Old friends are returning to the Berkshires this summer. The Impressionist masterpieces that the Clark Art Institute sent on a world tour three years ago are coming back to Williamstown for the museum's reopening, July 4, after a $140 million expansion. The reconfigured Clark's debut is the biggest Berkshire art happening on the horizon.
Opening exhibitions will jolt viewers who know the Clark only for its 19th- and early 20th-century art. "Making It New: Abstract Painting from the National Gallery of Art, 1950 -1970s" will showcase work by pioneering modernists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, Jasper Johns and others who expanded the definition of painting in the mid-20th century.
Chinese art -- ancient ritual bronzes from the Shanghai Museum -- brought in on an exchange the Clark negotiated with the Chinese Ministry of Culture, will further spice the visual mix.
Beyond the surprises the Clark has in store, I am looking forward to the Norman Rockwell Museum's take on painter Edward Hopper's little-known career as an illustrator. An American icon renown for conveying the lonely anonymity of 20th-century urban life, Hopper earned his living for years designing ads, posters and magazine illustrations because he couldn't sell his paintings.
Another show I'm eager to spend time with is one that links folk art and modernism. "Alice Neel/Erastus Salisbury Field: Painting the People," opening July 5 at the Bennington Museum brings together portraits by Field, a 19th-century itinerant painter active in western New England, and Alice Neel, a mid-20th century New York modernist with ties to Vermont, who was known for her revealing portraits of family and friends. Curator Jamie Franklin says he expects it to "shed a nuanced light on the relationship between avant-garde art and romanticized versions of the ‘folk.' "
In North Adams, Teresita Fernandez's just-opened exhibition at Mass MoCA, "As Above So Below," puts a new perspective on landscape art. She wants viewers not to just see an image of land, water and sky, but to experience it as well in multiple dimensions. Three big new installations -- a glowing cloud of translucent tubes that change with the light, a swarm of tiny rocks hand-marked with graphite and a sea of glass beads arranged on a gold surface -- occupy the museum's main floor.
The Anselm Kiefer pavilion that opened at MoCA last year -- a must see for followers of the contemporary German artist -- has reopened for the season with a companion outdoor sculpture by the Viennese shock artist Franz West. West, who died in 2012, parodied public art by deliberately making his pieces look slapdash. Here, he has four, pink, pole-shaped objects collectively titled "Les Pommes d'Adam," or Adam's apples, that playfully suggest both the male throat lump and other protuberances of the male anatomy.
Franz gets additional attention in a collaborative exhibition opening at the Williams College Museum of Art on June 7 that shows his drawings and other work.
In Pittsfield, the Berkshire Museum will combine art and nature this summer in "Butterflies," a show which opened May 31 that examines the world and life cycles of these colorful winged creatures and some of the contemporary art they have inspired.
In Stockbridge, Chesterwood is taking a new direction this year with its annual contemporary sculpture exhibition. Instead of a curated show of multiple artists, it will gather 11 large-scale abstract sculptures by Albert Paley.
Based in Rochester, N.Y., Paley began work as a goldsmith 50 years ago and progressed to monumental sculptures and gateways in metal for government, institutional and corporate buildings. The show opens June 14.
Finally, SculptureNow, a fund of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, returns to the grounds of novelist Edith Wharton's estate, The Mount, in Lenox, on June 1 with its 17th consecutive outdoor exhibition. Up to 20 works by regional and nationally known sculptors will be on view in the woods and fields.