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ART REVIEW: Diane Felber Gallery, something new in West Stockbridge

West Stockbridge promises to become a vital art center in the near future. In addition to other galleries in town, a new 12-acre outdoor sculpture park is under construction at Turn Park Art Space.

West Stockbridge — Not long ago, commercial art galleries sparkled across the county, richly contributing to the cultural radiance of the Berkshires. Many of the exhibiting artists were of museum quality, and some already have landed in museum collections. Sadly, the number of galleries has steadily decreased, and most of the former flagships have gone under. Set against this backdrop, the Diana Felber Gallery in West Stockbridge, Mass., harbingers a hopeful sign of renewal.

This handsome gallery opened its doors in May, and currently hosts its third show, straightforwardly titled “3rd Summer Exhibition.” Occupying the two front rooms, this group show assembles an impressive array of two- and three-dimensional artwork by regional artists. A variety of media is on display, including ceramic and glass. In all, about a dozen artists are involved, and the exhibit runs until September 11.

Lorraine Klagsbrun. At Ease, 14 x 16. Collage.
Lorraine Klagsbrun. At Ease, 14 x 16. Collage.

Collage work rarely turns me on, but Lorraine Klagsbrun’s work promptly turned my head. Indeed, she became a showstopper with her pieces literally selling off the wall. Her six, small collages alone give good reason to make the trip to West Stockbridge. (It should be noted that when an artwork is sold and removed, Felber tries to replace it with another piece by the same artist.)

Klagsbrun ingeniously constructs figures, costumes, and settings from scraps of cut and torn paper. These tactile brocades of color and pattern have the slight disjunctive quality of mosaics, which adds to their idiosyncratic charm. In some cases, sensitively drawn figures – incarnated in flesh tones and clothed in collage – inhabit these papery puzzles. Snippets of random print often encourage the eye to trace along areas of exposed flesh.

There is magic in these collages. Whether by palette, vintage costume, or hair style, an irresistible nostalgia echoes through many of the scenes. Despite the inherent unwieldiness of the medium, Klagsbrun remarkably endows each figure with true personality. Frequently, an underlying psychology interlocks the actors in their frozen situation. I could never tire of looking at this artwork.

Warner Friedman is one of our most collectable and important Berkshire artists. He underwent a jaw-dropping transformation from being a consummate hard-edge painter beginning in the late 1960s to becoming a masterful representational artist today. Indeed, his career offers a case study in contemporary art history, charting a painter’s personal journey through New York modernism and gradually finding his distinctive voice as an American postmodernist.

Those familiar with Friedman’s architectonic motifs will be surprised by his two cloudscapes from the mid-1990s. As a series, about 10 in all, these paintings express an uncharacteristic, unrestrained romantic moment in his work. No reference to human presence here. Instead, he explores sustained motion, dramatic lighting, and expressive, organic form – theater unfolding over our heads. It will be some time before I can look at shifting cloud formations without thinking of Friedman.

Warner Friedman. White Building, 64 x 40. Acrylic on canvas.
Warner Friedman. White Building, 64 x 40. Acrylic on canvas.

Dating from the late 1990s are two “White Building” paintings: close-up views of gables on Friedman’s Greek Revival studio in Sheffield. Simple and severe, a modernist esthetic informs these pieces. A palette of black, white, and blue speaks with eloquent restraint. Straight lines, solid color, and no modulation summons the language of hard-edge painting. Except for an errant cloud in one, the backdrop is a flat field of blue. Were it not for their representational subject, these paintings could pass for monolithic geometric abstractions – and that’s the point.

Friedman’s current output (not included in the show) blends the two approaches displayed here: flatly painted architectural barriers in the foreground (like a fence or window to reinforce the picture plane) with stunningly realistic landscapes and marinescapes beyond. By reconciling modernist geometric painting with traditional realism, Friedman brilliantly forges his own vision of postmodernism.

Meryl Joseph is a Renaissance woman – photographer, filmmaker, painter, sculptor, and athlete. The exhibit presents a number of her paintings and wall assemblages. Working with acrylics and metallic powders, her canvases are abstract dialogues between dominant and secondary voices. Their conversations inevitably evoke a reflective serenity, and titles include Eternity, Breath, and Silent Waters. With surfaces recalling timeworn lacquerware, Joseph’s paintings also carry a distinct Asian accent.

Special note should be made of Origins, which falls outside the mold of her other paintings. In this small, soft piece, two agitated, nebulous masses rear up to confront each other: on the left, cool colors; on the right, warm. A streak of land is perhaps detectable below – creative forces are afoot. The painting’s delicate, feathery brushwork is especially inviting.

Joseph’s archaeological background is evident in her assemblages. She attaches pieces of stone and metal – encrusted or eroded over time – to roughly-shaped panels resembling wall fragments. When isolated, these aggregates of accident take on the appearance of artifacts from lost societies: cultic images of belief. To enhance their aura, Joseph sets them in faintly carved niches. Tattered gauze embedded in the panels convey a sense of antiquity and discovery.

The latest creation of Joseph in the show is Madonna of the Mosque. Constructed from found material, a veiled figure wearing a fluttering mantel holds forth a mummiform child. Gold color sweeps across the humble wall as if a flash of glory – an unexpected encounter between sacred and profane, exaltedness and poverty, stardom and oblivion. While the mother remains concealed, golden rays emanate from the proffered child. This thought-provoking piece (a portrait of everywoman and everychild?) is pregnant with contrasts and associations.

Another artist who captured my attention was Terri Moore, especially her “Berg” series depicting icebergs. Painted in watercolor on YUPO (a synthetic paper), these pieces have undeniable wall presence. According to her artist statement, Moore recruits icebergs – at least in part – to address the issue of climate change. She carefully demarks the waterline on each. The implication is that they are melting away (unlike her depictions, icebergs normally have 90% of their volume below sea level).

Environmental concerns aside, these images are mesmerizing with superb technique and execution. The iridescent blue and green hulks float against the bare paper, resembling rogue planets drifting through space. As fascinating objects, they lend themselves to a variety of concepts and associations. For example, the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” – like a cyclopean eye – peeks out, not betraying the mass below. As such, they easily become metaphors for Freudian psychoanalysis.

Filled edge to edge, Moore’s abstract canvases are less riveting. Like the “Bergs,” a horizon line separates dual realms and a blue tonality dominates. However, the engrossing focal point of the iceberg series is missed. For the most part, the painting here is quite subdued, but occasionally a passage stands out for its remarkable treatment. This is the case when white clashes with blue, producing an icy effect.

Visitors will readily find other art objects and reasons to make the Diana Felber Gallery a worthwhile destination. Indeed, West Stockbridge promises to become a vital art center in the near future. In addition to other galleries in town, a new 12-acre outdoor sculpture park is under construction at Turn Park Art Space. Among the artwork will be a 36-foot piece by Gene Flores, an outstanding Berkshire sculptor. The soft opening is tentatively slated for October – stay tuned.



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