A Dose of Reality at Kolok Gallery

Limor Gasko, Jill Grimes, and Libby Wadsworth Show in North Adams

By: - Jul 22, 2007

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A Dose of Reality: Limor Gasko, Jill Grimes and Libby Wadsworth
July 18 through August 13
Kolok Gallery
121 Union Street
Windsor Mill
North Adams, Mass. 01247
Gallery Hours: Wed. through Fri. 12-6 pm, Saturday 12-5 pm, Sunday 12-4 pm
Phone 413 664 7381,

The Porches Inn
North Adams

         Now in its second season in North Adams unquestionably the programming of the Kolok Gallery is stronger and more focused. There has been a fast and steep learning curve for gallerist, Kurt Kolok, who with his partner, attorney Joe Conway, started as collectors and then opened the business to show some of the artists they had acquired. But their taste and range of work they are presenting has advanced dramatically. There is a great difference between what one acquires and the kind of consistent work that will attract critical attention and a solid base of collectors.

         While we are now in the peak of the travel and tourism season in the Berkshires Kolok reports that his sales sustained through the off season particularly through placing works in upscale area restaurants where they attracted attention and sales. The marketing strategy and outreach goes beyond the drive by traffic with a prime location next to Route Two just as it funnels visitors down from the Mohawk Trail into the North Adams destination of Mass MoCA and straight on to Williamstown with the Williams College Museum of Art, the summer long Williamstown Theatre Festival, and the expanding Clark Art Institute one of America's finest small museums.

    For Kolok, and other small arts ventures such as Gallery 51 which opens a North Adams based survey of artists this week, the Gallery of the Eclipse Mill, just up the street, and the struggling Contemporary Artists Center which has left its long standing venue in the Beaver Mill and is trying to close a deal on a new space, it is a matter of finding the right synergy to grow his business and nurture a developing arts community. Significantly, Kolok Gallery is playing a leadership role in the Open Studios planned as a community wide event for this coming October. Kurt and Joe have been most generous in lending their time and resources in these efforts. Also the stable has slowly grown to include more area artists.

          There is progress being made in the North Adams/ Williamstown/ Adams region but still the left hand does not always talk to the right hand in terms of overcoming the gap between town and gown and moving political and business leaders to come up with a coherent strategy and marketing plan bringing together all the elements, great and small, providing one bright picture. In that regard there is a daunting comparison to the great strides and strategies in nearby Pittsfield which appears to have a functional and effective game plan. For small struggling business and non profits on the edge it is difficult to take a wait and see approach.

          But Kolok Gallery is showing what can happen when you put vision and energy into a business plan. As his gallery grows hopefully that will attract others to the area. And it would certainly help if there were brochures in shops, hotels, restaurants and museums and links from major venues, travel and tourism websites that more effectively made visitors aware of the broad menu of possibilities beyond the obvious and most magnetic destinations. The message might take the line that if you are interested enough in contemporary art to visit Mass MoCA here are some galleries to check out. It is a continuing dilemma that on days when the parking lot at Mass MoCA is full there is a trickle of traffic on Main and Eagle Streets in North Adams.

         As a preview for the current exhibition the Williamstown residents Jack and Suzy Wadsworth, the parents of the artist Libby Wadsworth, who were unable to attend the event, generously sponsored a small and elegant dinner at Porches. The Inn comprises a row of former working class homes, facing the back of Mass MoCA, which has been renovated into one of the finest travel destinations in the Berkshires. The cocktail hour, literally, took place on the porch of Porches with wine and finger food. The wonderful dinner was served in what appears to have been a former small home now converted into a gracious dining area. For dessert and champagne guests were taken by the North Adams trolley, used to promote tourist attractions, to the gallery.

           Guests for the preview included the artists and their families, other artists represented by the gallery, individuals from Williams College, Susan Cross the chief curator of Mass MoCA, as well as his honor, Mayor John Barrett and his partner Paulette Wein who works with Joe Thompson the director of Mass MoCA.

           In the gallery I was able to catch up with the artists and discuss their work. It appears that Wadsworth and her husband, a professor of English Literature at the University of Oregon, are both Williams graduates. She informed me of many family members and relatives who are also Williams alumni. While they usually spend some time each summer in Williamstown for this occasion they had flown in for the weekend and were on the way to a family reunion in Canada. They both did graduate work at the University of Chicago.

            Given their education and mutual interests it is significant that her work involves aspects of text. A word is broken down into its components often entailing a smaller word embedded into a larger one which creates layers of meaning and nuances. The earlier works she discussed were more simple with a still life element and a broken up word. They recalled Magritte and the artist acknowledged a connection to dream surrealism. For the more recent and complex work there is an ambitious layering of space that derives from synthetic cubism. Her use of non perspectival space and text relates back to the early cubist works of Picasso. The aspects of text embedded with imagery has a long tradition in modernism and would be an interesting theme to explore as an exhibition combining historic and contemporary works.

             I was surprised to learn that the meticulously rendered, beaten up old boxing glove floating on a flat dark background was created by Jill Grimes who also includes several larger, abstract works with a play of white on white evoking veils of seemingly rendered curtain like fabrics and textures of thin, squiggled lines of raised paint. The straight forward realism of the one work did not seem to relate to the more abstracted paintings. Asked how she connected with the gallery Grimes related that Kurt and Joe came to Waltham Open Studios which initiated a dialogue about the work.

                Speaking with the artist I learned that the boxing glove came about when she was a resident in a Vermont studio program. She had found and purchased the boxing glove and found it to be an interesting and evocative object. Even the musty old smell was interesting to her. So, yes, it was a departure from the other work but an apparently enjoyable respite to be absorbed by the challenge, degree of difficult, but pleasure of an observational painting. For graduate work she studied with John Walker at Boston University in what is regarded as a rather traditional program. But less so at the graduate level than the academic program for undergraduates. Who, guess what, learn such skills as how to draw, paint, and sculpt the figure, landscapes and still life. We don't get much of that in art schools nowadays. Too bad.

              Of the three artists in "Dose of Reality" the work of Limor Gasko is the most straight forward. Its attraction comes from the element of whimsy that she embeds into rendering what appear to be stuffed animals and figurines As a young mother perhaps she came to the material through the play things of her child. There is certainly an amusing aspect to the images such as the monkey clutching its knees with a whimsical, wistful expression surrounded by small candies in twisted wrappers. While the paintings are enjoyable to the eye they didn't evoke further reflections on what they represented. But most visitors to this exhibition will find this to be the most immediately accessible work.

           Returning the next day for the opening Joe commented on being quite worn out with the back to back events. He had installed the show while Kurt was away in California. But Joe was so busy with last minute adjustments he was late joining the dinner. I know what he means. That's summer in the Berkshires with so much going on. Now I'm going to take the rest of the day off.