Art critic Beat returns to the arts in 2021
As 2021 draws to a close, it is clear that the challenges brought on by the pandemic have impacted all of our cultural institutions, from cinemas and concert halls to major museums, independent galleries and academic art spaces.
Canceled or delayed art openings, appointment tours, virtual tours, and exhibitions that lasted much longer than expected have all transformed the way viewers (and critics) interact with culture. With seemingly endless variants of covid, perhaps it will be so for the foreseeable future.
But to paraphrase Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Malcolm in “Jurassic Park” – “Art Finds a Way”. SouthCoast’s arts community has put on some great exhibitions again in 2021. Here are the top 12:
12: “Norman Ives: constructions and reconstructions” at the CVPA Campus Gallery, UMass Dartmouth. The comprehensive investigation into influential mid-century graphic designer Norman Ives was a playful and dazzling celebration of letterforms and negative space. Whether he worked in collage, bas-relief or painting, Ives was a choreographer of text elements. A superb example is the tricolor screen print titled “Centaur” in which the letters in no way spell the word centaur. But the magic is the mixing of forms.
11. “Tamara Kostianovsky: wild heritage” at the Fuller Craft Museum. Kostianovsky’s soft sculpture offered a kind of carnal knowledge. However, the carnal did not speak to sexuality, but rather to the primordial desire to consume the flesh of animals. Without flinching, wagging her fingers, or pitying, she presented fabric versions of the carcasses of animals, eviscerated creatures, and hanging pheasants, geese and other game birds. Her faux fabric taxidermy was a little repulsive while still being absolutely thrilling.
ten. “The artwork of David R. Mello” at the Narrows Center for the Arts. A professional storyteller, Mello’s sculptures and paintings are derived from Bible tales and classical mythologies from ancient Greece, Rome, Japan and other cultures. Beautifully rendered, the evocative images and three-dimensional works could be understood as moral tales presented as charming paintings, illustrations of children’s books for adults. His paintings of Icarus from the Greek myth and of the Old Testament wizard Simon Mage reveal a common theme: man’s pride is indeed reckless.
9. “Moby’s show: the story of a whale” at Gallery X. For a period of more than three decades, New Bedford’s oldest running gallery featured numerous exhibits on the waterfront, seascapes and other nautical themes, but from Somehow in those 30 plus years there hadn’t been an exhibition dedicated specifically to Moby Dick until last summer. With dozens of participating artists, it was a love letter to the great white whale, Captain Ahab and Herman Melville. Highlights included the sweet black and white image of Wanda Medina ‘Queequeg’s Sister, framed by antique doilies, and the spray painted canvas depiction of Maki Mark Carvahlo of Gregory Peck as a whaling captain. on legs.
8. “The boys of the autumn river” at the Fall River Museum of Contemporary Art. As part of FRMoCa’s “Group Show # 2”, there was an exhibition of black and white gelatin silver prints by Chicago-born photographer Richard Renaldi in the Great Pristine Gallery. The remarkable set of images were taken between 2001 and 2008 and known collectively as the “Fall River Boys”. The photographs were austere, straightforward and engaging portraits of young men (and a young woman or two) in that twilight moment where one feels a change of self and endless possibilities. While the cars, clothes and attitude were from a particular era, the photos evoked the timelessness of adolescence.
seven. “Amanda means: light years” at the University Art Gallery, UMass Dartmouth. In her first retrospective, photographer Amanda Means exhibited a number of her “camera-less” images. They were created entirely in a darkroom, for example by inserting sheets into an enlarger and projecting them directly onto photosensitive paper. The translucency of the leaves paved the way for the exploration of light passing through other objects, including light bulbs and glasses of water. In his greatly enlarged photographs, the mundane things – the veins on a leaf, the droplets on a glass or the filament in a light bulb – have become mythical.
6. “Report: uncomfortable realities of our past and recent collective experiences” at the Dartmouth Cultural Center. If art can be considered as the repository of the collective memory of a society, “Reckoning” was a nagging memory, an absolute insistence that it is better not to forget. Starring painters Ron Fortier and Stephen Remick, the exhibition featured images that left some viewers in shock, some in tears and others in anger. Fortier tackled the scourge of violent racism, portraying shamelessly shameless images of the May 1921 bombing in Greenwood, a black neighborhood in Tulsa. Remick caught the plague from… well, the plague. His series portrays exhausted healthcare workers, their skin raw and their emotions even more so, as they face the battle against covid and conspiracy theorists.
5. “In the neighborhood” at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Featured in NBWM’s Braitmayer Gallery, Alison Wells’ latest paintings and collages revealed that she was a keen observer of the human condition, with social, political, historical, emotional and spiritual layers simmering just below the surface. The exhibit included images of apartment buildings and Acushnet Avenue, New Bedford’s longest and busiest street, with its Portuguese cafes, parcel shops and majestic Catholic churches. But in this show, Wells revealed his masterpiece. “Protest on Union” which was boldly of the moment, depicting a crowd of protesters with signs: Black Lives Matter, Please I Can’t Breathe, No Justice No Peace. But daring alone is not art. The beauty of this image makes it so.
4. “New paintings by Anne Leone and Daniel Ludwig” at the Dedee Shattuck Gallery. Anne Leone showed a series of five large-scale paintings of swimmers in swimming pools, apparently from the point of view of a spectator below them with his head invisible. Her work is photorealistic but the way she allows light to bounce off the surface and dance around swimmers, it becomes an abstraction of refraction. Her husband Daniel Ludwig exhibited figurative paintings that touched on elements of mythology, such as a naked woman in the woods appearing as a dryad. Another woman wears a bathing suit and is seated in an armchair, as confident as Hera on her throne. The two artists have elevated everyday life to the extraordinary.
3. “Uncommon Themes: The Work of Ruth E. Carter” at the New Bedford Art Museum. Carter won the 2019 Oscar for Best Costume Design for “Black Panther”. While none of the costumes from this Marvel superhero film were on display, the exhibit featured his work from a number of other films, including the pizza delivery outfit worn by Spike Lee in ” Do the Right Thing ”and a flamboyant dress worn by Oprah Winfrey in the 2014 movie“ Selma ”. The common thread that ran through the exhibition was Carter’s devotion to tales of real and fictional Africans and Black Americans through the emphasis on costume. She straddled the intersection of American history and pop culture with brilliant aplomb.
2. “Marc St. Pierre: Black & White” at the University Art Gallery, UMass Dartmouth. Saint-Pierre, who died in December 2019, was honored with an exhibition devoid of color. All the work was in black and white and shades of gray. His prints, collages and encaustics are generally considered non-objective because he generally does not “represent” anything in the usual sense of the term. But it would be a mistake to say that his work was without a narrative. Certain elements have constantly reaffirmed themselves: grids, imaginary aerial views, raw topography and mysterious scribbles that fold in on themselves. His “Metropolis”, which some would call abstract, suggested apartment windows, storefronts and even an emergency staircase. Even the title of this piece was a wink, a wink, a preemptive response to what it really was.
1. “A wild note of nostalgia: Albert Pinkham Ryder and a century of American art” at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. A dream team of curators have been assembled to bring dozens of Ryder’s paintings (borrowed from many institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, National Gallery of Art and many more) to New Bedford, where he was born in 1847. The exhibition was a remarkable undertaking which featured some of his best known works such as “Flying Dutchman” from 1887. Notably absent was “The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse)” but this did not has not diminished the importance of this historical spectacle. Along with Ryder, the museum featured works by many artists influenced by “the father of American modernism,” including Thomas Hart Benton, Jackson Pollock and Nathaniel Pousette-Dart. It was an exhibition that can rightly be called a tour de force.