The summer art scene in New England presents a special challenge. On the one hand there is almost too much going on, particularly with outdoor events. And yet it’s not the season when we can expect the best films or museum shows, which are typically reserved for the fall. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t standout events to be found.
On Wednesday I had a chance to share a few of my own recommendations for summer arts events in New England on New Hampshire Public Radio’s Word of Mouth. (It’s always a blast to work with the show’s host Virginia Prescott and producer Taylor Quimby.)
If you missed the segment, you can listen online here.
Here’s a look at the New England arts events that I’m most looking forward to this summer, along with a few suggestions I didn’t have time to mention on the show…
Ed Ruscha at the Rose Art Museum in Waltham, Massachusetts
The Rose had a firestorm of bad press back in 2009 when the former President Jehuda Reinharz announced plans to shut down the Rose and sell the collection in order to shore up Brandeis’ University’s plummeting endowment. The news enraged faculty, alumni and the art world. But the museum has a new president now and the Rose, luckily, has been preserved.
The museum is back with a vengeance showcasing the work of renowned pop artist Ed Ruscha, the first large-scale solo show of the artist’s work in the Boston area.
Ruscha is all about Southern California–cars, billboards, film, and Los Angeles. His best known work may be his artist books 26 Gasoline Stations and Every Building on the Sunset Strip, seminal works that inspired countless imitations.
Ruscha’s 1966 screenprint called Standard Station (shown above) is a pop art masterpiece. The artist is a genius of word play. “Standard” is not only a gas station, but also a mark of quality. Ruscha is also making reference to John D. Rockefeller’s oil company, Standard, which was dissolved by an antitrust ruling in 1911.
The Ed Ruscha show, also called Standard, contains 70 pieces and covers 60 years of the artist’s career. The exhibit ended up at Brandeis thanks to Christopher Bedford, the Rose Museum Director, who used to work at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where the Ruscha show originated.
You’ll need to act quickly though because Ruscha’s Standard is at Brandeis only through June 9th. Visit the Rose Art Museum website for more details.
Contemporary Chinese Art at the Brattleboro Museum and Mass MoCA
Liu Bolin at the Brattleboro Museum of Art in Vermont
This summer New Englanders have not one but two rare opportunities to see the work of two important Chinese artists, both working out of Beijing.
Photographer and performance artist Liu Bolin is sometimes called “The Invisible Man” because he creates photographs of himself blending into various settings around Beijing. Whether he is standing in front of demolished building, a piece of Chinese propaganda, or grocery store shelves lined with soft drinks, Liu (with the help of his assistant) finds creative ways to disguise his body with paint and other materials in order to make himself “invisible.”
In 2005 the Chinese government destroyed Suo Jia Cun, the artist village where Liu’s studio was located. In response Liu started the Hiding in the City series as a way of protesting artists’ troubled relationship with the government and their physical surroundings. Through his elaborate photographs, he embodies the role of the conflicted citizen in a country torn between tradition and “progress,” communal interests and individual freedom.
Liu is an important Chinese artist and it’s a rare event to have his work at the Brattleboro Museum in Vermont through June 23rd.
Also, on Sunday May 26th at 3 p.m. Taliesin Thomas, director of AW Asia, will discuss the emergence and evolution of Chinese contemporary art from the end of the Cultural Revolution to the present day. More information about the talk is available on the Brattleboro Museum website.
Xu Bing at Mass MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts
On view at Mass MoCA through October 31st is a selection of work by Chinese artist Xu Bing, including two 100-foot, 20-ton Phoenix sculptures made of demolition and building debris from Beijing. This is the first time the work has been seen in the U.S.
The installation was originally commissioned for the glass atrium connecting the two towers of Cesar Pelli’s World Financial Center in Beijing, but the installation raised a lot of loaded questions about Chinese labor and the destruction of old neighborhoods in favor of what is jokingly called tofu construction in China.
Xu explained the origin of the piece in an interview for The New Yorker: “I went to a construction site and I was shocked. China has so many modern buildings, but you can’t imagine how poor the working conditions and primitive living situations were. I think there is a huge contrast. That was when I decided to use waste materials. I wanted to use the waste materials from the building construction to create a piece of work that hangs inside the building itself. I thought that could have meaning, because this new building was extravagant. As I saw it, using garbage and construction waste to make a piece of work would make the building look even more extravagant. They complement each other. The material would make the building look grander, and this grandeur would make the phoenixes look even rougher and more authentic.”
Because of the political message, the Chinese government wasn’t so keen on having this sculpture on display at the WFC, and as a result Phoenix was left without a home. Fortunately, we can now see the installation here in Massachusetts along with other works by Xu, including 1st Class, a faux tiger-skin made of half a million cigarettes.
For more information about the Xu Bing exhibit, visit the Mass MoCA website.
Tom Phillips and Johnny Carrera at Mass MoCA
I was very sorry that I didn’t have time to mention this show on NHPR, because I’m a huge fan of Tom Phillips.
I’ve written about Phillips’s artist book masterpiece A Humument before in my post on Mary Ruefle and erasure poetry, a tradition of poetry and visual art that makes new work out of existing texts.
Tom Phillips is an English artist, but also a musician, and was actually Brian Eno’s teacher back in the day. In 1966 he bought the 1892 Victorian novel A Human Document for 30 pence in a South London junk shop and used it to create an entirely new series of works by altering every single page of the 367-page book through painting and collage.
A Humument is now one of the best known and most highly regarded of all 20th-century artists books and has inspired many other postmodern works like it. The first version was published in 1973 and Phillips has since created four revised editions. (I encourage you to buy a copy of this gorgeous work from Thames & Hudson at your local bookstore or online). But to see these works in their original form and displayed so beautifully at Mass MoCA is a rare opportunity. The museum has over 1,100 individual prints from Phillips’ A Humument, including the original untouched book alongside the first and fifth editions on display.
Johnny Carrera is best known for his 400-page alteration of the 1898 edition of The International Dictionary, a work that is very much in the tradition of Tom Phillips. Carrera’s art will also be featured in this Mass MoCA exhibit. Life’s Work is on view at Mass Moca through January 20th. You can also check out the fabulous Sol LeWitt wall drawings while you’re there. More information is available at the Mass MoCA website.
Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival
Mass MoCA is also welcoming back Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival this summer. Solid Sound is turning into a semi-regular, must-see event here in New England. It’s an off-beat mix of art, music, food, installations, and family activities. This year’s festival features Wilco, of course, and artists like Neko Case, Low, and a live performance of RadioLab. Also Yo La Tengo will be performing, and there will be a screening of Sam Green’s live film The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller with a live soundtrack by Yo La Tengo, which I’ve written about in depth here on Gwarlingo.
Wilco band members will create some of their own sound installations, and there will also be family activities like urban birding, birds of prey, guided star gazing, an environmental film series, and a “make-your-own musical instrument and jam session” for kids. This year they’re also throwing in demonstrations on home brewing, raising backyard chickens, and making hot sauce.
The festival runs Friday June 21st through Sunday the 23rd. This is a hot ticket though, and the tickets are selling out fast so you have to act quickly to get the remaining 3-day and 1-day passes. More information is available on the Solid Sound website.
The Thing in the Spring Festival in Peterborough, New Hampshire, & New Art by Anna Von Mertens
June 6th-9th the Thing in the Spring Festival will be returning to Peterborough, New Hampshire, for its 6th year. The festival is run by musician Eric Gagne and artist Mary Goldthwaite Gagne. This year’s festival features music by Sam Moss, Peter Broetzmann and Joe McPhee , 23 Quartet, Adeem, and more.
Performance and video artist Rachelle Beaudoin will return to the festival, and MacDowell Colony fellow Anna Von Mertens will be presenting her work throughout the weekend as stage installations for the Peterborough Town Hall concerts.
Von Mertens’s breathtaking quilts track the movement of the stars, ocean currents, and other natural phenomena, and have been shown at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the MFA in Boston, the Berkeley Art Museum, the deCordova Museum, and the Sara Meltzer Gallery, among others. (I also highly recommend Anna’s show at the Boston Center for the Arts, on view through June 16th. You can meet Von Mertens and see the show at the closing reception on Friday, June 14th. More details here.)
But the most anticipated event at Thing in the Spring may be the return of the popular affordable art fair *broke, which offers prints, collages, wearables, and other art all under $50. The multidisciplinary fair will be at the Peterborough Town Fall from 10-4 on Saturday, June 8th. Admission is Free.
You can buy tickets for the festival at the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough or at Brewbakers in Keene (weekend passes are also available in Keene). Or save yourself a drive and purchase your tickets online at the Thing in the Spring website.
Stephen Sondheim at The MacDowell Colony’s Medal Day in Peterborough, New Hampshire
Arts lovers come from far and wide to attend The MacDowell Colony’s annual open house each August. Medal Day is a rare chance for visitors to tour the grounds and gardens of the nation’s oldest artist retreat, to meet the artists in their studios, and to see the presentation of the Edward MacDowell Medal, a lifetime achievement award given to an artist who has had a major impact on his or her field.
This year’s medalist is Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the lyrics for West Side Story and the music for Sweeney Todd and Sunday in the Park with George. He’s the first artist to be given the medal in musical theater. Sondheim has won every major award in the book—an Oscar, 8 Tony Awards, 8 Grammys, a Pulitzer, and now he adds the MacDowell Medal to his trophy case.
Chairman of the Board Michael Chabon will also be on hand to give opening remarks at this year’s ceremony, and New York magazine Writer-at-Large Frank Rich will introduce Sondheim at the ceremony.
Medal Day attendees will also have an opportunity to tour the Colony’s new library, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. The architects have been in the news a lot recently because of the controversial new building for the Barnes Museum in Philadelphia and the recent outcry over MoMA’s announcement that it will demolish the designers’ decade-old American Folk Art Museum building in New York City in order to make way for yet another expansion.
Medal Day is free and happens on August 11, 2013. The ceremony takes place at 12:15 p.m. followed by a picnic lunch on the grounds at 1:15 p.m. (you may bring your own or reserve a lunch from the Colony here for $20). Open studios and self-directed tours of the grounds, gardens, and historic sites are from 2:00-5:00 p.m.. More information is available at the Colony’s website. Donors also have an opportunity to attend a special cocktail reception and dinner with the medalist, MacDowell artists, staff, and board members the night before the big event. You can make your contribution here.
The Monadnock Music Festival
Speaking of MacDowell Medalists…I’m also looking forward to hearing the work of the late Lou Harrison performed at the Monadnock Music festival on Saturday, July 27, 7:30 p.m. at the Peterborough Town House. We don’t often have a chance to hear Harrison’s work here in New Hampshire. Harrison drew on Eastern musical traditions and incorporates instruments like the gamelan, so be prepared for something compelling and very different. Harrison’s “Suite for Violin with American Gamelan” and La Koro Sutro for Mixed Chorus, 6 Percussion, Organ and Harp are on the program.
And if you haven’t ever attended one of the free community concerts Monadnock Music gives in churches and alternative space around Southern New Hampshire, I encourage you to give it a try. These concerts are a relaxing way to spend an afternoon, are free, and usually contain an interesting mix of contemporary and classical works.
Monadnock Music’s new season kicks off Sunday July 14th at 3 pm at the Peterborough Town House with male soprano (yes, MALE SOPRANO!!) Michael Maniaci performing Mozart. There will also be a special performance of Stephen Sondheim’s work on Saturday, August 10th at the Peterborough Town House in celebration of MacDowell’s Medal Day. You can access the full schedule and purchase tickets on the Monadnock Music website.
A Road Trip to the Hudson River Valley
Road trips are a perfect way to spend a summer weekend. I love choosing a destination, usually arts related, finding a new cafe or restaurant, and exploring the area.
I have two special spots in the Hudson River Valley to recommend to arts lovers…
The first is the Storm King Art Center, a 500-acre open air museum in Mountainville, New York. The unique sculpture park has work by 20th and 21st century artists like Isamu Noguchi, Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Louise Nevelson, and Andy Goldworthy. Storm King offers rental bikes, artist talks, special exhibits, and events for all ages. You can learn more at the Storm King website.
Also, if you love modern art, particularly the work of minimalist artists like Agnes Martin, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Fred Sandback, Richard Serra, and Robert Smithson, don’t miss Dia:Beacon on the Hudson River in Beacon, New York. The museum is housed in an old Nabisco box printing factory and is one of my favorite museums. Period. (If I lived closer, you’d probably find me there once a week.) The Dia Art Foundation has 240,000 square feet of space to showcase its collection, which is comprised of work from the 1960s to the present. There are also plenty of interesting shops, galleries, and restaurants in the town, so be sure to put Beacon on your summer to-do list. More information about the museum and its exhibits is available here.
An Update on the Gwarlingo Membership Drive
Thanks to all of the readers who have contributed to the Gwarlingo Membership Drive. Instead of selling out to advertisers, I’m “selling out” to my readers instead! 125+ Gwarlingo readers have contributed so far and $12,000 of the $15,000 goal has been raised. If you haven’t donated yet, you can check out my video and all of the member rewards, including some limited-edition artwork, here on the Gwarlingo site.
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