Boston MFA, deCordova Biennial 2012 & Harrison Street

This weekend I traveled to Boston with Sienna Patti of Sienna Gallery to visit South End galleries, the new MFA wing and the deCordova Biennial.

We kicked off the visit in the 450 Harrison Street block of Galleries, which is a pedestrian area off of Harrison surrounded by galleries, stores and studios.

North Dakota, 2010, Totems, Peter Kafayas

Two photographers were traveling with us, so we spent the bulk of our time in Gallery Kayafas, which features photography from the 19th to 21st centruy.

On display were two installations of photographers exploring the relationship of man and his environment-Surenda Lawoti‘s Don River and Peter Kayafas’ Totems.

Our group was particularly taken with Kayafas’ mid-day portraits of abandoned prairie buildings. Boston Globe critic Mark Feeney wrote in his January 21 review of the show:

“At first glance, the 25 black-and-white photographs in “Peter Kayafas: Totems’’ recall the work of Wright Morris. Both photographers elegize that rural agricultural region of flat terrain and immense sky in the heartland of this country, a place where time seems to stand still – except, of course, that it doesn’t.”

Feeney goes on to state:

“Defined by time, these structures nonetheless seem to stand outside of it. Which is to say that Kayafas’s images have a timeless quality. They’re simple and spare, yet quietly overpowering with their evocation of a history on a scale beyond that of individual human lives.”

Many of the pictured buildings undulate more like a sea faring vessels or the ocean itself, then the land locked structures they are.They were haunting.

Arlette Kayafas, who owns the gallery, elaborated on Peter Kayafas’ intentions, noting the artist’s collection of vintage black and white, postcard size photogrpahs of similar structures in their hey day.

She also gave us a sneak peek of the upcoming exhibition of Tara Sellios‘ large format color photographs of grotesque still lifes of meat, fish and other edible carcasses. Sellios was recently shown at the Suffolk University Art Gallery. As much as I enjoyed Kayafas’ quiet testaments to the passing of time, I was equally enamored with the immediacy, grotesque beauty and elegance of Sellios’ images.

James Hull, Director of the Suffolk University Gallery, which recently showed SEllios’ Lessons of Impermanence series wrote of the work,”In these visceral tableaux the artist focuses our attention on the uncomfortable connection between our living bodies and the dead flesh, organs and animals we call food….Pictured like this the scene feels like a table top battlefield full of hollow carcasses.”


Wendy Jacobs, Explorer's Club, 2010-A series of photographs document a year of explorations through the meandering logic of a line, and chronicles the adventures of a twelve year-old autistic boy as he shapes and defines urban space according to his particular visual and spatial perspective.

After a quick lunch at Flour, we headed over to the MFA to meet with Curator of Contemporary Decorative Arts, Emily Zilber. Zilber helped inspire the upcoming COVET series of events and exhibitions that will take place this summer in the Berkshires. We only had 30 minutes of her time, but she managed to give us a run down of the new Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art.

She emphasized how the installation was intended to show the collection in a cross discipline environment that was accessible to the general public. Out of the collection, the works that spoke most to me were the Maud Morgan Prize Honoree Wendy Jacobs’ Explorer’s Club, Kate Gilmore’s video Blood from a Stone and Cecily Brown’s SkullDiver III (Flight Mask).

The collection demonstrated a mixing of mediums, ranging from fine craft and jewelry to video and installation that i have not seen in a contemporay context before. It also seemed to present an especially strong showing of work made by female artists, without being billed as a show of ‘woman’s art.’ As an artist who happens to be female, this was heartening.

After Emily departed, we made a quick run through of the American Wing, then headed out to catch the deCordova Biennial.

I had not been to the deCordova since my undergraduate studies, so I was excited to see the museum again, even if it was in the dark.

It was crowded, but I wanted to make sure to find the three artists from North Adams represented in the show-Mary Lum, Kim Faler and Ven Voisey. It was again heartening to see that 3 of the 23 artists/artist groups included in the show surveying art from throughout New England, were from the Berkshires.

I wish I had had more time with Voisey’s ongoing audio collage/fm transmission project Ghost Radio installed throughout the galleries and accessed with a small radio transmitter. Hearing everything the speakers were saying was difficult in the crowd, but the intimate experience of listening to snippets of ghost stories no one else could hear was a wonderful experience in its own right.

Voisey is currently in residence at the Vermont Studio Arts Center. You can find Ghost Radio online here.

Lauren Kalman, Blooms, Efflorescence, and Other Dermatological Embellishments (Nevus Comedonicus), 2009

Last but not least is the work of Lauren Kalman. Kalman, who is represented by Sienna Gallery of Lenox, is trained as a metal smith and her work is meant to be worn, but must be physically inserted into the body to do so. I love these works.

“The beautifully grotesque, punctured bodies on display suggest contemporary associations with body modification, fetish, and commodification. In her photographs she quotes the exact compositions of disease illustrations found in historical medical texts where the naked female form was oft-presented as medical subject and sexualized object.” Imagine gorgeous gold and gem peices based on skin diseases.

I know, it is not for everyone. For me though, these works are stunning and strike the perfect balance of attraction and aversion, simultaneously drawing in and repulsing the viewer.

Rebecca Weinman is an artist and freelance blogger living and working in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts.

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