Category Archives: visual art

Roni Horn at the ICA and Tomb 10a at the MFA

Two quick mini-posts to follow up on my last post. I’ve ended up seeing almost every new exhibit at the ICA, and the most recent was their survey of Roni Horn that I caught on the last day it was open two weeks ago. Enjoyable though it was, the works as a whole felt curiously uninvolving. Perhaps because Horn is a conceptual artist whose concepts feel “safe”, neither daring nor innovative nor electrically charged. There are some moments of surprise and reaction, but on the whole the exhibit felt rather too suburban and neat. Perhaps this is most epitomized by her treatment of Dickinson, in which she’s content to restrain the poet’s words in cold metal bars, acknowledging her quiet, solid strength but without allowing any of her passion to be felt. I agree with much of Sebastian Smee’s review for The Boston Globe, and I also wholeheartedly second his appeal for the ICA to give us a change of pace from these fairly benign exhibits and explore more visceral areas of the art world. The accompanying exhibit, of Mexican artist Dr. Lakra, proved to be the more interesting one overall, although certainly less easy to swallow.

I was also happy to see the MFA’s The Secrets of Tomb 10A: Egypt 2000 BC (today’s the last day). The exhibit is highly entertaining and at times moving, although it follows the same obvious path as most exhibits of ancient relics do, which is to emphasize the functional usage of the artifacts over their artistic value. Smee, again providing a cogent review in The Globe, particularly laments the exhibit’s presentation of a 4000-year-old mummy’s skull, which emphasizes the scientific anaylsis of it more than the skull itself.

On that visit I also checked out the museum’s Durer exhibit. The works are quite amazing, although some background on the various techniques used would have been helpful. And to round things off, here’s Smee’s review of the exhibit for The Globe.

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Comics, cartoons, and graphic novels in Boston

[Yeah, yeah, I know that I’ve been completely lax in updating all summer. Part of it is that there’s just less arts stuff going on during the summer, and part of it is just me being busy (and lazy) and not making the blog as a priority. I’m still not sure how much I’m going to chain myself to the blog in the future, but I’ve got a couple of long-overdue posts lined up and I’ll probably post more as the arts season gets back into full swing.]

This quickie post for today is focused on comics, etc. in Boston. I happened to come across a copy of a publication by a group I hadn’t realized existed, the Boston Comics Roundtable. They’re apparently a group of local comic writers and artists, and I flipped through their 3rd issue of “Inbound” and it looks great. Looking forward to seeing more from them.

While I’m on the subject, thought I would throw in a plug for a friend of mine (in Boston) who has been writing/drawing a pretty entertaining comic for a while now, called Wasteland Mega. The comedy is a bit twenty-something, Friends-esque, but it’s balanced by the constant thread of failure woven in for good measure. Here’s a sample of the latter, excerpted from the comic’s previous incarnation’s website:

    unhelpful things to say to unemployed
    -well what do you REALLY REALLY WANT TO DO?
    -why can’t you just…do what you REALLY REALLY LIKE?

Ha ha. My favorite comic store in Boston (not to diss the other noteworthy stores, but I suppose my preference is partly because its location was so convenient to me for so many years) is Comicopia in Kenmore Square (464 Commonwealth Ave #13). They have a weekly mailing list with info on new arrivals, recommendations, as well as special offers. They stock a wide variety of books, including manga and indie comics, and a nice not-too-geeky-for-casual-comic-book-readers ambience. I also swing by Tokyo Kid in Harvard Square (in the garage, across the hall from Newbury Comics) if I’m in the mood for browsing manga specifically. Despite the name, Newbury Comics isn’t the first place you’d go for comics as they mostly just stock recent issues and popular graphic novels (and some manga); but they’re useful if you’re looking to one-stop-shop while you’re picking up music, video, or video games (and they’re great for used stuff).

Other noteworthy comic stores are New England Comics (various locations, including Brookline and Harvard Square) and The Million Year Picnic (also in Harvard Square). So check ’em out, why don’tcha!

William Morgan’s The Cape Cod Cottage

I keep intending to write some slightly more off-the-beaten track Boston-related arts posts (as that was one of the blog’s original intentions), but I keep getting sidetracked. But here’s a quickie.

An architect friend of mine was working on an entirely new house (hers, actually), on the Cape, where she grew up. A and I got to see it in its almost final state a few weeks ago and were thoroughly amazed. I haven’t been to the Cape enough times to have the look of the architecture really soak in much, but our friend used the classic Cape Cod architecture as a starting point, and one of the references she used was a book called The Cape Cod Cottage by William Morgan. I flipped through her copy and then picked it up from the library to look into it in greater depth.

In the accompanying essay to the slim book (96 pages, published by the Princeton Architectural Press in 2006) Morgan begins by stating (and I paraphrase) “a child’s first drawing of a house is essentially a Cape Cod Cottage”, basically: a triangular roof on a rectangle with a door in the middle, windows on both sides, and a chimney on top, also in the middle, with some homey smoke coming out for good measure. He explains that the colonists’ original design was born out of function, as a smaller house was more suited to the cold and windy conditions of the Cape and the central chimney helped heat the rooms. He gives a broad overview of the house’s evolution, including its takeover of America where Capes were mass manufactured and built all over the country, as well as its revival in more recent years. He mentions some of the endless variations (e.g. Greek columns, porches, gables, garages), although it’s clear he prefers the Cape in its purest form. Similarly in the book’s photographs he includes a generally chronological sampling of Cape Cod houses, most from the New England area, including a few from Middle America to illustrate the popularization and variations of the form; there are some historic photographs included as well.

There are only a couple of interior shots, but the book is clearly intended to be more of an art book than a comprehensive study. The photography is quite excellent, and it certainly has whet my appetite for a more in-depth look. If you’re looking for more info Wikipedia’s article is pretty shabby, but About.com has a more extensive article as well as a small gallery. Lastly, this article at CapeLinks.com is also an interesting read. It’s certainly given me a greater appreciation for the architecture of the Cape, and the rest of the country as well.

“Luminous Windows” at the MIT Museum

[The preview for this review is here.]

Oof. I’ve gotten behind. Clearly I’ve been going out too much and not doing enough writing. Here are some thoughts on the MIT Museum’s new exhibit Luminous Windows: Holograms for the 21st Century, though, which was a little more than a week ago.

The new exhibit consists of six new works, that “[represent] artistic and technical advancements in the field of display holography”. The most successful of them are “Thera” by Ikuo Nakamura which combines holography and video of a woman in an interesting way, and “Insights” by Michael Bleyenberg which is abstract. The images are on display from Massachusetts Ave. throughout the winter, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you walk by it in the evening (e.g. if you’re on your way to or from the Miracle of Science which is just a few blocks away).

The accompanying opening was very low key, but fairly well attended. The museum provided free admission, snacks, a DJ, and activities for children which, although only tenuously connected to the theme of light, successfully drew families in to see the new exhibit. Better yet, though, was the chance to see the museum’s expanded facilities and permanent exhibits and, in my case, to reacquaint myself with some impressive collections that I hadn’t seen in years.

Two exhibits in particular, are worth highlighting. The first of these, (and special attention must be given to it, considering the occasion of the new exhibit opening), is the museum’s permanent holography exhibit, from which the two images in this post are taken. The exhibit has an impressive range, and although a lot is focused on the simple “cool” factor, there are several moments of surprising emotional resonance. The exhibit would have benefited tremendously from a more detailed look at how holograms are made, but, alas, instead we are forced to make do with only two very sketchy panels of information.

The second noteworthy exhibit was the collection of kinetic sculptures by Arthur Ganson. Having just seen the fantastic Calder exhibit at the Whitney in New York City it’s easy to see the roots of Ganson’s inspiration. Ganson combines Calder’s love of the mechanical with Calder’s whimsy, creating sculptures that are often motorized and perpetual, illustrating tiny little human truths or dramas or just fun entertainments with materials as varied as a wishbone, black oil, or little slips of paper.

Both exhibits are extremely audience-friendly, unlike the majority of the rest of the museum which in general just seems far too cluttered with text. The MIT Museum seems a bit awkward in its presentation overall, combining science, history, and art into one uncohesive whole. As a result the exhibits alternate between being either far too scientific and technical or virtually completely ignoring the scientific side (in the latter cases the exhibits reach about the level of the Museum of Science, which most of the time seems more full of toys than information). In any case the museum is worth a visit for the holography and Ganson exhibits alone. Visiting information can be found here.

Tara Donovan at the ICA


In only its second year in its expanded space the ICA seems to be doing a great job of putting together some compelling exhibits. Somehow they’ve already managed to lure A and me to see our third show this year. Even though it felt like we’d just been there to see the Anish Kapoor exhibit (which we enjoyed), we found ourselves back there to see the Tara Donovan exhibit, which opened in early October and runs through January 4.

We’d been intrigued by one of Dononvan’s works that we’d seen among those in the ICA’s permanent gallery, an imposing cube made more or less entirely of straight pins, so we were looking forward to seeing more. In a surprisingly on-target and gratifyingly artspeak-free description of her work the ICA’s website says:

    In the artist’s hands, common, mass-produced items—toothpicks, buttons, drinking straws—become captivating sculptures.

    For over a decade, American sculptor Tara Donovan has transformed huge volumes of everyday items into stunning works of phenomenal impact. Layered, piled, or clustered with an almost viral repetition, these products assume forms that both evoke natural systems and seem to defy the laws of nature.

To describe the works in detail would ruin the surprise somewhat and fail to do justice to works that (I hate to use the cliche, but) truly have to be “experienced”. But it should suffice to say that this was one of the most worthwhile modern art exhibits I’ve seen in a while. Part of that may be due to my own love of nature; Donovan successfully captures the same serenity and mathematical perfection, while at the same time combining them with additional layers of meaning due to her choice of medium, namely mass-produced everyday objects. Her work is incredibly accessible, a trait that usually immediately makes me suspicious and bored because it means dumbed down and belabored, but not in this case: this is a unique, worthwhile exhibit that I can whole-heartedly recommend to anyone. And apparently a lot of other people find her art worthwhile as well. Not that awards necessarily mean anything, but just two weeks before the show opened (her first museum survey ever, apparently), Donovan was named a 2008 recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Grant.

Much as I enjoyed this and the previous exhibits we’ve seen, I’m hoping the ICA balances out these crowd-pleasers of large works by tackling some far less audience-friendly exhibits. Either way we’ll definitely be keeping our eye on what’s coming up next. Oh, and don’t forget that the ICA is free for all from 5 to 9 p.m. every Thursday night.

It doesn’t seem like there’s been much press on the exhibit, but the Globe had a little blurb about it a couple of weeks ago. The Globe also ran a little blurb mentioning that David Byrne visited the exhibit when he was in town for his performance at the Wang.