Artists celebrate Clark Art Institute milestone at slam

Monday February 4, 2013

WILLIAMSTOWN -- As local artist Andrew Davis worked at an easel, a member of the audience at Sunday’s Clark Art Institute’s "Art Slam" tried to describe Pierre Bannard’s "Woman With A Dog."

The aim was for the audience member to describe the painting without naming it, and for Davis to draw it. A photo of the painting itself was projected behind Davis, who could not see it.

After about a minute, Davis’ rendition was complete, and not terribly bad, but not really too much like the painting.

"Well, I tried," he said good-naturedly, earning a round of applause.

That event was part of an hour-long "Slam," the first such slam at the Clark, according to Jay Clarke, master of ceremonies of the event. About 70 people attended, which also featured cookies and hot chocolate.

The "Art Slam" featured some informational segments and a host of light-hearted events to celebrate the completion of a massive, two-volume, 1,002-page catalog of the Clark’s 19th Century European art collection.

The catalog, which retails for $350, also was available on Sunday.

Sarah Lees, associate curator of European Art at the Clark, said the catalog covers a total of 374 paintings acquired by the museum over the years. In addition to a photo of each painting, all the paintings have ownership and exhibition history, and a short explanatory essay.

Lees was hired to oversee the work in 2000, with an expected completion date of 2005, she said.

"Obviously," she said dryly, "we didn’t quite meet that deadline."

After Lees’ presentation, Clarke introduced several art experts who worked on the book.

Each showed a couple of paintings on which they worked and mentioned a fun fact or two about them.

Alexis Gordon, for example, showed a reproduction of French artist James Tissot’s "Chrysanthemums," completed in 1875.

"I found out that Tissot knew a lot more about Chrysanthemums than I ever expected," Gordon said.

For example, she said, the reason Chrysanthemums were so popular in England was that they were extremely hardy flowers, who could thrive in heavy industrial air of the big cities.

There was also a Top 10-like segment in which another expert, Dan Cohen, introduced the "Top 10 Things You Might Not Have Expected" from the collection.

These included paintings of cows, horses, pigs, musical instruments and "people who looked drunk."

Michael Cassin, director of the Center for Visual Arts at the museum, led two segments. One was a session in which tiny bits of paintings were shown and members of the audience were invited to identify them. Audience members correctly identified four of the five paintings.

Cassin also hosted a segment in which the audience helped compose limericks about several of the paintings.

"I think it went well," Lees said after the event. "We attracted more people than we expected."

To reach Derek Gentile:,
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile


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