Berkshire Juggernaut

I spent most of this week shooting portraits in Williamstown, MA. It was fun to be up there and out of the usual locales. Williamstown is wedged into the upper left corner of Massachusetts. Ringed by mountains, its a place of great beauty, and quite isolated considering that it’s part of the denser populated Northeast.

One of the gems in town is the Williams College Museum of Art. I hadn’t been there in close to twenty years and I’m glad to say it didn’t disappoint. One of my portrait subjects, Mike Glier, has a show of landscape paintings exploring environments from the arctic to the equator which happen to fall on the longitude line which passes through his studio in Hoosick, New York. The paintings are rich and engaging. I liked how each location was clearly distinct, while still working together as a whole. His New York body of work has shades of Stuart Davis underneath it. Very nice.

January 23, 2008: Afternoon at Haulover Bay, St. John, Virgin Islands, 83°F; ©2009, Mike Glier/Artist Rights Society

Mike’s work is shown along with another Williams faculty member, Amy Podmore. Amy’s got a range of work from sculpture to video. What got me the most was her video entitled, Disappearing Acts – Powder and Milk. One half of the screen is Amy in what can be best described as a white, plaster looking, breast dress. It has fifty or so breasts on it arranged in four rows. Amy spins in a circle as milk spots out of the nipple on each breast. The other half of the screen finds Amy in the same location. She is wearing a white loose fitting pants outfit with many pockets, each filled with white powder. Amy jumps around and bats at the pockets creating a large white cloud. She’s clearly having fun on both sides of the screen and it’s infectious. What could be forced is funny, and odd, and you can’t help but watch it.

Disappearing Acts - Powder and Milk, video still, © Amy Podmore
Disappearing Acts - Powder and Milk, video still, © Amy Podmore

In other galleries at the museum are works by William Morris Hunt, Alec Soth, and Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle. Hunt and Soth are in a Niagara smack-down. Hunt painted the falls in the nineteenth century. Soth photographed them in the twenty-first. Hunt’s work is impressionism and it felt dated and blah. It was clearly skilled but it was no match for the beauty of Soth’s best work. I’ve been reading about Alec Soth for years and have seen his work in print and online. Neither matches seeing it in person. It’s beautiful and the key pieces are stunning.

Niagara Falls, 1878, by William Morris Hunt
Niagara Falls, 1878, by William Morris Hunt

An image of the falls, shot in winter, 4’x5′, is just glorious. The web can’t do it justice. There are tourists on overlooks, there’s a richness in layers of mist which is impressionism today. Unfortunately, much of the show is Soth’s motel work. I think someone needs to pull Soth aside and say, no more motels, no more motels at night, no more motels with old cars in front, and no more motels with brides (you can see a gallery here.) It’s not that this work isn’t attractive, I just feel like I’ve seen it before and that it’s a cliché.

Falls 02, 2005, © Alec Soth
Falls 02, 2005, © Alec Soth

Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle’s work is one video, Juggernaut, projected in HD on a large wall (~18′ high by 32′ wide.) It was shot at the salt flats of the El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve in Mexico. The blurb on the wall had some gobbley-gook curator speak about how the reserve is actually for whales and that by Manglano-Ovalle choosing to work with the salt flats and not the whales there is some connection to the whales. That did not ring true for me, it sounded like a leap, and it wasn’t needed. The video is engrossing enough on its own. Just over five minutes long, it presents a bleak white, flat landscape. The camera is moving slowing to the right while industrial trucks are moving slightly faster to the right. You see the trucks from the tires down but it’s clear these are huge machines. The sound is a layered combination of noise, static, and voices.

Juggernaut, video still, © Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle
Juggernaut, video still, © Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle

The installation is large enough that if the gallery is empty you can walk into the scene.

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Me watching Juggernaut, Series of 4, December 1, 2009

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