Community knows no bounds in Berkshire Art Association biennial

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PITTSFIELD — The concept of community isn't traced by town or county lines.

Neither is Berkshire Art Association's (BAA) biennial juried show "Showing Up: for Your Neighborhoods, Communities and Each Other" which is on view at Pittsfield's Lichtenstein Center for the Arts through Nov. 16. The display of painted, sculpted, drawn and photographed art represents a bevy of Berkshire-based artists' work, but the exhibit also includes creators from New York and other parts of New England. Denise Minnerly of Norwalk, Conn., and Donald Bracken of Cornwall Bridge, Conn., collaborated on "Village Project," an installation that directly engages with the show's theme. It combines floor-resting clay houses with a collection of hanging vines, the latter serving as an extension of the village.

"We're all tied together in this sort of complicated way," Minnerly said of this linkage.

Minnerly and Bracken aren't the only artists who worked on the piece, which was previously called "It Takes a Village." About 10 years ago, Minnerly started going to various spaces — a homeless shelter, a psychiatric ward, a school fair — where attendees could create their own clay dwellings. Initially, the work was somewhat political, commenting on the housing crisis that was roiling cities and towns around the U.S. at that time, but it has since evolved into a broader statement about shared experiences among different communities.

"It represents a piece of art that is created by the community and reflects the community," said juror Mary Rentz.

Like the work's past stops, Pittsfield will have an opportunity to contribute to the growing mass of clay houses. BAA President Mary Beth Eldridge said that the organization is in the process of scheduling at least one local group to help with the project.

Minnerly has now accumulated more than 3,500 small clay homes. Her pairing with Bracken, who often works with vines, added height to the piece; "Village Project" currently fills one of the Lichtenstein's far corners, evoking a tree of sorts.

According to a press release, other Northeast artists in the show include Madge Evers, Melissa Scheid Frantz, Nils Johnson, Julia Eisen-Lester, Robert Markey, Vicki Windman and Jamie Rodriguez, whose "KGB Prison Cell" installation is intended to remind viewers of the falsely accused and incarcerated, Rodriguez said.

Ellen Joffe-Halpern of Williamstown is among the Berkshire artists participating. She composed two mixed-media pieces: One is "Overview: North Adams," a paint and sketch-lined work that examines the city's change over time, and "Dancing in Place," which depicts a creaky home with figures jiving in it. Joffe-Halpern created it in conjunction with Annie Raskin's poem, "Proteus as House," and she said that it explores the "history a house carries."

The 69-year-old Joffe-Halpern's first acceptance into a show was a BAA juried exhibition when she was 17. Back then, the Berkshire Museum hosted an annual BAA show that attracted artists from a larger geographic area. This year's biennial follows 2016's "Othering."

"We asked artists to interpret ways that they may have felt like the other, their observations about others in our society, how we relate to others," Eldridge said of the previous biennial.

The BAA president said that looking across the landscape of local and regional communities helped inspire this year's theme.

"Coming up with the way that we are a community to each other, which can be on a very small or a very large scale, and how we show up for each other, too — it's quite a diverse interpretation when you look at all the work," she said.

This show's jurors were Shirley Edgerton, a director of Youth Alive Inc. and Rites of Passage and Empowerment Program; Caitlin Tucker-Melvin, a visual arts exhibitions manager at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art; and Rentz, an artist, community activist and former BAA president.

"You look at the execution, the materials and especially the reflection of the theme," Rentz said of the evaluation process.

The jurors selected more art than normal this time; other Berkshire artists represented include Nicholas DeCandia, Keith Emerling, Melyssa Fortini, Richard Haskins, Colleen Surprise Jones, Michael King, Melanie Mowinski, Carolyn Newberger, Michele Ridgeway, Joan Rooks, Kira Smith, Debbie Detwiller Smith, Ilene Spiewak, Scott Taylor and Peter Vacchina, according to a press release.

"I think this theme really speaks to people right now," Rentz said.

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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