Posts Tagged ‘SoWa’

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.


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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