Art born from the everyday at Mass MoCA

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NORTH ADAMS -- Three artists who use everyday objects to address big topics are opening shows at Mass MoCA this weekend.

Paris-based Guilliame Leblon chooses tables, desks, shelves and such to create installations marking the passage of time.

New York painter Joseph Montgomery makes three-dimensional assemblages that speak to the roots of artistic imagery

And Jason Middlebrook, based in Hudson, N.Y., employs wood planks, foam and cardboard for works that probe the ways humans and nature interact.

While the three men come from different backgrounds and take different approaches, their artworks "all have a very seductive materiality to them," said curator Susan Cross, who added she found their approaches compelling -- visually and conceptually.

"Guillaume is a sculptor," she went on. "Joseph is a painter and identifies as a painter, but he makes three-dimensional objects. Jason works in many mediums."

Only Middlebrook's and Montgomery's works were partially installed by press time this week, but the "seductive materiality" description was apt.

Middlebrook, long committed to themes of environmental sustainability and recycling -- or in artspeak "repurposing" -- moved from Brooklyn to Hudson several years ago and shifted his emphasis from nature's vulnerability to man's predations to one of celebrating nature's power and resilience.

In his show titled "My Landscape," he actually brings nature indoors as a 30-foot-high waterfall cascading from the ceiling over three suspended "ponds" of Styrofoam slabs and disappearing into a well in the gallery floor.

The Styrofoam, which Middlebrook caged from an earlier Mass MoCA installation by another artist, was recycled for this piece, which he named "Falling Water" (after Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural masterpiece near Pittsburgh). Although still under construction, it had a worn, eroded look that speaks to the power water can have over human undertakings.

Better known among Middlebrook's recent works are the wood planks he had milled in Sheffield from longitudinal slabs of tree trunks.

He smoothed the surfaces then painted them with complex networks of finely drawn lines that evoke abstract patterns found in nature, like the grid of a spider's web or vein patterns on leaves.

Leaning casually against the gallery walls, the planks with their vivid geometric designs resemble totem poles carved by Pacific Northwest Indians.

Montgomery works in a different vein, although he too "repurposes" ordinary materials like cardboard or used paint canvases or tapered lumber shims.

A painter, he builds up the surfaces of his artworks with these materials, Cross said, to explore how abstract images are created; and how certain shapes and lines appear and reappear in art through a kind of Darwinian adaptation.

For this show, he is exhibiting 20 new and existing works from a three-part series "Five Sets, Five Reps," that he began in 2007. Although they fall into a distinct progression, each building upon its predecessor, Montgomery works in all three modes simultaneously, Cross said.

First he created assemblages atop paintings he had discarded for one reason or another, paintings often no larger than a sheet of typing paper. He overlapped scraps of canvas, cardboard, plaster, metal and other materials on the support surface, and allowed them to curl outward, sometimes adding bright colors to highlight a sense of sculptural dimension.

A second series made with lumber shims is far larger and more minimal in color and composition, but so subtlely finished in gradations of surface pattern and texture that they manage to look, simultaneously, like drawings and sculptures of parallel lines.

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A third body work, also minimal and industrial in appearance, is constructed with painted torn cardboard, folded, twisted and covered with monochromatic white, black, gray and brown paint.

Montgomery is quoted as saying he sees in them "representations" of the abstract images that have persisted in art-making throughout history.

Leblon, Cross said, thinks beyond the actual objects he creates to the shape of the environment that surrounds them. For his exhibition, "Under My Shoe," he is having linen carpet installed in his gallery space to track the footprints of visitors as they move about.

She compared his treatment of the gallery space to an English garden dotted with follies and ruins.

"He guides you and lets you discover the feeling of the work ... a sense of time passed," she said.

Leblon's works are enigmatic architectural constructions of furniture, planks, sand, metal.

Through them, Cross said, he alludes to architectural follies, Egyptian art, classical antiquities and ordinary objects in ways that link the everyday and the transcendent, the endurance of nature over the record of human history.

On exhibit

What: "Guillaume Leblon: Under My Shoe," "Joseph Montgomery: Five Sets Five Reps," and "Jason Middlebrook: My Landscape."

Where: Mass MoCA, Marshall Street, North Adams.

When: Sunday through April 7, 2014.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. closed Tuesdays. During July and August open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day.

Admission: $15 adults; $10 students; $5 children 6-16; Free for children 5 and under.

Information: (413) 662-2111;

To reach Charles Bonenti:,

or (413) 496-6211.

On Twitter: @BE_Lifestyles


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