Eso Eres / Marea

Video Still from Eso Eres. Image Courtesy of Maria Rondeau and Rafael Rondeau.

My introduction to the work of Rafael Rondeau and Maria Rondeau occurred last summer in Close Distance—a terrific group exhibition highlighting six emerging Boston-area Latino artists. That summer at the Mills Gallery, we saw videos that explored architecture and its ability to frame our experience of place. Once again, this brother and sister duo have collaborated on two separate, experimental video installations that explore the synthesis between the intimate and the public, by engaging structure, image and sound.

Maria, a practicing architect and artist and Rafael, a violinist and composer—have furthered their work with Eso Eres and Marea, two non-narrative, fully immersive works that re-examine and question the spaces we inhabit.

Eso Eres, is projected on a suspended light screen with a reflective mylar background set five feet away from the wall. The video captures a man running along a linear path, but instead of seeing the man’s entire body, we only see his face–an attempt on behalf of the artists to locate a visage as a “place.”

Video Still from Marea. Image Courtesy of Maria Rondeau and Rafael Rondeau.

 Marea, the longest and most immersive of the two videos captures a social encounter—a man sitting at a table in what appears to be an outdoor restaurant overlooking one of New York City’s neighborhoods. Projected on two elongated screens that trace the perimeter of a table—the video holds both foreground and background in focus, creating a sweeping and fluid movement that wraps around the viewer—who is encouraged to weave in and out of both installations. The sound, conceived by Rafael not only considers the spaces projected in these two installations, but also the gallery space where these works are shown.

From the sound of a string quartet—composed and performed by Rafael—to the hustle and bustle of a rural market in Guatemala—to the murmured prayers of women at a pre-Colonial church, Marea takes you on journeys near and far in the span of 10 minutes. The images and sounds in these two videos often collide with one another to awaken and alter our senses, prompting us to reconsider the spaces we experience on a daily basis.

Eso Eres/Marea is on view until March 02, 2012 at La Galeria at the Villa Victoria Center for the Arts in the South End.

A Conversation: William Cordova at the Boston Center for the Arts

William Cordova, the House that Frank Lloyd Wright built for Fred Hampton y Mark Clark, 2006 (installation view, Arndt & Partner, Berlin, 2006). Wood, books and suspended drawing, dimensions variable. Collection of the artist; courtesy Arndt & Partner Berlin

Born in Lima, Peru and raised in Miami, Florida, William Cordova is an internationally known artist practicing across multiple disciplines. Having earned his BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1996 and his MFA from Yale University in 2004, Mr. Cordova has exhibited at MoMA PS1, the 2008 Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial and Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston among many other national and international museums and galleries. Mr. Cordova was just awarded $25,000 as part of the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s 2011 Painters and Sculptors Grant Program.

The Mills Gallery at the Boston Center for the Arts is currently hosting William Cordova’s first solo exhibition in the city curated by Evan J. Garza—the Exhibitions and Public Programs Coordinator for the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  On view until April 15th, this one’s 4U (pa’ nosotros) brings together new and recent works in sculpture, installation, video and works on paper that give meaning to the past in a contemporary context.

On Friday February 10, 2012 an informal conversation was held at the BCA’s Plaza Theater with William Cordova, Evan J. Garza and Jose Falconi, Curator for the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University.

Mr. Garza opened the conversation by briefly introducing Cordova’s the House that Frank Lloyd Wright Built for Fred Hampton y Mark Clark, a structure made of two by fours that remakes the apartment layout of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, two Black Panther members killed by the Chicago Police. The work, which is included in the exhibition at The Mills Gallery, formed the foundation for this Boston show.

William on his process and the evolution of the House that Frank Lloyd Wright Built for Fred Hampton y Mark Clark:

There are different ways that that piece evolved. In general, I’m interested in architecture and how to represent ideas of resistance through architecture. I’m often gravitating to material history that can represent that or does represent that.

I’m trying to activate certain materials, certain histories for us to reconsider ourselves, how we sometimes are seeing it from a detached perspective. While it may not be happening to us, we assume we have no relationship to that history or that situation, but in actuality, we are probably a lot closer than not.

I tend to create a lot of parallels even in the title, “Frank Lloyd Wright,” “Fred Hampton,” “Mark Clark.” Those relationships may not necessarily be obvious. The way I wanted to approach these projects or art making, was not by limiting myself to making a representation of an image or a situation by making a painting and putting it up on a wall. I wanted to provoke or challenge the way we think and painting can do that, I don’t think it would have been enough for what I wanted to do.

I was thinking about building materials, structures, symbols that represent something in transition.

I am sure everyone is familiar seeing a house—half-way built before there are dry walls; before the electrical parts are installed; before the roof. What I wanted to do was show that first part where you have the foundation and stop there; suggest to the viewer, to provoke them questions. What’s next? Are you going to add something else? Why isn’t there something else in here? Why does it suppose to be revealing?  What does that have to do in relationship to the title, to the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, to the individuals—the activists.

The piece in a way is a transitional piece, is a labyrinth, it’s also a monument, it’s a shrine.  It has different entry points; it’s also very layered. It isn’t specifically about one thing—it isn’t about Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, Frank Lloyd Wright—but about many situations or histories.

The conversation then shifted to the idea of forgotten historical narratives and how we perceive monuments. This part of the discussion focused on the installation the House that Frank Lloyd Wright Built for Fred Hampton y Mark Clark. Cordova discussed his interest in language as it develops in his works, in particular in the title piece of the exhibition this one’s 4U (pa’ nosotros)—a video-sound installation that juxtaposes audio from Federico Garcia Hurtado’s  1984 film Tupac Amaru and video from the documentary by Peter Spirer Thug Angel—about Tupac Amaru Shakur.

William Cordova on language, its meaning, and how titles emerge in his works:

I’m interested in language. I am interested in language and how we interpret it. How we communicate. I am interested in presence and how that is represented or how we represent with others. But I am also aware that in our society of the condition of trying to divide things, categorize and separate and so we might not be able to relate to one another because we’re conditioned just to have certain divisions, even though they may not inherently be there.

I’m more interested in the commonalities than the divisions. I am interested in writing and literature; that’s a big influence in my work.

Untitled (geronimo I & II), 2006-2012. Reclaimed paper bag, feathers, aerosol can. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

Mr. Cordova on the lyrical quality in his titles:

I try to appeal to many different groups, many different audiences and a lot of it is through written word. Some of it is more abstract, some of it is more literal—in order to appeal to as many people as possible.

I incorporate popular culture imagery to a certain extent. I don’t want to promote it or rely on it when I question it and slow it down—how we consume that type of imagery or any type of imagery. A lot of times visual art is considered entertainment. It’s like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, you get it?—and then you move on. It shouldn’t be about that.

Certain work rely more on certain titles, but I am not relying on the title to do the work for the visual art.

The work that I do is completely installation based, so all the works and all the components are in conversation and isolated they may not function the same way. It is really important that all the ingredients are in the same bowl. Otherwise certain things might not necessarily trigger the initial idea I had in mind, but it is all open for interpretation. It just depends on how we are conditioned to absorb, receive or interpret it.

this is not 4 U (I miss U already...), 2009 Aluminum foil, cardboard, reclaimed Plexiglas, tape 17 x 29.5 x 7 inches 43.2 x 74.9 x 17.8 cm. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

Mr. Cordova on the concept of temporality and how he treats the life of the object he creates (there is a work influenced by the Nazca lines in the window space of the gallery that was created specifically for this show and for that space—therefore will not exist in any other gallery or museum):

A lot of times we rely on digital cameras or digital recordings and everything comes really quick. We don’t necessarily take time to value that moment. When we see something, we to start taking pictures with our phones—and there is something that is lost when we have so much access. It’s like always having candy in a bowl–you won’t desire it because it’s always there. I did this site-specific piece on the floor of the institution [Mills Gallery] and I wanted to represent something that is very close to me, but at the same time it is not something that can be transported and displayed somewhere else. I didn’t want to put any type of financial or superficial value to it. I wanted it to exist. It is not something that you see at every installation. It depends on the space.

The conversation ended with the concept of constellations and how we form our own ideas of representations. Mr. Garza commented on William’s ability to take points that exist in different points in time and in space and connect them to create bridges between them. These connections and bridges are observed throughout this exhibition at Mills Gallery.

This talk  illuminated many of the works in this exhibition and allowed those in attendance to search for a deeper meaning in Mr. Cordova’s works. William Cordova provided a framework to not only better understand the House that Frank Lloyd Wright Built for Fred Hampton y Mark Clark, but also invited us to draw our own parallels with this and other works within the exhibition. William Cordova: this one’s 4U (pa’ nosotros) is on view until April 15, 2012.

Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art at the Peabody Essex Museum

Rebecca Belmore (born 1960), Anishinaabe; Fringe, 2008; Inkjet print on paper; 21 x 63 inches (53.3 x 160 cm); Collection of Catherine Sullivan-Kropa and William Kropa; © Rebecca Belmore, image courtesy Rebecca Belmore, photograph by Henri Robideau.

A terrific dialogue is currently unfolding in the galleries of the Peabody Essex Museum, with an exhibition that explores links between historic and contemporary Native American art. Featuring works drawn from worldwide collections, Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art, takes us on an unforgettable, celebratory journey that transcends boundaries and erases stereotypes along its path.

A concept in Native cultures, shapeshifting refers to the ability of humans changing into animals or supernatural beings and vice versa. In essence, it refers to the idea that creativity has always been part of Native cultures.

“…Native American art has always taken cultural knowledge and metaphors and refreshed them with new ideas and forms[1]” writes Curator Karen Kramer Russell in the exhibition catalog. In the past, “…museum exhibitions have focused largely on either historical or contemporary Native American art, but with very little mixing of the two.” Shapeshifting shatters the notion that all art created by Native Americans is either ethnographic or crafty in appearance.

Kent Monkman (born 1965), Cree; Théâtre de Cristal, 2007; Chandelier, plastic beads, acrylic string, cabouchons, simulated buffalo hide, and Super-8 film: Group of Seven Inches, 2005 (7:34 minutes), edition 1/3; 168 x 240 inches (diam. approx.) (426.7 x 609.6 cm); The Glenbow Museum, Alberta, Canada, purchased with funds from Historic Resource Fund, 2008, 2008.099.001; Courtesy Kent Monkman and Bruce Bailey Art Projects; © Kent Monkman, image courtesy MacKenzie Art Gallery, photograph by Don Hall.

Kent Monkman (born 1965), Cree; Théâtre de Cristal, 2007; Chandelier, plastic beads, acrylic string, cabouchons, simulated buffalo hide, and Super-8 film: Group of Seven Inches, 2005 (7:34 minutes), edition 1/3; 168 x 240 inches (diam. approx.) (426.7 x 609.6 cm); The Glenbow Museum, Alberta, Canada, purchased with funds from Historic Resource Fund, 2008, 2008.099.001; Courtesy Kent Monkman and Bruce Bailey Art Projects; © Kent Monkman, image courtesy MacKenzie Art Gallery, photograph by Don Hall.

Kent Monkman’s electrifying video installation Théâtre de Cristal opens the exhibition and sets the tone for the rest of the show. Referencing a tipi made of clear plastic beads lit by an elaborate chandelier, Monkman critiques and challenges “the dominant Euro-American ethnocentric construction of Native North America embedded in a global consciousness.[2]” Paul Chaat Smith, Curator of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian considers Théâtre de Cristal “a work from the future about people who aren’t supposed to have one.[3]The installation is brilliant and the accompanying text should not be missed (even if you are a White European male, and you’ll know what I mean by this if you see this exhibit).

Kent Monkman (born 1965), Cree; Théâtre de Cristal, 2007; Chandelier, plastic beads, acrylic string, cabouchons, simulated buffalo hide, and Super-8 film: Group of Seven Inches, 2005 (7:34 minutes), edition 1/3; 168 x 240 inches (diam. approx.) (426.7 x 609.6 cm); The Glenbow Museum, Alberta, Canada, purchased with funds from Historic Resource Fund, 2008, 2008.099.001; Courtesy Kent Monkman and Bruce Bailey Art Projects; © Kent Monkman, image courtesy MacKenzie Art Gallery, photograph by Don Hall.

Organized thematically, many works in Shapeshifting rely on politics to convey a concept, while others explore identity, place, and cultural heritage.

Marie Watt’s Column Blanket Stories, evoke the blankets infested with smallpox and other diseases brought by Europeans and distributed to Natives across the Americas. Independent scholar Kara English notes that today, blankets are associated with beauty, honor and respect and that “these [blankets] prized items weave together an intergenerational continuum and are gifted at births, comings-of-age, graduations, marriages, naming and honoring.[4]

Marie Watt (born 1967), Seneca; Column (Blanket Stories), 2003; Wool blankets and cedar; 144 x 20 x 20 inches (365.8 x 50.8 x 50.8 cm); Collection of Deborah Green; © Marie Watt, image courtesy Marie Watt and PDX Contemporary Art.

Rebecca Belmore’s Fringe, a powerful and haunting photograph of a female figure references the abuse of Native women and of the land. Bob Haouzous’ Wheel of Fortune is a deliciously superb work featuring the face of Geronimo surrounded by descriptive words. This wonderful work is a call to Native people to stop hiding behind general stereotypes. And yes, the Wheel of Fortune spins just as it does in the television game.

Bob Haozous (born 1943), Chiricahua Apache; Wheel of Fortune, 2005; Steel and paint; 96 inches (diam.) (243.8 cm); Courtesy the artist; © Bob Haozous.

Shapeshifting is a provocative exhibition filled with complex ideas. It opened my eyes to a world of Native American art making not frequently discussed or exhibited outside non-Native art or anthropological museums. As far as the implications of an exhibition with many politically charged artworks, Karen Kramer Russell says “the intention is that people will have a broader and deeper understanding of Native art and culture.”

Shapeshifting captures the creative spirit and resilience of cultures that have long been repressed.  It’s a remarkable and fascinating exhibition that changed my perception of contemporary Native American art and its transformations through time. The works in this exhibition foster an enriching dialogue that should be nurtured and savored over multiple visits to the Peabody Essex Museum.

Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art is on view through April 29, 2012 at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA.


[1] Page 15, [2] Page 24, [3] Page 220, [4] Page 180

One Gallery I Bet You Didn’t Even Know Existed in Boston

The Fish, Artist: Harbor Arts Team. Image Credit HarborArts.org

Sprawling over the grounds and docks of an active shipyard on Marginal Street in East Boston are thirty contemporary artworks by established and emerging artists from three continents. The Shipyard Gallery, an initiative of Harbor Arts, a collaborative community organization “whose sole purpose is to protect and preserve our oceans and waterways by helping each of us to understand the issues and solutions facing our blue planet” is an outdoor gallery where art meets science. The gallery opened in 2010 and I just recently learned of it while at meeting at the Urban Arts Institute who sponsored the competition juried by Randi Hopkins, former associate curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.

2Ralph Berger/Captured Flight & A Toy For Sisyphus. Image Credit: Anulfo Baez

It was love at first sight for me. I love that it is less than 10 minute walk from Maverick Station on the Blue Line. I also love that behind each one of the thirty works (mostly sculpture) on display is a pressing environmental issue facing our oceans. I also love that I get to learn about the sponsoring organization behind each piece and of the work they’re doing to protect our oceans.

Mark Favermann/Zig Zag Benches. Image Credit: Anulfo Baez

This place is so fantastic I hope more people get to see it and experience its magic (sculptures are on loan for at least a year and new ones are added on a seasonal basis). Head over to East Boston and learn about the fabulous organizations that constitute Harbor Arts and see some neat artworks. You’ll thank me later.

REVIEW – Dance/Draw – The ICA’s Newest Exhibition Will Have You Dancing and Drawing

Juan Capistran, The Breaks, 2000, Inkjet print, 40 x 40 in., Collection of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, The Altoids Curiously Strong Collection, gift of Altoids

Until now, I have not been a fan of most of the exhibitions that have originated at the ICA. Helen Molesworth, the ICA’s chief curator has organized an exciting show that traces the journey of the line from changes in drawing in the 1960’s to its explosion off the page and into three dimensional space, which ultimately finds itself in the realm of dance. Dance/Draw (October 7 – January 16, 2012) is beautiful, dazzling, dynamic and engaging (Cornelia Parker’s Hanging Fire (Suspended Arson) does not convince me yet in this show, but I can be persuaded. Possibly.).

Trisha Brown, Floor of the Forest, 1970, Metal Pipe, used clothing, Trisha Brown Dance Company, Photo: Isabel Winarsch/documenta 12.

Dance/Draw looks back to the 1960’s where artists began to make drawings with “a wide range of materials and they frequently did so using more than simply their hands.”Approximately 100 works ranging from
video, photography, drawings, and sculpture are featured in Molesworth’s first major show at the ICA. A series of live performances will also take place in the galleries and in the theater including Trisha Brown’s 1970 seminal work Floor of the Forest, part sculpture, part dance prop and part performance. This performance is a breath of fresh air.

Trisha Brown, Untitled 2007 Charcoal, pastel on paper Framed 55 ½ x 64 in. Harvard Art Museums / Fogg Museum, Margaret Fisher Fund. Photo: Katya Kallsen © President and Fellows of Harvard College

In the first gallery, Trisha Brown’s “Untitled, 2007” a charcoal and pastel drawing, is according to Molesworth “the drawing that started it all.” Re-defining the conventional meaning of drawing, the works in this gallery borrow from dance and performance to explore medium using more than just the hand. Feet, eyelashes, hair or the artist’s entire body is incorporated into the creation of a work on paper.

Janine Antoni, Loving Care, 1993, Performance with Loving Care hair dye in

Janine Antoni’s Loving Care, 1992-1996 a performance at the Wadsworth Athenaeum shows the artist dragging her “Natural Black” dye saturated hair back and forth across the floor, in the process creating an “ink drawing.” Butterfly Kisses, another work by Antoni created by battling her mascara-coated eyelashes against a piece of paper. These two works are wonderful and made my heart skip a beat. They’re flirtatious and playful, but so is the rest of the exhibition.

In curating this show, Molesworth did not forget to make it as geographically and as culturally diverse as possible (yes, this matters to me as a person of color). Not only is Dan Ranalli, a Boston artist and Professor at Boston University included in this show, but so are the works of Cecilia Vicuña, Helena Almeida, and Robin Rhode and many other interesting and remarkable artists.

Ruth Asawa, Untitled (S.065), early 1960

Ruth Asawa’s suspended wire bulbous sculptures, Faith Wilding’s womb-like web, Amy Sillman’s gouache and charcoal drawings of couples in intimate positions, and Sadie Benning’s Play Pause, a video made using hundreds of gouache drawings were all pleasantly sweet surprises that stole the show for me.

Another pleasant surprise was seeing the Mediatheque transformed by the Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuña’s with a site specific work titled Water Weaving, 2011. A space wasted no more. The exhibition catalog is disappointing as it does not do justice to the show, but c’est la vie.

Dance/Draw is ambitious in scope and it delivers knockout punches that will have you craving for more. The show is the Paso Doble of exhibitions, it starts off strong and finishes off strong.

REVIEW: Disponible: A Kind of Mexican Show at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts

Hector Zamora, White Noise – Shed 6 Installation (detail), 2011. Installation originally developed for the Auckland Arts Festival, New Zealand. Courtesy of the artist and XXXXX

This Fall there are two exhibitions in Boston that originated in San Francisco: Shahzia Sikander: The Exploding Company Man and Other Abstractions and Disponible: A Kind of Mexican Show, both curated and co-curated respectively by Hou Hanru for the Walter and McBean Galleries in San Francisco.

Hanru is director of exhibitions at the San Francisco Art Institute and an internationally known writer and curator with a “reputation for staging thematic exhibitions.” The more exhibitions curated by Hanru I experience, the more I fall in love with his curatorial approach.

Disponible: A Kind of Mexican Show is a group show of eight contemporary Mexican artists that “frame two major tendencies in the current creative scene – social critique and witty design solutions – as entangled and reinforcing strategies to face the complex reality of life in modern Mexico. ” The message, although delivered with humor and irony in most of the works, lingers on with intensity and a sense of “urgency and importance.”

Manuel Rocha Iturbide, I Play The Drums With Frequency (detail), 2007–11. Drum set, sound installation. Courtesy of the artist.

With a focus on the effects of globalization on the Mexican economy, politics and society, “Disponible” is a universal kind of show. Any dense urban setting with empty billboard advertisements with the words “disponible” (“available”) printed on them, is a setting that “allows contemporary art and other experimental and creative practices such as architecture, design and music to flourish, forming one of the most original and intriguing art scenes in the global landscape.” The works in this show are poignant and reinforce the current conversations we’re having on environmental sustainability, social justice and alternative design solutions that foster a safer, healthier and better world.

Among some of my favorite works in the exhibition include Teresa Margolles’ Las Llaves de La Ciudad (The Keys to the City), a performance based installation conceived in collaboration with Antonio Hernandez Camacho, a former small business owner from Ciudad Juarez. On opening night, both Ms. Margolles and Mr. Camacho interacted with those in attendance while Mr. Camacho carved messages of hope into keys. Today, what’s left behind are Mr. Camacho’s carving tools, his desk, metal shavings on the floor and carved keys hanging on a cord. Acting as a metaphor for Ciudad Juarez, this installation also speaks to the violence that plagues the city. Today, an audio recording of the performance played throughout the installation allows for a haunting experience.

Teresa Margolles, Las Llaves de la Ciudad (detail), 2011. Installation performance. Photograph by Rafael Burillo. Courtesy of the artist.

Teresa Margolles, Las Llaves de la Ciudad (performance with Mr. Camacho), 2011. Installation performance. (iPhone) Photograph by Anulfo Baez.

Teresa Margolles, Las Llaves de la Ciudad (performance with Mr. Camacho), 2011. Installation performance. (iPhone) Photograph by Anulfo Baez.

Teresa Margolles, Las Llaves de la Ciudad (Key I had made while I interacted with Mr. Camacho), 2011. Installation performance. (iPhone) Photograph by Anulfo Baez. The message (in Spanish) I chose to be engraved into the key was "compasion" because we all need a little more compassion to save the world.

Other works rely heavily on sound and noise to emphasize the human condition. Hector Zamora’s White Noise (Part 2) an installation in its own separate gallery comments on the freedoms available in public and private spaces, while Mauricio Limon’s video Bizco Merolico Chorus examines the subcultures of Mexico City’s street vendors by asking them to repeat their sales pitches, in the process creating a universal chorus often ignored in societies all over. Disponible: A Kind of Mexican Show leaves little to be desired. It reminds us that there is much to be done in the world.

Hector Zamora, White Noise (detail). Photo Courtesy of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts

Hector Zamora, White Noise (detail), 2011. Photo Courtesy of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts.

Mauricio Limón, Bizco Merolico Chorus, 2006. Video still, duration: 2 minutes, 22 seconds. Courtesy of the artist and Galería Hilario Galguera, Mexico City, Mexico.

Disponible: A Kind of a Mexican Show is on view through November 19, 2011 and was co-curated by Hou Hanru and Guillermo Santamarina. On October 18, 2011 there will be a screening of Natalia Almada’s film El General at the Museum of Fine Arts.

*unless linked to a direct source of reference, quotes were taken from the exhibition brochure.

A Psychotic State of Mind: Laurie Anderson’s “Delusion”

Before attending last night’s performance of Laurie Anderson’s Delusion, I knew very little of Anderson’s craft. However, because most of the time I am surrounded by artists and other creative types, it only took one friend to get me beyond excited for what I was about to experience at the Paramount Theater.

Laurie Anderson is considered a legend in the performing art world. Known for her multimedia presentations and innovative use of technology in art, theater and experimental music, Anderson’s latest solo performance Delusion allows for one beautiful and mesmerizing journey that sticks with you hours after experiencing it.

If you’re wondering what Delusion is, “Delusion is a mediation on life and language,” a meditation enhanced by the violin, electronic puppetry, music and on screen visuals.

The performance lasts 90 minutes which may be among the best 90 minutes of your life. There were moments that took my breath away and moments that made place many things into perspective. There was a moment in the performance that reminded me of the visuals of Terrence Malick, in particular his shots of grass and wheat. Re-visiting familiar territory (which for me was the moment Malick’s stunning grass visuals were referenced by Anderson) is part of Delusion.

Delusion is only playing until Sunday October 2, 2011. If you can make it, I highly recommend it for its beautiful visuals and music. Click this link for more information.

Shahzia Sikander: The Exploding Company Man and Other Abstractions

The Last Post, 2010 (still); HD video animation; 10 min. Courtesy of the Artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York. Source: ArtPractical.com

A fantastic exhibition curated by Hou Hanru for the Walter and McBean Galleries at the San Francisco Art Institute is currently up at MassArt. Shahzia Sikander: The Exploding Company Man and Other Abstractions (September 19 – November 26) gathers five of Sikander’s most recent animated videos along with paintings and drawings to create an explosion of sumptuous imagery, color and sound. I loved this exhibition so much I cannot wait to return to the gallery and see each video again and again.

With a BFA from the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan and an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, Shahzia Sikander explores the British colonialism of the subcontinent, the British opium trade with China, military rhetoric, news media, identity and other contemporary issues through an aesthetics that draws primarily from Indo-Persian miniature paintings.  This exhibition is a feast for the senses and is not to be missed. This show has received glowing reviews all across the board; won’t you go see it for yourself? It’s TERRIFIC!

There will be an artist talk on Monday October 3, 5:30PM in the tower auditorium and an opening reception at 6:30PM in the Bakalar Gallery. A musical performance by Du Yun (her collaboration with Sikander can be seen in “Gossamer” also in the exhibition) is scheduled for 7:00PM.

Christian Marclay’s “The Clock” at the Museum of Fine Arts

If you haven’t heard the news, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is opening on September 17, a new wing devoted to contemporary art. To celebrate this opening, the museum will show Christian Marclay’s “The Clock,” a work acquired with the help of the National Gallery of Canada. Marclay’s “The Clock” has been one of the year’s most talked about works of art and recently won the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale.

The “news” that is circulating on twitter and on blogs isn’t about the MFA’s role in Boston’s contemporary art scene. It also isn’t about this new wing, which is over 21,000 square feet and triples the museum’s contemporary art exhibition space. Instead it’s about a $200 ticket people have to pay to view the first 12 hours of Marclay’s work.

How is the $200 ticket all of a sudden news when it has been published on the MFA’s website for some time now? I prayed every day that it was an error, but it wasn’t.

There goes the power of prayer people.

The price tag is a bit outrageous and it obviously caters to those who can afford to pay $200 for some drinks and 12 hours of the film. Yes, people attending the premiere of “The Clock” are also paying for a party organized by Chelsea Clinton’s wedding planner. If you can’t afford to see the first twelve hours, you can enjoy the other twelve hours for free on a Free Community Day on Sunday September 18th.

As much as I love art and the Museum of Fine Arts, I think this move is a bit elitist. Why not throw the opening party in the middle of the week and show “The Clock” for free that same weekend?

I’ll be honest, I was disappointed in the price tag because I had been waiting for a while to see “The Clock.” I think I’ll wait until later in the Fall when it will be shown for another 24 hours for FREE (with regular museum admission I assume. I hope not).

The MFA has already set the bar very high for contemporary art in Boston with the acquisition of “The Clock.” The message I’m getting is that they’re ready to take contemporary art seriously. If “The Clock” is any indication of where Boston’s contemporary art scene is heading, then we have a great leader in the MFA to take us there.

I’m very much looking forward to the opening of the new wing and excited to see Lynda Benglis’ Wing among many other works. I can only expect to be blown away and I think I will be judging from the “sound” of things.

Boston’s contemporary art scene seems to be pushing in a positive direction. Let’s keep it that way.

Image of Christian Marclay’s “The Clock” taken from the Museum of Fine Arts’ Press page.

5th Annual Bumpkin Island Art Encampment

For five days this past week, twenty-five artists were invited to live on Bumpkin Island and create works inspired by the human and natural history of the island. The event is in its 5th year, however this was my first experience and most definitely will not be the last.

The works ranged from sound installation, sculpture, performance to mixed media and explore the flora and fauna of the island, the concept of restraint and many other themes. I saw a couple of very interesting works and because all these works are site specific, I’m intrigued as to how they will translate when exhibited in a gallery this coming Fall.

One of the best works I saw was Packrat, by Dirk Adams, Jesse Kaminsky and Helen White. These three artists literally used the entire island as their “canvas” and connected Bumpkin’s flora and fauna through giant string funnels. Unfortunately, the work was too interesting I did not take many photos of it, but I did go on a hike and followed the string until emerged from the harbor waters. I also found the performance by Sarah Buamert of the Pop-Up collective very interesting.

Review: Close Distance

Raul Gonzalez, Wake up Call (On My Last Nerve), 2011 | Ink and Bic pen, 45 by 65 inches acrylic. Courtesy the artist and Carroll & Sons Gallery, Boston.

I may be too young to remember when was the last time Boston experienced an exhibition that featured the work of Latino artists living in this city or its surrounding towns. I may also be too young to remember Grupo Ñ, an experimental but now dissolved Latino art collective from the 1980’s that became an instrumental force in Boston’s underground art scene.

“Close Distance,” at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Mills Gallery is the first exhibition in nearly thirty years featuring the works of six emerging Boston area Latino artists “practicing across diverse media and national borders.” Curated by Liz Munsell, a local curator with DiscordiaFilms and a Curatorial Research Associate at the Museum of Fine Arts, “Close Distance” is engaging, provoking and riveting.

The exhibition is as culturally diverse and distinct as are the artistic vocabularies presented. From the site specific work of Daniela Rivera, a 2010 Foster Prize finalist to Raul Gonzalez III and others; religion, identity, pop culture, politics, and institutional oppression are all explored, commented upon and richly juxtaposed throughout the gallery and within individual works.

Vela Phelan, Witch Doctor Wrestlers, 2011. Courtesy of the artist.

Vela Phelan’s site specific performance-installation Deviant Idols in the Black Divine, a work  modeled after a temple and composed of “spiritual idols for a modern world” struck a chord with me. A performance artist, Mr. Phelan’s installation opened up a world of memories growing up in the Dominican Republic. Having experienced the mysticism and the commodization of Santeria and Voodoo practices on a personal level, this installation moved me in ways only the pulsating beats of African drums at a palo ceremony have.

Because of the spiritual relationship that evolves between the viewer and the artist, Mr. Phelan has decided to carry out a 5-part performance that will take place almost every Thursday at Mills Gallery. “What will happen is a bit unknown to me (and to him),” says curator Liz Munsell “but it will be a journey that takes us outside the gallery walls – physically and metaphysically.”

Referencing minimalism and the literal collapse of institutional spaces, Daniela Rivera’s Fatiga material allows for an exhilirating experience as juxtaposed with the dexterous, signature “self-taught” style drawings of Raul Gonzalez.

Anabel Vazquez Rodriguez, Visión Doble, Super 8. 2011. Film. Courtesy of the artist.

In the film Visión Doble (Double Vision), multimedia artist Anabel Vazquez Rodriguez juxtaposes paradise-like images of Puerto Rico with political demonstrations held in and around Boston’s Copley Square. The film is an autobiographical journey that transcends borders and cultural boundaries.

While Boston may not have a tightly knit Latino arts collective like New York, Los Angeles and Miami do, “Close Distance” gathers together local Boston artists who for the most part had known each other prior to this exhibition at Mills Gallery. “Because these artists are all floating in the same “alternative” spaces or artist institutions as other Bostonians,” says Ms. Munsell, “I would say that they have much common, including language and culture, that brings them together.”

With “Close Distance, I hoped to bring them together a bit more” says Ms. Munsell, whose approach to curating is not solely interesting on a formal or aesthetic level – but has social context or a theoretical framework as its backdrop. “I can already see that has happened in a major way, but the show has just begun!” she added. “Close Distance” is rich in talent and abundant in excellent work.

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Artist and Curator Talk Wednesday, August 3 | 6 – 9pm
Performance with Artists Yassy Goldie and Bru Jø Wednesday, August 17 | 6 – 8pm
These artists’ work touches on the construction of cultural identity. Their guerrilla tactics have been known to simultaneously intrigue and disorient audiences.

Vela Phelan explores the duality “ego/spirituality” through objects and actions found in his performance-installation Deviant Idols of The Black Devine. In his words “a Quest to expand the Shadow my EGO CASTS,” this five-part performance will take place at Mills Gallery Thursdays July 21 & 28, August 11 & 25 at 7pm, and as part of the Artist/Curator talk on Wednesday, Aug 3rd.

Review: Laila Rahman: New Paintings and Etchings

Laila Rahman: New Paintings and Etchings at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts’ BAG Gallery is the culmination of artist’s residency at the school. Rahman, born in Lahore, Pakistan is the first visiting Fulbright scholar at SMFA and explores religion and myth within contemporary society through gut-wrenching imagery and symbolism.

The exhibition features 22 works which investigate “manipulation, through the exercise of power of strength, of evil [and] of temptation.” The story of Creation, our idea of Heaven and Hell, and the down fall of Pride are re-imagined into provocative and at times unbearable images.

The anguish projected though No Words Written, 2010, Fallen Angel, 2011, Was it Knowledge, Apples or Even Pears?, 2010 is in-escapable. Our imagination of what Heaven and Hell would feel and look like is challenged through the inclusion of mutilated bodies juxtaposed with the light and at times seductive colors on the canvas.

The works completed by Rahman during her residency are all about triggering the viewer’s emotions. The hallway where these works are shown limit the viewer from experiencing the same “journey from within” the artist describes in her statement. These new paintings and etchings are powerful, but the constant walking back and forth by school’s employees and students detract from the works’ potential impact on the viewer.

Laila Rahman: New Paintings and Etchings at the BAG Gallery, 230 The Fenway, Boston is on view until June 30, 2011.

IMAGE: Laila Rahman, Armoured Memories, 2011. Oil and graphite on canvas. 36 x 36 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Review: Andy Zimmermann “Where Am I?”

Meing and Nothingness (detail), Andy Zimmermann

When confronted with Andy Zimmermann’s current work at the Boston Sculptors Gallery, as a viewer, I cannot avoid but feel narcissistic and disconnected from the world. One cannot view Zimmermann’s sculptures without staring at our reflection in the mirrors that hang on the walls which serve as the main components in the sculptures of Andy Zimmermann’s Where Am I?

Meing and Nothingness, a massive and chaotic arrangement of mirrors mounted on welded steel tripods constantly remind us of our presence in the gallery space, as with all the four other sculptures in the show. With mirrors pointing at every direction, we’re left to ask; am I the narcissistic one? Or is it the artist?

The answer to those questions lies in the work, here&here&here, a five part welded steel and audio electronic sculpture dispersed throughout Zimmermann’s side of the gallery (the Boston Sculptors Gallery shows two artists concurrently, at this time Benjamin Cariens shares the other half of the space). Here&here&here tells us that it is not about the viewer, but rather about the artist. Or is it?

Using motion tracking software and an overhead camera, the artist calls on the viewer to find him here and here and here. As viewers, we are left with only questions as we do not know where exactly is the “here” or “there.” With a psychology and studio art degree from Harvard College in 1975 and M.F.A from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2003, it only seems natural to me that Zimmermann’s works at the Boston Sculptors Gallery deal with personality disorders like narcissism because of his psychology background as an undergraduate.

Other than its psychological intentions, I found it difficult to find much substance in all the mirrors that make up the work of Andy Zimmermann. The sound that accompanies the works is at times soothing and haunting, but it doesn’t move me or make any deep personal connections with the work.

Where Am I? is on view until May 22.

Dressing Room, Andy Zimmermann

Review: Where I Live

Where I Live is an interactive sound installation featuring the voices of teens of The Urbano Project, a Boston based youth not-for profit arts organization. Under the guidance of Alison Kotin, the aim of this installation is to “promote civic engagement through works of art that address issues of our time.”

The installation does address pressing issues in our society. It addresses the crime and violence that are plaguing our streets and taking the lives of innocent citizens on a daily basis. In an indirect way, it also addresses the lack of attention paid by local officials to peripheral urban areas and the teens and adults that inhabit these.

Using motion tracking software and an overhead camera, the participant in this installation is confined to a square demarcated by four columns in the center of the gallery and black tape on the floor. It is within this space that we as participants begin to experience the effects that growing up in an urban environment have had on the teens behind Where I Live. More than anything, I believe the installation stresses the importance of arts education in lending a voice to those without political power or political awareness in our communities.

“We all need to support the arts” says Former U.S Attorney General Janet Reno in a report sponsored by the United States Department of Justice. “In doing so, we are telling America’s youth that we believe in them and value what they can be.[1]” Consistently throughout our educational history, arts education, in particular in public schools has been neglected and frowned upon.

Art classes offered in urban schools are seen as a waste of tax payers’ dollars, often leading to the partial or complete elimination of art programs in many of our nation’s schools. As a result of budget cuts, small community based youth arts organizations like The Urbano Project have taken on the role of bringing art education to inner city young adults, performing the work that schools, in my opinion, must do to better our society.

Studies sponsored by the United States Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts, American for the Arts and other highly respected cultural policy and arts advocacy organizations, have demonstrated that community collaboration through the arts has had a more far-reaching effect on youth at risk than any other youth programs in the United States. These studies have consistently emphasized that participation in the arts by young people, in particular those living in poverty stricken inner city neighborhoods, brighten up communities and inspire and equip young people with the tools needed to make positive change happen in the world.

Organizations like The Urbano Project most often include participants who have never had any formal training in the arts and also come from families who have never been exposed to cultural institutions and related arts activities growing up. This is the case for most students who attend the Boston Public School systems as I did. Because most of these organizations are founded with the mission of serving inner city youth and other underserved populations in major cities, their impact extends far and beyond their participants, an impact that is often difficult to quantify for policy makers.

The gallery in which Where I Live is installed doubles as an office and reception space, detracting from the intensity and even more powerful impact that this interactive sound work could have had on participants who experience it.

Where I live is a perfect example where communities engage in the process of creating social change through art making. This installation demonstrates that kids are the heart and soul of organizations like The Urbano Project; they identify the problems in their communities and bond together to make change happen. This is exactly what Where I live has achieved. It has given a voice to teens “not heard or heeded by adult policymakers.”


[1] Pederson, Julie and Adriana de Kanter, et al. Safe and Smart: Making After School Hours Work for Kids, United States Department of Justice (December 1999). 1.

Review: River Street

Saturday May 1st, Daniel Phillips preparing for the installation of River Street (center)

A site specific installation in Hyde Park by Daniel Phillips, River Street fosters an enriching cross-cultural and multi-generational dialogue between people whose memories are encapsulated in the built environment and “outsiders” like me who might be interested in learning about the architectural, industrial, social and natural history of the site in its present state.

According to Dolores Hayden in The Power of Place, historic places help citizens define their public pasts and trigger social memory through the urban landscape. Hayden investigates the concept of “place memory” through philosopher Edward S. Casey’s formulation, in that place memory “encapsulates the human ability to connect with both the built and natural environments that are entwined in the cultural landscape.”

River Street is installed on the former site of what was until 2004, the oldest operating paper mill in North America. Built on the Hyde Park side of the heavily polluted Neponset River, the history of the Tileston-Hollingsworth Paper Company extends as far back as 1733.

Besides its social and industrial history, the site of the mill complex was architecturally significant until recent years when it succumbed to demolition’s wrecking ball. The firm of W. Cornell Appleton and Frank A. Stearns (Appleton & Stearns), and later members of the illustrious Boston architectural firm of Peabody & Stearns, designed an 1890 “handsome” Georgian Revival office building which is no longer extant. In its present state, the remaining scars resulting from the demolition of the site evoke a sense of loss and nostalgia of an era gone-by.

River Street is a multi channel video projection composed of thousands of photographic stills shot on site by Daniel Phillips. For every one and a half minutes of video, it is estimated that approximately 900 photographs are used to create a time lapse moving image. Each photograph captures the passage of time, the crumbling death of the last remaining buildings on site and the slowly renewing life of the Neponset River Reservation. Projected on the loading bays of a dilapidated water pumping station, River Street triggers our memory by capturing those moments that vanish before our eyes. Moments like ice melting from the branches of trees or the rhythmic flow of the river or the transient life of the graffiti in the area, allow us to visually connect the past with the present.

A collaboration between the artist Daniel Phillips and Finnard Properties; the current owners and developers of the site, this one night installation of River Street was presented in conjunction withthe Boston Cyberarts Festival. The installation on Saturday April 30 attracted many members from the Hyde Park and Dorchester communities. “It was wonderful, breathtaking, unbelievable” says Adrian of Hyde Park, “This is my community, of course I had to be here tonight.”

River Street Tower Still #16, Daniel Phillips, 2010

River Street Tower Still #16, Daniel Phillips, 2010

Get Pissed Off!

Contemporary art is hard to swallow. I’ll be honest with you, I’ve seen many works that have managed to piss me off and I’ve loved it. I loved it because the work was successful in stirring some sort of emotion out of me and for making me think out of the box. Roni Horn’s “Paired Gold Mats, for Ross and Felix,” 1994-95, pissed me off so much I didn’t even want to see the exhibition a second time. The more I read about the work, the more I understood what it meant and how powerful it was for Horn and those who experienced it. The next time you walk into a gallery and see gold sheets you can buy in an art store or a sales receipt from Target or H&M labeled as art, think twice before speaking and calling it a joke. I won’t tell you all the reasons why a sales receipt may be considered art, but it is because the artist has declared it so and because it has been re-contextualized and presented to us with a different meaning.

Gabriel Kuri: Nobody needs to know the price of your Saab (February 02 – July 4, 2011) at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston is a pretty good show. I haven’t been thrilled with the shows in the east gallery, but this one gives us more to talk about than tattoos and objectified women (Dr. Lakra). This is the kind of show that will piss someone off or have people asking the gallery guards “do you get this?” at the sight of plastic grocery bags hanging from the ceiling or grass growing on a stack of newspapers. I LOVE IT!

I laughed many times and I stopped to question what I was looking at. I laughed. And laughed again and again, so much that one of the gallery guards said to me “aren’t they fun?” pointing to “Thank You Clouds” hanging from the ceiling. They are fun and I get this stuff (of course, it took me a while to appreciate most contemporary art)!

The show is organized by Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston and is accompanied by a full exhibition catalog. Go see it and if you are one of those contemporary art skeptics, this may just piss you off, which is great because it will get you talking about it and we all LOVE to talk about art. Don’t we?

Go See This!

Every once in a while, you see an exhibition that sticks with you long after seeing it. In spite of being sick, I ventured out to First Fridays and came across a few shows that are worthy of being seen, including a show by one of my favorite video artists.

First up, this show ends soon, so soon that I didn’t really get to share it with people through the blog or on twitter, but I love Denise Marika’s works. I vividly remember an exhibition of hers at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum a few years back, it just gets better and better and better.

Denise Marika |January 7th – February 8th, 2011| Howard Yezerski Gallery

Effaced 1 2010 Video Still, © Denise Marika (Installation View)

Her work is gorgeous, powerful and breathtaking. I love video art and Denise Marika definitely stands out! Sometimes, I wish I’d become a video artist myself.

Jack Schneider|post|February 4-March 19, 2011|Anthony Greaney

BELIEVE (Board), 2010, Watercolor on paper, enamel, push pins and wood panel, 46 x 16 1/2 inches

I can go 100 times to see this Jack Schneider exhibition at Anthony Greaney Gallery and not get bored! I love it and I wish there were more shows like this in Boston. We’re getting there, slowly, but surely, (I think)! Go see this, you have until March 19th, 2011.

Lastly, the other exhibition I thought was interesting is at Carroll and Sons Gallery.

Sheila Pepe|Common Sense and Other Things|January 5th – February 19th|Carroll and Sons

Common Sense in Boston, 2011, Installation View 2, Rope, shoelaces and crocheted yarn, Interactive: work completed by viewers unraveling and re- using. Photo Carroll and Sons Gallery

Sheila Pepe is an internationally known, self-identified feminist artist whose work is held in a number of private and public collections including The Rose Art Museum, The Harvard University Art Museums, and others. The cool thing about this installation at Carroll and Sons is that you as the viewer get to finish it, so if you are a decent knitter head over to the South End and enjoy this show. Well, you don’t even have to knit to see and participate in this installation.

more to come soon..

The Home According to Rachel Whiteread

Double Doors II (A+B), Rachel Whiteread. Plasticized plaster with interior aluminum framework, two panels. Accession Number: 2008.643.1-2. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

A series of posts inspired by pieces in the collections of Boston area museums.

As of last week, I spotted these doors at the MFA which were part of Whiteread’s show Place/Village. Today, the MFA online collections catalog says these are not on display.

For Rachel Whiteread, a house is only a skeleton draped in a beautiful fabric. For a house to become a home, this fabric must be covered in bits of history from its past inhabitants. What makes a home for Whiteread are the empty and often neglected spaces that are ever present in our lives. These spaces convey a sense of a history, a journey into our past.

Place/Village, Rachel Whiteread. Image: http://www.treehugger.com

In Village (Place/Village 2008, was exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in 2008) Whiteread has assembled vintage doll houses on top of wooden crates to resemble “communities” similar to those in any city or town on earth. The houses projected a feeling of emptiness and solitude, lacking the human interaction and emotions associated with a home. Individually, these dolls houses appeared ghostly and eerie, however when seen in context to the larger exhibit, they projected a sense of warmth, the same feeling that transforms a house into a home. Placed in a dark room, these houses illuminated the empty and forgotten spaces in a house, visually peeling away those layers rich in history that make a house a home.

Domesticity for Whiteread is found within the house. Traces of human interaction are the core of a house, they are the organs that breathe life to it and transform it into a home. Doors, windows, packing boxes, stairs are for Whiteread, the objects of domesticity that complete a home. Usage, in other words, an old door full of marks convey the same message a home conveys. The doors in Whiteread’s exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts are executed with crisply defined lines and geometric shapes, further conveying the feeling of harshness and emotional emptiness found in a house. At close inspection, these doors tell a different story through scrapes and discolorations as well as missing hardware.

The materials Whiteread employs in her work are industrious, cold and unglamorous. The solitude and desolation felt in Village is softened only by golden shimmering lights coming from within the doll houses. Whiteread’s work employs very minimal use of color, further emphasizing the emptiness and solitude that a house conveys.  

Rachel Whiteread has said that her work produces a remarkable awareness of our enduring “presence through absence.” Her drawings are all executed on graph paper suggesting order upon all the chaos that exists in the world and in our lives.  The world, like a house for Whiteread is a void that can only be filled and molded by leaving one’s “fingerprints” upon its surfaces. 

For Whiteread, a house must undergo multiple transformations and stages for it to become a home. For a house to become a home one must also undergo the same physical and emotional transformations. Whiteread’s work reminds us all to unpack our lives physically and emotionally to live in the moment. Living in the moment requires us to leave our fingerprint on one’s path to turning a house into a home. The world constantly places one inside this void creating moments that present challenges and opportunities which further allows one to transform one’s life. Rachel Whiteread attempts to shrink the distance between herself and this empty box by breaking away from the crisp lines of the graphing paper which she draws on or the smoothness of the plaster and rubber which she sculpts with. The works of Rachel Whiteread speak to the insincerity and emptiness found in this world. At close inspection they exhibit many impurities that allow one to break away from the rigidity of every day life.

The impurities in Whiteread’s works best capture this “presence through absence” that transforms a house into a home.  For a house to be a home and a place to be a community there needs to be an emotional connection between the present and the past. For Whiteread, it is this emotional connection that breathes a “presence through absence” in a home, a connection that must be cultivated through time.

Review: Mark Bradford

Photo of Mark Bradford by Fredrik Nilsen, courtesy: theartnewspaper.com

When Nicholas Baume left his position as chief curator of the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA) in 2009 to join the Public Art Fund of New York City, the future of Boston’s contemporary art scene was questioned.  With Baume’s curatorial insight, the ICA organized the first major museum retrospective of artists Tara Donovan and Shepard Fairey, thereby breaking attendance records (and bringing in tons of dough) and shining a light on Boston’s contemporary art scene. Since Baume’s departure, the ICA has exhibited a retrospective of Roni Horn and Damian Ortega organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art and Tate Modern in London respectively.  In its quest to continue breaking the blurred boundaries of the art world, the current exhibition at the ICA is the first museum survey of the Los Angeles born and based artist Mark Bradford.

Organized by The Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University, Mark Bradford (November 19 – March 13, 2011) is one of the most powerful exhibitions I have seen in recent memory. Bradford is known for his large scale abstract paintings which resemble dense political and physical maps. These paintings are created out of carefully selected found materials which include, but not limited to, weathered billboard paper, permanent weave end paper, newsprint, carbon paper, and wrapping paper. In spite of their abstract qualities, Bradford’s works are filled with subject matter and intense social commentaries.

Experiencing the works in the exhibition, the phrase “silence is golden” constantly came to mind. The moment one is confronted with a work of art, in particular one created by a contemporary artist, “silence is golden” does not apply. But as I stood in front of Bradford’s larger than life paintings, I wanted to find words that would help me explain the emotions I was feeling.  I was struck speechless by the intensity of the materials, colors and images and texts in Bradford’s works.

Untitled (Shoe), 2003. Billboard paper, acrylic gel medium, and additional mixed media. 30 x 31 1/2 inches. The Speyer Family Collection. Photo: Bruce M. White.

Among the works that still resonate with me are Untitled (Shoe) 2003, Scorched Earth, 2006 and Black Venus, 2005. In Untitled (Shoe), Bradford has taken a billboard advertisement for Reebok sneakers and peeled away the image of the shoe leaving only its outline.  With this piece, Bradford is making a commentary on black identity and sneaker culture, “I feel black male masculinity, especially in the last 10 or 15 or 20 years has been narrowed based on a kind of popular culture. Popular culture has determined that [as] black males, we exist in about two or three different models, the sports figure, the gangster figure, or the reverend.” Mark Bradford employs stereotypes to break away stereotypes.

Scorched Earth, 2006. Billboard paper, photomechanical reproductions, acrylic gel medium, carbon paper, acrylic paint, bleach, and additional mixed media on canvas. 94 1/2 x 118 inches. Collection of Dennis and Debra Scholl. Photo: Bruce M. White

In Scorched Earth, Bradford uses a dramatic and unforgettable red and black palette to reference the moment in history when in 1921 35 city blocks in Tulsa, Oklahoma were burned and destroyed in the riots resulting from the tensions between blacks and whites. In Black Venus, Bradford “examines class-race, and gender based economies that structure urban society in the United States.”

“”I was always supported in the domestic realm, and I was always strong about standing up for myself, but there were still struggles in my life. Reading about the postmodern condition made me realize it was about independence, about doing your own thing. And that’s a state of mind. It’s not an art work or a book. It’s a state of mind. Fluidity, juxtapositions, cultural borrowing- they’ve all been going on for centuries. The only authenticity there is what I put together.” – Mark Bradford

Black Venus, 2005 Detail. Mixed media collage, 130 x 196 inches. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co. Image taken from Art21’s documentary on Mark Bradford as shown on PBS.

Mark Bradford at the ICA has the potential of igniting a rich dialogue on the urban landscape and race relations in America (in particular Boston, since the exhibition is currently in the city). His grid-like paintings resemble physical, political and topographic maps, allowing the viewer to imagine the rivers, mountains, lakes, elevations, boundaries or the ideological differences that divide and unite people. I loved this exhibition! I loved it because it is powerful and unabashed in exposing the economies of urban centers and their impact on people of color living in America today. I loved it because Mark Bradford is one of the few contemporary artists of color dealing with these questions through abstract art.

Will you go and see the exhibition, contemplate Bradford’s works in silence (go on a Friday night) and start a dialogue of your own?

Women without Men

“What are you doing here? I didn’t know you knew of her work!” “Who doesn’t know of her work? She’s a big deal.” I had this brief exchange of words with an acquaintance I had not seen in a very long time in a crowded auditorium at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. This acquaintance seemed surprised that I was not only aware of, but interested in the work of the Iranian-American visual artist Shirin Neshat. Last night, Neshat talked about her photographic and video work as well as her first feature film Women without Men.

As a renowned artist, Neshat’s interests lies in exploring many social issues including the role of women in Islam, the relationship of gender to Islam itself and the relationship of human beings to their surroundings. Neshat has produced a body of work which is deeply personal and political, reflecting her experiences in Iran and America.

The uses of allegories, symbolism and metaphors have become key defining characteristics of Shirin Neshat’s works, leaving a powerful and long-lasting impression on those who experience them.

The film Women without Men is without a doubt one of the most powerful and achingly beautiful films I have ever seen. It is a highly stylized and highly choreographed film about independence, freedom and democracy, a film that richly tells the story of an era with all its beauty and horror.

And as far as beauty goes, Neshat does not shy away from it. She sees her work as a re-interpretation of elements in Islamic art. The symmetry, harmony, and composition so characteristic of classical Islamic art are also found in Neshat’s photography and video installations. Women without Men is a rich and thought-provoking film, full of questions about the human condition and our quest for freedom.

The film Women without Men has already garnered numerous accolades including the Silver Lion for Best Director at the 66th Annual Venice Film Festival and was the Official Selection at the Toronto International Film Festival. If this film gets a wider distribution, please do make an attempt to indulge in all its beauty and meaning.