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Archive for the ‘Galleries’ Category

While I promised this blog would be focused on Boston’s art culture, I wanted to mention a gallery I saw while visiting my family back in San Francisco

San Francisco’s art scene is much more “sceney” than Boston’s.  As much as I do love my hometown, San Francisco is in love with being San Francisco and with that comes a “sceney-ness” that can sometimes fall prey to the allure of supposedly “shocking” art that’s actually just plain old bad art.

In this case, it was the work of Cameron Gray in his solo show, “It’s all Downhill from Here,” at the E6 Gallery in San Francisco.  His work relies on a mosaic of small photographs or paintings that when arranged begin to look like a well known image, ranging from the “Mona Lisa” to Jesus to tomatoes.

The most iconic of these images is “The Pornification of Everything” in which the “Mona Lisa” is comprised of 900 smaller paintings of hard core porn with women (or more appropriately parts of women), making the reward of closer examination somewhat mixed (I guess it just depends on the person looking). I presume it’s supposed to recapture the risqué intent of DaVinci’s famous work for our in time.

The picture of a bunch of carrots is, of course, comprised of various images from the fast food industry: hamburgers, fries, a part of a McDonald’s sign, etc.  Jesus is also junk food but tending towards the sweeter variety.  Overall, I was unimpressed by the majority of the showing; it’s just too gimmicky and not intelligent enough to make it interesting.  I mean, junk food versus nutritious vegetables, really? Am I actually supposed to see that and think “wow what a clashing dichotomy, what a brilliant and unpredictable comparison”? Even the Mona Lisa seemed clichéd at best.

Maybe I’m just cranky because one of my pet peeves is art that makes a big show of being shocking.  I would so much rather an artist do something that is interesting and intellectually provocative than shocking. It just seems like with neither the intimacy of subtlety or the depth of a truly fascinating point of view, they’re peddling to the lowest common denominator. As a woman who is attuned to and interested by the ways in which women are depicted in art and visual culture, I feel as though the conversation is so much richer than what Gray offered in this work.  The use of women, specifically nude women, has always been a staple in art and there has almost always been a very sexual element to these images.  A key component of any of these pictures has always been the act of looking, who sees and who is being seen; what control does the viewer have over the viewed.  Of course the discussion always becomes more interesting when there is a distinct gender difference towards the viewer and the viewed.  It’s an interesting conversation and an important one.  I believe that gender equality is partially based on the equalization of both being able to see and being open to being seen.  In Gray’s work, I just don’t see any conversation happening at that level.

Still, I would like to mention one piece that I think truly benefits from the mosaics.  “What it is” is from a distance an image of a face, which is made up of baby pictures, landscapes, birthday cakes, etc.  To me, I found that it demonstrated how the story of a person’s life both influences a person but is also hidden from the rest of the world.  In some ways, I think that this is the most effective means of his chosen medium, it begins to show what a regular portrait cannot show and allows the viewer to learn something more about the face we are invited to contemplate.  This piece veers distinctly away from gimmicks and instead embraces a basic tenet of humanity, how can you really know a person, and what does a face really tell us about someone?

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While spending a rather leisurely Saturday morning in the South End, I decided to stop by Gallery Kayafas and see my friend, Brian Urwin’s, new work. I can’t copy and paste the photographs from the Kayafas website, so follow the link here to see Brian Urwin’s work.

As usual I was pleasantly surprised and delighted by the work shown even other than Brian’s.  In the front gallery, they are showing the work of Robert Knight, who documents the act of sleeping in three to seven hour long exposures.  The large color photographs track the sleepers’ movements, creating ephemeral, ghost-like images.  My favorite of these images is the photographs of his daughter sleeping.  Cocooned beneath layers of blankets, the rise and falls of the sheets, the moonlight across her bed and a bright red night light tucked in next to her give the photograph and suitably dreamlike quality. The red light could almost be a symbol for her beating heart.  The layering transparent images add a level of abstraction, forcing the viewer to really feel out the photograph before being able to even discern what is being shown.  Compositionally, the photograph seems to be organized into layers of color that converge at different areas in the picture: the cold blue light of the moon at the bottom of the bed which is in direct opposition to the warm red of the night let, and then ensconced by the pale yellow of the little girl’s bedding.  Finally, there is the little girl herself, a little brown mound barely peeking out from under her blankets.  It is surprising in how refined  and crafted the work can seem, even though it was completed mostly without the direct influence of the artist; it really manages to demonstrate his love for his daughter, something made all the more meaningful in the ‘organic’ method of creation.

Robert Knight’s exhibition also includes an installation piece involving a large pillow where he projects a black and white movie of his head in bed, beginning before he goes to sleep and ending in the morning as he gets up.  The film also includes a corresponding sound track and a day bed.  Overall, the piece was well executed; as NAC mentioned, the choice to project the images onto a pillow brought a nice sense of realism to the piece.

The next room was shared by Yoav Horesh and Brian Urwin, both of whom are fantastic examples of the black and white, gelatin silver print tradition.  Horesh’s work appears to be a response to the famous Robert Frank photobook, “The Americansm,” in which the Swiss photographer documents America in the post-war period.  In this case, however, it is an Israeli documenting a modern New York in “(My) American Life.”

My favorite piece is “New York, 1997,” a photograph whose strength results from its timelessness.  The photograph appears to be taken from a balcony high up from the city street.  The photographer is facing down and slightly to his left, following the streaming light down a busy New York City street.  The photograph seems to be responding an even earlier form of art and art history as the street disappears at the same point where the light emanates.  From this, the image can be distilled to competing and converging lines: the strong white upwardly diagonal line of the street, punctuated by the lines of small black cars, and the contrasting subtly dark lines of the rising buildings.  Even more subdued are the thin horizontal lines of the street lamps and the cross walks, providing consistent visual interest.  The entire piece exemplifies the power of photography’s roots. There doesn’t need to be innovation in the method, it is a beautiful, strong, moving, black and white photograph.

Finally, Brian Urwin’s work centers around the slowly disintegrating city of Detroit.  Speaking with him, he explained that he uses a wide view camera (see below) which means that each image was not a one-off shot, but that he had to consider what he was photographing before setting up his camera.  The result are images whose graph-like setup belie the erosion the city.

My favorite example of this is “Fisher Building, Detroit,” a massive art deco building that seems grand and triumphant but lonely, with no sign of population.  The photograph itself is quite large, maybe 3×4 ft, encompassing the vision of the viewer.  The print is mostly silvery grays that highlight the strong verticals of the building’s architecture while the horizontal lines are enhanced both through the width of the photograph itself and the fact that the building stretches from edge to edge.  The grid of the industrial structure is broken by certain touches, most noticeably the fading black corners, indicative of the wide view camera, which both adds an antique feel to the photograph, capturing a sense of the by-gone, while also disrupting the rigid geometry.  Finally, the lack of people creates a sad tint to the image.  Such a large and beautiful building should be highly populated, both inside and on the street.  Instead, the lack of humanity makes the image feel like something almost post-apocalyptic (or maybe I’ve just been playing too much Left for Dead…).

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Boxed in by the Marathon on Monday I ended up promenading on Moody St in Waltham, where I came upon the Center for Digital Imaging Arts at Boston University. It had a bit of gallery space up front so I decided to take a look.

The collection was eclectic, including published magazine covers and ads, fantastical (and gaudy) synthetic works, and seemingly undoctored B&W photos. To be honest, most of the work didn’t really suit my tastes. As far as photography and art go, I’m not a complete purist; I just want something to be beautiful and interesting without being hokey. My problem with digital photography is that in the wrong hands its malleability can too easily lend itself towards being ridiculous and kitschy. In addition, as far as my own personal tastes go, I just so happen to prefer the look and limitations of analog-style black and white photographs. I think that the simplicity of the color scheme lends itself towards stunning images that resonate with me in a way that color photographs rarely do. That’s not meant to be a critique of color photographs, just an allowance for my personal taste.

It was not surprising, then, that the photograph that caught my eye was a black and white image of a flock of pigeons flying past a large brick building cut off by the photo’s edges. Unfortunately there wasn’t a picture available online, but if you are interested I would certainly check out the gallery space. The power in the image was the stability of the large brick building, with its harsh brick and mortar, sharp edges, and evenly spaced windows cut across by the organic dynamism of the flying birds. The entire composition was fascinating and as NAC pointed out, there was the pervading sentiment of urbanity. As in the best photographs, it caught an everyday moment in the life of a city and made it a beautiful still second of time that entrances the viewer to make them think on that setting and that moment deeper.

The other image that caught my eye was a black and white photograph of an older man leaning on his chair in a doorway. The strength of the image came from the surrounding architecture, grid-like horizontals of the front of the building and the vertical of the street. The man, however, leaning the straight lines of his chair back to rest on a wall of the stoop, cut an intriguing diagonal. Coupled with his old, wrinkled face and bemused expression, it lent itself and aura of whimsy in a rather cut and dried, up and down world.

In the end, as befits my own eye, I was drawn most to those images that benefited the least from being digital (which of course is not meant to devalue these images as well-composed and beautiful images in their own right).

Links:

Center for Digital Imaging Arts, BU: http://www.cdiabu.com/

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This weekend I joined the throngs of people who decided to make the most of the beautiful and rather abnormal Boston weather. I ended up walking down Newbury Street, where I came upon a new gallery I’d heard about devoted entirely to photography.  It is located in the old Chase Gallery space between Arlington and Berkeley. It’s actually their second storefront, the first being in Great Barrington in the Berkshires.

 

From the get-go, I was happy to know that there would finally be a gallery entirely devoted to photography on Newbury Street.  As much as I love the South End, Newbury Street is just much more accessible via public transportation and, depending on my mood, more fun to meander down.  Thus, it was with great excitement and expectation that I found myself on the second floor of your generic but still classy Newbury Street brownstone.  

Upon entry, the first thing that strikes you is that the gallery is very much a commercial enterprise, devoted to the business of selling art.  This is not a criticism per se, opening and running a business is an entirely legitimate venture, and I’ve never been one to fault people for trying to make money; it is just something to keep in mind, as it comes with costs.

 

The work that they are trying hardest to push is prominently displayed in both the front near the windows and in the wallspace that confronts you when you enter. It’s the work of Nick Brandt, whose Elephant with Tattered Ears shows up in multiple reincarnations, generally in grand, almost tapestry-level, proportions.  Now, this is not a bad photograph, the details in the expressive wrinkles of the elephant’s skin are clearly defined, and the sway of the massive ears is caught mid-motion, so it would probably hold up to some close exploration. That said, it just felt too self-knowingly epic, something that an interior designer would find and place in a spacious and modern living room of a wealthy client.  The picture would become a part of the décor, the person who was living there would forget sometimes that they owned the work, and life would continue accordingly.  The work is nice enough, but its depth and quality is out of proportion with how it’s touted; it is clearly there to make money.

 

Beyond this, however, the gallery holds some real gems, albeit tucked away in back corners, nooks, and occasionally on the floor. The work of Jeff Zaruba, for example, whose softly focused photographs document little vignettes of Paris that seem to tell a whole story, cozily lives in a crowded back space.  My favorite photograph, one that I think would hold up to years of viewing, is called Paris – Alone at the Louvre.  The small, dark blur of a person on the left is a nicely unexpected counterpoint to the large, circular fountain on the right; it offsets the balance of the composition in an interesting way.  The background is succinctly cut off by the rising building of the Louvre, making the image appear small, intimate, and manageable.  The water in the fountain, the softly focused lighting, the aloneness in what is typically remembered as a bustling plaza, all work together to give a sense of cozy peacefulness. Despite this, it is not a boring image, it doesn’t reveal itself all at once; there are a great many details in the laying of the bricks, the façade of the building, the variances in tone across the picture so that the viewer can always see and learn more.  It is not a particularly large photograph, which is key; it is an intimate picture for private viewing and contemplation.

 

On the floor of the gallery in the front, close to the large windows looking out over the street, are the works of Brigitte Carnochan.  Her works are gelatin silver prints (as opposed to ink jet prints like the two photographs above) which she then lightly and sparingly hand colored.  The effect is interesting and adds a nice allusion to the history of photography when Victorians used to have their black and white photographs painted.  The most interesting of the bunch was called Dancer I and shows the relaxed but oddly comported torso and a few limbs of a mostly nude dancer. A theme that might emerge from this blog is that when it comes to nudity in art, I want to be shown more with less. Just like the Amber Ray photograph from the Henry Hornstein show it’s striking. Thus, amidst a bounty of nude women sprawled out over black couches I found this photograph the most fascinating.  At first what caught my eye was the interesting compositional choices: she’s missing a head, most of her left leg is out of the picture, she’s hiding her left hand and her right foot and hand are doing something weird, oh and she’s sort of shuttled off to the side.  It’s really quite nervy.  On further examination I noticed that her only article of clothing is a tutu that she is using to cover most of herself which was colored a light pink, barely hiding the underlying grey. In the end, however, it was the odd tilt of her right foot, off on its own in the left corner of the photograph, which struck me most.  It further led me to notice the odd crunch of her right hand, reminiscent of the claw-like hand in Olympia placed suggestively over her pelvis. Ultimately though, I would have liked to have seen it without the colors, which were a bit too pastel for my taste and softened the blow of this really interesting photograph. 

There were also other pieces that I really liked, like the photograph Arches by Betsy Cullen or the Black and White landscapes of Keith Taylor and Beth Dow, that I don’t have the time to discuss yet. Unfortunately, they were mostly in the back, cloistered around Zaruba’s photographs. To sum, Iris has some really beautiful photographs, but it takes a bit of time and scrounging around to find them. Maybe that’s the right commercial decision, which allows the gallery to run in pricey space while still supporting artists with less broad appeal. All this said, the gallery only opened a month ago, so it will be fascinating to see where it decides to go.

Links:

www.irisgallery.net

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Today I’d like to discuss a piece I visited a few weeks ago at Axelle Fine Arts. I thought they organized a uniquely beautiful exhibition, reminding me that curating a show can be as much of a work of art as the artwork itself.  Albert Hadjiganev and Jivkov occupy the first floor.  Hadjiganev’s coolly soft landscapes seem to melt into the white walls of the gallery.  While these works are beautiful, they are non-threatening. They’d easily live in someone’s home, but don’t really challenge the viewer.  This may be a small critique, although I would be worried about getting bored of the image if I were to have one in my home.  Nevertheless, the color palate of the painter works well with the impressive bronze sculptures of Jivkov.  His works in large and small form are filled with details that converse with the Cezanne-like brushstrokes of Hadjiganev. From the gallery attendant, I learned that Jivkov is largely drawn to myths and legends, which he likes to represent in his works.  The small, delicate pieces are mysterious at first sight, but through the lens of the relevant legend they begin to open up. In context, the viewer understands she’s looking at.

The piece that struck me the most, however, doesn’t fall into this category.  It is a sculpture of a man about to fall off of a stool, which unfortunately they do not have a picture of online.  The piece is quite large, and raised up on a platform, which makes it probably about six feet tall.  From the front, you see the stool on two legs, which seems to be gently sloping forward, and a man with his feet on the stool standing perpendicular to the floor.  Although you can see the slope of the stool, the man seems stable enough.  However, as you walk around the piece to the side you see that the third, back leg of the stool is about six inches off of the floor and the slope is much steeper than it first appeared. You are witnessing the man sliding down this stool.  It becomes a moment of motion captured into stillness, a snapshot.  Several aspects give the sculpture strength and power.  First, it takes full advantage of the medium; it is a three dimensional image and therefore it rewards the viewer who takes the time to walk the full circle.  The second is that it manages to capture the blink of a moment before everything tumbles down. The receptionist explained to me that it actually makes her feel a little anxious every time she sees it; she’s always worried that this time it will actually fall.  The third is that it becomes the study of a dichotomy, movement and stillness combined.  The piece itself denotes movement, the inevitable fall of gravity.  At the same time, it is a bronze sculpture, stable, strong, and still. Not a piece I would necessarily want in my home, but a stunning piece nonetheless.

Links:

Axelle Fine Arts Galerie:  www.axelle.com

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A couple of weeks ago I wandered into Newbury Fine Arts gallery. I was re-acquainting myself with the Boston art scene soon after returning from a two-month long sojourn out of the country/ state.  Entering, I was greeted by a particularly friendly gallery attendant, who spoke about the works a bit and invited me to the opening of The Annual Figurative Exhibition.  It’s a well-done and accessible show, usually including the same six loyal artists, that the gallery puts on every year (hence ‘annual’).  The work was far more solid than the hit-or-miss of First Friday artist studios, and would make an excellent addition into anyone’s home. If nothing else, the artist’s technical mastery was where it should be for fine art, even if some of final products were a little kitschy. What’s more, I was happily surprised to see that much of the work is well under $10,000, which is actually very affordable for one-of-a-kind paintings.  As the attendant elaborated, this show is really designed for people who love art but don’t have the means to collect in great quantities.  Instead, much like the artists, they return to this show year after year to help grow their modest, if beautiful, collections.  After looking at much of the art, their prices, and the fact that the theme of the exhibition is figural paintings, I think that it would allow fledgling art buyers to create meaningful and cohesive collections without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. This kind of art at this price is good to see. I believe in the democratization of art, that everyone should have not only pleasing, but also interesting and thought-provoking art in their daily lives.  The best part of the show for me was to see both of these concepts come to fruition.

Once again, in regards to my own sanity and yours, I’ll limit my commentary to the three pieces that most caught my eye.  Charles Dwyer was probably my favorite artist of the bunch, whom I was sad to learn had a delayed flight and couldn’t attend.  Another notable aspect of the annual opening is that the artists try and come to this exhibition so that they can meet the buyers who have been purchasing their work year in and year out.  Although still figural, Dwyer’s work delves deeply into abstraction; his work mostly focuses on the top half of women who subtly emerge from a background of colorful, fanciful, brushstrokes.

Of the Dwyer works on display, the one I was drawn to the most was Mistral from 2009.  It shows the back a young girl, whose torso has twisted enough to give a glimpse of the side of her head as her left arm swings back.  Like much of his work, the period clothing is ambiguous, there is something almost Victorian about her bodice. The lack of concrete detailing makes it mysterious, I wanted to look longer to find out more, new details, previously hidden, wouldn’t cease jumping out.  Surrounding her is a panoply of colors and brushstrokes that both add visual interest and help her more solid figural form come out.  However, like in most works of art, it’s still the little things that make a piece not just interesting but moving.  In this case, it’s the red on her checks, which reminded me of a Degas pastel where the artist gave his young dancers these wonderful ruddy cheeks.  It somehow humanizes the whole work for me; displaying a girl with the bright red cheeks of youth.

Another piece that caught my eye was Joseph Lorusso’s End of the Night from 2009.  It definitely struck a cord, or as NAC tiredly put it, “I know what that feels like.”  The sketchy, almost cottony-soft brushstrokes produce an image of a man and woman, scattered wine glasses and coffee cups with the man slumped over the table, too tired to pull his face from his folded arms.  It does a good job of transferring the feeling after a long night of going out, where you’re happy and content with yourself but so, so tired.   The work accomplished its goal of transmitting a sensation effectively to the viewer.

The last artist that I wish to discuss is Peregrine Heathcote, whose work refers back to the provincial art of the 1930s in America and the movie-star culture that was emerging at that time.  Although at first it seems deeply engrained in Americana, I was surprised to learn that the artist is actually British, which brought an interesting level of irony to the work.  In fact, as demonstrated by the piece Air Ways from 2009, it appears to be mocking the Hollywood dream life by presenting, in sepia tones, fully formed and delineated figures in absurdly emotional poses.  In Air Ways, the backs of what is probably a very beautiful couple is shown in front of an old-fashioned airplane.  The woman’s hip is cocked just so, complementing the ramrod straight back of the man on her arm.  Upon further inspection I realized that while the man is holding one small suitcase, next to the woman there is a nice pile of boxes and suitcases piled on top of each other.  She, of course, is only holding an umbrella.  The whole piece is nicely tongue-in-check.

All told, I enjoyed the exhibition and appreciated the fact that the gallery was working towards a very particular, and often neglected, audience.

Links

Newbury Fine Arts: www.newburyfinearts.com

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Newbury street is the traditional bastion of art sales in Boston, with high end galleries selling to high end clients, peddling everything from Chagall to the latest darlings of the art community. The SoWa district (short for South of Washington Street) in the South End has an entirely different feel.  It’s hipper, newer, grittier, and a bit more pleased with itself.  This means that art in SoWa can be more raw and interesting, or just plain bad.  Also, the crowd is different, again much hipper and cooler; everyone is drinking PBR and wearing skinny jeans, if you catch my drift.  I’m not a hipster, probably because I can’t drink PBR, even ironically. Thus, people watching is guaranteed to be fantastic.

First Fridays is an event throughout Boston when galleries stay open later on the first Friday of every month to showcase their new exhibitions.  Having done First Fridays on both Newbury Street and here at 450 Harrison a.k.a. the SoWa District, I find it more exciting in the South End.  The galleries stay open later, until about 9 or 10 or so, and since there are about fifteen galleries and fifty artist studios shoved into three adjacent warehouses, there’s more to see while staying blissfully warm (a key point for a native Californian during Boston’s winters).  As a side note, being free, it’s also a great activity for those of us that can’t actually buy the art.  Plus, most of the galleries and almost all of the artist studios serve food and wine which makes it a nice (and cheap) alternative to going out to a bar on a Friday night.

Despite the huge number of offerings, I’m afraid that in a single post I can only cover so many galleries and studios, so while there’s plenty more out there to see, only a few of the highlights are discussed here.

Before proceeding further, I should probably mention that my concentration in Art History was photography, so if there seems to be a particular slant in that direction, well, that’s why.  In either case, my first stop of the night was Gallery Kayafas.  The opening exhibition was Pelle Cass whose digital photographs are the result of multiple exposures over a period of time of a single spot which are then photoshopped together to create colorful, busy images. As stated by my non-arty companion, “It’s like the story of a particular spot; it documents everything that a spot might see over a period of time.”  Since the photographs document the same space over a short period of time, it’s normal for someone to appear on multiple occasions.  The result of which is evident in what was probably my favorite photograph in the exhibition, Esplanade.  I have to admit, I really hope that this photograph wasn’t staged, that he just happened to catch the action of people walking down a ramp in shirts and dresses which just so happened to create a rainbow.  It works because as people walk up and down this ramp they are repeated, extending the rainbow from red to blue.  There is a continual sense of motion, not unlike the photographs of people and animals by Muybridge.  It becomes not only a study of a particular spot but of human motion.

Gallery Kayafas is also presenting work of Rania Matar, whose series of photographs, “Ordinary Lives,” continues to move me even after multiple viewings.  I have seen her work at the Tufts Art Gallery and at the ICA where she received the 2008 James and Audrey Foster Prize given to artists who demonstrate exceptional promise.  The power of her work is that she presents Palestinians living amidst destruction and poverty with the same eye as one would present a glamorous fashion model.  The people, at once a part of their surroundings, are also removed from it, always staring directly into the camera, eerily oblivious to the world around them.  The black and white images are mostly of children in grungy streetwear striking runway poses. The most haunting image is of a young, skinny girl up against a chipping wall, she is looking directly out at the viewer with eyes that neither ask nor plead, but with some sort of sadness, surprising in the face of someone so young.  Next to her is a mirror, which reflects a boy who must be standing in the opposite corner of the room.  The actual distance between the two is probably not large but the sense of pervasive loneliness is almost overwhelming.  The two seem incapable of connecting; instead of actually standing next to her, he is only a reflection.

to see both images go to www.gallerykayafas.com

Next, I stopped by Walker Contemporary downstairs.  They were showing a raunchy group of photographs by Henry Hornstein, called “Show,” which documents the world of the neo-burlesque movement from its starting point in 2001 in New Orleans up until recently.  I found the show to be powerful, it presents a type of aggressive sexuality which while I may not always agree with or be comfortable with, it makes me happy to know that there are men and women like that out there.  That said, the pictures themselves are gorgeous, the backgrounds are inky black while the subject pops out in tonal whites and grays. In some images, there is this grainy quality, which the artist discusses a bit on the Walker Contemporary website.  According to him, he was experimenting with different cameras to use in the low lighting, and in one instance the photographs became grainy.  Although it does stand in stark contrast to the sharper images, they remind me of the carnivals and freak-shows of the Victorian era, disturbing figures emerging from shadowy darkness. They remind me of something that is sexy, on the fringe, perverse, provocative, and makes those in mainstream society both excited and uncomfortable.  Horstein states that he was originally planning on becoming a historian, and that he is seeing this neo-burlesque movement through those eyes. I like how he seems to be placing this movement into a very particular context.

Although there are more provocative images, featuring topless (and bottomless) women, my favorite was called Amber Ray, Los Angeles, CA from 2005.  The photograph is a close up of a woman biting her bottom lip.  Her full dark lips take up almost the entire image, with some skin shown on top and bottom, just for good measure.  The act of biting the lip like that makes me think about someone who has been caught doing something naughty.  The owner of the lip knows she is doing something not quite right, but isn’t ashamed for her actions either.  You imagine that her eyes are dancing gleefully.  This gritty naughtiness pervades the entire image; the glitter on her lips has rubbed off and is sprinkled in the area around her mouth, even making its way onto her teeth; it’s messy and sexy and in a good way.  However, what really made this photograph work for me are the tiny strands of hair above her upper lip.  It reminded me of a point a professor made while discussing Manet’s Olympia that the shading underneath her raised arm was not shadowing but hair, and that hair symbolized to 19th century French a kind of earthy and forbidden sexuality. In photographs, it’s always the details that you nearly miss that make them so moving, and it’s the tiny hairs that bring to mind some filthy eroticism without actually showing me a naked woman.

The last gallery I’ll briefly mention is the Boston Sculptors Gallery, specifically the piece Bardo State, 2009, from Kim Bernard’s Motion Matter’s exhibition.  According to the YouTube piece[link], which describes the work, it is forty-nine cement spheres attached to forty-nine springs and hung from the ceiling.  In Buddhist teaching, Bardo State is the transition state between death and rebirth which lasts forty-nine days.  The viewer is allowed to help the balls move by lightly tugging on them, the result is group of forty-nine cement balls springing up and down.

Coming into this exhibition with no prior knowledge of the Buddhist teaching or what the artist had in mind, I have to admit that my first response to seeing the piece was glee.  There appeared to be something so joyful in watching these heavy balls bounce up and down, appearing light despite being heavy.  It made my non-arty companion, whom I will henceforth dub NAC, smile as well, we didn’t know what it meant but, for once, it really didn’t matter; simply watching the spheres was fun.

Finally, there’s the SoWa Artist Guild, which is located on the upper floors of 450 Harrison, above the commercial galleries.  In SoWa, many artists open up their studio showing off their new work as people file through the old warehouse space.  There are over fifty artist studios in all, although maybe only half are open on a given First Friday.  This means that there is a lot of art, some good, some heinous, and most somewhere in between.  However, whenever I go, I usually stop by a few good standbys that I always enjoy.  The scene is also very much a scene; most people there are young and cool, so for those that are not quite hipster enough or cynical enough or feel uncomfortable in those types of crowds, you are forewarned. Wearing the normally standard uniform of young Bostonians, a button-down and jeans, NAC considered himself out of place via painfully generic.

The first studio I’ll mention is probably the most popular. It is the work by Brian Murphy, who creates these very well-executed wire sculptures with witty titles like, Back Bay Garden Club Dancing Naked through the Flowers. Again, as stated by NAC, “I don’t want to like it, it’s just so kitschy, but it’s also just so well done I can’t help myself” and generally, everything he’s said is true.  It is kitschy but it’s also well done and, crucially, it makes me smile.

The second artist I always like is Beth Darcy whose painting’s inspiration stems from vintage photographs.  The style is thick, meaty brushstrokes with swathes of color that delineate, without too much detail, the composition.  The paintings almost remind me of Diebenkorn’s figural paintings from the later 1950s, with their simultaneous flatness and “painterliness” mixed in with a certain solidity of form.  Since the photographs probably date from the same time, that comparison might make sense.  Also, I like that she doesn’t replicate the photographs perfectly.  For example, there is a painting of a man with his hand on a car door.  In that work, the man’s head is out of frame, however in another painting in her studio she includes his head and face.  I think that lacking the face and focusing on the torso and hand makes the composition more compelling.

Links:

Gallery Kayafas: www.gallerykayafas.com

Walker Contemporary: www.walkercontemporary.com

Boston Sculptors Gallery: www.bostonsculptures.com

SoWa Artist Guild: www.sowaartistsguild.com

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