Fall 2017 Highlights
By Marni Elyse Katz, WTP Art Correspondent
Four times a year, WTP art correspondents from around the country will report back on the previous season, with images from exhibitions you otherwise might have missed, and their own insights into these varied venues.
I can see sixty-two pieces of art from the desk in my living room. (I counted twice so as not to exaggerate.) Art is all around outside, too; one just has to look. From the permanent and temporary public works on the Charles River Esplanade and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, to the city’s dynamic museums, galleries, schools, associations, and studios, the Boston area art scene is vibrant, thoughtful, and absolutely accessible. In this column, I will share my experiences as a design writer, art consultant, curator, collector, and aesthetic explorer, with notes from exhibitions, sales, open studios, and such. Here are the highlights of my autumn forays. I hope you’ll reach out with places and pieces you’ve seen and loved.
Coming straight off summer, a group of artist activists mounted Nasty Women Boston, a sister exhibition to the original Nasty Women Exhibition in New York City this past January. Two hundred artists donated three hundred artworks priced no higher than $250 for the group show at the Laconia Gallery in SoWa. The sale, attended by over seven hundred people, raised $20,000, which was donated to Color of Change and Planned Parenthood. I attended an afternoon preview, followed by a convivial lunch at Myers + Chang with a few of the organizers, artists, and volunteers. While the iconography of the pink pussy hat already felt old despite a struggle that is still at the American forefront, many of the images were fresh and as powerful as the women behind them.
Panopticon Gallery, which has been showing fine art photography since its founding in 1971, changed ownership last spring. New owner, Paul Sneyd, and director, Kat Kiernan, mounted its first exhibition, At Sea, this fall. The show features evocative works by nine photographers, many who incorporate handmade elements and techniques. The mood is mysterious, with images that feel almost melancholy, interspersed with moments of surreal unease. The gallery’s relatively subdued setting—a long hallway in Kenmore Square’s Hotel Commonwealth—contributes. This is no antiseptic white loft.
Diana H. Bloomfield’s “Ribboned Water,” which depicts a woman on her knees, seawater filtering through cupped hands, is dreamlike. The effect comes as much from the grainy rendering of Bloomfield’s nineteenth-century printing technique as its snapshot-like cropping. If the image were not both otherworldly and symmetrical, we might wonder if we were viewing home-movie footage. I was immediately drawn to these works; unsurprising given my personal collection of cropped female figures in mundane situations.
Jefferson Hayman’s quiet seascapes become almost haunting inside antique and handmade frames. The images are tightly and thickly framed, taking the viewer into the artist’s mind’s eye as he peers out to sea.
Boston-based photographer Stephen Sheffield, a longtime friend who first introduced me to Panopticon, showed several of his black-and-white self-portraits executed on a lake in Maine. Wearing the series’ signature Magritte-like fedora and baggy suit, in “Ascent,” Sheffield climbs a ladder. Is he emerging or attempting to avoid submersion? In “Savior,” he comes forth from a long dock, life preserver eerily in hand, a sharp contrast to his grim reaper attire.
On a walk home from the grocery store on a toasty fall day, my eye was drawn to a glimmering installation inside a charming gallery front on a quiet side street. I had not known about Gallery 263 in Cambridge, but I am certain to be stopping by again. Canopy, a solo exhibition of new work by New England–based artist Alexa Guariglia, was enchanting. Guariglia’s “8 Year Collection of Paint Tubes” is just that—eight years worth of paint tubes, squeezed to dismiss every last drop. Each one is an abstract artwork in miniature, but pinned to the wall en masse the effect is mesmerizing. Program manager Casey Curry says, “This interest in holding on to scraps and playing with miniature worlds is a common theme in her work.”
We see this with the “Berwick Fragments,” an installation of small plastic sleeves referred to as “seed bags” that contain cut-up remnants of Guariglia’s ink, gouache, and watercolor works on paper. Curry says, “Alexa hopes to make them into collages one day, but also likes them as little works on their own and often gives them as gifts.”
This October, Newbury Street gallery owner Martha Richardson hosted The Gateway Invasion, a collection of twenty-nine paintings, drawings, and textiles from eleven artists who work at the Gateway Arts center in Brookline Village. Gateway is a fantastic organization that provides art studio space and services to adults with disabilities. While some of the output is purely therapeutic, some showcases true talent.
My favorite in the show was the black-and-white, text-based piece by Yasmin Arshad. Arshad, who was born in Florence, Italy, and lives in Cambridge, has attended Gateway since 1996, and shown her work in major cities across the country and abroad. Her repetitive series of numbers are at once graphic and mystical. She also works in rainbow hues. Other pieces in the show included highly skilled pencil drawings; richly colored, naïve-style figural paintings; and expertly composed abstracts.
November was a good month for art school sales. In addition to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts annual sale, the Montserrat College of Art in Beverly held its second annual Small Works Sale. Paul Kotakis, the new director of development who made the jump after eleven years at the SFMA, pulled together an impressive collection of artwork by students, faculty, and friends. With prices topping out at $500, there was a lot to choose from, and choose I did. I have a weakness for small works. (You didn’t think I had sixty-two statement pieces in my living room, did you?)
In support of the college, which heavily relies on fundraising to support its students, many of which receive financial aid, I took this opportunity to acquire a tree-slice painting by John Guthrie. Guthrie paints with geometric precision, using flat swathes of matte paint devoid of brushstroke. Unsurprising for an artist with a degree in aerospace engineering. The juxtaposition of the smooth application of paint forming hard-lined geometry with the earthy, tactile surface of the natural slice of wood framed by rough bark elevates the fundamentally basic components to, well, art.
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