Whitehot Magazine

April 2009, MASS MoCA & The Brill Gallery

Simon Starling: The Nanjing Particles, Installation View, Courtesy Mass MoCA


Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art
1040 Mass MoCA Way 
North Adams, MA 01247

Brill Gallery
Studio 109
Eclipse Mill
243 Union Street
North Adams, Massachusetts 01247-0786

The Badlands: New Horizons in Landscape at MASS MoCA, is an exhibit which is provocative, ecological and contemporary. By including works of artists as diverse and important as Ed Ruscha with massive encaustic paintings and environmental photography, the show proves itself to be of major urban gallery quality. In another wing, 2005 Turner Prize winner, Simon Starling with his Nanjing Particles installation gives us a vast, pristine, perfectly conceived and executed site specific work that is serenely engaging. At one million times expansion, two silver molecules taken from a photo emulsion of Chinese shoe factory laborers in North Adams in 1870 are then executed with a Jeff Koons like reflective surface. These perfectly finished stainless steel sculptures are exhibited in a huge white brick room first seen through two holes in a blow-up of the original photograph displayed wall size in a hall with clear glass windows looking out to town where the workers would have lived. This proved for me to be as good as installation art can get. This public gallery with actual windows and the delightful installation artwork feels liberated from tradition.

The recently renovated Brill Gallery, is an enormous block long, four storey red brick, former textile mill that is now full of art galleries, studios and live/work studio residences. Within the Brill Gallery with its large north facing small pane industrial windows, the artworks were displayed studio style with paintings and photographs either framed or pinned, some hung, some leaning on walls from the floor, and all perfectly numbered, titled, priced and catalogued. Natural and track lighting showed the works well and the works themselves were of great quality and variety. The gallery exhibition, ‘Artists without Borders’ features the work of three international women, with diverse artworks in a notably well balanced, casual studio atmosphere. The curator Ralph Brill intends to celebrate International Womens’ Month with artworks ranging from a European artist working in America, an Oriental artist also working in America and Japan and a UK artist now working in Canada.

Rieko Fujinami is a Japanese artist currently living and showing in NYC and at the Brill Gallery. Her artwork is well known in Japan and at this exhibition she was showing ‘Film Drawings’ and ‘Fresco Seccos’ with figurative subjects and one portrait. The film drawings are made by drawing on both sides of Mylar film which creates a shadow like semi-transparent effect. The fresco seccos are very soft images of partial torsos drawn on textured fresco plaster resulting in a look resembling shadows on ancient walls. When describing her intent and inspiration, Rieko also mentioned memory and in fact the infamous ‘memory print’ of a person created on a wall at Hiroshima by the WW2 nuclear blast. This work is fresh in technique and method and yet feels somehow like it all has an inherent history and story.  
Joanna Gabler is a Polish philosophy graduate and artist who now lives in the Berkshires, painting and making digital nature images. On first inspection, these works seemed inspired by kaleidoscopes, as if one is seeing nature through a large multifaceted lens. However the next morning after the opening, I had the honour of being invited to Joanna’s studio along with Anita Rydygier who had become a new friend of the artist, and soon realized from her extensive mineral and crystal collection that these images are much more complicated in their inspiration. Imagine amethyst crystal lattice, light refraction within opals and Kirlian energy images as graphic inspiration. The artist explained that nature itself showed her how best to represent its inherent inner force. Evoking auras and gem like crystals these images which vary from small and precious to large and powerful involve nature studies which move well past simple depictions of trees and branches to the spirit of the life force within the trees themselves.  

Anita Rydygier was educated in London at the Royal Academy and she has obvious graphic skill and talent. She described the process which resulted in the recent work first displayed to the public at ‘Artists without Borders’. Anita described spending the last two years ‘Unlearning’ in a serious effort to reconnect with a recollected inner vision of forms and colours from her youth. She quoted Picasso in her presentation saying that he felt all children are natural artists and that society ‘teaches’ us so much that the natural artist we all have within us is eventually lost. Her work shown here at the Brill Gallery in ‘Artists without Borders’ achieves Anita’s intent to blend a child-like innocence of form with a trained mastery of technique. This is displayed with refined air-brushed gouache and ink line drawing of semi abstract subjects with titles like ’How Things Work’. Similar to both Rieko Fujinami and Joanna Gabler, Anita Rydygier is a very original artist working today in a totally unique and fresh manner. For original graphics fans, Anita shows us a whole new way to look at things after we ‘Unlearn’ how to see the world around us. Imagine if as an adult we actually could draw with the conviction of a child, what deep inner part of our mind would we be using? This seems to be what Anita has tapped with very satisfactory results.

All three of these artists selected by Ralph Brill for his audience at the Brill Gallery serve to illustrate the diversity of vision alive in art today. They show obvious experience and mastery of a variety of techniques, producing very fresh and innovative results.

JC Scott

JC Scott, currently serves on the Board of Tourism Victoria, as the Arts, Culture and Society representative, he co-chairs the City of Victoria Public Art Committee and is an Art Advisor to The Victoria Airport Authority, he designs sustainable resorts and places art in all his projects.

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