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The Lawrence Tree, by Georgia O’Keefe. Photo: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, and Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

We spent several days last week in western Massachusetts, seeing Shakespeare plays and looking at art. There’s lots of both (plus music and dance) to be had within an amazingly small radius. As my travel wizard and friend Lesli points out repeatedly, a place becomes popular for a reason. The Berkshires have earned their stripes as a great vacation spot over years of building on a set of cultural offerings that are unmatched. This long tradition was brought home when I stood in the Fox Hollow mansion (formerly owned by the Westinghouse family and now the headquarters for EnlightenNext) and was shown the spot on the lawn where Tanglewood first began. The rest is, of course, history.

Two interior visual experiences stood out for me. One was the Georgia O’Keefe and Arthur Dove exhibit at the Clark, Dove/O’Keefe: Circles of Influence. While neither artist has ever been one of my inner sanctum influences, this show provided a context for the evolution of their work that was memorable and compelling. Unlike the staid and yawn-ish tradition of presenting an artist’s work in a chronological manner, the curatorial approach for the show was more organic and, can we say, rhizomatic. It did not require a start here/end here linearity, and the focus on the relationship between these two artists who were lifelong producers was much more of a free flowing exploration. Their interests coincide and diverge, than come together again. And the selections for the show are a refreshing break from the overviewed, canonical works that are so commonly associated with each of these larger than life figures. Some of the earlier works feel so open-faced and raw, far from the cliché of what too many umbrellas and address book covers can do to any good artist’s body of work. This is curating that shifts the experience quite dramatically.

And I was so pleased to finally see the Stone Hill Center, Tadao Ando’s structure that sits on the hill just up from the Clark.

A second memorable viewing: The Williams College Museum of Art, one of the most substantial college collections in this country. (And how cool that it is also free of charge.) In the introduction to a show of work drawn from the museum’s collection, the curator took issue with 20th century taste maker Bernard Berenson’s assertion that museums have an obligation to present only masterpieces and to provide the standard of exemplary excellence. Instead this was a show that brought together a variety of works which were interesting in their own right. Not obligated to only present the finest work by any given artist, the show gave more freedom for the viewer to maneuver and navigate on his or her own. Once again, more rhizomatic than linear, more open ended than elitist and prescriptive.

As for the visual feast that happens outside of a sequestered gallery, that happens everywhere—from the hike to the mountain top in the Pleasant Valley Wildlife Refuge to the pond full of lilies next to the Clark Institute to the gardens at the River Bend Farm. Lush, and more lush, all of it bursting out with a chaotic but hard-wired drive to manifest.

A sobering and heartfelt reminder for my return to the labor of indoor studio work.

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Lily Pond at the Clark

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Stone Hill Center, Tadao Ando

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Wood staining at Stone Hill Center

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Garden at River Bend Farm

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