Art & Design

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.

Nell Irvin Painter

Thursday, February 3, 2011
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Music and Art: Copley and Billings

By Cathy Fuller   |   Sunday, January 30, 2011
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I've been exploring pairings of art from the new Art of the Americas wing of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston with music written around the same time that art was created.  If you've ever spent time at Boston Common, you may have seen this plaque:

(image from Wikimedia Commons)

William Billings has come to be known as the father of American choral music – creator of a unique and recognizable style. But while his music was immensely popular, he died in poverty – a victim of an America with no copyright laws, his best tunes printed without permission in hymnals far and wide. The plaque refers to an unmarked grave, and Billings was employed for a time as a Boston street sweeper.

Virtually all of his music is written for four-part a cappella chorus. These hymns and anthems were published in book-length collections that were forgotten for a time, and then rediscovered with a passion in the 20th century. His 1770 publication of The New England Psalm Singer signaled the beginning of the “First New England School”, and his music is commonly sung today.

At just the same time that Billings was publishing his collection “The Singing Master’s Assistant” in 1778, American artist John Singleton Copley was painting one of his most dramatic and recognizable works.

"Watson and the Shark" was inspired by a real event that had taken place in Cuba twenty-nine years earlier. Brook Watson was a fourteen-year-old orphan working as a crew member on a trading ship. He had jumped from a boat in the harbor for a swim when he was suddenly and violently attacked by a shark. His shipmates had been waiting on board to escort their captain ashore. They tried desperately to rescue Watson while the shark made three terrifying lunges. In his second swipe, he bit off the boy’s right foot. Watson was finally dragged on board and he survived. In fact, he became a successful London merchant and it was likely Brook Watson himself who commissioned a painting to capture the drama.

Copley was living in London to gain the approval of Britain’s art establishment – a Bostonian who had been known as the finest portraitist in America. Ultimately, he earned full membership in the prestigious Royal Academy. Watson knew where to go to get a masterpiece.

The painting that hangs so dramatically in the Museum’s Art of the Americas Wing is the second full-scale version that Copley painted. He realized the importance and popularity of what he had created, and so he painted it a second time. There is a third, on a smaller scale, as well.

It’s fascinating to consider just what Copley didn’t know in painting this drama: he’d never seen Cuba, and he’d never seen a shark (those strange shark lips give that away). There are studies that attempt to reveal just what artwork of the past may have served as models for many of the elements of Watson and the Shark. What’s most striking for me is the frozen quality of the moment. The desperate flailing acts as a kind of psychological underlay to the stillness of the snapshot. There is a stillness in the background, too, in the calm of the Havana harbor.

Go see it at the museum if you haven’t already. It’s a thrill to live it in the flesh, and easy to understand why it became so hugely famous in London.

Here is a clip from Billings’ hymn, “Chester,” from The New England Song Singer (later revised in The Singing Master’s Assistant). It was one of his most popular tunes, secondary in fame only to “Yankee Doodle” during the Revolutionary War. Interestingly, the name has nothing to do with the content—Billings named his hymns after places somewhat arbitrarily, so that the pieces could be identified, but the lyrics could be changed easily.

Billings: Chester (excerpt)

I’d love to hear your comments below about these works, the fascinating history behind them, or your experiences at the MFA- whatever you’d like!

Paternosto & Ginastera

By Cathy Fuller   |   Friday, January 28, 2011
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I’ve been pairing visual artists and composers, spotlighting a piece of art from the new Art of the America’s Wing at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and partnering it with a piece of music that was written at just about the same time.

The wing’s third floor gallery features a big, bold work by Argentine painter César Paternosto. It’s stunning. You can move around the gallery and never quite escape its vibrant color throbbing away, busily ignoring the squareness of its own frame. Staccato has never before been shown at the MFA.

The museum gives information on the inspiration behind Staccato, letting us know that the painting draws on the bold geometry of Andean textiles and the art of Josef Albers, whose colorful abstractions Paternosto saw in Buenos Aires in 1964.

Paternosto was a modernist interested in human perception and the illusory effects of color. By 1965, he remembers, he “started painting 'bands', exploring the ‘atonality’ of color: strange chords, such as a brown next to a pink, and the like. Soon the bands became waving and concentrically arranged.”

Paternosto had a deep appreciation for music, and he was inspired by the unexpected harmonies and the emancipation of dissonance that he heard in 12-tone music. I can see a kind of structured musicality in Staccato. An organized restlessness.

While Paternosto was creating Staccato in 1965, another artist from Argentina was methodically and meticulously building up a body of work. His is a modernism unlike anyone else’s – boldly contemporary and audibly aware of the Argentinean folk tradition. Alberto Ginastera said, “To compose is to be an architect … In musical terms, architecture spreads out over time. When the time has passed by and the architecture been deployed, one senses an inner perfection in the mind. Only at that moment may one say the composer has succeeded.”

Ginastera wrote using many techniques, including the serial, 12-tone technique that Paternosto was inspired by (especially in Webern’s music). Ginastera found his own personal language after absorbing the aesthetics of many others, including Ravel, Bartók and Schoenberg.

It was in 1965, the year of Paternosto’s Staccato, that Ginastera’s Harp Concerto was premiered. I think there is an interesting connection between Paternosto’s modernism with its surprising visual harmonies, and Ginastera’s bright, chromatic language, emancipating the special, raw qualities of the harp.

Ginastera: Harp Concerto, Op. 25, I. Allegro Giusto (excerpt)

(Image courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts)

Music and Art: Stella and Diamond

By Cathy Fuller   |   Wednesday, January 19, 2011
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Inspired by the Art of the Americas Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts, I've been looking at music that was created in the same year as one of the works of art in that collection. I’ve discovered that even when artists work using vastly different approaches, we’re still somehow compelled to find connections.

Here’s a pair from 1940-1941:

Joseph Stella came to New York City as a 19-year-old Italian immigrant and fell so in love with the place that he began calling the city “his wife.” This description of the city’s power comes from his autobiographical notes:

"Steel and electricity had created this new world. A new drama had surged from the unmerciful violations of darkness at night, by the violent blaze of electricity… The steel had leaped to hyperbolic altitudes and expanded to vast latitudes with the skyscrapers and with bridges made for the conjunction of worlds."

Stella adored the Brooklyn Bridge and made several paintings of it, combining realism, abstraction, and surrealism to capture its force. He painted his Old Brooklyn Bridge from 1940 to 1941, and now it hangs in the Art of the Americas wing at the MFA. For me it’s a bold, prismatic homage to the bewildering beauty of the city’s geometry. A dizzying display of craftsmanship – like a view from a set of eyes that can’t stop moving.

On December 21st, 1941, while the Brooklyn Bridge shivered in the cold, Carnegie Hall was ablaze with bright, propulsive sound. New York composer David Diamond’s Symphony No. 1 was getting its premier with the New York Philharmonic. Diamond had studied in Paris with the great teacher Nadia Boulanger and then headed off to an art colony near Saratoga to write his first symphony.

As you hear it, I feel sure that you’ll hear elements of Joseph Stella’s city image right away. As in Stella’s painting, there is a kind of beautiful, throbbing geometry in it. The symphony has a uniquely American sound – reflecting, you could imagine, an awe-struck affection for the great structures of a growing city. It's as though Diamond took Stella's words - "The steel had leaped to hyperbolic altitudes..." and transformed them into the sounds the Philharmonic played that December night. 

Diamond: Symphony No. 1, I. Allegro Moderato con Energica (excerpt)

(image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts)



O'Keeffe and Still

By Cathy Fuller   |   Friday, January 14, 2011
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Nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small - we haven’t time - and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time. If I could paint the flower exactly as I see it no one would see what I see because I would paint it small like the flower is small.

So I said to myself - I’ll paint what I see - what the flower is to me, but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it - I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.

These thoughts appeared in a letter written by Georgia O’Keeffe, whose painted flowers overwhelm their canvases with her marvelous, signature style.

Born in Wisconsin in 1887, O’Keeffe studied in Chicago and New York. There was a time of discouragement, though -- a point when she realized that she was seeing in her art an unhealthy sense of obligation to please the public. She began creating abstract charcoal drawings. In 1916 the American photographer and art gallery director Alfred Stieglitz (whom she married in 1924) became interested in those drawings and exhibited them at his gallery in New York City; her work was shown annually in Stieglitz's galleries until his death in 1946. She moved to New Mexico in 1949, a place that attracted her deeply and felt like home.

The painting White Rose with Larkspur, No. 2 is a product of 1927 and hangs in the Art of the Americas wing at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Delicate and powerful, I love its color and size. Its uncountable petals seem to crowd out the rest of the world. Busy Bostonians, like the New Yorkers O’Keeffe gently scolds, need to take time, too. I hope you can find some time for it.

Sometimes, taking a look at works of art composed in the same year can be illuminating, both for connections we find right in front of us and for opposing visions that reflect the rich textures of life. William Grant Still was an extraordinary man – the first African-American to conduct a major American symphony orchestra, the first to have a symphony of his own performed by a leading orchestra, the first to have an opera performed by a major opera company, and the first to have an opera performed on national television. He’s known as "the dean" of African-American composers. Below is a clip from his ballet score La Guiablesse, a ballet commissioned by Chicago Allied Arts with a story based on a legend of Martinique and composed in the same year that O’Keeffe painted her White Rose.

Still: La Guiablesse - Final Scene (excerpt)

The second is a setting of the excerpts from the O’Keeffe letter above. Contralto Elizabeth Anker sent that excerpt to her friend, the composer Francine Trester asking her to turn it into a song. Elizabeth sang the result with pianist John McDonald, and here is a clip from that studio performance:



Trester:  Nobody Sees a Flower (excerpt)




(image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts)


About the Authors
Jared Bowen Jared Bowen
Jared Bowen is WGBH’s Emmy Award-winning Executive Editor and Host for Arts. 


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