Ferrin Gallery Exhibit Connects Artists
Many new works of art can be viewed in light of what came before. A gallery project in western Massachusetts has made that connection explicit by connecting artists with curators at museums in the region and in Boston. The artists' charge was to go deep into these collections and find inspiration for new work, responding to the old, often in a different medium. The results are now on view through September 2nd.
An eerie John Singer Sargent portrait re-imagined as a quirkily personal photograph. An 18th century print depicting courtly life in pre-revolutionary France transformed into a block of wall-mounted plates. These are among the wildly divergent responses a group of artists came up with as part of the Covet project, spanning two gallery shows and a series of talks and meet-and-greets in the Berkshires. Artists were put in touch with curators at area museums to find old works to respond to in their own way.
"It's really amazing what a motivated, interested creative artist can do to collections that you feel like you know really well. They can transform them into something exciting and new."
That's Aprile Gallant, a curator at the Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton. She showed seldom-displayed prints from the museum's collection to Molly Hatch, a ceramic artist based in Florence.
Hatch took black and white prints of aristocratic scenes in 18th century France and spun them off into several works, including a group of 30 hand-painted ceramic plates, hung on the wall in rows of five to form a semi-abstracted version of the original.
Hatch says she was interested in merging fine and decorative arts.
"In the case of the plates, I was most engaged by the idea of sort of updating the Martha Stewart idea of hanging plates in a cascade on your wall that are pretty. And I thought, I'm a contemporary artist, how can I take this tradition and this history of plates being hung on the wall as a painting and really make it a proper painting format that we understand?"
Pittsfield photographer Bill Wright visited Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, and says Sargent's depiction of light appealed to him as a photographer. He restaged the painting "The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit," playing with the cool emotions he saw on the canvas by visiting an abandoned house and putting a personal touch on his casting.
"I used two of my daughters and I used two other young girls that we've known since birth, my wife's best friend's children, and we photographed it in a house that my wife grew up in and that no one's lived in in 20 years."
In the original, one of the girls slumps against a tall Japanese vase. For the photo, an old mattress, stood on one end, takes its place. The MFA is acquiring Wright's photo.
Kathleen Morris, a curator at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, went into storage to pull out porcelain cups and saucers to show Hatch. She admires the freewheeling spirit of the Covet experiment.
"I love this idea of a gallery as a catalyst for sending and connecting artists with curators and with collections, and then just seeing what comes out of it. Because there's no roadmap."
The work of Hatch, Wright, and others can be seen through September 2 at the Ferrin Gallery in Pittsfield