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ART REVIEW: Japanese and modernist masterpieces at The Clark

Visual Arts




"Through the Seasons: Japanese Art in Nature," through October 18

"Dove/O'Keeffe: Circles of Influence," through September 7


Review by Tresca Weinstein


The gallery space in the new Stone Hill Center at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, takes up only a fraction of the building's square footage, but architect Tadao Ando has framed the surrounding woods and views in such a way that art appears to be everywhere you turn. Between cloudbursts on a recent afternoon, a floor-to-ceiling window filled with wet, waving limbs looked like a living version of one of the 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century Japanese hanging scrolls in "Through the Seasons: Japanese Art in Nature," on view here through October 18.


The dozen scrolls and folding screens are exactly as lovely as you'd expect—there are few surprises here, beyond the reminder of how much expressiveness and detail can be rendered with a few perfectly angled strokes of a brush. The showpieces are Suzuki Kiitsu's early 19th-century Morning Glories and the 17th-century Mountains and Rivers in Autumn, two pairs of six-panel folding screens painted in gold and colored ink on gilded paper. But more subtle pleasure can be found in the serene shades of gray of Okuhara Seiko's 1872 Lotus, just this side of abstraction, and the clusters of flowers, glowing like hundreds of little lanterns, in Ito Jakuchu's White Plum Blossoms and Moon.


Most of the show's "wow" moments, however, are inspired by the contemporary ceramics, crafted in shapes culled from nature, that complement the two-dimensional pieces. These strange and seductive vases and containers are exhibited inside glass cubes—a wise decision, as their luscious glazes and oddly textured surfaces cry out to be touched. Naito Yutako's long, silky wave of celadon porcelain seems to have risen from the ocean depths along with Kimura Yoshihiro's Sea Platter and Miyashita Zenji's square-edged vase, both in swimming-pool hues. The mysterious ruffled layers of Koike Shoko's rough-hewn Shell contain the same quiet, mysterious depths as the tangled boughs of Seiko's Lotus.


Another sort of artistic relationship is highlighted in the Clark's new show "Dove/O'Keeffe: Circles of Influence," on view through September 7, which examines the ongoing exchange of ideas and imagery between Georgia O'Keeffe and Arthur Dove during the first half of the twentieth century. Don't go expecting to see O'Keeffe's most famous paintings (the flowers and skulls); this is a more interesting selection, less obvious yet still richly suggestive, as are Dove's lesser-known works.


Pairs of paintings illustrate the obvious confluences between the two, such as their respective rendering of bull's-eye sunrises, or the hidden crevices in her curvy Jack-in-Pulpit No. VI and his snail-like Willow Tree. There's a freedom and playfulness in both artists' work as they experiment with color and dance back and forth across the line between abstraction and representation. O'Keeffe's Dark Abstraction is a field of deep velvety purple, like pansy petals; in Dove's Fog Horns, bursts of purple blare over a sea of blue and white.


Tresca Weinstein is Berkshire Living's art critic.






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