Visual Art

An Art Lover's Destination: Monhegan Island, Maine

By Arthur Smith   |   Saturday, June 30, 2012
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June 30, 2012

Jamie Wyeth's home in Monhegan Island's Lobster Cove.

A few years back I told an acquaintance about my favorite New England summer destination, Monhegan Island, a tiny, artist-infested rock nine miles from the Maine coast.

“Ugh!” was the quick response. “Mosquitoes, no place to eat, the residents act like they wish you weren’t there, and enough already with staring at the sea." Her one trip had been, it seemed, an unmitigated bummer.

I start with that less-than-ringing endorsement to make it clear that this spot—one that has captured a permanent place in my partner’s heart and mine—is emphatically not for everybody. But for art lovers with a taste for nature, and who don’t mind an ocean-sized dose of Down East quirky aloofness, it’s a blue jewel of a destination.

The island, which you get to by taking a ferry from one of three mid-coast harbors, earned its nickname, "The Artists' Island," early. For a least a century and a half, artists and art teachers have been making summer excursions there, a hardy few becoming year-around residents. The roll call is impressive: the first generation included Robert Henri (1865-1929), credited with inspiring the Ashcan School of urban realism in American art, though he was also drawn to natural vistas. Henri's student George Bellows (1882-1925) painted here, as did his contemporaries Edward Hopper (1882-1967) and Rockwell Kent (1882-1971). Kent not only painted on the island but taught and built a number of the island homes, including the one now occupied by Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946) current representative of the painting dynasty that began with another Monhegan painter,
N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945), familiar for his vivid illustrations of classic novels.

Later generations of painters were enticed as well. Some came as students of Henri's circle, and often worked in similar realistic styles. Others found the island on their own, and brought a diversity of approaches. Reuben Tam (1916-1991) painted here, perhaps finding echoes of his native Hawaii on the island, creating glowing expressionist images of the cliffs. New York portraitist and landscape painter Fairfield Porter (1907-1975) worked here, as did Lawrence Goldsmith (1916-2004), notable for his watercolor landscapes. James Fitzgerald (1899-1971), an iconic New England artist born in Milton and educated at Mass Art, returned every summer for nearly 30 years. Lynne Drexler (1928-1999) had a vibrantly colorful take on Monhegan, tapping a palette shaped by New York abstraction of the 1960s, adapted to Monhegan subjects and sensibilities. She wintered for many years on the island.

The current crop of artists on the island includes Frances Kornbluth (b. 1920), a visionary abstractionist and student of Tam’s who has open studios twice a week. Her latest works, a series began in her 90s, are large black-and-white paintings and assemblages, both fearsome and delicate. Others whose works have intrigued me include painters Elena Jahn, Joan Rappaport, Joanne Scott, Arline Simon, and sculptor Mike Stiler. These and many others offer open studios and most of them show at the island's Lupine Gallery. Each summer a residency brings a new artist to the island.

The Monhegan Museum keeps tabs on this remarkable legacy of painting, and is also connected to the current arts community on the island. Each year curator Emily Grey mounts a special exhibition; this year’s is A Sense of Place: Representational Painting on Monhegan, 1950-2000, opening July 1.

I spoke with her about the exhibition, which focuses on how realist painting continued on the island even as abstraction as a style came to Monhegan in a big way in the 1960s. She explained that an exhibit like this is a community endeavor: “One of the wonderful aspects of this show, and really all shows at the museum, is that nearly all of the works are lent by people from the community. And the community is such that some of the research for the show can literally be done while walking through the village since you can count on running into somebody who was either friends with or related to one of the artists in the show.”

Monhegan Harbor by Aldro T. Hibbard.

You can also see the vistas, often unchanged, that these painters depicted. Emily sent me one such view - “Monhegan Harbor,” by Aldro T. Hibbard - as a preview of the show. Other artists include Jacqueline Hudson, Lee Winslow Court, and Fred Wiley, all of whom happen to have strong Cape Ann, MA, connections. Wiley is one of a number of painters who have never been shown before at the museum. These new discoveries will take their place beside the familiar names of Andrew Wyeth and Rockwell Kent. (Even more island art is up at Rockland's Farnsworth Art Museum, which has Jamie Wyeth, Rockwell Kent and Monhegan on display through December.)

The Monhegan Museum sits on the island's tallest point, next to the lighthouse. The view takes in the village, with artists, lobstermen, tourists, and other diverse species of endearingly cranky New Englanders moving about below. But beyond that is the reason that anybody–painter or no–is drawn to this place: the restorative rhythm of the sea, cycles of waves, the reassurance of sunrises, sunsets ("gin and tonic o'clock" in my book, and I bet in a few artists’ as well), and the dim beckoning of a coast you’ve left behind. So, book your ticket, grab a canvas, a camera, and a journal and head out. We will be doing so once again this year, and, with any luck, for many years to come.

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More information about Monhegan Island: http://www.monheganwelcome.com/

Strong Impressions

By Kris Wilton   |   Wednesday, June 27, 2012
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June 27, 2012

The Dutch Wives, (encaustic and collage on canvas) 1975, Jasper Johns.

A special challenge for university art museums can be finding ways to produce relevant, forward-thinking shows while not just serving but also involving the student body. To focus on student work, as some stakeholders might like (see Rose Art Museum scandal, circa 2009), squanders the riches often at academic museums’ disposal; to simply highlight the collection or mount borrowed works limits educational opportunities.

Harvard University Art Museums’ current show, Jasper Johns / In Press: The Crosshatch Works and Logic of Print, offers an elegant, successful solution.

The show, on view through August 18, began as an undergraduate course in the university’s History of Art and Architecture Department. Students were asked to create an exhibition that studies Johns’s encaustic and collage painting The Dutch Wives (1975), on loan from the artist himself, and examines its relationship to other works in the museums’ collections.

The show studies Johns’s signature “crosshatch” technique – adapted from the parallel and perpendicular lines historically used for shading in etching and other printmaking techniques – contextualizing them within the history and practice of printmaking. We see similar patterns on objects like Mesopotamian seals dating back to around 3000 BC, for example, and an Albrecht Dürer engraving from 1513.

Johns is most often associated with pioneering conceptual artists Robert Rauschenberg (his late partner), choreographer Merce Cunningham, and composer John Cage, and is best known for works featuring universally recognizable symbols like numerals and the American flag, which he calls “the thing the mind already knows.” And here, as in those works, there’s more than meets the eye.

I have to admit, I find a lot of conceptual art much more fun to think about than to behold—and even then it’s easy to be, shall we say, underwhelmed.

But this tidy little show of just 23 objects and two videos does a great job of demystifying Johns, printmaking techniques, and the extensive, but often imperceptible thought behind his very complex, very viewable works.

Jasper Johns / In Press: The Crosshatch Works and Logic of Print
Through August 18
Harvard Art Museums
485 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA  02138
(617) 495-9400

Getting There: Design for Travel in the Modern Age

By Mary Tinti   |   Tuesday, June 26, 2012
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June 26, 2012



BOSTON, MA - I live in South Boston, a part of the city in which you can see enormous cruise liners and jumbo jets all but colliding on the horizon multiple times a day. Boats, buses, planes, and trains motor by in a networked transportation system that makes contemporary travel possible.

Unfortunately, as any modern traveler can attest, our mechanisms for getting “there,” wherever “there” may be, are no longer filled with the kind of utopian ideals made manifest in the golden age of travel. While we can still get from point A to point B in relatively rapid fashion, the trip is anything but glamorous, let alone comfortable. In fact, the journey is often simply the dreaded means to our long awaited vacation ends.

As the folks at Grand Circle Gallery and Design Museum Boston know, there is hope lurking in our travel frustrations and good, solid, inspired design may well be the answer to our woes. Until September 1, 2012, visitors to Grand Circle can take in their latest exhibition, Getting There: Design for Travel in the Modern Age, and peruse examples from Grand Circle’s always-fabulous collection of vintage travel posters, as well as some cool collaborative elements cooked up with Design Museum Boston.

There are videos displaying Hamburg, Germany’s spectacularly popular Miniatur Wunderland – a tourist destination home to the world’s largest model railway with over eight miles of track, a functioning airport, and thousands of computer-controlled vehicles traversing minified replicas of European countries and the US; a mid-century video by Charles and Ray Eames that animates Eero Saarinen’s ingenious plan for an airport mobile lounge; and a contemporary promotional video from Air New Zealand and Firm IDEO that explores novel solutions for airline seating and an improved passenger experience. Other highlights include a brief look at the history of way-finding graphics and a wide variety of travel ephemera.

And don’t leave before you check out the colorful results of the gallery’s second annual juried travel poster competition, which was open to undergrads in graphic design programs throughout the city.

Whether you are gearing up for out-of-town adventures this summer or planning for a staycation here in Boston, this exhibition will help you channel the energy and optimism of a bygone era and take comfort in the fact that creative transportation innovations could very well be right around the corner.

Grand Circle Gallery
347 Congress Street
Boston, MA 02210
Free Admission/Handicap Accessible
Hours: Wednesday, Friday, Saturday 12-6, Thursday 12-7

Provincetown Views at ACME Fine Art

By Kris Wilton   |   Friday, June 15, 2012
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June 17, 2012



BOSTON - It’s “such an ambitious show for us,” says David Cowan, director of ACME Fine Art, of Provincetown Views, on display through June 23.

With dozens of works by more than 50 artists crammed salon-style into the gallery’s two modest rooms, Provincetown Views is ambitious in both size and scope. The aim, Cowan says, is quite simply to “look at the history of landscape painting in Provincetown” – an unusually literal undertaking for the abstract-minded ACME.

But that characterization sells the show short. Using Provincetown as a focal point, ACME in fact offers a survey of major techniques and approaches in American art, spanning decades, dozens of styles, and everything from near-amateur to established artists, including several 20th-century masters who established their own schools on the Cape.

The range is fantastic. There’s Hans Hofmann’s frenetic, ultramodern Light House (1936), a mess of primary colors, next to more traditional, atmospheric interpretations like Charles Webster Hawthorne’s watercolor Provincetown Landscape # 3 (1927) and Edwin Dickinson’s petite oil on canvas Shack, Peaked Hill Bars (1955). Or compare Helen Frankenthaler’s brightly splashy 1964 gouache on paper Two Pillars to Jack Tworkov’s earthy, Cubist-inspired Fisherman’s Family (1931) or Wolf Kahn’s richly textured but nearly monochromatic On the Coast (1960), capturing the particular dull blue-gray of a hazy summer sky.

A few works stick out, such as cultish self-taught artist Mary Hackett’s oddball interior and Susan Baker’s bawdy Technicolor representations of the P-town bar scene. But for the most part, even the most contemporary submissions hold their own, like Ron Shuebrook’s intense, moody little oil Provincetown Fishhouse and Harbour (2011), which I’d take home in a second if I could, and the clean, clear paintings of trained architect Paul Kelly, which somebody smart has already snapped up.



The show also serves as a tribute to Provincetown’s Fine Arts Work Center, the oldest art colony in the United States and a major incubator for visual art and writing since 1968, featuring a dozen or so past fellows. And to P-town itself, with many of the works depicting beloved local fixtures and landmarks, such as Race Point.

Spend some time with this show. Hidden in its lighthouses and landscapes is a wealth of information and insight about not only the charming Cape community but also American art history.

Provincetown Views
Through June 23
ACME Fine Art
38 Newbury Street, 4th floor
Boston, MA  02116
(617) 585-9551

Image captions: 
First image: Hans Hofmann (1880-1966), Light House (1936), casein on board.

Second image: Ron Shuebrook, Provincetown Fishhouse and Harbour (2011), oil paint on canvas.



Aliens, Penguins, and Zombies...Oh My!

By Mary Tinti   |   Friday, June 15, 2012
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Rhode Island Artist Greg Stones is a frequent participant in the arts festivals (like SoWa Sundays in Boston's South End) that pop up across New England all summer long and his quirky, hilarious prints and watercolors have been a favorite of mine for quite some time.   

Stones’ sublime, sparse, Hopper-esque landscapes are populated by flying saucers (I want to believe!), penguins (who doesn’t love penguins?) and clean-cut, dapperly suited zombies (who often dislike things like technology, clowns, and hippies). So popular are his zombie paintings, in fact, that Stones created a book titled Zombies Hate Stuff (published by Chronicle Books), filled with pristinely rendered images detailing all the random things he imagines zombies would disdain.

Yes, his artworks are a witty nod to the many zombie fans among us, but they also suggest an important lesson about not letting ourselves get bogged down by the mundane chores of life.

Here’s what I mean:

Zombies are everywhere right now (I use my own obsession with such television shows as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, as well as my husband’s “I heart zombies” t-shirt as evidence).  A few years back, Chuck Klosterman wrote a piece for the New York Times titled, “My Zombie, Myself: Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead,” in which he offered an astute commentary on the proliferation of zombies in twenty-first century culture. At one point, Klosterman notes, “Every zombie war is a war of attrition….In other words, zombie killing is philosophically similar to reading and deleting 400 work e-mails on a Monday morning or filling out paperwork that only generates more paperwork…or performing tedious tasks in which the only true risk is being consumed by the avalanche.”

With that framework in place, Greg Stones’ paintings of the undead can be read not merely as timely pop culture references, but more importantly as clever visual reminders that we all have our zombies.  There will always be an onslaught of work waiting just around the corner, always a few emails begging to be read, so why not step away from the computer, get out of the office, and take a few days to soak in the sunshine this summer? And while you’re at it, check out Greg Stones and his aliens, penguins, and zombies at an art festival near you. 


SoWa Sundays: New England's Largest Outdoor Bazaar
460 and 500 Harrison Avenue
Boston, MA 02118
 

Image Captions/Credits:
Greg Stones, Zombies Hate Technology. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The Color Of Baseball

By Valerie Linson   |   Wednesday, June 6, 2012
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Local Color, Baseball’s Finest

I don’t follow baseball, but I do follow history and when I heard about an exhibit featuring items belonging to one of the greatest players in baseball that nobody’s ever heard of, I had to check it out.

Newspaper clippings, baseball cards, bats, gloves, a video, and other pieces of history from the Negro Leagues are on display at the Museum of African American History for the exhibit, The Color of Baseball in Boston.

William ‘Cannonball’ Jackman was a dynamo player for the Boston Royal Giants, a black baseball team in the late 1920s. He played for many teams over the course of 30 years, but settled in Boston because of the welcoming reception that he got from the city. He was a member of the Negro National League and a day was even dedicated to him at the Carter Playground in the South End neighborhood of Boston.

Those who remember him rave about his mighty pitch and powerful swing. Thousands came from all over the region, just to see him play. He was called the Black Babe Ruth. The manager of the New York Giants, John McGraw, even said that he would pay $50,000 to the person that could make Jackman white.

But Boston loved him and community newspapers wrote about him extensively and local baseball enthusiasts take great pride in the fact that he represented the city.

Several of his belongings have been professionally restored and are now propped up in a glass display at the Museum of African American History in Boston. Some of the items include his cap, his jersey, a belt, his pants, and his cleats. One of the walls in the museum’s gallery is adorned with Cannonball memorabilia, like his application to the Baseball Hall of Fame, which he never made it into and a poem written by a Medford native titled “Bill Jackman.” The poem invites the reader to look into the “magic mirror of memory” and describes the thrill of remembering this fierce and fiery player at his best.

Other notable black baseball greats have a presence in this exhibit, too. There are dozens of photos that were taken by the photographer Ernest C. Withers in the late 1940s and early 50’s. Black and white images of the legendary Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, and a team photograph of the Chattanooga Choo-Choos, which includes a teenage Willie Mays, all depict how baseball was a great convener and helped to shape community pride.

I appreciated this exhibit because it shows black Bostonians’ excitement for and interest in baseball in the earlier days of the sport. Details such as a map depicting very familiar fields and parks used to host the sport throughout the city helped to make the story real to this Boston native. This exhibit is also about a time in the history of the city when people came together in spite of their prejudices just to see the magic one player can bring to a game.

And who knew that April 15th was Jackie Robinson Day around the nation? Back in 2005, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig named the day because in 1947 Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball by joining the Major Leagues. There’s a home plate in this exhibit that was signed by the members of the Boston Red Sox in 2006 to commemorate that day.

Even if you don’t follow baseball, you will be impressed by how the museum was able to resurrect the famous and not so famous African American players of America’s pastime.

For more information about The Color of Baseball in Boston, visit http://maah.org/.



About the Authors
Arthur Smith Arthur Smith
Arthur Smith is the former editor of WGBHArts. Executive producer for digital education at WGBH, Arthur, an amateur pianist and singer, was previously a freelance classical music reviewer for the Washington Post for 9 years. He has also worked at an opera company, and ran the information service and publications programs for OPERA America, the national service organization for the art form.  Since 1991, he has been the program annotator for Vocal Arts DC, a classical song recital series based at Washington's Kennedy Center. 
Kris Wilton Kris Wilton
Kris is a freelance arts journalist who has contributed reported pieces and reviews to outlets including the Huffington Post, Slate.com, Artinfo.com, Modern Painters, Art+Auction, Art New England, New England Home, Entertainment Weekly, the Village Voice, Bostonist.com, ARTnews, Philadelphia Weekly, Emerging Photographer, Photo District News, and RL Magazine.
Mary Tinti Mary Tinti
Mary is a Koch Curatorial Fellow at the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum. On her blog, Dress For Sports, she says, "I love innovative public art, creative design, and unique intersections of architecture, sculpture, and installation.  And I love stumbling upon cool collisions of art and everyday life." Mary has a Ph.D. in art history from Rutgers University.

Valerie Linson Valerie Linson
Valerie Linson is the Managing Producer for WGBHArts.  She is also the Series Producer for Basic Black and the Executive Editor for its accompanying website at WGBH.org. Basic Black is New England's longest-running television program devoted to explorations of the black experience.

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