The Arts Seen in Western Mass. (Summer of Whistler Edition)

Well the Missus and I trundled out to the Berkshires for a couple of days last week to catch this & that and, say, it was . . . swelling with people.

Upon our arrival in Williamstown we headed right to the Clark Museum to see Whistler’s Mother: Grey, Black, and White (through September 27). But we couldn’t find a parking spot within half a mile of the joint.

“Hey – everyone wants to see Whistler’s mother,” I said to the Missus.

So we hied ourselves instead to to the Williams College Museum of Art, and good for us, since we happily spent the entire day there amid a fabulous array of exhibitions.

Not to mention the dottiest group of people per square foot this side of Donald Trump Campaign Headquarters.

There was, for instance, the old gal who hung her cane on a 17th century side chair in the Three Centuries of American Art exhibit (through October 4).

And then there was the guy who draped himself all over George Segal’s Open Doorway for a selfie, even though there was a sign that said “Don’t cross this line to get a selfie with the sculpture.”


We spent most of our time at three other exhibits.

First, Whistler Close-Up (through October 18).


Study James McNeil Whistler’s gossamer brushwork and delicate use of line, with which he created some of the most beautiful—and most controversial­­—artwork of the nineteenth century. Featuring a group of exquisite small paintings on loan from the Terra Foundation for American Art along with prints from WCMA’s collection, some in multiple states, the installation lends itself to the exploration of Whistler’s artistic process and creative choices.

The museum provided magnifying glasses (especially helpful in examining Whistler’s etchings/drypoints) to facilitate our study.

Then it was on to The Loosening of Time: Maurice and Charles Prendergast (through August 30), a wonderful exhibit described this way:

The work of Maurice and Charles Prendergast oscillated in and out of its own time. The Prendergasts combined their knowledge of historic and modern art with observations of contemporary life to develop hybrid approaches to making art. This exhibition explores how a flexible concept of time figured across their artistic practices through subject matter, materials, and technique.


The Loosening of Time includes paintings, works on paper, decorative objects and ephemera drawn from WCMA’s extensive Prendergast holdings—the largest collection in the world.

It’s terrific – especially in chronicling the work of overshadowed brother Charles, an accomplished painter and woodcarver.

Finally, we meandered into Warhol by the Book (through August 16), which features a staggering collection of Andy Warhol’s book-related creations.

“The implicit message of ‘Warhol By the Book’—a show at once weightless and massive, opaque and revelatory–is to affirm what a literary sensibility its subject had.”—Boston Globe

Andy Warhol lived and breathed books. From his student days in the 1940s to his death in 1987, Warhol experimented wildly with form and content, turning traditional notions of media and authorship on their heads. He co-produced a satirical cookbook mocking fashionable French recipes; held coloring parties for crowdsourcing his own promotional books; and designed a pop-up “children’s book for hipsters” featuring sound recordings, holograms, and a do-it-yourself nose job.

Representative samples:




(Lots of details in Mark Feeney’s fine Boston Globe  review.)

The icing on the birthday cake (Warhol would have been 87 the day we were there):


Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 1.38.45 AM


It was an interesting conversation between Brown and Price, ranging from Brown’s breakthrough 1971 exhibit of Warhol’s early work (before the Brillo boxes and Campbell’s soup cans) to Brown’s publishing of Patti Smith’s first collection of poetry (and Robert Mapplethorpe’s first Polaroid pictures).

Afterward, as promised, there was cake and ice cream and champagne. I believe Andy would have approved.

That night we went to the Williamstown Theatre Festival (where the Missus and I actually brought the average age down) to see Unknown Soldier, a new musical by Michael Friedman (who wrote the music and lyrics to Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) and Daniel Goldstein.

In this haunting new musical created by writer Daniel Goldstein, Obie Award-winning composer Michael Friedman, and director Trip Cullman, Ellen Rabinowitz sets out to understand her past after she discovers an enigmatic photograph while cleaning out her deceased grandmother’s home. As she chases the truth about the soldier featured in the photo, Ellen is drawn into a tangle of historical facts and mysteries that lead her to surprising love stories and unexpected truths. Bringing together three WTF alumni, Unknown Soldier delves into memory and family mythology, asking how – or even whether – the past shows us who we are.

It was a sharp production with a splendid cast, but sadly, now it’s gone

* * * * * * *

Bright and early the next morning we were back at the Clark to see Whistler’s Mother, and I’m happy to report the old girl looks great. (We’d seen her a couple of times at the Musée d’Orsay, but this was special.)

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 11.41.10 PM

Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 (Portrait of the Artist’s Mother) (1871) by James McNeill Whistler is one of the most renowned works of art by an American artist. It is considered by many to be the most important American painting not on American soil. Better known as Whistler’s Mother, the painting has been owned by the French state since 1891 and is in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. This summer the Clark Art Institute presents the painting as the centerpiece of an exhibition featuring a variety of Whistler’s prints and drawings, Japanese woodblock prints that inspired the artist, and ephemera that explore the image’s role in popular culture. The Clark is one of only two American venues featuring the painting this year, and is the only east coast museum to show the iconic painting.

As opposed to the monumental Depression-era tour the painting took across America in 1933.

That completed our Summer Whistler Trifecta – Williams College Museum of Art, Clark Museum, and the great Whistler in Paris, London, and Venice exhibit we saw at the Yale University Art Gallery last month.

Remarkably, we had the Whistler exhibit pretty much to ourselves, but that changed when we meandered back to the Clark’s main galleries. Turns out the mile-long crowd wasn’t here to see Old Lady Whistler; they were here to see Van Gogh.

Specifically Van Gogh and Nature (through September 13).

Foolish us.

Then again, even the usually art-smart Wall Street Journal is all Van Gogh-Go.

From the WSJ piece Five Summertime Art Road Trips.

The Clark Art Institute (Williamstown, Mass.)

The museum, which last year unveiled a new exhibition center and revamped its 140 acres of lawns and meadows in the Berkshires, is exhibiting “Van Gogh and Nature,” 49 paintings and drawings by the artist exploring his fascination with all things bucolic and wild. Works include “Olive Trees,” a landscape van Gogh painted while in an asylum in 1889, and “Green Wheat Fields, Auvers,” completed months before his death in 1890. The show is set to break special-exhibit attendance records at the Clark, which calls this the first museum show to focus exclusively on van Gogh’s connection to nature.

Not a word about Anna Whistler. For shame.

On our way home we swung by the Norman Rockwell Museum where we caught a lively, funny tour of the permanent collection and then immersed ourselves in Roz Chast: Cartoon Memoirs (through October 26).

It’s a hoot.

Representative sample:




Nice way to end a road trip.

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3 Responses to The Arts Seen in Western Mass. (Summer of Whistler Edition)

  1. Steve Stein says:

    As usual, a wonderful arts report!
    My Whistler’s Mother moment came in Paris in 1990. After a day of tromping around the city, on aching legs, my wife and I were touring the Musee d’Orsay and came upon the painting, which had me wondering “what the heck are YOU doing here?”
    Next time, Chesterwood (the estate and studio of sculptor Daniel Chester French, best known for the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial) in Stockbridge is worth the stop, if you haven’t already gone and it’s a nice day (a lot of it is outdoors). Lots of excellent sculpture, as you might expect.

    • Campaign Outsider says:

      Thanks, Steve. Some years ago the Missus and I went up the Hudson River on what we dubbed the Robber Barons Tour, and Chesterwood was our last stop. Terrific place.

    • Campaign Outsider says:

      Well the Missus pointed out to me that I’d confused Chesterwood with Olana, Frederic Church’s fabulous home in Upstate New York (

      We actually never went to Chesterwood. (Never mind . . . )

      But if you get back to that area, don’t miss (assuming you haven’t already seen it) Suzy Frelinghuysen’s house ( It’s a corker.

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