PITTSFIELD – It often seems like the best way to think about this year is to move on to next year. Imagine a world after the pandemic, after this election season, after the heavy economic consequences weighing on almost everything have lifted. It can be a comfort even if you know it’s not real yet, or even if optimism in such an uncertain concept is hard to come by.
The Berkshire Art Association Biennale 2020 explores what it means to think about this elusive idea of ’next’. It brings together 36 works by 20 artists from New England and New York, in an exhibition that began to be planned in the middle of last year.
“We have always tried to connect with the world around us,” said Mary Beth Eldridge, president of the BAA, of the biennial which has been part of the artistic landscape since the 1950s. “People were certainly thinking in summer 2019 at [things like] the upcoming elections and climate change. It offers a lot of disturbing and interesting possibilities.
Several of the works currently on display at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts in Pittsfield are directly linked to the pandemic. Among them is a quartet of portraits from the Marisa Companion of Dover, NH, “The Four Saints of Chronic Illness in the Time of Covid.” Each vibrantly colored image leaves behind whatever specific ailments the subjects have and dwells on their worthy power as a source of inspiration for the time being. He is one of this year’s jury prize winners.
The fragile panic and irony of the moment are captured by West Stockbridge’s Ilene Spiewak in her painting “A Virtual Hang.” SanitizeSanitize Sanitize and keep your distance. It is an almost unfinished self-portrait, in which “the face mask is a garment of truth”, as his statement explains.
Other works take a much broader look at the concept.
“A lot of artists have been inspired by the pandemic in different ways,” Eldridge said.
There is a stubborn stream of hope in many works. Photographer Paul M. Murray of Jamestown, RI, who also won a juror’s award, seems aiming to capture the quiet determination of the moment. One photo shows a man on a park bench with a stack of effects beside him, looking into the distance. “Even in the most difficult times, human dignity is important to preserve,” he writes.
Other pieces explore the fallout from our cornucopia of crises. There is great uncertainty in “The Woman in Light” by Denise Roszkowski of Lenox, a portrayal of a woman who has just returned from rehab for opioid addiction. She is lying curled up on the couch in the fading sunlight, in a darkness obscuring the face that seems to be on an edge that could fall either way. Another of his works, “The Daters”, has two disparate characters sitting around a drink, not knowing what the context may be that led to the moment and where it might go.
Other works explore the powerful desire to make sense of uncertainty. Three paintings by Peter Knapp of Sunderland deal with the use of art to manage anxiety disorder. “The Patient’s Garden” shows the artist’s desperate effort to create a sense of visual order in order to ward off chaos, thus creating a work of unusual color and depth as he tries to harmonize an ensemble of natural shapes. “Serenity’s Stronghold” does the same for an abstract series of shapes set against a backdrop of visual noise and disorder. A more recent painting from last summer, “Pandemic’s Paradise,” uses drug wrappers, clips, and threads to create the same effect.
Even the most abstract works try to present a point of uncertainty. Two paintings by David Lionheart of Walden, NY, “Gran Finale” and “Clear Path,” feature his dark three-dimensional foam with scraps of yarn and fabric to suggest a sense of direction and ruggedness against a hard-to-grasp background. map.
Ali Herrmann of Lenox has three paintings in the exhibition, which include his distinct oval shapes and vivid colors. The abstract images draw inspiration from microbiology and cell formation, blowing up the smallest units of life to show the hidden structures and patterns implicit in them.
Many of the works are more directly illustrative, such as three paintings by Scott Taylor of Pittsfield, each using the imagery of the American flag to embody the nation that separates and strives to remain united. Everyone has a strained optimism about the future, perhaps more than a little shaken by the realization that these are older works – two dating from the last presidential election in 2016, another from 2012.
This year’s Biennale presented nominations from around 60 artists. The jury included Tatana Kellner, founder of the Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale, NY; Nancy Gaucher-Thomas, president of the Providence Art Club in Rhode Island; and Leo Quiles, assistant professor at the MCLA.
The show is the first the city-owned Lichtenstein Center for the Arts on Avenue Renne has been able to host since March, when the pandemic began, costing them most of this year’s program. The exhibition will be on view from Saturday to November 20, although unlike in previous years there will be no opening reception or awards ceremony.
“I think it’s great our first comeback show is with the [Berkshire Art Association]Said Jennifer Glockner, director of cultural development for the city. “They are excellent collaborators and partners.