she explained. "I use some less traditional methods of paper cutting, such as working with scissors."
Many of her quilled pieces are monochrome, with black the color of choice.
"I love the black. I find it to be a mysterious, mystic color," she said. "Because I'm interested in nature, the color seems so unnatural."
With her works being monochromatic, the audience can see the true form, she said.
"In some ways you can see the work in one complete shape, and then it dissolves into little parts," she said.
If you go ...
What: Independent Arts Project grand opening at Downstreet Art
When: Tonight, Thursday, July 31
Reception and talks with artists and gallery owners, 6 to 9 p.m.
Tanya Marcuse and Martina Caruso speak, 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 2
Sin-ying Ho and Leslie Ferrin speak, 3 p.m. Saturday
Lauren Fenderstock, Sienna Patti speak, 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 3
Where: 1315 Mass MoCA Way, North Adams
Hours: Daily from noon to 6 p.m. through Labor Day, and then from Thursday to Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. through Thanksgiving. From December through April 2015, it will be open weekends, holidays.