Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 22, 2015

Museums of the Berkshires

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue 
by Shera Cohen

A wedding checklist can also be useful in assessing the many museums of the Berkshires. Recently, I had the opportunity of a lengthy visit to four of these sites: Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MASS MoCA in North Adams, and Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. The members of this prestigious quartet are within a relatively short distance from each other. And, yes, at each a visitor will find somethings old (Berkshire Museum’s mummy), somethings new (MASS MoCA’s floor to ceiling contemporary art), somethings borrowed (Van Gogh pieces at Clark’s special exhibit), and something blue (just think of Norman Rockwell’s “Triple Self-Portrait” and you’ll recall that his shirt is a blue). Okay, the last is a bit of a stretch.

Berkshire Museum

Berkshire Museum
Every summer, this museum mounts a touring exhibit sure to wow. A past show that I adored was on frogs -- tiny multi-colored frogs. I don’t even like frogs. “Immortal Present: Art and East Asia” (through September 7th), spanning several galleries on the second floor with works by 20 contemporary artists, include paintings, photography, video, sculpture, screens, and mixed media. Needless to say, Asian art dates to 600 BC, so there is more to see than one would imagine, oftentimes the new replicating the old, side by side.

Yes, “Immortal Present” is the summer draw. However, equally impressive to me are the ongoing exhibits that bear repeated visits; i.e. Hall of Innovation (famous people and facts on Pittsfield), Objectify (a walk through the museum’s own collection of various genres), and the aquariums (just sit a while and enjoy, nothing more to say).

Clark Art Institute

In July, 2014, Clark’s completion of its huge renovation and addition opened the world to perhaps one of the top rated museums in the country. “Van Gogh and Nature” (through September 13th) features dozens of the masters’ works. While many (myself included) think of Van Gogh as a man whose paintings reflected his depression, to some degree, that is true. Yet, so many pieces in Clark’s exhibit are delightful and joyous -- as they are in nature. Some words to readers -- while a picture may be worth 1000  words, don’t ignore the text, usually written directly on exhibit walls. You will learn a great deal which will assuredly add to the experience of the exhibit tour.

Clark does not place the onus on their changing special exhibit to draw visitors. A walk through numerous maze-like halls and galleries, one can enjoy art by some of the most famous and greatest, particularly Impressionists; i.e. Manet, Renoir, Degas, Cassatt. Space for America’s best includes Homer and  Remington.


Nothing is small at MM except its name. Big is beautiful in the eye of the beholder -- or not always beautiful, but fun, weird, unique, curious. In the case of MM’s name exhibits was art in each category or combination of categories, depending on your tastes. All of the featured arts are still alive and working. Yes! Let’s support living and breathing talented men and women. Hmm, I was sidetracked. 

A visitor immediately walks into Clifford Ross’ Landscape Seen & Imagined, which is the most accessible exhibit in the building. A continuous loop video of colored glass moving throughout water was exquisite. It’s Super, Man (with scattered images of Dan Quayle,  remember him?) was in the bizarre category. Liz Deschenes’ huge geometric blocks sitting or floating in one gallery might fit under the heading of strange. My favorite was Jim Shaw’s Entertaining Doubts paintings and sculpture. Yes, definitely entertaining, simple, yet imaginative. I liked it, but I’m not sure why.

Norman Rockwell Museum

Photo by Sarah Edwards
Ever hear of the name Roz Chast? Me, either. Chast, however, should (or perhaps will) be as well-known as Charles Schultz. The current special exhibit, Roz Chast: Cartoon Memoirs, is a hoot, a laugh-out-loud look at contemporary cartoons -- single drawings, strips, full pages, and her entire book which happens to be a cartoon autobiography. Trust me, you have seen the award winning of this New Yorker cartoonist many times. You, again like me, just didn’t know her name. Rockwell Museum offers that opportunity, to learn and laugh at some of the best cartoon drawings and scripts of this era. The exhibit closes on October 26th.

Of course, there are numerous galleries full of Norman Rockwell’s own captivating, familiar, sometimes under-appreciated art; i.e. the permanent collection and the 323 Saturday Evening Post magazine covers. Perhaps more than any other museum in this country, visitors point to the paintings saying, “I know that one,” “I remember that,” or “I saw that magazine in the attic.”

Even in the Berkshires, the weather can be bad -- perhaps especially in the Berkshires in the summer. I can’t think of a better thing to do on rainy or sweltering hot days than visiting a museum. Besides the wonderful art, a plus is the AC.