By Peter Walsh
It’s a hot weather tradition. Generations of American artists have followed the seasonal migration out of hot, sticky, eastern cities to Cape Cod (Edward Hopper, Hans Hoffman), the North Shore (Winslow Homer, Childe Hassan, Stuart Davis, Mark Rothko), and the Berkshires (Daniel Chester French, Norman Rockwell ).
Besides their work, they left behind a fascinating clutter of artists’ colonies, galleries, summer art schools, and museums. Like the hot dog stands, beaches, and whale tours, as things slow down in city venues, these places come back to life. Now is the time to stop by.
1: The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA, at the far northwestern edge of the Berkshires, was founded by millionaire art collector Sterling Clark. His goal was to avoid nuclear war, not summer heat, though. That war never came but the tourists did, flocking to its galleries to gawk at Sterling’s fine collection of Degas, Renoir, and other French painters.
The Clark, now the region’s premier art institution, often hosts its most important exhibitions during the peak of the Berkshire tourist season. This year’s offering is “Picasso Looks at Degas” (June 13 through September 12), which has already earned a spot on several “hot” lists.
They can look like opposites—Degas, the cranky, reclusive aristocrat with elegant tastes, who disdained wealth and worldly fame; Picasso, the brash, pushy, social climbing, rule-breaking extrovert, always on the make. Yet both have deep roots in fine draftsmanship and in the classical traditions of French art, the school that values drawing above all else.
Picasso was obsessed with Degas from early in his career. He admired, mocked, and imitated the older artist as only a genius can admire, mock, and imitate a rival genius. The Clark show brings together the work of the two in a way that never happened during their lifetimes. The result is not only some fascinating pairings and groupings but a chance to see, gathered from Paris, Barcelona, Washington, Los Angeles, and Ottawa, among other places, some fine treasures of a grand tradition.
2: Edward Hopper was well into middle age when he gained his first commercial success as an artist. With some of the first proceeds, he bought seaside land in Truro, MA, and built, amid the barren dunes, a splendidly sited studio and summer home. It became the base camp for his summer painting campaigns for the rest of his life.
Somewhat ironically, The Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM) is hosting work of the pre-Truro Hopper. “Early Impressions: Drawings by Edward Hopper” (through July 4) focuses on Hopper’s early career when, from a cramped Greenwich Village studio, he scraped together a living as a printmaker and freelance commercial artist. Hopper so detested this work that, as soon as he could afford to, he dropped it forever: a shame, many think. For Hopper’s efforts in monochrome line can be as haunting as, and even more accomplished than, his oils and watercolors.
3: The Abstract Expressionist Hans Hoffman spent the winters teaching at his school in New York and the summers teaching on the Cape. He was a Provincetown fixture from the 1930s. Accompanying Hopper at PAAM is the work of one of Hoffman’s students: “Robert Fisher: A Career Survey” is on view though July 18.
Fisher (who died in 2007) was an abstract painter and sculptor who lived and taught mostly in Vermont. But he studied with Hoffman, whose teaching was legendary, in the 1950s. The influence stuck—both professionally and personally, it seems. Fisher was still talking (for a PBS documentary in 2000) and writing about his mentor to the very end of his life.
4: Step out among the camera snapping tourists on any holiday weekend and you’ll see why photography is the one contemporary art form most Americans can relate to without even trying. Saturated by camera-made images and snapshots from birth, most of us have little trouble decoding even the work of even the most advanced and controversial photographers.
Up for the tourist season at Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis is “The Christopher Hyland Collection of Photography By Way of These Eyes—The Sublime, Exotic and Familiar.” Hyland, a New York textile designer, has apparently collected everything from the early classics (Edward Weston, Henri Cartier-Bresson) to the lately homoerotic (Robert Mapplethorpe, Herb Ritts, Christopher Hyland). Some 53 photographers are on view in all, through August 8.
5: Since its transformation into an art museum several years ago, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem has been the leading North Shore venue for serious photography. Not to be outdone in the seasonal offerings, PEM is hosting “Imprints: Photographs by Mark Ruwedel.”
The exhibition features black-and-white images of dinosaur tracks and ancient human footpaths. Ruwedel, a prominent American landscape photographer, here creates images that play like ghost stories—mysterious traces of empires long vanished from the lands of the living. The show is on view from June 12 through the fall, closing on January 1, 2011.