Art around the corner: Local galleries offer a wealth of views to welcome spring

  • “Pearl Primus, Speak to Me of Rivers,” 1944 photo of the dancer and choreographer at the University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMass Amherst. Barbara B. Morgan/courtesy UMCA

  • “Fruit Molotov Cocktail,” pigment print by Caitlin Cherry at the University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMass Amherst. UMCA

  • “The Yellow Ladder,” watercolor by Jane Lund. Image from William Baczek Fine Arts

  •  “Guardians,” archival pigment print by Chie Yoshii, at William Baczek Fine Arts gallery in Northampton. William Baczek Fine Arts

  • “The Prodigal Son,” oil on canvas by Frances Kidder at the Oxbow Gallery. Image courtesy Frances Kidder

  • Large-scale paintings by Kabu MBII, inspired by political and social upheaval, will be on view at the Augusta Savage Gallery at UMass Amherst beginning March 28. Image from Augusta Savage Gallery

  • “Red Sea,” a sculpture by Maya Lin, is part of the exhibit “Mappings” at the Smith College Museum of Art. Smith College Museum of Art

Staff Writer
Friday, March 25, 2022

As the pandemic eases its grip, art has been making a comeback, especially at local galleries, including at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and some other area campuses. Here are snapshots of new and current exhibits worth checking out.


University Museum of Contemporary Art, UMass — “Prince,” an exhibit of prints by New York artist Nicole Eisenman, remains on view in UMCA’s main exhibit area. But two smaller shows can also be seen through May 5, including “From My Heart to You — Dance and the Unifying Force of Social Consciousness,” and a new exhibit, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place — Transportive Art.”

“From My Heart to You” centers on photographs of Pearl Primus, the seminal African-American dancer and choreographer of the mid-20th century who danced at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket and lived in the Valley in the 1980s, when she taught ethnic studies at UMass. The show, which includes paintings, film and other work by other artists, reflects on the transformative nature of dance and “the role of imagination in creating positive social change,” as program notes put it.

And following months of COVID lockdowns, fears and related strife, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” offers a selection of work by various artists that’s designed to give viewers a means of escape — as exhibit notes put it, “taking us out of ourselves and into another realm.”

Paintings, photos, mixed media pieces and sculpture by (mostly) contemporary artists including Caitlin Cherry, Sam Gilliam, Kara Walker, and Valley printmaker Anne Beresford explore themes “of home, fantasy, escapism, nature, the uncanny, and the ways that history haunts everyday experience” according to program notes.

The exhibit has been curated by UMass graduate students Tirzah Frank and Cecily Hughes, and it was financed in part by a fund named after Eva Fierst, the UMCA’s first education curator, a position in which Fierst worked closely with graduate students in particular to prepare them for careers as art professionals.

Smith College Museum of Art — Among a number of exhibits, SCMA is featuring work by Maya Lin, the sculptor and architectural designer who created the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., as well as the redesign of Smith’s Neilson Library.

In “Mappings,” which runs through Aug. 22, Lin has used a variety of materials, including steel pins, marble and bound atlases, to create sculptures and objects that speak to environmental issues such as climate change and species extinction, as well as humans’ broader relationship with the planet.

“Red Sea,” for instance, is a three-dimensional view of the long body of water between northeast Africa and Saudi Arabia. But like a reverse topographical map, the wooden sculpture uses a smooth upper section to represent the surface of the water, while beneath it, narrowing contoured lines, like an upside-down mountain, show the depth of the sea and the earth surrounding it. The whole design balances on a white pedestal.

Another piece, “Pin River—Sandy,” was created with thousands of stainless steel pins and shows the extent of flooding along the East Coast of the U.S. caused in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy. Over 10 feet long, the sculpture clearly shows the outlines of parts of New Jersey, Long Island in New York state, and some areas north of New York City.

The exhibit includes a virtual component, “What is Missing?” that Lin refers to as her “last memorial.” It looks at environmental problems including species loss, as well as science-based artworks and efforts to protect the planet, like planting trees. “Together we can save two birds with one tree,” she writes.

William Baczek Fine Arts — The Northampton gallery, known for showcasing lush landscape paintings and resonant still lifes, has been looking a bit more on the lighter side in its most recent exhibition. “Animal Kingdom,” which runs through April 9, features work in which four-legged creatures and winged species are the focus of attention.

More than a dozen painters (and one sculptor) profile cows, sheep, tigers, birds, frogs, crabs and other critters, in peaceful settings as well as surreal and bizarre ones.

For instance, Robert Sweeney, who teaches art at Amherst College, contributes pastoral landscapes of cows and sheep in meadows in Hawley and Cummington, while New Jersey painter Jeff Gola’s “Peafowl Pair” depicts two of the birds with elaborate plumage perched on a wooden rail in a wintry woodland.

By contrast, Ashfield artist Jane Lund has created a series of loopy watercolors populated with strange-looking animals and stranger-looking people. And in “Guardians,” California painter Chie Yoshii, who studied art in Boston, depicts a flaxen-haired young woman gazing serenely at the viewer as she sits beside a tiger, a panther and a fox.

OxBow Gallery — At the Easthampton gallery, a new show featuring work by painters Frances Kidder in the main room and Doreen LaScola in the back room opens March 31. Kidder, who works in oil and watercolor, offers semi-abstract landscapes and portraits, and her most recent work is called “Sacred Encounters,” a series of paintings based on Biblical stories.

LaScola, who also works with encaustics, has a new exhibit called “Breakthrough” that she says combines elements of her plein air paintings and studio work with “the meditations she began during COVID isolation.”

The current Oxbow exhibit, by painter Cyndy Sperry, continues through Sunday, March 27.

Augusta Savage Gallery, UMass — An exhibit opening March 28 (artist’s reception from 5-7 p.m.) at the Augusta Savage Gallery showcases the large, colorful and unsettling paintings of Kabu MBII, a New Mexico by way of California painter whose work is inspired by social, political and world events, especially those of upheaval: war, protest, environmental destruction.

Among a number of influences, he counts Hieronymus Bosch, the 15th-century Dutch painter who created many works featuring surreal depictions of hell. Indeed, MBII’s work is also full of surreal scenes, teaming with figures that look somewhat human but can have outsize body parts, contorted faces and more, often set against menacing urban backdrops.

Also at Augusta Savage, jazz bassist and composer Avery Sharpe will perform a free solo concert, incorporating double bass, electric bass and voice, on March 31 at 7 p.m. 

Gallery A3 — Also in Amherst, “Interwoven: Words & Images” at Galley A3 features the work of six female artists: Marianne Connolly, Laura Holland, Sue Katz, Nancy Meagher, Rochelle Shicoff and Janet W. Winston. Some are visual artists who also write, another is a writer who designs accordion books, and one is a writer and photographer.

Calling themselves “Women of Words,” they began meeting in the gallery in late 2019 to share their writing, then shifted online during the pandemic. They have continued to work both individually and collectively. Their current exhibit includes painting, photography, handmade books and more, and runs through April 3.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.