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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

By Grier Horner

August 10, 2014

Photos by Grier Horner

The passenger pigeon, which used to swarm in flocks so large they eclipsed the sun, flies again at MASS MoCA.

Once the most abundant species in North America, the species became extinct about September 1, 1914, when Martha died at the Cleveland Zoo. She was the last known survivor of an unrestricted hunting frenzy.

Last night MASS MoCA held the opening reception for Eclipse, an exhibit commemorating a lost species. It does this through video, sound and text in a cautionary tale that is beautiful and compelling.

Eclipse is the work of the art team of Susannah Sayles and Edward Morris in collaboration with Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker magazine. Kolbert wrote Requiem for Martha, which she read at the opening and which you can read in the handsome catalogue given out at the exhibit.

The show is the second piece of good news for MASS MoCA this week, overshadowed by the signing of a bill by Governor Patrick that grants the museum $25 million for renovation of the remaining buildings in the old Sprague Electric complex. The money comes with the stipulation that MASS MoCA must raise $30 million on its own. Much of that space will be used to mount long term shows like the LeWitt, which has been a big draw, and the new Anselm Keifer  building.

Once complete the expansion will realize the long-held dream of museum Director Joseph Thompson. Thompson's life and the museum's are intricately intertwined. He worked tirelessly - and at times without pay - to get the museum financed  and built. There was a long and land-mined period from before 1988, when the state promised financial backing, until 1999 when it opened. Thompson and his staff have proven opponents like The Berkshire Eagle editorial board where wrong when they argued that the museum should not be built because it could never attract the crowds needed to make it work. Very wrong.

The show is first in the four-story corridor and metal stairway at the end of the museum's Sol Lewitt building and the next building on the museum's sprawling campus. The buildings were connected by a skylight but in the process of mounting this show, workers found that the structure supporting the skylight was badly deteriorated and will have to be replace.

The video which plays on 100 feet of wall and ceiling depicts the birds in the days when they were the biggest aviary species in North America, flock to a tree in such numbers that they cover it so densely they become the foliage. The pigeons, which resembled mourning doves, but were larger, then flock across the ceiling in numbers that almost cover it completely. As hordes of the birds leave the tree branches become visible, but the birds still cover the ceiling. But as the tree loses its birds, the migration trickles to a few birds on wing and then to none.

Peter Kalm and John James Audubon described the flocks this way:

"In these almost solid masses, they darted forward in undulating and angular lines, descended and swept close over the earth with inconceivable velocity, mounted perpendicularly so as to resemble a vast column, and when high, were seen wheeling and twisting within their continues lines, which then resembled the coils of a gigantic serpent."

Why were they called passenger pigeons? The French named them 'Pigeon de passage' or 'pigeon of passage' because of the huge size of the migratory flocks passing overhead, accoring to Answers.com.

As the birds flew over in flocks as large as four kilometers long and one kilometer wide, they were easy pray. You didn't even really have to aim. The birds were in demand as food for slaves and the poor.


This is a photo of a passenger pigeon preserved through taxidermy. And below is part of the audience. The shot was taken from my vantage point on a landing well above them.

Supported by numerous foundations, the work willl be up until September 1 next year. Below is a shot that gives you an idea of the stairway in this new gallery space.






August 4, 2014


Photos by Grier Horner

Here are some of my favorites from the four exhibits Babbie and I hit on First Friday in downtown Pittsfield last week. Above, the painting I liked most - Colored Fences by Peg A. shown at Memories in the Making mounted by the Alzheimer's Association. You can see the work of the association's artists at the Downtown Pittsfield Inc. office on the Dunham Mall across from City Hall. Like the 20 other First Friday shows, it will be up through the month.

The Memories in the Making exhibit is a reminder that the urge to create doesn't have to end with the onset of Alzheimer's. The famous abstract artist Willem de Kooning's (1904-1997) demonstrated that. He was diagnosed with the disease in his late eighties. But during the following years, he painted more than 300 abstract works.

Critics were divided on the merit of these paintings. According to Wikipedia: "Some have said that his very last works present a new direction of compositional complexity and color juxtaposition, and are prophetic of directions that some current painters continue to pursue. Some speculate that his mental condition and years of alcoholism had rendered him unable to carry out the mastery indicated in his early works. Others claim some of these paintings were removed from the studio and exhibited before de Kooning was finished with them." Whatever the case, Wikipedia says, "unfortunately, de Kooning's last works have not been afforded the amount of critical commentary or substantial serious assessment that his earlier works received." And whether the late paintings were great or not, the fact remains that he didn't stop painting.



This photo, Moscow Ballet, by Denise B. Chandler is part of the Berkshire Art Association-sponsored show, BAA Redux: Industrial Manifest. Ms. Chandler informed me on facebook last night that she took this shot in September 2011 while leaving the port in Moscow and starting the 400 mile trip to St Petersburg. These cranes reminded me of the ballet dancers I had seen while there...Moscow danced one last dance for me."

Industrial Manifest also included this classy ceramic sculpture. The four-foot long Red Serrated Line by Jim Lawton echoes the sawtooth roofline of many factories, including one on Union Street in North Adams and the former factory that houses the Dia museum in Beacon.




I thought the best staging of an exhibit was Susan Geller's opening at the Berkshire Medical Center lobby. Enlivening the event was Al Bauman's jazz trio. Behind the band is Ms. Geller's beautiful Snowy Night: Bousquet. She resisted the temptation that has hurt some shows there of trying to cram too much art onto the limited wall space. She limited the show to four large photos. And it looked great.


Terry Rooney at the Berkshire Community College Gallery in the Intermodal Transportation Center on Columbus Avenue had the most original work. The late Al Hood, who remodeled her home and studio, built her a host of shaped wooden platforms to her specifications from wood recycled from the job. She went on to use them as an integral part of her art.

In a piece of social commentary At Bagels, Too, Judith Learner showed photos she has taken to illustrate her food journalism.

A couple years ago she started noticing that the nation's income inequality was showing up in her field, with "more and more people eating free meals and more and more eating $235 dinners or taking a day's cooking class with lunch for $350."

Her photos are arranged to document this trend. Above is a pork loin appetizer at a $195-a- ticket Tanglewood gala and below is a free pork chop lunch at the Christian Center in Pittsfield. 




Here's a photo of the leader of the pack, Mary McGinnis in the purple blouse. On First Fridays she leads free tours of the event that she was the driving force in launching in 2012 and which she chairs. This group numbered about 10.  Last week she improvised a show of children's books she has written and illustrated backed up by hundreds of comic books as a fill-in for a scheduled window exhibit that fell through at the last minute.


Here are my two favorite outfits of the evening: the woman in the American flag wrap above (whose name I neglected to get) and Susan Geller, seen below as her reception was closing.


The show that drew the biggest attendance of those I took in - and there were about 20 I didn't get to - was this one sponsored by the Alzheimer's Association.




August 1, 2014

Photos of Ian Grey's portraits by Grier Horner

Ian Grey's portraits grace the long corridor at MountainOne Bank in North Adams in a show, Elements, that opened yesterday as part of the city's monthly Downstreet Art Thursday festival. Started a year ago, the goal of his project, Grey says, "is to take an element from each person's life and use it to create a unique portrait."



The self-taught photographer says these are pictures of "everyday people who are courageous and adventurous enough to bare a part of themselves for my camera." That person in the shot at the top of this post is Katie Mahaney. And the one with the scarf is Darcie Sosa. Below the two talk at the opening. Ms. Sosa is on the right with Ms. Mahaney's portrait over her shoulder.



This is a shot of Phyllis Criddle wearing one of the dresses she sells at MASS MoCA, where she is head of museum shop. She is showing at least two "elements" for Grey's camera - the dress and the tattoos, both works of artistry. (I did a post on her dresses on March 19, which you can get to through my archives at the top of this page.)

"When I make a portrait i ask the subject to take a leap of faith. Knowing our most creative selves lie in the periphery of our beings, it's an act of courage for a person to explore these regions in front of the camera," Grey said.

Here Ian Grey talks with a woman who was admiring his work.


In "The Light of Dreams," Grey creates a gauzy atmosphere that makes the beautiful woman all the more dramatic.


Liz Bissell, vice president of marketing at MountainOne, makes a point at the opening. The bank, she said, created the hallway gallery to enliven the long corridor that leads from Main Street to the parking lot.


In Arms of Love Grey offers a tender shot of father and daughter. And below in Taken Grey introduces a touch of theatrical comedy. (While the pictures are protected by non-glare glass, some glare occurs in some of the photographs.) His exhibit is up until late August. He's a photographer doing top notch work from his home on Florida Mountain. You may have seen the shots he takes of hummingbirds that was shown last month.








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