GBH Executive Arts Editor Jared Bowen joined Boston Public Radio for his weekly update on all things arts and culture in and around Boston. This week offers everything from "The Little Mermaid" to legal news by way of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could stifle creativity.
Donna Summer's collection
The estate of Boston-bornlegendary musician Donna Summer is auctioning off items from the disco queen’s collection via Christie’s starting June 15. Among the possessions for sale are a number of jumpsuits and other outfits the "Queen of Disco" wore during her career, which are expected to bring in $200,000, along with handwritten lyrics and her RIAA gold records.
Part of the proceeds from the auction will be donated to St. Jude’s, the Save the Music Foundation and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The later is significant considering Summer’s complicated relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. As Bowen notes, “she had a huge gay following, which kind of tracks with disco and whatnot,” but after a homophobic comment on stage during her career, “there was a very significant backlash. ... Later in life, I think, she tried to correct course on that.”
"40 Part Part" by Jace Clayton
On view at the MassArt Art Museum through July 30
Artist Jace Clayton grew up in North Andover and graduated from Harvard before recently returning to the MassArt Art Museum for a series of three installations, including the striking “40 Part Part.”
Inspired by artist Janet Cardiff’s presentation of 16th-century choral works, Clayton creates what appears to be a “minimalist sculpture” consisting of 40 speakers on stands around the room. Audiences are invited into the space to connect their phones to the speaker and listen to music of their choosing. As part of the installation, Clayton has designed an algorithm that changes how visitors hear the music.
“You start playing the music,” Bowen described, “and it gets absorbed because of this algorithm into different ways throughout the room. So it will come from just one speaker or you’ll just hear part of the sound and then the rest of that sound is distributed through another speaker around the room.”
He added that “it was such an odd feeling to have this piece of music that you know so well, that’s kind of fundamental to your upbringing and then have it just completely distorted and dismantled and played with. It kind of almost felt like I had stepped into a different reality.”
"Normal" by Steve Locke
On view at the MassArt South Building
One of Boston’s “great stars,” Steve Locke, has returned from New York for an installation on the exterior of MassArt for the institute’s 150th anniversary. The title gets its name from the term “normal school,” which was used to describe MassArt at its founding. (Today, such an institution would be called a teaching college.)
Locke’s work uses pink neon to outline the letters of the word “normal” in the brickwork to emphasize that the arts are normal. “The arts aren’t something exceptional, they’re just a normal part of our life,” Bowen said.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a 7-2 ruling on a case affecting the estates of Andy Warhol and photographer Lynn Goldsmith, deciding that Warhol infringed upon Goldsmith’s copyright when he used one of her photos of the late musician Prince for a 1984 Vanity Fair commission. Justice Elena Kagan and Chief Justice John Robert dissented.
The “wildly criticized” decision will have implications on the limits of artistic reinterpretation as it has existed “for thousands of years,” Bowen said.
“This isn’t necessarily about art itself, but other people — like Elena Kagan and Justice Roberts have indicated, as they wrote together that this would impede new art and music and literature because it might stifle people from thinking that they can actually go back and do what has been done for all these years,” he explained.
"Women and Abstraction: 1741-Now"
On view at the Addison Gallery of American Art through July 30
Abstraction as an artistic moment and concept refers to a movement “away from concrete forms or figures and very experimental things were done on the canvas,” as Bowen explained, but is often sequestered to 20th century male artists. This “very big, very sprawling” exhibition at the Addison attempts to reframe abstraction to not only include women, but include women across art history.
One of the strengths of the installation is that “you can see how people were visualizing and representing things in more abstract forms, and while there may not have been an entire movement around it, you can see piecemeal how individual artists were working their way there.” Major artists in the exhibit include Louise Nevelson, Helen Frankenthaler and Maud Morgan, a well-known Boston creator and educator.
"The Little Mermaid"
In theaters May 26
This 2023 remake of the 1989 animated film features acclaimed actress Melissa McCarthy in the role of antagonist Ursula, who is considered among “the last villains that we saw come out of Disney” before the company shifted focus to films centering internal conflict. The titular mermaid is played by musician and actress Halle Bailey, who Bowen said plays the role of Ariel so well that “you just totally identify with this young woman who wants to defy her father and get out into the world — or the above world — and find her own freedom. She beautifully inhabits the character that way.”