“Hokusai,” at the Museum of Fine Arts through Aug. 9
This is a major, major show of the work of Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, who painted from the mid-1700s to the mid-1800s and on his deathbed only asked for more time. The MFA has more of his oeuvre than any other museum outside Japan and divides the 200-piece exhibition into seven themes, including nature and fantasy. Even if you’re not a Japanese art connoisseur, you likely know Hokusai from the hugely popular “Under the Wave off Kanagawa,” which made him famous in his time. He wanted his brilliantly colored prints to be distributed and enjoyed; and back then, they cost no more than a bowl of noodles.
“In the Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11,” at the MFA through July 12
The date in the title refers to the horrible sequence of events in Japan on March 11, 2011: the earthquake, the tsunami and the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. This is the first time there’s been an exhibition looking at how art responds. The 17 photographers who contribute include those who had been working abroad when the nuclear fallout happened and came home to document the damage. There were two things that struck me about these photographs. First, the beauty in this, since some photographers were allowed to go to the affected area, which is now raw and free from human influence. The second is Nobuyoshi Araki, who went back to his images of street life and slashed his negatives with scissors to express the physical change the triple disaster perpetrated.
“Come Back, Little Sheba,” presented by the Huntington Theatre Company, at the Calderwood Pavilion through April 26
This is a truly extraordinary production. It’s directed by David Cromer and is based on the William Inge play from 1950, and you find two childless people in their 40s, Doc and Lola. He’s in Alcoholics Anonymous and not the doctor he wanted to become; she doesn’t work and spends all of her time at home, very, very lonely, trying to find connections with the milkman, the postman. Life is somewhat disrupted when they have this young boarder come stay with them. She’s beautiful and has a parade of boyfriends. In the end, this play is all about looking. This couple is looking at each other, somewhat with resentment. It’s about looking back: why didn’t they make more of their lives? It’s about looking at a young couple with envy, and it’s just physically about looking. Adrianne Krstansky, who plays Lola, is phenomenal in this role. She inhabits it, and you see looking with despair at times, and it’s in this very small, claustrophobic space at the Calderwood Pavilion, so you feel like you’re in their home.
Museum of World War II, 8 Mercer Rd., Natick, Mass., visits must be scheduled
There is no collection like it in the world. Longtime collector Ken Rendell, who has about 500,000 World War II artifacts, put about 8,000 of them on display. He began collecting the material in 1959, when nobody wanted to touch it because not enough time had passed. Now, what he’s assembled is something nobody else has. The collection takes you through every aspect: the rise of the Nazi regime, the influence of Japan, America entering it the war. You get all of these artifacts up close and personal, and Rendell wants visitors to be able to touch them:
I want people to really experience this museum. I don’t want them to look at things; I want them to feel things, literally as well as emotionally. And I think when there are barricades between you and a uniform or human objects that are not hurt by your touching them, it just enhances the experience, being a foot away without a piece of glass. I think that it makes it much more real.
Have you had an interesting encounter with the arts around Boston? » Tell me about it on Facebook or Twitter. And check out this week's Open Studio for more on Natick’s Museum of World War II and the photography exhibit "In the Wake."