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

Jared Bowen's Arts Ahead: Art from the Heart

Thursday, April 5, 2012
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April 5, 2012


Roxanne Swentzell (b. 1962), Santa Clara Pueblo; Emergence of the Clowns,1988; Ceramic and paint. Image courtesy Heard Museum.

BOSTON — What do Broadway, Native American art and sushi have in common? Not much, but Jared Bowen talks about three ways to learn the stories of of activists, artists and a special chef who are all passionate about their life's work.

The Tempermentals
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Through April 28

"Temperamental" was a necessary code word used by homosexual men in the early 1950s as they faced real dangers of violence and arrest. This hit off-Broadway play tells the story of two men — the communist Harry Hay and the Viennese refugee and fashion designer Rudi Gernreich — as they fall in love while forming one of the first gay-rights organizations, the Mattachine Society, in a pre-Stonewall United States.

Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art
On view at the Peabody Essex Museum
Through April 29th

Shapeshifting celebrates Native American ideas that have crossed time and space to be continuously refreshed with new concepts and expressions. Experience this vitality through sculpture, paintings, ceramics, textiles, photographs, videos and monumental installations drawn from collections in the United States, Canada and Europe. Rarely seen historic pieces are shown alongside some of the finest contemporary works, and demonstrate the diversity and continuity of Native American art and culture from 200 B.C.E. to the present.

In an interview with Jared for Greater Boston, Curator Karen Kramer Russell explained the museum's legacy in Native American art, saying, "The Peabody Essex Museum is the oldest ongoing collection of Native American art in the Western hemisphere. And from the very start of the museum in 1779 we started collecting Native American art and at the time objects were collected, it was actually art that was being produced at the time. So we were collecting contemporary art."

Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Opens in movie theaters on Friday

JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI is the story of 85 year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble appearances, it is the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious 3 star Michelin review, and sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimage, calling months in advance and shelling out top dollar for a coveted seat at Jiro’s sushi bar.

Watch Jared's full review on "Greater Boston."

Tell All, and Be Mortified

Friday, March 2, 2012
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Circa! All The Stunts, None Of The Fanfare

By Jared Bowen   |   Thursday, March 1, 2012
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March 1, 2012

Discuss on "Greater Boston," and see more photos of the Circa ensemble.

BOSTON — The circus is in town tonight—although one you’re likely not accustomed to. Australian group Circa has a new definition for circus, and it’s jaw-dropping.
Circa is an Australian performance troupe in town this week performing Circa’s Circa, a program of highlights from the group’s 30-year history.
Acrobat Emma McGovern explained that this isn’t your regular Barnum & Bailey act.
“It’s got theater sort of aspects and contemporary dance aspects and a bit of everything really that anyone (yeah) of us that has skills or knowledge brings into the company,” she said.
McGovern and her colleague, Jarred Dewey, define their performance as a modern circus—stripped bare of all flourishes and distractions but the body.
“Skill wise, it’s about how we interact as performers with each other and the performance element is really authentic and not a character or narrative based. So it’s very fresh and exciting,” said Dewey.
“We use improvisation which isn’t done a lot in acrobatics,” added McGovern
It’s the Presenter Celebrity Series that has brought Circa here for its Boston debut. Gary Dunning, President and Executive Director of Celebrity Series, says the group is preeminent in a strong modern Australian tradition of developing circus groups.
“It’s personality based,” he said. “It’s a real connection to the audience, not at all fearful of using humor in their work and using their bodies in to create that humor and comedy. But also to create great beauty.”
When it’s not excruciating. “Heels” is a Circa staple performance—a man being manipulated by a woman in stilettos, and in ways that don’t seem physically possible. By the way, the stilettos are real.
“It’s definitely not comfortable,” said Dewey.
“We like to keep things real in our work, and yeah, it’s hard to disguise the realness,” said McGovern.
That much is clear—and deliciously compelling.

Figuring Color at the ICA

By Jared Bowen   |   Thursday, February 23, 2012
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Kathy Butterly, Under Cover, 2002. Clay and glaze. Collection of Barrie Schwartz and Patrick Hayne.

Feb. 23, 2012

BOSTON — With one striking exception, the Institute of Contemporary Art is awash in lush color at the moment. At the outset, it would appear to be the output of bubbly artists.

“I’m really flaunting color,” said Kathy Butterly

 “Orange is orange and it just gets to be orange,” added Roy McMakin. Sue Williams elaborated.  “I think of them as attractive colors. I don’t use browns. I don’t use neutrals," she said.
Look closer, though, and the ICA’s new show Figuring Color is about the meaning of color—how it relates to the body, to emotion, to comprehension. A red curtain references the height of the AIDS crisis. A skin-toned chair is a seat, but also looks like your own. Cheerfully rendered paintings, viewed up close, belie their subject matter.

Three of the four featured artists talked with WGBH about their use of color. Sue Williams said, “I like contrast a lot, opposite colors contrast. Bright. I want them to because paintings can’t make light so I want them to have brightness.”
In her more recent pieces however, like Record Profits or American Enterprise, the subject matter is anything but bright. They’re the manifestations of her activist side she says, her frustrations about US Military intervention rendered on the canvas.

“It is one place where people see what I do so that’s why they used to be more abstract and became more figurative because I wanted it to be connected to what I was interested in. And being abstract, it wasn’t compelling to me anymore,” she said.
Since he was a child, Roy McMakin says he’s been rather obsessed with furniture. This work of 19 independent sculptures was conjured from memory. It’s what he remembers of furniture in the homes of his parents and maternal grandparents.
“The idea to unify them all with the same color of gray was partly to unify them. At one point, because it’s a memory-based piece, I was thinking I could go with my memory of those colors, but I felt like I wanted them to be significant in some other way, kind of pulled out of normal objects a little further,” he said.
“I feel as I get older I understand the psychology of color more. And I’m using some really intense color,” said Butterly.
Kathy Butterly’s ceramic sculptures toy with the notion of bodies. Their colors compel, and embarrass.
“Some of the earlier pieces, which are very provocative, seductive in a way, naughty, they happen because that’s what was happening in my life. I was falling in love and I was thinking about my body and just…that was my world,” she said.
Butterly says her works are largely psychological self-portraits, but her environment also influences her color choices. “A lot of the time I’ll be listening to public radio. I’ll be listening to what’s going on in the world and the wars and whatnot, and maybe it’s not so clear in the works that that’s what I’m thinking about, but it does get infused. So there might be like a camouflage color on the body,” she said.
The sum of In Figuring Color, at the ICA, is wonderfully complex.

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


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