Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 12, 2014

Objectify: A Look into the Permanent Collection

Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, MA
by Shera Cohen

In a sense, it looks as if the staff of Berkshire Museum have rummaged through the attic, basement, and various closets for whatever they could find to fill galleries for their next big exhibit. In fact, the first segment of "Objectify" appears to be messy, a bit like a tag sale, with old crates on the floor or standing on end with the concept being the creation of a storage site. But, this is no tag sale -- the found items are priceless, and the disarray is purposeful.

"Objectify: A Look into the Permanent Collection" is, indeed, a major year-long exhibition in honor of the Museum’s 110th anniversary which spans the length and height of four large rooms. The pieces run the gamut of media (paintings, sculpture, toys, and clothing), artists (Impressionist art, and 20th century abstract paintings, more recent and local Hudson River School selections) science (a crocodile skull, colorful minerals, and hooting owl -- well, I thought it hooted), and history (Pahat the Mummy, ancient Roman jewelry, and original Civil War paintings). Objectify displays the most significant and fascinating objects from the Museum’s holdings of more than 40,000 artwork, specimens, and artifacts.

Some months ago, Director of Public Relations Lesley Ann Beck treated us to a pre-exhibit tour in which only the first gallery was complete. While walking from one area to the next, we could see the behind-the-scenes process of just how such an eclectic display is mounted. Every inch of space, and even empty space, is important for the visitor to see as a continuity and flow. The lighting in each gallery is especially important as the design progresses by themes and chronologically. The first room is slightly dimmed, and the last room is very bright and white -- representing the present, the here and now.

The celebratory opening reception was held in April, so museum-goers will now see the finished product.

Two local artists, designer Peter Garlington, and artist Leo Nash, are the guest curators. Their creative work has resulted in an innovative exhibition that highlights the best of the Museum’s extensive collections in unexpected and surprising ways. According to Beck, “Museum visitors who have been [here] over the years will enjoy seeing favorite objects and artwork in a fresh setting.”

Look for the most fun in gallery #4. Visitors will find a sophisticated version of a ‘selfie’. A large empty painting frame is suspended from the ceiling, just ready and waiting for anyone, any family or friends to create their own portrait. Who needs Whistler’s grandma, when you can memorialize your own?

Berkshire Museum also includes an exhibit on the history of Pittsfield’s famous inventors ("The Innovation Process"); a lovely large aquarium with smaller adjacent ones for frogs, turtles, and the like; "Little Cinema", which runs foreign and indies throughout the year, and an annually changing summer exhibit. Last year’s "Paper Works" was inspired. Another recent exhibit featured live frogs -- not my favorite animal. However, these tiny multicolored creatures (some less than the size of a pencil head eraser) were a joy to watch as long as they stayed behind glass. Butterflies, in exhibit cases and flying in a specially designed pavilion, are this summer’s invited guests.

How do you find the Berkshire Museum? It’s in the heart of Pittsfield, MA, open every day of the week. Check their website or call 423-443-7171. Once you arrive, look for the sculpture of the Stegosaurus on the front lawn.

Objectify is sponsored by Crane & Co. and TD Bank.