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BALMY NIGHT LURES ART MOB TO BOSTON’S SOWA GALLERIES

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“Nobody wanted to show in January,” related my colleague, the artist Linda Leslie Brown, during the opening of her show last night at the cooperative Kingston Gallery in the SOWA art district of Boston’s hoppin South End. “As a new member it is usual to have to wait two years for your first show. But hey, I lucked out big time.”

Who knew back when galleries were making up their schedules that the normally less than ideal, post holiday, usually down and dirty, wintry month of January would post record temperatures this week. Good heavens, can you believe it, in the 60s! Talk about Global Warming. Unfortunately it is tricking nature into blooming fruit trees which will be a disaster if we get a blast of arctic air between now and Spring. But why complain. Droves of folks were blasting around the densely packed galleries many in skimpy, tank tops and casual T-shirts. Instead of the usual post Holiday slump it was party time to the max.

It was a fun night for people watching. As usual Bill Arning was holding forth dispensing news of the latest shows. Clusters of artists were milling around him. Robert Stover of the Museum of Fine Arts contemporary program was spotted lurching about furtively. He keeps a lower profile than MIT’s Arning who is always front and center. For the first time in decades I spotted Anne Hawley the director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum who was out and about with the museum’s sophisticated and charming contemporary curator Pieranna Cavalcinni. Art Forum critic, Dr. Francine Koslow Miller, was schmoozing with artists. The Rose Art Museum team of director Michael Rush and curator Raphaella Paltrow were checking out the scene. The friends of Thad Beal were out in force for his opening at OH+T Gallery. Public sculpture/ light artist John Powell discussed his recent work in Cambridge. Curator James Manning, taking photos for Big Red and Shiny, wanted us to know that he was quoted in a Globe article last week. Camillo Alvarez of Samson Projects discussed plans of upcoming shows for Native artist Jeffrey Gibson whom he will feature in Scope, New York. Jeannie the Russian student who finally graduated from NESAD was proud to be selected for the New Talent show at Michael Price Gallery. The large format portrait head shots at Bernard Toale Gallery seemed far to derivative of Thomas Ruff. We got a big warm hello from Mary Sherwood who was in from LA for a show at Allston Skirt. And the usual artists whose names I forget introduced themselves for the umpteenth time.

It was particularly fulfilling to view the installation by Linda Leslie Brown at Kingston. Several months ago we shared an afternoon viewing a two person show, with Bebe Beard, at Wentworth Institute. It was a bit of an adventure as the gallery was locked during posted hours and we had to track down security to let us in. But it was a wonderful and rich dialogue with the artist and work.

Having followed and respected her as a peer and artist for many years I have always been awed by her ability to constantly push and experiment. The results have not always clicked and made sense to me. There have been phases when the work was rich and lush with abstractly applied layers of saturated color. A show some time back for my gallery program at NESAD was particularly stunning. But the work that followed was off kilter and I said as much in a review of a group show organized by James Manning. There were some rough edges between us about that and at the time she referred cryptically that it occurred during a difficult time.

So it was a relief for both of us that the work that we recently discussed is back on track and past the speed bump. Primarily I think of Brown as a painter but there is also an experimental, multi media aspect to her practice. In particular she has been exploring, like everyone else, the possibilities of Photoshop. This has resulted in large format prints that play between self portraits and premonitions of death with layered elements of skulls and flayed flesh. But one has to dig deep to find that as it is not intended to pop out. There is distance, introspection and ennui in the imagery which also entails suspended microphones that convey dead silence as a metaphor. On the floor are illuminated tubes with translucent white cloth shrouding. We peer down into the centers of these glowing pools and find those haunting, drowning faces. Overall this is a somber, melancholy but resonating effort but is far more abstracted and aesthetic than literal so perhaps I am reading too much into my interpretation. Surely the artist will differ from this opinion. Which seems like a good beginning for a beer and burger.

Thad Beal is another artist whom I have shown in our program, written about, and pondered for decades. This new work at OH+T Gallery offers abundant evidence of why I regard him among the best of Boston’s abstract artists. We have discussed his interest in mathematics, physics, fractals and weird science. Most of which I do not pretend to understand. But there is another level in which I just enjoy the richness of surfaces, the subtle layering, restrained palette, this time dominated by a yellow ground with thin, black, incised lines. This work makes me wish that I knew about astronomy and could identify with some depth and understanding the seemingly random clusters of stars that shine over our deck in the Berkshires. Or to be able more precisely and incisively to follow the patterns of lines and markings that surely imply some unifying schematic inspiration in the work. It is rather like viewing a Jackson Pollock painting and does one see the whole or the parts? Right now there is a huge debate as to just how predictable and deliberate Pollock’s patterns were and whether some recently unearthed works are genuine. So this is a field and critical issue that is getting enormous attention and Beal seems to be in the thick of the aesthetic. What is best is that the work is smart, cerebral and conceptual, as well as, sensual and beautiful. There is a tendency to describe such patterning, for example in an oriental rug or the tile work of a Mosque as “decorative.” But that denies the depth and profundity of a rich and complex tradition of design as the pursuit of the mystical and divine.

Beal will be included in a major thematic exhibition “Big Bang! Abstract Painting for the 21st Century” curated by Nick Capasso, Lisa Sutcliffe and Mary Levin for the DeCordova Museum which opens on Friday, January 26 (through April 22) in posh, suburban Lincoln, Mass. In addition to Beal the artists include: Peter Barrett, Steven Bogart, Sean Foley, Reese Inman, Clint Jukkala, Julie Miller, Meg Brown Payson, Jon Petro, Cristi Rinklin, Terry Rose, Sarah Slavick, Laurel Sparks, Barbara Takenaga and Sarah Walker. It promises to be one of the best shows of the coming season.

This was our first visit to the spectacular new ground level space of Rhys Gallery which has a corner of a brand new luxury condo building. Development is evident all over the South End and has the potential to bring hip new clients for the nearby galleries. Art critic, Shawn Hill, was on hand interviewing the director for a piece on new galleries for Art New England. The large space was divided into two exhibitions. In the front, a range of abstract paintings and works on paper by Christi Rinklin. And behind the partitions were provocative little objects with tiny photos of people attached to toy vehicles and key chain rings by Heidi Hove Pedersen. They were kindah too cute.

Joseph Wheelwright is currently featured with outdoor carved stone, figurative pieces at the DeCordova. I was taking installation shots of one piece in particular when the artist came by to discuss it. He assumed that I knew the subject which frankly I did not recognize. It was a powerful and typically brutal “portrait” of the artist’s long term but recently deceased New York dealer Alan Stone. He talked fondly of their productive relationship. As the Boston Sculptors show demonstrated Wheelwright works in a variety of scales, materials and styles. Some of the pieces look like found object, driftwood pieces and the stone sculptures often imply that they have been formed more by acts of nature over millennia than by the artist’s hand. There was a rather untypical, life size, carved stone piece of a woman with such ample anatomical features that the term “hooters” is rather inevitable. Just what is it about guys and big tits? It was irresistible to ask his wife what she thought of the “competition.” But she seemed ok with it. As long as it sells.


Links:
Kingston Gallery
DeCordova Museum
Rhys Gallery
Boston Sculptors Gallery
Museum of Fine Arts
MIT List Visual Arts Center
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University
OH+T Gallery
Samson Projects
The New England School of Art and Design
Bernard Toale Gallery
Allston Skirt Gallery

All images are courtesy of the artist and their respective venue.


 

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