By Mary Tinti | Wednesday, August 8, 2012
August 9, 2012
Watch Mary's video about Jaume Plensa’s Alchemist (2010)
BOSTON — MIT is home to a world-class public art collection and the addition of Jaume Plensa’s Alchemist (2010) goes a long way towards keeping that impressive distinction very much intact. Commissioned and subsequently gifted by an anonymous graduate, Alchemist honors the Institute’s 150th anniversary, the generosity of its alumni, and—by extension—the students who have researched, studied, and problem-solved at MIT.
By Mary Tinti | Wednesday, August 8, 2012
August 8, 2012
Part of The Wall at Central Square
BOSTON — There exists in the heart of Cambridge a surprising space known as The Wall at Central Square (or The Wall at Central Kitchen) that serves up bombastic, bold, colorful, ever-changing, and oh-so-contemporary examples of some of the coolest street art around.
By Jared Bowen | Tuesday, August 7, 2012
August 6, 2012
BOSTON — The summer show at the Peabody Essex Museum is an exhibition of Ansel Adams photography. It’s the legendary photographer’s work as you’ve never seen it before.
We can be reasonably excused for thinking we’re all too familiar with the often over-exposed Ansel Adams. But in its new show Ansel Adams: At the Water’s Edge, Phillip Prodger, Curator of Photography at the Peabody Essex Museum shows us reasons to reconsider.
“There are pictures of water that are almost violent, the muscular energy of some of these pictures of cascades tumbling over waterfalls, swelling with water. Then there are other moments that are more meditative or contemplative, a little more withdrawn.”
In a riveting show, Prodger wades into Adams’ lifelong relationship with water—going all the way back to the beginning—when the seaside San Francisco native was lured by the landscape at age 13.
“His first memories were hearing the slapping of the waves on the sand and smelling the salt air. So something that was very deeply engrained in him. And as our exhibition shows, it is something that he carried with him throughout his career, ” Prodger said.
Adams had a lifelong romance with nature, including recurring dalliances throughout New England and especially Cape Cod. At the onset though, Adams’ work was radical. It was the 1920s and Adams had no allegiance to Victorian tradition.
“Those pictures tend to be very nostalgic, soft focus. Often the pictures are very colorful, deep sepia color often in the prints. Ansel did away with all that,” Prodger said. “He was part of a generation that felt things in a picture should be sharp focus, the things in the picture should be neutral black and white and really created a sort of unconventional, confrontational and direct style of photography that we now know and love so well.”
What’s more, he challenged himself—especially with water.
“With a waterfall or a raging rapid or crashing waves on a shore, you never know exactly what you’re going to get. Ansel didn’t know exactly what he was going to get. So I think it was more of the virtuosity of anticipating the scene before it happened, and of knowing where to be finding the right place and right time to fire the shot,” Prodger said.
The show frequently reminds us that photography we might easily take for granted today was staggeringly complicated for Adams. In 1953, he invented the developing process for these 10 by 12 foot murals.
“He had to stitch together three different sheets of paper because the commercial papers available then didn’t reach that scale. So it was really a technical feet. Shooting across the room, on three separate sheets of paper, developing them rolled up in troughs mounting them together perfectly so you couldn’t see the seams, they’re really something special,” Prodger said.
Always versatile, Adams worked with an array of formats and equipment. Consistent, though, was the emotion he brought to his work and hoped would be conveyed in return.
“When Ansel took a picture of, say, a waterfall, if he was happy or sad or full of energy or was dragging that day, he hoped that an element of his experience of that scene would enter into that picture. And then he further hoped that later on when we looked at it, we would get some of that feeling back out of it,” Prodger said.
And what we get from this show is a refreshing look at a legendary photography we only thought we fully knew.
Commemorative head of an Oba (King), Benin Kingdom; Robert Owen Lehman Collection at the MFA
BOSTON — For the second time this year, the Museum of Fine Arts has received a major gift that it says will “transform” the museum’s holdings. (In May, MFA Trustee Saundra Lane donated more than 6,000 works including the largest privately held collections of Edward Weston and Ansel Adams photography). New York collector Robert Owen Lehman, son of the famed American banker, has now gifted the MFA with 34 rare pieces of West African art, including 28 bronzes and 6 ivories, and many bear some royal provenance.
The works are from the Kingdom of Benin and date from the late 15th century to the 19th century. The majority comes from present-day Southern Nigeria while two are from present-day Guinea and Sierra Leone. The bronzes depict a range of subjects from Benin kings to a horseman to commemorative heads. Many were created specifically for Benin’s royal palaces. Benin art can be found in museums around the world—most was taken from the kingdom in the late 1800s by British military forces. The MFA says Lehman purchased his pieces from dealers and auction houses from the 1950s through the 70s. Prior to the gift, the MFA held only piece from Benin in its collection.
While this is the first gift to the MFA from Robert Owen Lehman, the Lehman family has a history of donations dating to 1938, when it gifted the museum with hundreds of European textiles and historic costumes. The museum says this gift came about in part because the MFA will display Lehman’s collection in its entirety in a gallery dedicated to Benin, scheduled to open in late 2013.
“I would say that the main thing that drives me is the question of ‘What is urgent?’ So how do you make the life of an artist, connect,” says McElheny of his work.
In McElheny’s show, Some Pictures of the Infinite, we see a career-long odyssey to explore what fascinates him. Early on, it’s history. We come upon two museum–like displays. One documents the course of the Roman Empire. Another, Theory of Tears, features a case of glass vials with differing descriptions. One reads that they were used in funeral rites, while another indicates that they are merely cosmetic jars. This McElheny tackling the tension between truth and fiction, says curator Helen Molesworth.
“One of the things that Josiah’s work asks us is ‘What story do we tell ourselves about the past, how do those stories shape our present and what do we do with that mixture of the past and present in terms of thinking about the kind of future that we might be interested in?”
For the Boston born McElheny, the nuances deepen, a reflection of his lifetime working with glass.
“The most important thing about glass is how it relates to our understanding of other things like transparency and reflection,” McElheny said. “It’s all about a kind of metaphor, or a kind of way of seeing or understanding. And so I think that in the glass itself as a material is very funny because it’s really not there, it’s sort of nothing.”
Moving through the show, you’ll see McElheny’s interrogation of infinity. Here we find a collection of eight vessels that mirror to infinite replication. It’s cool, then disturbing.
“One that piece terrifies me because that image of utter sameness repeated infinitely for me is a very scary image. It’s an image I would link more with fascism than it is with democracy, for instance,” said Molesworth.
“Basically something that is infinitely repeated is the worst kind of universalism. It means that I can’t have any affect on it,” McElheny explained.
But we do have an affect on McElheny’s art. His continued use of glass and metal constantly capture our reflection and ensure us a role in the show.
“He really is still asking you sort of like, ‘why are you here, and what do you make of your presence here?’ Like by the time you see yourself for the twelfth time, you realize, ‘Oh, I’m part of the picture,’ and ‘what does it mean that I’m part of the picture?” added Molesworth.
Especially when it’s a virtual galaxy. The show ends with “Island Universe”, an installation of five massive, gleaming sculptures. It is McElheny’s take on the Big Bang theory.
“Each rod indicates time. And so let’s say that the shorter rods are indicating something that happened long ago, and the longer rods are indicating something that’s happening now,” McElheny said.
“’Island Universe’ is about this newer theory of the cosmos, which is the multiverse theory that there isn’t just one universe, there are probably many universes. And that all of them have an equal opportunity to be interesting,” said Molesworth.
It’s a heady show, and one that, with enough thought and analysis, may alter your own universe.
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.
Jared Bowen Jared Bowen is WGBH’s Emmy Award-winning Executive Editor and Host for Arts.
Kara Miller As a radio host, Kara Miller has interviewed thinkers from E.J. Dionne to Howard Gardner, Deepak Chopra to Lani Guinier. She is a panelist on WGBH-TV's "Beat the Press," as well as an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Her writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, The National Journal, The Boston Herald, Boston Magazine, and The International Herald Tribune.