I have only lived in the Boston area for a little over a year now, and I feel like I have only scratched the surface of the many museums just outside the city. Looking back at my photos in the new year, I happily rediscovered some gems from the past year of art viewing. Unfortunately, these shows have closed, but here are a few exhibitions that were worth the trip and just a podcast drive’s away. -- Josh Fischer
Mistress, Miss, Mrs or Ms, Madam?
October 28–December 12, 2017
A jam-packed show of Fields’ labor intensive and visually exuberant work that pays homage to craft, primarily the textile traditions historically relegated to “women’s work.” Fueled by what look like many trips to craft and thrift stores, Fields weaves together a personal history of learning new techniques and material indulgence that knows little boundaries. I especially loved how her large-scale pieces like Lady of Leisure (2016) are behemoth Frankenstein fabrics, struggling to hold themselves up and taking on forceful personalities.
She calls such works paintings, but they are sculptural and play with textile display to conflate how we use fabric in our homes as curtains, quilts, and rugs with its anthropomorphic relationship to how we wear them on our bodies. The show was split between her additive, mashup creations, and her deconstructive, more ethereal work where she meticulously unweaves machine-made fabrics to leave ghostly impressions. Fresh off a Kohler Arts Residency, her most recent pieces incorporate ceramics, often decorative legs that look both ornate and animal. She called them sentinels guarding the tradition of weaving. It’s a tradition she obviously respects, but also one she is not afraid to turn on its head and rip apart.
Space as Narrative
Curated by Joel Janowitz
Concord Center for the Visual Arts
October 19–November 26, 2017
Participating artists: Rackstraw Downes, Yvonne Jacquette, Elliott Green, Eric Aho, Dana Clancy, Andrew Fish, Cristi Rinklin, Nona Hersey, Keith Washington, Wilhelm Neusser, Sean Downey, Trevor Young, and Joel Janowitz
A thoughtful and sensitive grouping of skilled painters who share an ability to look deeply, yet go beyond the mimetic to abstract different kinds of spaces—natural and urban landscapes, architectural interiors, all directly observed, photographed, or remembered—into something often moody and atmospheric. Curator Joel Janowitz was smart enough to present a range of artists whose work often share affinities in feeling, but not so similar that the show only hit one note. Sean Downey’s Magritte-esque Minor Apocrypha (2016), a surreal juxtaposition of an interior space with a cloudy vista, was placed not too far from Rackstraw Downes’ more direct, observational painting of the sandy hills of Presidio, Texas.
In the same gallery, Eric Aho’s Ice Cut turns a hole in a thick sheet of ice into a forceful void, and Yvonne Jacquette’s birdseye view of a cove in Maine delineates the tide into a rhythmic composition of bending, parallel blue lines. These paintings and many throughout the show ride a tension between descriptive, representational painting and a dissolution into abstract mark making and form. Part of the enjoyment of the grouping was seeing this play out differently as each artist used their respective subject matter as an organizing principle to push against or work within as a complex dialogue ensues between seeing, feeling, and painting.
John O’ Reilly
A Studio Odyssey
Worcester Art Museum
May 13–August 13, 2017
Maybe my favorite show of the year as I was completely sucked into O’Reilly’s photomontages that open up expansive worlds full of ruin, agony, and ecstasy. An analog artist who is not aided by the computer but seems completely at home in our digital world of image overload, O’Reilly collages scraps of popular culture from the 1960s and 70s, as well as iconic images of classic and modern art, with nude self-portraiture and photographs of his own surroundings. The dense, black and white constructions are simultaneously cohesive and fragmented, full of shifting viewpoints and changes in scale.
In one picture, like Muybridge in a War Torn Interior (2003), a still life of crumpled paper strewn with lifeless toy horses becomes a rocky mountain that dwarfs a seated figure, but as the scene unfolds it recedes to a man in an open doorway clipped from Velazquez’s Las Meninas, transforming the landscape back into a miniature artifice set inside an interior space. O’Reilly meticulously incorporates such a broad sweep of elegiac imagery that speaks to childhood innocence, loss, love, homoerotic desire, violence, death, and decay that each montage takes on a far greater magnitude than their small-scale belies.