JOHN SEVEN North Adams Transcript

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. -- In 2013, the Northern Berkshires continued to move towards a critical mass of creative events packed into a mere 12 month cycle. There were so much art and performance going on that it can’t possibly be encapsulated by a newspaper article. What follows are as many of the highlights as could be corralled into this format.

The year kicked off with the annual I/O Festival at Williams College, with not only performances by I/O Ensemble and the presentation of the Box, a night of music by living composers, as well as two local luminaries, Melissa St. Pierre on her prepared piano performing her composition ‘Alien Clangs and Clanks,’ and former one-half of The Books, Paul de Jong, for ‘Mild Stimulants,’ his program of cello, video and found sound.

Also, as usual, was MCLA Gallery 51’s bi-annual creative spectacular, "100 Hours in the Wood Shed." In its fourth year, the event featured five days of about 30 artists working around the clock, with the public invited to come watch. February saw North Adams treasure Mark Mulherrin open "Here Is There," a survey of his recent work, at the Bennington Museum, as well as Andy Davis’ "Masters in Cardboard" at MCLA Gallery 51. Davis’s show was the result of his work at the Clark Art Institute. For the project Clark Remix, Davis was asked to make a cardboard stand-in for each painting in the gallery that would allow them to easily configure the gallery the paintings were to be in. He made about 100, and works selected from this body were shown at the gallery.

The Clark Art Institute unveiled the second in their Clark Remix series, "In/Visible," a show examining roles of women, put together through uCurate by Stephentown, N.Y., resident, Ashley Smith. The Clark also presented Electric Paris, a show designed to document the changes in depictions as electricity began to the street lights in the city of love.

March was a huge month for Mass MoCA openings, with four new shows.

"Life’s Work" brought together two artists whose main canvas was the printed page. Johnny Carrera’s "Pictorial Webster’s" featured the original prints from Webster’s Dictionary coupled with his own extensions of the form. Tom Phillips’ "A Humament" is a repurposed book, with art, done in several versions and over decades, to create a new narrative from the old.

Mark Dion’s "The Octogon Room" saw the artist represent the insides of his own mind during the Bush years as an eight-sided room, and the One Minute Film Festival functioned as a retrospective of the 10-year history of a private annual showing of one-minute long films made by some of the brightest in the art world.

MCLA Gallery 51 featured the first "Other Hudson" show, celebrating fantastic creators from Hudson, N.Y., including Jen P. Harris, Jack Millard, John Cooley and Claudia McNulty.

The Clark Art opened its third uCurate show, this time "Everyday Nothing" by New Hampshire college student Samantha Jones.

Also in March, the Bennington Museum featured another North Adams favorite, this time Laura Christensen, who debuted a new series of photo collages and sculptures. And April saw a visit to the Williams College Museum of Art by acclaimed cartoonist and New Yorker artist Adrian Tomine.

May was another huge month for new art at Mass MoCa. "Love To Love You" featured art that drew from the relationship between fan and object of adoration.

Three artists also debuted in solo shows. Joseph Montgomery’s "Five Sets Five Reps" features complicated collage and minimal abstraction that maps his own creative journey.

Jason Middlebrook’s "My Landscape" couples his plank paintings with an impressive indoor waterfall sculpture. Guillaume Leblon’s "Under My Shoe" collects recent work by the Parisian sculptor.

In June, summer came with a vengeance. North Adams opened its storefronts for the latest Downstreet Art summer festival. Among the highlight of the June openings were MCLA Gallery 51’s second show of works from Hudson, N.Y., including the intricate and fantastical photographs of Kahn and Selesnik. Gallery 105 coupled the work of sculptor Richard Harrington and painter/animator Jenny Kemp. Gallery 53 featured Maine’s Beehive Collective and the group’s sprawling print effort, "The True Cost of Coal," as well as other works. The Branch Gallery paired ceramics artists Geoffrey Booras and David Kaufmann, and their interest in the industrial. The Transcript Gallery featured the photography of Daniel Morgan, and the NAACO Gallery highlighted the pairing of the paintings of Sharon Carson and the ceramics work of Stephen Fabrico.

Kidspace at Mass MoCA offered "Freedom’s Just Another Word For," part of a three-museum effort along with the Clark Art Institute and the Williams College Museum of Art.

Kidspace’s contribution featured six artists of Asian descent, including Roger Shimomura and Ang Tsherin Sherpa, and art examining their own relationship with their cultures, and the way the rest of the world views them.

Over in Williamstown, the Clark Art featured a show of new George Innes acquisitions, as well as a Homer Winslow exhibit, and the Williamstown Theatre Festival returned with productions of "Animal Crackers," "Pygmalion," "The Bridges of Madison County" and others.

The Solid Sound Festival returned after skipping a year, and practically doubled the population of North Adams for the weekend, with Wilco at the helm again for two shows.

Their first performance, an all-request show, saw the band perform a slew of unusual songs, from Cheap Trick’s "Surrender" to Abba’s "Waterloo," with John Hodgman serving as the master of ceremonies.

The weekend saw memorable performances by Nekko Case, Lucius, Yo La Tengo, Medeski Martin and Wood, Marc Ribot and David Hidalgo, and others, as well as a live performance of the NPR show Radiolab.

July brought another wave of Downstreet Art openings, including Press Gallery’s "Liminality" show, which featured prints and artist books by Valerie Carrigan; Ibrahim Quraishi’s road trip in the American southwest, featured at MCLA Gallery 51; Tatiana Klacsmann’s whimsical, magical paintings and collages at Gallery 105; work derived with pinhole cameras by Dan McCormack and Bill Guild, a presentation of the Eclipse Mill and the Brill Gallery; and Gallery 53’s survey of video art from Iran, curated by the Tehran-based Solly Kh.

"Now Dig This" came to the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), a massive survey of African American art in Los Angeles from 1960 to 1980. This was followed in August by "72 Degrees," a companion show that pulled from the museum’s own holdings.

In August, Downstreet Art continued the art onslaught Richard Remsberg’s "Historyland" at Gallery 53, a hilarious collection of found objects; "A Marriage 1 (Suburbia)," Nick Vaughan and Jake Margolin’s installation at MCLA Gallery 51 that weighed their own autobiography as a couple against the American normal; "The Politics of" at the Press Gallery, with 11 artists pursuing the nexus of art and politics, and how they work together; Jennifer Huberdeau’s "Working Class" series, images inspired by daily life in the Northern Berkshires, at the Transcript Gallery; and Matt Phillips’ abstracts at the Branch Gallery.

Mass MoCA presented a special movie event with a screening of "Beasts of The Southern Wild" with director Benn Zeitlin and composer Dan Romer providing the accompanying film score live.

Among the Downstreet’s September openings were Eliza O. Barrios’ "Writing Series: (Manga) Sulat Sa Pader* (Writing on the Wall)," which pulled heavily from her Filipino heritage in a multi-media examination of capitalism, and Press Gallery’s "Markings: Marks and mark-making in printmaking," a surgery of work created at the gallery.

That same month, Mass MoCa opened a new building devoted entirely to a long-term exhibition of the works of Anselm Kelfer, with a companion show at the Williams College Museum of Art, focusing on his early work.

The Clark Art opened three shows -- "Sacred and Profane: Four Hundred Years of Religious and Mythological Paintings," "Face Time: Portraits and Figures in Paintings and Sculpture, Land, Sea" and "Sky: The Natural World in Art 1600 - 1900."

And the Freshgrass Festival at Mass MoCA returned, growing bigger in size and reputation, bringing musicians like Ralph Stanley, Dan Zanes and Sarah Jarosz, and returning bands like The Devil Makes Three and the Infamous Stringdusters, to perform in the area’s breakout music festival.

October featured a first -- the David G. Hartwell ‘63 Science Fiction Symposium, put together by author Paul Park and featuring big names in the field, including Samuel R. Delany, Kim Stanley Robinson, Paolo Bacigalupi and Kelly Link for three days of panel discussions, lectures and readings.

It also kicked off another new and hopefully regular event, the MCLA Puppet Fest, with Canadian puppeteers Shawna Reiter and Jonathan Davis teaming with David Lane for a production of his "The Chronicles of Rose."

British band the Tiger Lillies brought their very special "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" show to the ‘62 Center in Williamstown.

Out of 2013, this was definitely the show to see, as the band performed their cabaret version of the Coleridge poem on a stage surrounded by beautiful digital animation work by photographer Mark Holthusen.

The Williamstown Film Festival returned for its 15th year, with highlights including a talk with John Irving and screenings of "A Birder’s Guide To Everything" and "Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia."

Gallery manager C. Ryder Cooley’s swan song at MCLA Gallery 51 was "Rewilderment," a combination of ritualistic performance work by Cooley in collaboration with Sarah Falkner.

Also featured was photography by Shannon Taggart, some documenting the rituals, though many others from her years-long project of capturing scenes from spiritualist communities.

Longtime Transcript photographer Gillian Jones’s offered her show "Spires of North Adams" at the Transcript Gallery and Open Studios returned for another successful year, which saw it putting more focus on artist’s spaces and practices.

The year wound down with strong events, though with more time between them -- acclaimed Klezmer violinist Alicia Svigals performing her score for the restored silent film "The Yellow Ticket" at Mass MoCA, Italian puppeteer Laura Bartolomei performed "Dorme," her show of nightmares and dreams for the second show in the MCLA Puppet Fest and Izhar Patkin took over Building 5 in Mass MoCA for his massive retrospective, "The Wandering Veil" -- not to mention another of the successful 99 cents and up shows at MCLA Gallery, now a local holiday tradition.

John Seven is the Transcript’s arts and entertainment editor. Find him online