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At Shakespeare & Co., A ‘Midsummer’ And All That Jazz

Briana Maia, Michael F. Toomey and Atalanta Seigel. Photo by Kevin Sprague.

By Jeremy D. Goodwin

Jazz is a music of possibilities. So too is the music of theater.

Even in the midst of a long run, each performance of a given production is meant to rise anew from the mysterious stew of creative possibilities. There’s the sense, even if illusory, that the action could break this way or that way, that the resolution to the onstage events is in doubt. Even with the much-studied words of Shakespeare, the best performers emulate the ineffable kismet of improvisation.

Enter the production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream now onstage at Shakespeare & Company. Director Tony Simotes’ inspired conceit is that the enchanted happenings of that play could find full voice when set in an early-20th century New Orleans milieu. It turns out the faded, mysterious, deeply soulful vibe conjured by this vision of New Orleans fits in with the wild journey of Oberon and Puck, Helena and Hermia and all the rest, as snugly as a Harmon mute in the bell of a trumpet.

Johnny Lee Davenport and Merritt Janson. Photo by Kevin Sprague.

Music is everywhere in this production, from the Rude Mechanicals forming a crack band to express their sadness at the disappearance of their compatriot Bottom, to a stomping rendition of “I’ll Fly Away” that begins in the theater lobby. Composer and musical director Alex Sovronsky (who is also onstage as Snug) does much to evoke the sound of New Orleans jazz, and Barbara Allen’s choreography helps turn Theseus’s court into a debauched ballroom. 

Dangling Spanish moss and curling tree limbs overlap with man-made light fixtures in Travis George’s set design, creating a sense of the creeping influence of the mysterious woods not far from the orderly court. Period-appropriate costumes designed by Deborah A. Brothers work in harmony with Simotes’ vision.

Simotes, of course, knows from Midsummer; he played Puck in S&Co.’s first-ever production, on the lawn of The Mount back in 1978. And the play has continued to loom large in the history of the company — though this is only its second turn indoors at the Tina Packer Playhouse (nee Founders’ Theatre), following a 2007 version that felt a little “off-brand,” featuring several company newcomers who have not been heard from since.

Rocco Sisto, Colby Lewis, Cloteal L. Horne, David Joseph, and Michael F. Toomey. Photo by Kevin Sprague.

As usual, the success of the play really turns on the four lovers who are set loose in the woods, changing their romantic affections under the influence of a fairy king’s magic. The quartet here is formed by Kelly Galvin and David Joseph, familiar faces who make the most of this featured turn, and S&Co. first-timers Cloteal L. Horne and Colby Lewis. The petite-ness of Galvin’s frame helps fuel the hilarity of a well-executed, acrobatic sequence in which she tosses around Lewis, who plays a sapping but caddish Demetrius. Joseph shows fantastic comedic chops, though Horne’s sledgehammer-y approach suggests she’s still learning the subtleties of massaging the humor in Shakespeare’s text.

Rocco Sisto brings a suitably regal air to Oberon, the fairy king. Merritt Janson has winningly played some of Shakespeare’s greatest female roles in this theatre (Desdemona, Rosalind, Viola); here she is a calm, confident Titania. Michael Toomey, whose work at S&Co. and with the Split Knuckle Theater (of which he’s a co-founder) has made him the troupe’s leading clown, is a loud and silly Puck, even if he doesn’t cut loose as much as one might expect.

Photo by Kevin Sprague

The world-weary countenance and achy-bone movements Johnny Lee Davenport gives to Bottom lend an air of pathos, and most of his cohorts among the Rude Mechanicals are also of a certain age. Their subplot feels uncharacteristically played-down here, especially the climactic play-within-a-play which can otherwise pull a production off course by way of prolonged chaos. You kind of want your money’s worth when it comes to the onstage death of Bottom-as-Pyramus, but Davenport doesn’t milk it. Instead, the enduring image from his performance is the beautiful moment when a leftover token from Titania reminds Bottom of the supposed “dream” in which he won her affections.

Along the fluid line between waking life and sleep (or, as the play has it, “fairy time”) lie infinite possibilities; you can see Bottom glimpse one of those possibilities, and then discard it. It’s deliciously heartbreaking.

Helena — not the character, but a friend’s precocious daughter, then five years old — once described a Louis Armstrong solo as “happy and sad together.” That’s also the sweet spot of a good Midsummer. This production aims for that note, and hits it. 


A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Tina Packer Playhouse at Shakespeare & Company
70 Kemble Street, Lenox, MA
(413) 637-3353
Now through August 30

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Posted by Jeremy D. Goodwin on 07/07/14 at 05:10 PM • Permalink

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The Clark Unveils Its Latest Piece Of Art — Its Own Campus

By Jeremy D. Goodwin

Have you been to The Clark lately?

Unless you work there, the chances are the answer is “no.” It’s been closed since March, and the heart of its famed collection of French Impressionist paintings — including those luscious Renoirs everyone loves to stop by and say hello to from time to time — have been out of town since 2011, circling the globe on a tour that reached from Shanghai to Fort Worth, Texas. (Of course, special exhibitions like last summer’s orgy of newly acquired Winslow Homer paintings, and that rock-star-popular show featuring Picasso and Degas, have provided plenty of cause to visit in the meantime.)

Now the wait is over. The Clark is back, and back with gusto. On Friday, July 4, this jewel of Williamstown will open the doors on the long-anticipated expansion, including an uber-elegant new building designed by renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando. The sleek, airy, light-filled building houses additional space for special exhibitions, and a full-service visitor center including a café and museum shop.

It’s hard to believe the spot where it stands used to be the site of a parking lot and facilities plant, tucked away behind the buildings that were accessed by the public.

“This is a place where we had our chillers and cooling tower and all kinds of grounds equipment,” associate director Tom Loughman says on a walk-through of the grounds that attracted upwards of 100 members of the press. He stands in the light-filled ground floor of the new building, in a room with windows on all four sides and a view of the stunning new water feature —three terraced pools — right outside. “It was a not-nice place. But it had been determined by the master plan as being the key, the fulcrum spot on the campus.”

The the new terrace offers a look at another masterpiece—the view. Photo: Jeremy D. Goodwin

That is fully borne out by the new building and the way it ties together the rest of the grounds. A new access road leads arriving visitors to the long, low-set building, with most of the new features hidden from view. Then a short passage opens dramatically onto a spacious terrace lined with young willow trees, and a view of the pools. From there, one can see The Clark’s two older buildings nearby, and a grand view of a hill patrolled by the odd cow. Back inside the new building, a long, glass-enclosed passageway leads to the main building, offering expansive views on all sides.

Though the addition of hiking trails and the Lunder Center at Stone Hill in 2009 extended The Clark’s footprint into the surrounding woodland, visitors who limited themselves to the main collection or the research library had little chance to interact with the gorgeous surroundings. No longer.

“Our charge was to understand the land well and understand how they should curate it, the same way they curate their art,” landscape architect Gary Hilderbrand says before the press tour, standing on the edge of the largest pool under a brilliant afternoon sky. “A lot of people come here from big, municipal areas, and there isn’t any doubt that when you get a ticket and walk through the door, you have a chance to participate in a landscape that people who live here in the Berkshires walk through every day.”

Courtesy of The Clark

Maddy Burke-Vigeland, the executive architect, points to the co-mingling of indoor and outdoor experiences in the new setup. Though the art on view is still the star attraction, it now lives in more of a communion with its pastoral surroundings. “Obviously, this can only make The Clark even more of a mecca for not only the art world, but the architecture world and people interested in nature, because this backdrop is so spectacular,” she says.

As for the still-sumptuous building that houses the permanent collection, it’s received a major tune-up — new climate control system, lighting fixtures, a reconsidered floor plan, and even some carefully selected paint colors on the wall will all combine for an experience that is enhanced subtly but distinctly.

“This is a museum that is very well-loved by a lot of people, and we wanted them to return to see the collection and be happy with the presentation, knowing that certain groupings of paintings would remain the same,” says senior curator Richard Rand, who seems fully enamored of the changes. (Put on the spot, he’s even able to identify one new wall color as pavilion blue.) “Many people won’t really know what has changed, but they’ll feel it. They’ll feel it in their bones.”

Courtesy of The Clark

 

The new exhibition spaces are getting broken in with a collection of Chinese Bronze Age sculpture, on loan from the Shanghai Museum, where The Clark’s traveling Impressionist road show attracted half a million visitors. In August, the new building will strut its stuff with an exhibition featuring some of the vibrant modern art The Clark didn’t have the facilities for before. “Make It New: Abstract Painting From the National Gallery of Art, 1950-1975,” a new exhibition curated in partnership between the two institutions, opens on August 2.

Museum director Michael Conforti has steered the project through various turns in the road, ever since the current master plan was unveiled in 2001. (The re-design concept has been on the table since two years later.)

He sums up the changes with elegant precision — in spirit, not unlike the distinctive touch of architect Ando.

“It’ll be an art-in-nature experience,” Conforti says, “unparalleled with any museum that I can think of.”

Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
225 South Street in Williamstown
(413) 458-2303
Re-opening July 4 at 1 p.m.

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Posted by Jeremy D. Goodwin on 07/02/14 at 12:03 PM • Permalink

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Farm To Frame Puts Hudson Valley Artists (And Food) On View

By Lisa Green

Two years ago, Dorit Straus, an art and insurance advisor, attended a dinner for collectors at Henry Klimowicz’s RE Institute in Millerton. The part-time Hudson Valley resident was taken with the intimate setting and interaction between the artist and guests over a meal composed of Hudson Valley-grown food. Having worked with art collectors (she was the worldwide fine art specialty manager for the Chubb Insurance companies), she was inspired to bring art investors to the countryside to see the works of local artists.

“It’s hard to get art buyers to come here, what with Art Basel and auction weeks,” Staus says. “I thought, what’s my hook to draw New York City collectors to the country?”

Weaving together the inarguable assets of the region, she created Art Hudson Farm To Frame, an event “Promoting Artists, Preserving Farmland and Rejuvenating the Economy,” with two days of farm and artist studio visits, group discussions with artists and lunches provided by a local restaurant. Straus is partnering with Scenic Hudson, a non-profit organization that promotes and restores the Hudson River and its landscapes, and $100 of the ticket price goes to that cause. “Farm To Frame has all the elements of farm and art tours and the farm-to-table movement,” Straus says.

PET scan by Guy Walker.

“One of the challenges of being in a rural area is finding an audience,” says Klimowicz, who is opening his gallery for the lunch (prepared by Red Devon in Bangall featuring local ingredients from Sky Farm and Sol Flower Farm) and the discussion with participants and the artists lead by Brook Mason, U.S. correspondent for The Art Newspaper. “People get to interact with the art and artists over food in a true ‘farm at table’ experience,” he says, adding that the menu will include his own recipe of pickled ramps. Artists in the exhibit include Ryan Frank, Guy Walker, Sara Nesbitt, Henry Klimowicz, Paul Chaleff and Susan Wides.

On June 7, the day begins with a Carolee Schneeman exhibition at the studio Tspace and Steven Holl Architects in Rhinebeck. After lunch, it’s a tour through the show called “PLACE” at the Re Institute, which focuses on the influence of an artist’s surroundings on his or her work, followed by a group discussion. (“Place” also relates to food, a component of the program.) On June 8, the day starts with a visit to Judy Pfaff’s studio in Tivoli and mirrors the format of the previous day. Participants can attend one or both days.

A fall Farm to Frame event is being planned. “It’s a work in progress, like everything here,” says Klimowicz. But Straus is firm about one thing: Artists can always use more exposure.

Art Hudson Farm To Frame
June 7 and 8
$250 per event ($100 of the ticket price is a tax-deductible contribution to Scenic Hudson)

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/19/14 at 11:51 AM • Permalink

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In Local Living Color: Vince Pomilio’s Thornbush Grid

By Dave King

Vincent Pomilio no doubt cleans up nicely, but in his New York City studio he’s the archetype of the painter at ease, answering the door in splattered painter’s pants and a white t-shirt that clearly doubles as a paint rag. On the day I visited, Pomilio was choosing paintings for a group exhibition called Melange now on view at Carrie Haddad Gallery in Hudson, and a long wall that ran from his front door into a sunny cluttered studio was hung salon-style with paintings from the last several years. As he paced up and down rearranging his work, Pomilio cast an air of old-school bohemianism, both Paris and Greenwich Village varieties, but his paintings—as well as Bruno, the spotless muse, sorry, border terrier, who joined him in greeting me—seemed entirely contemporary.

Pomilio, who also resides in Columbia County and paints in a backyard shed there, is solidly built, with dark hair and a darkish beard. As a young man he taught art in his native Philadelphia, then did graduate work in painting at Tyler and NYU, supporting his creative life by work as a sous-chef and a decorative painter and building sets for The Actors Studio. Pomilio’s earliest work was figurative, but the sole representational piece I saw at his studio was a pleasant self-portrait from his student days, which hung in the bathroom beneath a print of a Renaissance lady. He’s known now for a kind of patterned abstraction, so I asked how that shift had occurred, and he spoke of an epiphany at The MacDowell Colony twenty years ago. He’d been asked to participate in a group show using skeletal imagery, and the painting that resulted became key to his practice. It was “a Rosetta Stone type of painting,” Pomilio said, and the works that followed were “almost like weavings. Or pared down from that, with less nonobjective imagery happening.”

Pomilio’s current paintings are composed of irregular polygons of color, sometimes crisp at their edges, sometimes blurring together, the tone of one shape washing like a tide across the contours of the next. Often the borders stand up in tiny ridges, actual micro-wedges of impasto, and these common edges are where much of the tension lies. There, where the shapes abut, daubs of bright color will gather the way leaves gather in the corner of a porch or the way aerial photographs can seem to bunch up around random elements: a lone tree in a schoolyard or a shopping plaza tucked among patchwork farms. Indeed, it’s this question of viewpoint that interests me most about the work. Are his images inspired by the microscopic, by a magnified speck of rust or the wing of a moth? Or have we pulled far far back to view the earth from above?

Pomilio showed me a small neat panel he was considering for the Haddad show. Unlike many of his current paintings, this one was mostly black, but Pomilio has a knack for making black seem neutral, like asphalt or chalkboard, rather than dark in the emotional sense. Across a softly mottled field, green shapes peeked from behind slate-colored verticals, and again the artist’s standpoint was ambiguous. It felt equally reasonable to read the greens as platelets or beech leaves or fairways on a golf course—or indeed simply as brushstrokes.

“This is part of a series called Big-Little, in which I try to create a larger image on a smaller scale,” Pomilio said, adding that the series now runs to 75 works, all twelve by twelve inches. And though some of the paintings had grown “dense and complicated,” the project was an opportunity to get minimal. “Minimal for me, anyway.” Indeed, this new work seems less congested than the larger works Pomilio exhibited at Haddad in 2011 and at the Hudson Opera House in 2008. The current shapes are bigger and more angular, and perhaps as a result, the colors pop.

Pomilio placed two more paintings on either side of the first, and we stood back to look. They made a handsome group, the shapes spiky, the colors precise and elegantly electric. In one, orange and cerulean predominated, with drifts of a plum tone I thought of as shadowing and soft red veins across the broadest of the orange.

I asked how he made initial decisions, for example in choosing colors. Where did the spiky shapes come from, I wondered also, and as I struggled to describe how the cerulean met the orange I tried the word fencing, which Pomilio jumped on: “I’m intrigued by barbed wire shapes, fence shapes, trellis shapes…” Much starts with the grid, he remarked a bit ruefully: “It’s hard to get away from the grid in a square format. Especially for someone of my generation: the Almighty Grid!” He reached down meditatively to scratch Bruno’s ear, then said the grid was a tool for organizing ideas drawn from the broader world, but that the real work was done in breaking the grid down. He jumped up to rearrange the paintings again, then we stood back to look, and as we took in the new pattern Pomilio finished his thought. “Vines that grow organically and at the same time create systems that are repeated,” he murmured. “The thorns of rose bushes after the roses are gone. Nature is so perfect with this!”

Vincent Pomilio’s work is on view from December 12, 2013—January 19, 2014.
Carrie Haddad Gallery
622 Warren St., Hudson, NY
(518) 828-1915

Dave King is the author of a novel, The Ha-Ha, which won the 2006 Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters among other honors and awards.

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Posted by Scott Baldinger on 12/15/13 at 09:07 AM • Permalink

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In Their Own Image: Inuit Art at Vassar Focuses on the Indigenous Experience

By Robert Burke Warren

In recent years, the “official” history of indigenous North Americans – as told from European perspectives – has fallen under increased scrutiny. Potent critiques of the “textbook take” are increasingly common, and slowly but surely, the narrative is changing; the term “Native American” has displaced “Indian,” Christopher Columbus is losing credibility, the 1990 NAGPRA Act provides Federal protection of tribal property and historic sites, and contemporary indigenous art is gaining respect. Vassar’s own indefatigable Professor Molly McGlennen, a member of the Anishinaabe tribe, is part of this shift. McGlennen, with degrees in English and Philosophy, and a PhD in Native American Studies, is deeply committed to broadening students’ perspectives via her class, “Decolonizing the Exhibition: Critical Approaches to Contemporary Indigenous Art.” In a unique move, the class culminates in an exhibit curated by those students: Decolonizing the Exhibition: Contemporary Inuit Prints and Drawings From the Edward J. Guarino Collection. The exhibit features eight Inuit works on paper, displayed in the Focus Gallery at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center from December 4th to February 2nd.

Upon meeting her students last September, McGlennen wasn’t surprised at how little they’d learned about the indigenous experience in high school. “Students come in and feel they’ve been lied to or cheated,” she says. “They just know Pocahontas and the first Thanksgiving, that’s all their history books have told them. They wonder why there’s such an absence of Native American resistance in their texts. It’s a fascinating history. You might hear about the 19th century Plains Indian Wars, you might read about the supposed demise of the Native Americans at the turn of the 20th century, but where are they now? Students are hungry for these stories, even if they don’t know it.”

Prior to this class, McGlennen began her time at Vassar as the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Native American Studies, teaching the first Native American Studies course at the college. Soon after her arrival, she met art collector Edward J. Guarino. “Every year, he’d come to my class and bring these incredible pieces,” she says. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to do an art class coming out of Native American Studies instead of the art department?’” It was important to educate the students about what a Native American Studies perspective is, as opposed to an art history perspective; it was important to have contemporary pieces to work against the prevailing stereotype about Native people being extinct; and it was important to be tribally specific, focusing on the Inuit, because that works against the notion that all native people are the same, that there’s this one monolithic group. [The Inuit, for example, were one of many tribes lumped under the term “Eskimo.”] There are over a thousand tribes in North America alone.

McGlennen also wants to dispel the notion of the indigenous experience being one primarily of “bygone days.” “Students think, ‘You teach native studies, you must be a historian,’” she says. “They’ll assume I’m only going to be talking about history, or my class will be about chronicling the wars, the great war heroes. But my primary area of expertise is contemporary literary and visual culture.”

Guarino, a champion of indigenous art, points out that the Surrealists, particularly Andre Breton, took much inspiration from Inuit art. “The Surrealists were fascinated by the multiple perspectives, distortions, emotional intensity, and seeming spontaneity of Inuit art,” he writes. “The Inuit world was filled with spirits and transformations that, to the Surrealists, corresponded with their desire to portray the dream world of the human subconscious. However, in the U.S., only a small number of discerning collectors and curators have had the foresight to champion Inuit art for what it is: contemporary art.” 

“We try to privilege the Native perspective and voice,” says McGlennen. “In researching the pieces, contextualizing them, everything we read is written by Native Americans – scholars, theorists, artists. The students learn more broadly what’s happening in the Native American art world: who the artists are, what the pieces are about, what they’re trying to do, whom they’re speaking for or to.”

The exhibit features several mediums, including (pictured from top to bottom) Kenojuak Ashevak’s stonecut-on-paper “Animals Out of Darkness,” Jamasie Pitseolak’s dry-point etching “The Student,” Pitaloosie Saila’s lithograph “Strange Ladies,” and Annie Pootoogook’s collagraph “Pitseolak’s Glasses.” All artists rose from Inuit communities in the Arctic regions of Canada, some from dire circumstances, and most are still active and achieving renown. The works, by turns harrowing, gentle, and dreamlike, offer a glimpse into the process by which indigenous people express their continued resistance to one culture – the colonists’ – while enriching their own. Accompanying each piece is a wall label with a quote from the artist, which sets the context off, plus an overview by the students who chose the work.

The stories of the indigenous peoples of North America are fraught and complex, but Decolonizing the Exhibition shows they are also ever-changing, inspiring, and very much alive and well.

Decolonizing the Exhibition: Contemporary Inuit Prints and Drawings From the Edward J. Guarino Collection
December 4th, 2013 to February 2nd, 2014
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
124 Raymond Avenue
Poughkeepsie, NY
(845) 437-5237

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Posted by Scott Baldinger on 12/03/13 at 01:00 AM • Permalink