Eric Rudd: The Berkshire Art Museum reopens with an exhibition of works by artists from the Thursday evening dinner group | theater arts
While North Adams predicted a surge of tourists following the huge Mass MoCA project, no one anticipated a surge of artists. Although small and certainly not a major urban arts hub, the city has attracted dozens of artists in recent years who find North Adams an economically feasible yet culturally stimulating alternative to expensive metropolitan areas.
The Berkshire Art Museum exhibits artists who have a common interest: dining together on Thursday nights at Meng’s Pan-Asian. There is no artistic style that binds this group. It’s a most unusual excuse for an exhibition, but one that will whet your appetite.
There are examples throughout art history of artists congregating in bars and cafes – Dadaists frequenting the cafes of Zurich, Impressionists and Cubists in various cafes in Paris, and after the WWII Abstract Expressionists gathering in various New York bars. Usually geography and time were the common threads and not necessarily a shared art style. Often the artists were young and not yet famous – or on the verge of success.
When our community-eating started in North Adams, we weren’t as young as the famous artists in Paris or New York. After a decade or two, most of us drifted into the senior category while older transplants expanded our group. It’s common to find 25 to 35 artists – plus art-loving spouses and friends – coming in for a meal and gossip.
In Washington DC, where I grew up, artists met frequently. After gallery openings, hungry artists often headed to Chinatown. Chinese restaurants were affordable and open late – you could even order dinner after midnight. When Barbara and I moved to North Adams in 1990, there was no community of artists until we started the Center for Contemporary Artists (CAC) in the historic Beaver Mill which hosted approximately every summer 100 artists as well as directors of museums/galleries from all over the world. . During my decade as director, the CAC was the hub of the emerging art scene; attending CAC dinners was the way to meet other artists.
Although my addiction to Chinese food remained, ethnic food was limited when we first arrived; there were only a few Chinese choices. A small take-out restaurant on Eagle Street has agreed to provide Chinese vegetables not offered on their menu. When they moved later and had a sit-down restaurant, our friend Peter May used our weekly need for Chinese food to include our informal Spanish-speaking group. As this group dissipated, diners were replaced by artists and other art-loving friends.
When the restaurant owner changed, artist Wendy James suggested the band move to Peking/Sushi House on Main Street. Joy (co-owner with her chef-husband Meng) assured us that she could supply our requested Chinese dishes. This change of venue has proven incredibly popular with artists.
Over the years dinners have changed usually due to conflicts with group drawing nights – Monday to Wednesday to Thursday. Today, we order separately rather than in a family fashion – especially since margaritas are the most common drink of choice and therefore check quantities vary widely.
When Joy and Meng decided to close Sushi House and remodel the Peking but with a new name and a new look, we suggested using “Pan-Asian” in their name as it represented what they offered – a choice of Chinese, Korean, Thai and Japanese sushi. and noodle dishes. As Meng is the master chef, he became “Meng’s Pan-Asian”.
With the entrance located about 40 feet from the Main Street sidewalk, it was obvious that the large alley wall needed some art to brighten up the pathway. Rather than paying to make new panels, a painting in my studio seemed perfect. Since it had imperfections from the glue process, I was willing to take a chance and install it outside. I also lent small pieces of abstract art to install inside. I thought the restaurant should reflect not only its Asian cuisine, but also the fact that the largest museum of contemporary art in the United States is just around the corner and many Mass MoCA visitors would frequent the restaurant.
I don’t know as many historical examples of older artists gathering in one specific place as we do. This is perhaps one of the benefits of creating in North Adams and why the town has become a mecca for artists; it is much easier to meet and socialize here than in a big metropolis.
The Berkshire Art Museum‘s exhibition, ‘Artists of the Thursday Chinese Dinner Group,’ showcases a variety of artistic styles, which in turn reflect the variety of personalities and interests of a group of artists who simply enjoy dining together. Thursday night.
This exhibition was scheduled for 2020 but was postponed for two years due to Covid-19. The pandemic has also reduced our weekly dinners (the restaurant is currently operating for take-out only) and for most of us this is one of the most missed social gatherings.
Eric Rudd is a sculptor, mixed media artist and founding director of the Berkshire Art Museum. The museum, located in the former First United Methodist Church, was founded by the Barbara and Eric Rudd Art Foundation in 2012 and opened to the public in 2014.