Berkshire Art Museum: Exhibition harkens back to Contemporary Artists Center


NORTH ADAMS — When the Contemporary Artists Center launched in 1990, the Northern Berkshires was far from the artistic hub it is today.

The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art was nearly a decade away from opening, DownStreet Art did not yet fill empty storefronts with galleries, and the Eclipse Mill Artist Lofts were still just a former textile mill.

The Contemporary Artists Center, founded by Barbara and Eric Rudd, is now being celebrated as a "nerve center" for creative minds in North County through a new exhibition at Rudd's Berkshire Art Museum on East Main Street.

"Everything started back then," Eric Rudd said. "I wanted to show the history because it's forgotten very easily."

Featuring works from nine artists who were actively involved in the Contemporary Artists Center from 1990 to 1999, the exhibition provides a look back at many of the formative years in Northern Berkshire County's art scene.

The Berkshire-based artists of the former Contemporary Artists Center, whose work is now spread across three levels of the sprawling Berkshire Art museum, are Dale Bradley, Christopher Gillooly, Brandon Graving, Robert Henriquez, Henry Klein, Barbara May, Robert Schechter, Maria Siskind, David Zaig.

Zaig, an experimental artist, contributions to the exhibition are finely detailed airbrush works.

"Actually we met 45 years ago in London and we became friends," he said of the Rudds. "I came here before the 90s, but in the 90s I came every summer and helped around the CAC with Eric and Barbara."

The CAC brought many artists to the area, Zaig noted, and some stayed.

"I really think that it did make a difference," Zaig said. "North Adams is different because of it."

Though it eventually left for Troy, N.Y., the Contemporary Artists Center spent the first decade of existence based in Rudd's Beaver Mill working to bring artists into North Adams and creating five galleries to showcase their work.

Rudd hopes the exhibition proves to be a step forward for the young museum that hopes to grow its annual visitation to 10,000 people. The museum, initially dubbed the "Rudd Art Museum," began three years ago largely as a way to store and display Rudd's massive collection of his own artwork spanning more than 40 years.

"If I dropped dead, nobody would have been able to figure it out," Rudd said.

The summer of 2016 also includes new exhibitions focusing on artists with an interest in architecture and an exhibition of artist Sarah Sutro.

The Barbara and Eric Rudd Art Foundation took control of the former First Methodist Episcopal Church on East Main Street, built in the 1920s, in 2012 and quickly began to make his vision a reality, opening the museum in 2014. Though it may not compare to the breadth of the Mass MoCA, "only locally are we a modest museum," Rudd said. Otherwise, "we're pretty big."

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.

If you go ...

What: Berkshire Art Museum

Where: 159 East Main St., with an annex at 82 Summer St.

When: Summer hours are noon to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.

Admission: Free

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