Art & Design

The ICA Celebrates 75 Years Of 'Renegade' Art

By Jared Bowen   |   Wednesday, October 26, 2011
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Oct. 26, 2011

Watch the segment that aired on Oct. 19 on WGBH's Greater Boston.


BOSTON — It was 75 years ago this month that the Boston Museum of Modern Art opened in Boston. It billed itself as the "renegade offspring" of the Museum Of Modern Art. You know it better today as the Institute of Contemporary Art, or the ICA. I spent some time there last week looking at its history and its brand new show, Dance/Draw.

Advancing The Avant-Garde

"It was an important place on the art scene because of the whole idea of contemporary art and really showing the work that was coming out of Europe where the avant-garde was so alive," said Jill Medvedow, Director at the ICA.

The museum opened with a splash, presenting the first Boston area survey of Paul Gauguin. It lured Salvador Dali to its first gala. From there the museum just plowed forward, showing art emerging near and far. Swiss architect and designer Le Corbusier presented his first US show here in 1948.

"One of the things I love in looking at the ICA's history, and the word that keeps coming up for me is rupture; of trying to see what existed in the past and making a break with that in favor of a bold statement that's always facing forward," Medvedow said.

Like in 1966 when a forward-thinking ICA recognized the significance of Andy Warhol and was the first museum to show his films.

Casting The Net Wider

"Sometimes the most important contemporary art might not be seen in a gallery. Might be seen outside of a museum's walls, or in a theater, so we brought the Ballet Russes when we did our Picasso Matisse exhibition. When we showed Andy Warhol so early in Warhol's career, we brought iconic performances by the Velvet Underground," Medvedow said.

Just as it has brought the work of choreographer Trisha Brown for its newest show, "Dance/Draw."

In a regular series of performances on Thursdays and weekends, dancers perform "Floor of the Forest" within the exhibition.

Helen Molesworth, chief curator at the ICA described it this way.

"It speaks to the kind of blurring of boundaries between different disciplines. So on the one hand it's a sculpture; it's constructed out of steel pipe and there's a very heavy steel pipe webbing, woven into that webbing is pieces of clothing. And then what happens is the two dancers mount this apparatus and they wind and weave their way through the clothing. They both look like they're at the floor of the forest, they look like monkeys or lemurs but they also have this dolphin quality of breaking the water and then going back under," Molesworth said.

In the very smart, very engaging "Dance/Draw," ICA Chief Curator Helen Molesworth explores the literal line in art — whether it's in dance, sculpture or drawing.

'A Lodestar For Artistic Expression'

"Language remains fundamental to human communication and I think line remains fundamental to human visual communication. We can't escape it. The line remains whether it's the line of the body in dance or the kinds of lines that drawing give us. It's just a lodestar for artistic expression," Molesworth said.

"Dance/Draw" investigates drawing dating back to the 1960s, a time when Molesworth says art and dance broke away from tradition. The first gallery shows drawings made by batting heavily mascaraed eyelashes, by bouncing basketballs and by swirling hair. It's artists using the body, not just the hand.

"They started to democratize the art process. They wanted to make art with things that everybody had around the house with gestures that anyone could do," Molesworth explained. "Because they didn't want art to be only in the province of the wealthy or the highly trained, it was part of a massive cultural revolution that happened in the 60s and 70s."

Could Your Kid Really Do That?

But it begs the age-old question, could I bounce a basketball and get these results?

"What I always say to people is yes, your kid could do that. But after they started, could they finish? Would they have stuck with it? Would they have the endurance? The patience? And if they had gotten to the end and realized it didn't look quite right, would they have thrown it away and started again? That's really where the art part of it comes in," said Molesworth.

And out. The show also follows the line as it moves off the canvas.

"String and wire are a 3-dimensional line. So instead of looking at those objects as sculpture I started looking at them as drawings. And actually seeing the line having literally moved off the page and into space," Molesworth said.

And forward. Which has been the ICA's charge for 75 years — it will follow the line wherever it reinvents art.

Man Ray And Lee Miller At The Peabody Essex Museum

By Jared Bowen   |   Tuesday, October 25, 2011
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Oct. 25, 2011

Watch the segment that aired on Oct. 24 on WGBH's Greater Boston.


PEABODY, Mass. — On view at the Peabody Essex Museum right now are scenes from an affair both torrid and tempestuous. When artist Man Ray met model Lee Miller, they fell madly in love and produced some of the twentieth century's most celebrated works.

Lee Miller was a 1920s supermodel when she met Man Ray.

"She appeared on the cover of Vogue, she became Edward Steichen's favorite model. And then a curious thing happened. Her image was licensed to the Kotex company for feminine hygiene products. And as a result, all of her modeling work dried up and she had to find other things to do," said Phillip Prodger, curator at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Man Ray was a surrealist artist — a legend already in the making and 17 years her senior. Looking to be an artist in her own right, Miller tracked Man Ray down in Paris — finding him at a bar near his studio.

Prodger describes the moment Man Ray and Miller met. "Man Ray says there are two problems. 'The first problem is I don't take assistants. And the second problem is I'm going on vacation and I won't be back for two weeks.' She says, 'I'm going with you.'"

And she did. It was 1929 and as documented in "Man Ray | Lee Miller, Partners in Surrealism" now on view at the Peabody Essex Museum, the two spent the next three years together. She was his apprentice then a peer and always his lover. They pushed each other personally and professionally, establishing singular styles.

"Man Ray was primarily interested in photographing in the studio and he was a very theatrical artist in a way," Prodger said. "He liked to set things up... you see Man Ray making surrealist compositions in the studio, you see Lee Miller going out on the street and photographing things that she sees. And in fact she was one of the first photographers to do that."

In this exhibit, you will find their disparate take on nudes as well. He finds a softness and rapture in her.

Prodger described Man Ray's rendering of Miller: "It's very warm, very inviting, she looks sensual, beautiful and erotic."

Prodger said that Miller found nothing erotic in herself. "She looks strong, you can see muscle definition, her back is held upright, she really looks like a feminist hero."

Aside from perspective, their personalities collided too. Theirs was an aggressive relationship fraught with jealousy and conflict. Like the time Miller fished one of Ray's photographs out of the trash and claimed it as her own. Man Ray exploded.

"He took that photograph that she had printed which showed her neck, took a razor blade and sliced the photograph across the neck and then took scarlet paint and painted where the so-called wound would be in that photograph and it was dripping down as if he had slit her throat," Prodger said.

Among the most famous of Man Ray's manifestations of rage — his metronome.

"He attached her eye to the pendulum of a metronome and gave instructions that it should be set in motion going back and forth, back and forth, until the viewer couldn't stand it any more and then smashed with a hammer," Prodger said.

And when she left him, Man Ray got over her in part by creating his painting of levitating lips. They are Miller's and he tended to it every day for two years. Lovers for just a spell, Man Ray and Lee Miller remained intertwined for their lifetimes. Their work though, evokes for eternity.

"Man Ray | Lee Miller, Partners in Surrealism" is at the PEM through December 4, 2011

Degas And The Nude At The MFA

By Jared Bowen   |   Wednesday, October 12, 2011
1 Comments   1 comments.

Oct. 15, 2011

Watch the segment that aired on Oct. 11 on WGBH's Greater Boston.


BOSTON — "Degas and the Nude" at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) brings together 145 works by Edgar Degas — a staggering collection of pieces that generally never travel. And remarkably, Degas and the Nude is a genre largely unexplored until now. "While not his most famous subject, it's not ballet dancers after all, it lasts with him from start to the end," said George Shackelford, Chair of the Art of Europe at the MFA.

Detail of "After the Bath, Woman Drying Her Neck" by Edgar Degas,1895-98. On exhibit at the MFA courtesy of Paris, Musée d'Orsay, bequest of comte Isaac de Camondo, 1911. © Photo Musée d'Orsay

The show follows 50 years of Degas nudes beginning in the painter's 20s, when his work is far from being immediately recognizable. An historical painter is what Degas thought he'd be and his skill was immediately apparent said Shackelford. "He is one of the greatest draftsmen of all time. You will see that his ability to capture line is really the moral center of his art. It's the thing he keeps coming back to; that sense of the contour and the way it defines musculature of the body, the movement of the body, pose, gesture."

Within 20 years, Degas had evolved and by the 1880s was depicting female nudes with realism. They were real, unromanticized women doing real things, like their toilette.

"It's almost a completely new modern, Degas-like way of depicting the human figure," Shackelford said. But it was not without its detractors. "Many critics found them a little bit off-putting," Shackelford explained. "They found the women to be dumpy or lumpy or angular, it was either they were too skinny or too fat. But there was a great group of people who thought they were absolutely exceptional."

Before the impressionist nudes of the 1880s though, Degas spent a number of years depicting prostitutes in high-class Parisian brothels. These often-graphic works never went public in Degas' day. "They're not prurient. They're very witty and they're often satirical, but not hateful either," Shackelford said.

Detail of "La Toilette" by Edgar Degas, 1884-86. On exhibit at the MFA courtesy of a private collection.

As the exhibition illustrates, Degas' depiction of the nude only evolved and strengthened over the course of his career, especially when considered alongside his more well-known works: dancers. "He's drawing some of the dancers in the nude before he puts tutus on them," Shackelford said. "He's sculpting nude dancers, he's in fact turning more and more in this period to sculpture."

But Degas never turned away from nudes, as evidenced in the show's last gallery where in his late 60s and nearing the end of his career, Degas is mindful of his legacy. "He is creating a new, very bold language of painting for himself … intensified color, very, very bold lines and really an energy that seems to be boundless at a time that you think he might be slowing down." Shackelford said.

"Degas and the Nude" is on display at the MFA through February 5, 2012.

At Dorchester School, Inclusion Through Art

By Andrea Smardon   |   Tuesday, April 26, 2011
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Students at the Henderson School practice the "Earth Dance" during a movement class. In the background, teacher Cynthia Archibald looks on. (WGBH)


BOSTON — A public elementary school is Dorchester is getting international attention this week. Policy makers and educators from 17 countries are coming to Boston as part of a conference focused on using the arts to improve the education of students with disabilities. 
 
As part of the event, the conference is highlighting the work of the William Henderson Inclusion Elementary School for its pioneering work incorporating the arts into its classrooms. 

A classroom at the Henderson School, a full-inclusion Dorchester elementary school that emphasizes the arts as a learning tool. (WGBH)

Tim Archibald is a professional musician, but he looks more like a gym teacher in his warm up pants. And he seems poised to jump into action at any moment.

In his office, which doubles as a supply closet for student drama productions, he seems pretty confident about today’s big project for the second graders, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony arranged for xylophones.

“Last week we did Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, today we’re really upping it and we’re moving to Beethoven’s 9th,” Archibald said. “The idea of being able to move from a traditional simple lullaby to something you might learn in Symphony Hall is ah… we’ll see how we do, right?”
 
In class, a couple dozen students are eager to work on the piece. In one corner, a student drops his head onto the desk. A teacher’s aid works to get him on task. The aid himself has cystic fibrosis -- as well as perfect pitch.
 
Overall, about one third have special needs ranging from severe disabilities to minor learning impairments, but in some cases, it’s hard to tell which ones.
 
“Often times people from the outside come in and they say which are the students with the disabilities because they’re all learning together in the same classroom, that’s the whole idea,” Archibald said.
 
“In our world, people have all sorts of different success rates at being able to do different tasks and being able to learn different things. I think the Henderson Inclusion School kind of reflects the way of the world.”
 
Before approaching the xylophones, the students worked on keyboards with technology that allows each to work at their own pace. A second-grader demonstrates how the keyboard calls out numbers to get her back on track if she misses a note. The correct keys light up as she plays.  
 
Archibald says the keyboard can provide as much or as little support as you need. This, he says, is the essence of how teachers at the Henderson design all of their curriculum. And it’s how students at different levels with different learning styles are able to learn in a classroom together. It’s a method called Universal Design for Learning.

Students at the Henderson school play outside during their recess period. (WGBH)

“This type of universal design, here it is in an electronic instrument, but it can be built into the thought process of how you develop curriculum for students to learn,” Archibald explained.
 
William Henderson was the first principal at the school, and the man for whom the school is named. He himself is blind, and says working with disabled students requires creativity.
 
“When you have kids who do not read regular print, whether it be because of blindness, learning disabilities, or cognitive delays, or because they have difficulty holding a book because of physical disabilities, you find other ways of accessing information.” 
 
The school was originally founded 22 years ago in partnership with VSA Massachusetts, a state chapter of a national organization on arts and disability. Henderson says the artists hired and trained by VSA have been helping the school find new approaches to learning.
 
“We found that the arts engage children, it embellished the curriculum, brought life to social studies. So that children talking about the Boston Tea Party, in addition to writing and reading about it, they’re doing role plays, they’re making murals, they’re doing poetry,” Henderson said.
 
Henderson said that makes the learning experience richer. “It’s something that the children remember a lot more, and both teaching and learning are more fun and a lot more meaningful.”
 
As it turns out, Henderson says, this approach to learning benefits all students, not just those with special needs. In the school auditorium, visual artist Mary Dechico is working on a backdrop for the school production of “Singing in the Rain.” She’s a parent with two students at the Henderson school.  
 
“I’m going to cry the day my older son leaves here. He loves it. He’s usually above the curve in his learning, but he just adores this place,” Dechico said. “He loves all the different kids, he’s grown up with these children, in the same classroom, doing the same things. It’s part of life, I feel likes it’s just so nice to see him approach the world that way.”

Students are seen in movement class. (WGBH)

Back in music class, the students are making progress on Beethoven’s 9th.  Within a half hour, they’ve learned to play the first two lines as a group.  Eight-year-old Grace Kiwaunaka says she takes piano lessons at home so it’s easy for her, but she thinks the class is doing a fine job.
 
“Everyone does it really well, and everyone has a different way of doing it, but they all do it really well even though it’s different,” Kiwaunaka said.

Boston: There's An App For That

By Jess Bidgood   |   Tuesday, February 22, 2011
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Feb. 22, 2011

A group of students, programmers and Code For America fellows gather at Microsoft's NERD center in Cambridge to brainstorm new uses and improvements on Boston's civic data. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH)
 

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Last summer, the MBTA unleashed a small revolution for people who spend minutes — even hours — waiting for the bus.
 
They released a stream of data that used GPS technology to track the location of all of its busses. Within days, developers created a number of applications that allowed smart phones, like iPhones or Androids, to tell users when their bus would arrive.
 
But Steve Hershman has a big problem with those applications.  

A screen shot from the PocketMBTA iPhone app, which predicts arrival times of MBTA busses. Some developers are working to make those predictions more accurate.

“So, I have a dumb phone,” he said, referring to his basic, regular, non-smart, non-fancy cell phone. “It drives me nuts that all my friends (with smart phones) can figure out where the bus is, but I can’t.”
 
He’s in the right place to tackle that problem. He’s sitting with about a dozen other programmers, students and data-heads at a long table at the Microsoft New England Research and Development center — NERD for short — underneath a futuristic-looking neon tube light.
 
They’re among a growing number of individuals dreaming up new possibilities for Boston’s civic data — basic streams of information on topics ranging from the city’s sidewalks, to school busses, to building shadows to that MBTA bus data. And they’ve all gathered at Code For America’s DataCamp, a low-key afternoon dedicated to thinking up new ways city data can make people’s lives easier.
 
Max Ogden talks excitedly with just about everyone there. A Code For America fellow who helped organize the event, he’s a longhaired, bearded computer programmer and something of a civic data evangelist. He says we’re just beginning to imagine all that we can do with the city’s numbers.
 
He and his team chat about their main project in Boston, which is to help the city use ID cards given to Boston Public School students to generate data about their extracurricular activities, grades, MBTA usage and more. That could help educators unlock why some students are successful and others aren’t.
 
Hershman, who is getting a Ph.D. in systems biology at Harvard, has never played with civic data before, and he seems a little sheepish. “I haven’t hacked around with local data, and I kind of wanted to, and I figured that would be a fun thing to do on a Sunday,” Hershman said.
 
And, even though some people have been in this room for five hours, it is fun. The room echoes with fingers hitting keyboards — but also with lively conversation. Two people compare GPS tracking in Ghana to that in Boston. Another woman is there to offer programmers advice on how to patent their work.

Across the table, David Crosbie and Michael Cox are discussing their work to make current data more reliable. They’ve noticed that mobile apps that use the MBTA’s GPS data don’t always predict the right time for the bus’s arrival.
 
In their view, those inaccuracies stem from the fact that apps connect to the MBTA’s “firehose” of raw data each time you ask them to make a prediction.
 
“It helps if you do that once, and if you do that with a nice big brain, rather than if you do that on your little cell phone,” Crosbie says.
 
He and Cox want to take the T’s data and make it into a format that’s much easier to understand — using their own prediction model.“So we take the cow, and we slice it up and we hand it out in little burger,” Crosbie said.
 
Mmm. Real-time data sliders. Yum.
 
There’s nothing formal about this day, no official goals or set of outcomes. But Ogden wants it that way. He’s hoping that, one project at a time, the city’s policymakers and programmer-hacker types will realize how much they have in common. “People want to help make their cities run better, but they are not clear on avenues to do so,” Ogden explained. “We want to figure out how to let the community that lives here interact with (the city) over time.”

Programmers, students, hackers and people from all walks of city life will gather again this weekend at Boston Globe Hack Day.

Your comments: What kinds of apps would make your life easier?

Artist Elevates Everyday Lists, Waste At DeCordova

By Jared Bowen   |   Thursday, February 17, 2011
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Feb. 17, 2011

Rachel Perry Welty, Lost in my Life (twist ties), 2009, Pigmented ink print, Edition of 1/3, 90 x 60 inches, Courtesy of the Artist, Barbara Krakow Gallery (Boston), Gallery Joe (Philadelphia), and Yancey Richardson Gallery (New York)

LINCOLN, Mass. — As a conceptual artist, Rachel Perry Welty’s art and the notions fueling it know no bounds.

“She’s not tied to one medium. She’s not a painter, she’s not a video artist, she’s not a photographer. She’ll work with whatever medium she feels will best get the idea across,” said Nick Capasso, the senior curator at the deCordova Scupture Park and Museum.
 
The deCordova's newest show is the first solo exhibition for the Boston conceptual artist. From very personal medical records to wrong numbers to fruit stickers, her canvas is broad, but the ideas sharp.
 
Welty says she wants to see the ignored -- things lost to their ubiquity or their junk status.
 
“I’m very much drawn to things that maybe other people don’t pay so much attention to,” Welty said.
 
In her Lost In My Life series, Welty assesses our society’s remarkable consumerism by inserting herself in landscapes of price tags, colorful food packaging and fruit stickers.
 
“I’m combining them into these built environments and then stepping in. And essentially camouflaging, losing myself in the work which is my life,” Welty said.

The show takes viewers through a decade of Perry’s life and artistic temperament.

Rachel Perry Welty, Lost in my Life (wrapped books), 2010, Pigminted ink print, edition of 3, 91.25 x 60 inches, Courtesy of the Artist, Barbara Krakow Gallery (Boston), Gallery Joe (Philadelphia), and Yancey Richardson Gallery (New York)

“Rachel is dealing with some pretty important ideas but they’re not that far removed from our everyday experience. So it’s a kind of conceptual art that can hit all of us where we live as 21st century Americans,” Capasso said.
 
In Karaoke Wrong Number, Welty lip-synchs actual wrong messages she’s received on her answering machine.
 
“The more I listened to (the messages), the more poignant it became and made me think about these missed connections and how technology can really connects us, but it can impede our communication,” Welty said.
 
Capasso said it’s a piece with which viewers can empathize.  “A lot of artists use humor as a strategy to engage in the viewer. I think that’s what Rachel is doing fairly consistently here. Not all the works are humorous and in fact a couple are rather grim.”

One of Welty’s earliest pieces is Transcription/Medical Record, where the artist painstakingly recorded every letter and number of her son’s hospital record from a grave illness on 23 sheets.
 
“It came to me that if I were to transcribe it, it’s almost like reliving the experience and it was giving me a sense of control over this chaos and it was a way of organizing the pain of that experience. Going through having a sick child and not knowing the outcome and not having any answers,” Welty said.

In a similar vein, another piece, Altered Receipt, up-ends the construct of the chaos wrought by her son’s illness — this time using his medical bill.  

Rachel Perry Welty, Altered Receipt: Children’s Hospital Bill for Inpatient Services, 2001–2002, Opaque watercolor on paper, Courtesy of the Artist, Barbara Krakow Gallery (Boston), Gallery Joe (Philadelphia), and Yancey Richardson Gallery (New York)

“I think of one as a drawing and one is a painting. With the bill, it’s 37 pages long. It was obviously a long hospital stay and a lot of money and  I was, I was sort of painting out in these colors, in these beautiful vibrant colors, who knows what horror is underneath,” Welty said.
 
Welty’s work, Capasso says, combines obsessive technique with dark humor. “And the whole overarching idea that the stuff of your life can be the stuff of your art and they can reflect back on each other. I think for R there’s no separation at all.”
 
That's clearly the case in 24/7’s most monumental piece: Deaccession Project, in which Welty has meticulously documented one object she has discarded every day since October 5, 2005.
 
“There’s almost 2,000 of these things on the wall. And as you go through and read them over and over and over you begin to—at first it’s kind of funny, at first its kind of nuts. You know, who would do this. Well it’s art.” Welty said. To her, it tells a story, a narrative she can’t stop reading. Like a good book.
 
“This was my way of acknowledging that it’s hard to get rid of it. Of course I haven’t really gotten rid of it. It’s all still here,” Welty said.

About the Authors
Jared Bowen Jared Bowen
Jared Bowen is WGBH’s Emmy Award-winning Executive Editor and Host for Arts. 
Jess Bidgood Jess Bidgood
Jess Bidgood is WGBH.org's news editor and producer.

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