These Berkshire hills offer an incredible legacy of art in public spaces. Artists have been drawn to the landscape for centuries in search of tranquility and inspiration, but they have also exposed the community to their talents while here.
Private space was made public decades ago at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket where performers danced—and continue to do so—without cost to anyone willing to sit and watch under a tree. In 1991, singer Arlo Guthrie purchased the Old Trinity Church in Great Barrington to serve as a spiritual, physical, and creative refuge for the community. Once a palatial estate, Ashintully Gardens in Tyringham was donated to The Trustees of Reservations in 1996, preserving the lands and architectural ruins for the public. And actors have performed Shakespeare’s plays on Pittsfield’s First Street Common for free for thousands of people nearly every year since 2014.
Publicly accessible art has taken on new meaning now, in a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has locked many of us at home for months and kept us socially distanced. Indoor spaces, where much of the world’s art is contained, have become menacing and navigating social space has been challenging.
“We heard from the Clark that many people used the trails for respite from the stress that the pandemic precipitated,” said Molly Epstein, co-curator of Ground/work, the first outdoor exhibition mounted by the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown. “We have a huge appreciation that [the show] happened at a moment when there was a deep need for comfort, solace, and spending time outdoors.”
The Clark is one of several Berkshire cultural institutions to be showcasing art on its grounds this year. Norman Rockwell Museum, Berkshire Botanical Garden, and Chesterwood in Stockbridge and The Mount in Lenox and are all featuring outdoor exhibitions as part of their seasonal programming. Some are annual events that had established an important tradition of highlighting the work of regional and national sculptors. Others, like Ground/work, are embracing open-air campus assets to provide a safe space to see artworks.
The six installations on view in Ground/work were completed last October and will remain on view through the fall. For Epstein and her fellow curator Abigail Ross Goodman, who began to work on this project years before the coronavirus surfaced, it was a perfect opportunity to extend the museum’s reach into publicly accessible natural space.
“There’s something exciting for artists about making work in a place that isn’t as mitigated by the trappings of an indoor art experience,” she said of participating artists Kelly Akashi, Nairy Baghramian, Jennie C. Jones, Eva LeWitt, Analia Saban, and Haegue Yang. They engaged the material world, embraced the changes in landscape that four seasons bring, and pushed their own practices in new directions in order to provide something special for visitors.
Great Barrington-based sculptor Natalie Tyler, who also serves as the program director at SculptureNow, believes that their upcoming exhibition at The Mount will be especially powerful. “A lot of sculptures that may not have touched people before may [do so] now,” she said.
Tyler exhibited at TurnPark Art Space in West Stockbridge this spring and witnessed people interacting with her work in new ways. Public art is having a moment, she said, not simply because it is easy and safe to view works outside, but because of the “symbiotic relationship people have with something three-dimensional.”
“Sculptures have a deeper meaning now because we’ve been so isolated,” she said. “There’s a renewed interest in interacting with what’s around us, whether that’s habitat or artworks.”
Temporary sculpture exhibitions aren’t the only projects that have changed the significance of public spaces. Murals and municipal artworks have long redefined community and reflected shared experience.
Vincent Ballentine’s Metal and Stone, a 100-foot-long painting of a train roaring through the Hoosac Tunnel, tells the story of North Adams’ industrial past. Transitions, a mural created in 2000 by artists William Blake, Jay Tobin, and others, commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Pittsfield Boys and Girls Club, the second in the United States. More murals will be coming to both cities this summer.
“Last year, we encouraged people of color to submit proposals that reflected what was going on in the world,” said Abby Powers of Artscape’s ongoing paintbox project. Powers, who is chair of Pittsfield’s public art committee, facilitated the installation of four new paintbox murals that tackle local and national issues including Black Lives Matter.
“Public art is breaking down barriers for viewers,” said Powers. “We want to give residents of our community a voice and a space to share.”
Many artists share their inspirations by inviting visitors to their studio or work space to see the art-making process first hand. Local sculptors Robert Butler, Roy Kanwit, and Matt Thomases have gone one step further, creating publicly accessible sculpture parks on their own properties which will all be open this season.
A sculptor who works with natural stone and metals, John Van Alstine established a sculpture park on his own land—nine acres surrounding an abandoned lumberyard on the Sacandaga River in New York’s Adirondack State Park. Like many artists who manage their own parks, Van Alstine was inundated with local visitors last summer and welcomed guests by appointment only.
But the pandemic-induced isolation that lured many New Yorkers outside created a unique opportunity for the artist inside. “I have made more works this whole year in lockdown than I ever have,” he said. “I was incredibly focused, almost like I was at a forced retreat.”
Although Alstine produced nearly 80 new pieces, he will be exhibiting 11 large-scale works, made over the course of his career, at Chesterwood’s 2021 Contemporary Sculpture Show in Stockbridge. He hopes the show will be an “awakening” for people who may not seek out art.
“The stone I work with is generally raw and unmanipulated—I see it as the spirit of the stone which I combine with industrial metals for a merging of cultural sensibilities,” he said. “For me, the physical qualities of the work are the hook that can draw people in who might not know anything about sculpture.”
Take a tour, from north to south, of the many public art exhibitions and venues dotting our unique landscape.
Now in its 24th year, the North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show—also known as NBOSS—is one of the longest-running outdoor sculpture exhibitions in southwest Vermont. The annual event draws visitors to North Bennington’s downtown where, this year, sculptures by 38 regional artists including curator Joe Chirchirillo will be on display. About 20 sculptures will also be installed across Bennington Museum’s 10-acre property. Sculptures in North Bennington are accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and the museum’s grounds are free to wander from dawn to dusk.
June 19–November 7, 2021
Opening reception: June 19, 4 p.m.
Daily | FREE
48-66 Main Street, North Bennington, Vt.
Bennington Museum, 75 Main Street, Bennington, Vt.
As the Clark’s first-ever outdoor exhibition, Ground/work is a captivating interpretation of the 140-acre campus that many locals and visitors have utilized for decades. Six artists were invited to the museum to get to know the landscape and create site-specific installations that engage with the changing landscape. Participating artists include Kelly Akashi, Nairy Baghramian, Jennie C. Jones, Eva LeWitt, Analia Saban, and Haegue Yang. Ground/work was co-curated by Molly Epstein and Abigail Ross Goodman. The Clark’s grounds are free and accessible day or night.
Now–October 17, 2021
Daily | FREE
225 South Street, Williamstown, Mass.
SculptureNow is a Berkshire staple; the non-profit has been curating sculpture exhibitions in the region for over 20 years and has presented its annual juried outdoor exhibition at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s Home in Lenox, for eight years. This summer, 31 artists from across the country are participating in a diverse exhibition of contemporary sculpture. Self-guided tour maps, available at The Mount or via download at sculpturenow.org/visit, contain a scannable link to an audio guide app. Artist-guided tours are also available for up to 15 participants at a time on July 18, August 15, September 12, and October 10. Tickets required.
June 1–October 13, 2021
Meet the artists: June 20, 2–5 p.m.
Daily, dawn–dusk (closes at 3 p.m. most Saturdays) | FREE
2 Plunkett Street, Lenox, Mass.
The theme Taking Flight will dominate the indoor and outdoor exhibition spaces at the Berkshire Botanical Garden this year. Sculptures will be displayed throughout the gardens by participating artists Tracey Emin, Concha Martinez Barreto, Peter Gerakaris, Rachel Owens, Ian Swordy, and Immi Storrs. This outdoor exhibition is curated by Beth Rudin deWoody, renowned art collector, philanthropist, and museum trustee. Masks are mandatory while visiting the gardens and galleries.
June 11–October 31, 2021
Opening reception: June 11, 6–8 p.m.
Daily, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.
$7.50/FREE children under 12
5 West Stockbridge Road, Stockbridge, Mass.
This special juried outdoor exhibition will be held in conjunction with Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration, opening on June 12 in the museum’s galleries. The 25 exhibiting sculptures and installations, which were selected through an open call process, represent or are inspired by fantasy: “Myths, legends, fables, romance, and epic battles involving swords and sorcery [that] occur in a world unfamiliar to us.” The museum’s grounds are free and open to the public daily.
July 10–October 31, 2021
Opening reception: July 10, 2–4 p.m.
Daily, dawn–dusk | FREE
9 Glendale Road, Stockbridge, Mass.
Chesterwood’s 43rd Annual Contemporary Sculpture Show, Tipping the Balance: Contemporary Sculpture by John Van Alstine, will feature the work of John Van Alstine, a sculptor based in Wells, New York. Exhibition curator Caroline Welsh, director emerita of the Adirondack Museum, has chosen 11 of Van Alstine’s large-scale works for display. Chesterwood itself has a rich history in public art; the site is the former summer home of Daniel Chester French, known for creating the statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
July 10–October 25, 2021
Opening reception and artist’s talk: July 9, 5–7 p.m. (FREE)
Thursday–Monday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
$10 adult/$5 children 13–18
4 Williamsville Road, Stockbridge, Mass.
PUBLIC SCULPTURE PARKS
This 16-acre abandoned quarry-turned-sculpture park is home to an international sculpture collection as well as special events and performances. This summer, the park will feature the work of architect Alexander Konstantinov, the park’s primary architect, who passed away two years ago. The exhibition, titled Wandering Stones, will survey Konstantinov’s public art and architectural projects, including his work at TurnPark. Wandering Stones will be on view from May 24 to July 25, 2021.
Daily, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. | $15/$12 suggested donation
2 Moscow Road, West Stockbridge, Mass.
Roy Kanwit’s Taconic Sculpture Park is aptly named—his 20-foot-tall sculptural head of Gaea, or Mother Earth, is visible from the Taconic State Parkway in Columbia County. The self-taught sculptor has maintained a breathtaking outdoor display of mythological figures carved from marble and cement on his property for 36 years, and it remains a popular rest stop for visitors passing through. Call 518-392-5757 to confirm that the park is open.
Saturday–Sunday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. | $10 per car
221 Stever Hill Road, Chatham, N.Y.
Art Omi’s Sculpture & Architecture Park features more than 60 works by contemporary artists and architects, with several new pieces—or exhibitions—coming this summer. Among them are TunnelTeller, an immense yet playful concrete sculpture by Berlin-based artist Alicja Kwade, and Jean Shin’s Allée Gathering, a monumental picnic table created from maple trees salvaged from a conservation project at Storm King Art Center in Cornwall, New York, where it was displayed in 2019.
Jean Shin opening reception: May 29, 1–3 p.m.
Daily, dawn–dusk | $10 suggested donation
1405 County Route 22, Ghent, N.Y.
Sculptor Matt Thomases has created a brand-new sculpture garden on 15 hilly acres of a former farm field in Hillsdale, New York. Privately owned but publicly accessible, the park contains a variety of Thomases’ artworks, from large-scale stained glass pieces to abstract bronze, fiberglass, and steel forms. Paths lead visitors past gorgeous mountain vistas to the sculptures, although at least half of the pieces can be seen from or near the parking area.
June 16–October 31, 2021
Wednesday–Monday, 10 a.m.–30 min before sunset | FREE
82 Route 7D, Hillsdale, N.Y.
This privately owned sculpture park is the home of Robert Butler, a sculptor working primarily in stainless steel. Seven of the property’s 40 acres are outfitted with paths that are adorned with several dozen sculptures, and more are displayed in three indoor galleries—two of which are in Butler’s studio building—which will be open this summer; masks are required to enter all indoor spaces. Accessibility accommodations can be made by calling 413-229-8924.
May 20–November 1, 2021
Daily, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. | FREE
481 Shunpike Road, Sheffield, Mass.
PERMANENT PUBLIC ARTWORKS
Field Farm in Williamstown is a tranquil, 300-acre sanctuary of wetlands, woods, pasture, and hiking trails owned and maintained by The Trustees of Reservations. The landscaped lawns that surround two mid-century Modern houses on the property are dotted with 13 contemporary sculptures. Artists include Herbert Ferber, Mario Negri, Richard McDermott Miller, and Bernard Reder. Grounds are open year-round.
Daily, dawn–dusk | FREE
554 Sloan Road, Williamstown, Mass.
One of the most noticeable public sculptures on the Williams College campus is Louise Bourgeois’s 2001 installation Eyes. Embedded into the museum’s lawn, the large sculptures come alive at night as beams of light shine from the pupils. A dozen more public artworks in the museum’s collection, by renowned artists such as George Rickey and Jenny Holzer, can be found across the college campus. A printable tour guide and interactive Google map are available online.
FREE | Williamstown, Mass.
MASS MoCA, known for its long-term gallery exhibitions, has also installed many temporary and permanent public artworks throughout its home city of North Adams. Among them are Victoria Palermo’s The Bus Stand, a stained glass bus stop on Main Street; Klaas Hübner and Andrew Schrock’s Corrugarou, an interactive musical tower installed at Tourists hotel; and Big Bling, a 40-foot-tall sculpture by Martin Puryear that greets drivers as they enter the city. A new outdoor installation by Taryn Simon will be on view starting May 29; admission fee required to view.
FREE | North Adams, Mass.
DownStreet Art, a program of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, has facilitated the installation of over six public murals throughout North Adams and supported the creation of a handful of others in collaboration with local partners. Murals include the colorful Justice by Egyptian artist Alaa Awad and Muralismo Publico’s Poppy Girl behind the Mohawk Theater. Two murals, by artists Vincent Ballentine and Danielle Klebes, were added to the city’s public art inventory during the 2019 O+ Festival.
FREE | North Adams, Mass.
Twenty-four paintboxes are currently on display in Pittsfield thanks to Artscape, the city’s public art program. The paintboxes are colorful and meaningful murals painted over ubiquitous utility boxes. Artscape also places sculptures in public locations and facilitates collaborative art projects, including The Sun Will Rise, a mural installed in 2020 on North Street, and the upcoming Black Lives Matter Art Project which will feature a mural on North Street by Frances Chloe Jones-Whitman and an installation in Sottile Park by Salief Lewis. Maps can be found at www.firstfridaysartswalk.com.
FREE | Pittsfield, Mass.
Great Barrington’s new public art initiative, founded by gallerist Lauren Clark and sculptors Michael Thomas and Peter Barrett, is beginning to facilitate the installation of public sculptures at downtown sites including the Berkshire Food Co-op and Triplex Cinema. Five more sculptures will be added to the Powerhouse Square condominium campus, and others will be installed throughout the downtown.
FREE | Great Barrington, Mass.