Zeitgeist: Beer and chips venue for art in Pittsfield


Thursday, July 03
PITTSFIELD — Not another art gallery.

It's true. North Street has a new neighbor called Zeitgeist-Pittsfield. And yes, it houses art. But don't get any rich ideas about what will go on at 648 North St.

This is a place where Rockwells and Warhols get destroyed.

"It's not the wine and cheese gallery. It's more the beer and chips space," said art installer and designer Brent Whitney, 24, of Cheshire.

He and another young artist and now curator Wayne Duffy, believe Zeitgeist founders Alan Nidle and Karen Boutet have the vision to liven up this often forgotten section of the city.

"We're just trying to find a new spirit," said Nidle.

"It's about the energy that people want to have happen here. I don't have any grand plan. But all of this literally just happened," he said.

As of now, "this" includes a restored street-level space in a turn-of-the 20th century building across from the Family Dollar store.

The current exhibition features contemporary art, from sculpture to collage, and includes several pieces by the late rocker Dee Dee Ramone, bassist for the legendary Ramones.

Plans are in the works to open an adjacent pizza and salad café by August, that would function in tandem with the art space.

But for now, Zeitgeist is just looking to make friends in the neighborhood.

Nidle, 49, and his wife Boutet, 48, founded Zeitgeist Gallery in Cambridge in 1994 with the modest intention of running a traditional neighborhood gallery to showcase local artists.

But, according to a history printed on the gallery's Web site, "the art space was immediately adopted as an autonomous zone for creative collaboration by eclectic musicians, artists, performers and filmmakers on the fringe who couldn't fit into mainstream venues."

For the next 12 years, the activities under the Zeitgeist (which literally means "ghost or spirit of the times") moniker included live concerts featuring experimental music, performance art, low-cost and low-maintenance installations in public spaces, community and youth art workshops, film screenings, dance and theatre, costume and fashion exhibitions, with a little burlesque and political satire and Dadaistic acts of activism added for good measure.

In May of 2002, Zeitgeist's first space was destoyed in a fire, but re-established in Cambridge's Inman Square.

Less than a year ago, Nidle and Boutet were "priced out of the Boston area" and decided to explore the western end of the state.

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Last weekend, Zeitgeist made its Berkshire debut by hosting art shows and sponsoring the lounge act "Bush-Cheney: Lounge Force" by Ian Maxwell MacKinnon and Eric Zinman.

The shows were held at the Pittsfield space as well as a satellite space known as Zeitgeist-North Adams, within Papyrus Books at 45 Eagle St. in that city.

Nicole Peskin, a local artist and longtime affiliate of the Storefront Artist Project, said she thinks Zeitgeist can offer a lot of opportunities to local artists.

"There are so many local artist working under the radar for so long," she said, noting that some of the paintings currently hanging in the space come from artists who have been rejected by the area's traditional galleries.

Nidle and Boutet said they've already had people come walking in the street with art. Plans include creating an artist exchange between Pittsfield and Cambridge. The couple are also working with promoter Joe Durwin of Project413.net to bring in local musicians.

Plans for live performance, including a graffiti mural painting, are in the works as Zeitgeist prepares to be a participant in this month's Third Thursday festival on July 17.

"There needs to be a spot for more contemporary and younger artists," said Zeitgeist curator and artist Wayne Duffy, 31 of Pittsfield.

He described the place as a "second-shift" space, "We want to be a part of the nightlife around here."

John Costa, who owns and rents the space to the Zeitgeist collaborative, said it is exactly the kind of tenant he's been looking for.

"It's about accessibility. They came in and did the work. I don't think there's anything quite like it around here," he said.

As a nonprofit operation, Zeitgeist intends to thrive on street art and a shoestring budget. Most of the art space revenues will likely come from modest fees for art workshops, performances and renting out exhibit space.

"You don't have to be crazy as an artist, but it helps," said Duffy. "We're passionate about what we're doing and we believe in it. It's not about the money."

If you go ...
What: Zeitgeist-Pittsfield:

Where: 648 North St. in Pittsfield.

Hours: Wednesday through Friday, 4 to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 1 to 10 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 7 p.m.; Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Information: www.myspace.com/zeitgeistpittsfield or www.zeitgeist-gallery.org


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