By PAUL LASTER June, 2021
Boston in springtime is a delightful place to visit and anytime of the year is the right time to see art in the city and the surrounding area.
Independent curator Renée Riccardo and I chose the third week in May, coinciding with our anniversary, for a train journey to Boston and Cambridge to catch the current crop of gallery and museum shows. After setting into an appealing Airbnb apartment in East Cambridge and surveying the neighborhood, we began our tour with the engaging group exhibition “Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation,” examining Jean-Michel Basquiat’s relationship to early hip hop culture through a selection of his paintings, sculptures and drawings and the work of his peers, including Fab Five Freddy, Futura, Keith Haring, Lady Pink, Lee Quiñones, Rammellzee and others artists from the Downtown New York scene of the 1980s, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Venturing deeper into MFA Boston, we discovered a series of fascinating exhibitions of women artists and designers on the top level of the museum titled “Women Take the Floor.” Featuring some 200 works from the museum’s collection created by women over the past 100 years, the presentation includes paintings by Luchita Hurtado, Frida Kahlo, Joan Mitchell and Georgia O’Keefe; textile pieces by Gina Adams, Carla Fernandez and a collaboration between Erin Robertson and Jordan Piantedosi; ceramics by Toshiko Takaezu; photographs by Laura McPhee and Mickalene Thomas; and furniture by Ray and Charles Eames.
Taking the elevator down to the main floor, we found ourselves in the courtyard gallery, where Yoshimoto Nara's big 2003 sculpture Your Dog and Dale Chihuly's 2011 glass monument Lime Green Icicle Tower dominated the high-ceilinged, wide-open space. While Renée checked out the gift shop, I took a quick stroll through the compelling collection exhibition “Monet and Boston: Legacy Illuminated,” in which 25 Impressionistic canvases by Claude Monet are presented alongside paintings by his predecessor Jean-François Millet, sculptures by Auguste Rodin and Japanese ukiyo-e prints.
Leaving MFA Boston, we walked along the Emerald Necklace to the nearby Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, an historic palace housing a phenomenal collection of Renaissance art. From the Old Master paintings of Bellini, Botticelli, Giotto, Holbein, Raphael and Rembrandt and empty frames of masterpieces that were stolen in the notorious 1990 heist to portraits by the Edwardian-era, American-expat John Singer Sargent, the Venetian-style palazzo is chock full of treasures. As it was our first visit there, we were completely enchanted by the all-over display of art.
The next day, MIT List Visual Arts Center curators Natalie Bell and Selby Nimrod gave us a tour of the Public Art Collection at MIT, where we saw classic modernist sculptures by Alexander Calder, Mark Di Suvero and Louise Nevelson, as well as recent works by Olafur Eliasson, Alicia Kwade and Agnieszka Kurant, before going into the MIT List Visual Arts Center galleries to view the current and upcoming shows. Inside the center, Cindy Ji Hye Kim challenged our ways of seeing with her conceptual combination of abstraction and figuration in an installation that includes a wall mural, paintings, and hybrid sculptures integrated into the architecture of the gallery space in her “List Projects 22” exhibition, while Leslie Thornton's engrossing experimental film survey “Begin Again, Again” explores the relationship between technology, power and violence.
Visiting the local galleries, we caught Matthew Schrader's exhibition “shape of the work/day/earth,” a conceptual art presentation centered on the ubiquitous and invasive Ailanthus tree, at Anthony Greaney; Madeline Donohue's “Fun House” show, which examined motherhood through paintings and ceramics, at Praise Shadows Art Gallery; Erika Wastrom's exhibition “Coming Back as Strangers,” examining everyday life with paintings on paper and panels, at LaMontagne Gallery; Brian Zink's “Chromatic Structures” show, offering hard-edged, colored Plexiglas abstractions, at Howard Yezerski Gallery; Greg Heins photos of MFA Boston visitors looking at a Mark Rothko painting in “The Viewers” at Gallery Kayafas; and Fred Wilson's “Untitled (Flags)” show, focused on appropriated flags of African and African diasporic countries with the color drained out for critical impact, at Krakow Witkin Gallery.
Wrapping up our art crawl, our final outing was ICA Boston, where three different collection exhibitions shared the top floor and a colorful installation by Eva LeWitt dominated the lobby. The exhibition “I’m yours: Encounters with Art in Our Times” borrowed its title from a Henry Taylor painting to question the role of art and museums during this time of racial injustice and political tension. Presented in a semi-raw architectural space, the show featured works by Simone Leigh, Louise Bourgeois, Wangechi Mutu, Henry Taylor, Zanele Muholi, Alice Neel, Tara Donovan, Marlene Dumas and others. Ragnar Kjartansson gathered another group of artists—in his case, musicians—in his nine-channel video installation “The Visitors,” which captured the players performing a song in unison from a variety of different rooms, while the “Beyond Infinity: Contemporary Art after Kusama” show explored techniques of repetition, obsessional patterns and the activation of the body in search of a path to liberation from psychological and societal constraints—precisely the path that we were on as we chanced upon imaginative things during our artistic adventure.
Scroll through the images below to see more of the art on view at the museums and galleries in Boston and Cambridge. WM
All Photographs © Paul Laster 2021
Paul Laster is a writer, editor, curator, artist and lecturer. He’s a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and writer for Time Out New York, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Galerie Magazine, Sculpture, Art & Object, Cultured, Architectural Digest, Garage, Surface, Ocula, Observer, ArtPulse, Conceptual Fine Arts and Glasstire. He was the founding editor of Artkrush, started The Daily Beast’s art section, and was art editor of Russell Simmons’ OneWorld Magazine, as well as a curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.
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