Williamstown Massachusetts

Williamstown Massachusetts is a small, pretty college town on the Massachusetts/Vermont/New York border. The town itself is lovely with its two block long commercial street (Spring Street) old buildings, school campus…but little else

imageWilliamstown churchArt in front of college

We decided to stay in Williamstown for 2 nights. For us, this was not a good decision.  Part of it is the sleepy town of Williamstown doesn’t fit into our need to find things to do at night when we travel or to find good food without having to drive far. Oh yes, we did find a bar within walking distance of our hotel with a Red Sox game on it which helped somewhat. But for us, Williamstown doesn’t have much going for it other than The Clark, which we can do on a day trip from another location in the area.

But whether or not you want to stay here, the town is  worth a visit for three primary attractions:

While we hiked Mount Greylock on  previous visit, we did not have time for that longa hike on this trip. Instead, we focused on the two museums before driving down through the Berkshires to our next stop in Lenox, Massachusetts.

The Clark Art Institute

The Clark is one of our favorite small museum in the country. The complex and collection have both been expanded since our last visit. It has particularly strong collections of Winslow Homer and George Inniss oils, representations of Dutch, French Romantic and Italian religious works and nice collections of 19th-century British (especially JMW Turner and John Constable), formal silver table settings that trace the evolution of styles and a small but highly representative collection of European and American glass made with different technologies.

The museum, however, is best known for its Impressionist collection which had several oils from all of the primary artists and one of the most comprehensive representations of Rodin and Degas sculptures and probably the most comprehensive collection of Renoirs (both landscapes and his incomparable portraits) that we have seen in any American museum—with about two dozen on display!

Renior - Portrait of the Young WomanMonet, The Cliffs at EtretatGemitoDelacroix, Two Horses fighting ina Stormy landscapeRenoir, SunsetDSC09705

It also has one of Joyce’s favorites: John Singer Sargent’s Smoke of Ambergris

Sargent, Smoke of Ambergris

Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art

Mass MOCA is a reconstruction of the large Sprague Electric manufacturing complex. The huge museum is spread across seven large, multi-story, reconditioned brick buildings. It was the cornerstone of the redevelopment of this depressed post-industrial town. As a number of additional buildings are still empty, we expect that Mass MOCA will be adding buildings to the museum as its rapidly expanding collection continues to grow. And grow it will, since few museums can offer the space that contemporary artists need for large installations.

We found some interesting exhibits:

  • The Lure of the Dark, in which 14 artists portrayed both the primal fear and the unbridled imagination that nighttime elicits.

The Lure of the Dark 03The Lure of the Dark 02

  • The Archaeology of Another Possible Future, a huge-two-story installation in which Liz Glynn attempts to illustrate the uncertain outcome of the massive transition from analog manufacturing to a digital world in which increasingly intelligent machines take over much of the work performed by people.

Glynn - Archarology of Another Possible Future 01Glynn - Archarology of Another Possible Future 02Glynn - Archarology of Another Possible Future 03

  • Thumbs Up for the Mothership, which portrays the ways in which discarded objects are despoiling the planet;
  • Maneater, which portrays the earth’s response to man‘s mistreatment of it, although by a different artist and in a different part of the sprawling museum, serves as something of a follow-up to Thumbs Up.
  • Splosh, a very uncharacteristic, three-dimensional amoeba-like construction from Sol LeWitt.

LeWitt Splotch

  • A new style and media for modernist sculptor Louise Bourgeois, in which two large marble sculptures combine male and female components into a gender-bending mélange.

Bourgeois 02Bourgeois 01

  • Cosmic Latte, a 350 light fixture installation, roughly mimicking the shape of the Milky Way, that is intended to match the average color of the universe;
  • A Cold Hole, a frozen room, covered in ice with a hole into which volunteers plunge into a pool of 36 degree water, in a ritual of rejuvenation and purification that is routinely practiced in countries including Finland, Russia and Japan.

Cold Hole

  • An large, irregular, untitled, concave, polished aluminum disk from Anish Kapoor that distorts reflected light into different patterns, depending on the angle from which you view it.

Kapoor Untitled

James Turrell

Speaking of light patterns, one floor of one building is devoted to works by James Turrell, the master of light installations. The exhibit consists of a number of installations that help viewers to perceive light and its affects in different ways. These include:

  • A series of lighted panels that appear to display different, three-dimensional shapes depending on the angle from which they are viewed;
  • A number of darkened immersion rooms in which viewers sit to experience light in different ways; and most fascinating of all;
  • A particularly fascinating immersion room in which colors gradually blend with others, transform into other colors and are periodically interspersed with strobes in which viewers perceive different patterns.

Turrell, Into the Light

The installation also provides models of the artist’s Roden Crater project—a Flagstaff-area volcanic crater the artist purchased and is now in the process of converting into a series of viewing chambers from which the sky is supposed to take on different appearances of solids. (We can let you know if it fulfills its promise when we next get to Flagstaff.)

Sol LeWitt

The highlight of the visit, however, was a super-installation! A massive, three-floor, 30,000 square-foot building that hosts a retrospective of Sol LeWitt’s iconic wall drawings. Each floor represents a different stage of the artist’s career, with dozens of very different installations on each floor:

  • The first floor, representing the early years from when he first began producing these wall-sized works, begins with his famous snap-line walls and progresses through simple, repetitive, often monotone patterns.
  • The second floor, portrays his mid-career works with geometric patterns in a much wider range of colors.
  • The third floor, with his later work, consists largely of arches, curves and intermixed patterns in much more vibrant colors.

LeWitt Walls 01LeWitt Walls 02LeWitt Walls 04LeWitt Walls 07LeWitt Walls 10

And for those who are looking for a more personal relationship with LeWitt’s work, you can buy table place-settings with the artist’s designs in the gift shop.

While we have always liked Mass MOCA, we have something of common problem with many contemporary works: We have no idea of what the artist is attempting to express and therefore, have no context from which to begin interpreting the work, or even deciding whether or not we like it. No, we are not asking for so much information that we do not really think about the piece. But enough information to provide context for which you are seeing and to provide s starting point for your own interpretation would help us.

Contemporary art aficionados who can and prefer to discern their own meaning without an intermediary may not approve. However, as contemporary art neophytes,  such aids greatly enhances our appreciation of art that would otherwise be way beyond us. Thank you, Mass MOCA!

Williamstown Area Restaurants

  • Mezze is supposed to be one of the best restaurant in town. it offers a small, farm-to-table, bistro-style menu consisting of meat, pasta, fish and vegetarian dishes. We began with a very nice winter squash and apple soup with roasted bacon, brussel sprouts and crème fraiche. We followed this with two entrees: an acceptable garganeli pasta with pork and beef ragu, Italian sausage and toasted garlic breadcrumbs, and a more interesting grilled heritage pork sausage with brussel sprouts, maitake mushrooms, apple cider and whole-gran mustard butter. From the rather uninspired list, we found an also acceptable 2016 Vina Alberdi tempranillo. Overall, we found the experience okay, but certainly not memorable.
  • Gramercy Bistro is at the Mass MOCA Museum (in North Adams). We had two good entrees, if not memorable. Sesame tuna with soy-ginger sauce, accompanied by bok choy and black rice; and veal schnitzel topped with sunnyside-up egg, anchovy can capers with spaetzle, carrots and green beans. Wine was a 2015 Lemelson, Tina’s Selection Willamette pinot.
  • Blue Mango, a Thai/Japanese restaurant on Spring Street, was an acceptable at a college restaurant. Not great, but OK. Red curry with duck and tempura udon.

Williamstown Hotel

We stayed at the House On Main Street. If you want to stay in Williamstown, the location is very walkable to the college, the 2 block strip of college stores and The Clark. Our disappointment with this place started before we arrived. We reached out too many times times via email and phone messages before we got an answer on places to eat in this busy time of the year so that we could make reservations. OK, reset. Our room was on the second floor (no elevator of course as this is an older, historic place). The bed was fairly comfortable. Our bathroom was outside our room but we had a door to block off the bathroom from the hallway so it was somewhat private. The AC didn’t seem to be strong enough to overcome the heat which was on in the house in general. We tends to like a colder room for sleeping, unlike many people. The breakfast was served for the entire table of guests at the same time. Although we were told breakfast was 8:30ish, we all sat around until about 9:00 when it really started. Well, it gave us more time to interact with the other guests.  Breakfast was fine, nothing special as many B&Bs are, but not bad. The woman serving breakfast made it very clear that we were expected to leave a tip in the room for the staff (which included her). The owner was a delightful, open and very friendly person so we don’t understand why we had to reach out so many times to get restaurant info in advance.

1 comment to Williamstown Massachusetts

  • Just Facts

    Normally I don’t reply to articles but on this one I have to! If you had done your research, Williamstown is a college town not a vacation spot, my son goes to Williams College and I’m from NYC and I have spend a long time in the Berkshires. If you were looking for places to see or hang out there were places like, Lee, Lennox, and North Adams and I can keep going and on and on. Please do your research before your right an article because you do sound an uneducated person that has no idea what you are talking about.

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