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Portraiture has long been considered an objective representation of the sitter, a truthful “likeness”—whether emotional or physical—that captures the essence of the subject. However, this exhibition, drawn from DeCordova’s Permanent Collection, challenges our conventional understanding of portraiture by asking us to reevaluate the complexity of the genre and, by extension, representation itself.
The adjacent diptych, Two Man Show/Three Women by Dick Lebowitz and Tom Young, served as an inspiration for this exhibition. Young and Lebowitz place the photographer in the composition, revealing the artistic process and unhinging the conception of portraiture as an objective record. Even the title of the work suggests that the artist is just as much a part of the portrait as the sitter.
Two Man Show demonstrates only one of the many methods artists in the exhibition employ to challenge our common conceptions about portraiture. In Untitled, Contact Sheet Self-Portrait, Karl Baden violates the singular “I” by physically fragmenting his own body. Multiple mouths and eyes suggest that the human subject is a composite rather than a finite whole. Other images in the exhibition focus on figures dressed in various guises, highlighting the constructed nature of identity. Some hardly seem to be portraits, in the traditional sense, at all.
Together these various strategies challenge our preconceptions about portraiture and raise the question of whether a portrait can exist independently from the specifics of time and place. The images in the exhibition bring us face-to-face with our own multiplicity and identity negotiations to ultimately expose the limits of portraiture and representation.
Face to Face was organized by Koch Curatorial Fellow Nina Gara Bozicnik.
Drawn to Detail features a variety of contemporary drawings with a very particular focus. This exhibition displays the work of 26 American artists who explore extreme attention to detail, obsessive mark-making, repetition, patterning, laborious process, all-over intricate design, and horror vacui (fear of empty space). These artists draw with extreme attention to detail as a reaction to today’s hectic lifestyle and technological advancements, and also because of their desire to make sense of the changing world around them. In addition to traditional mediums of graphite, charcoal, and pen and ink, these artists also work with materials such as string, tape and smoke, and practices adopted from the world of craft.
In today’s fast-paced, digital world, we rarely have time for detail. Attention deficit disorders prevail, while advertisers feed on our need to multitask and to find timesaving shortcuts wherever we can. The artists in this exhibition add detail, work with a detailed visual vocabulary, or even detail the passage of time by listing and recording the particulars of events. They can render an abstraction or a recognizable image, sometimes so small that the viewer needs a magnifying glass to decipher it. Artists like Julie Mehretu, whose work derives from sources as wide-ranging as architectural and city plans to weather maps, make individual marks which seem to disappear into “the larger context of the whole” as the viewer moves back from the image.
The extreme detail found throughout the works in this exhibition suggests that much of it is a result of careful planning. Yet many of these drawings in fact develop organically, each line a response to the last. Slowly building an image out of tiny dots, lines, cuts, and repetitive marks can becomes a form of meditation for some artists. Some artists use a strategy descended from conceptual art – that of creating a set of rules that determine the outcome of the work. For example, artist Tom Friedman, creases a piece of paper and then draws lines on all the creases, creating order out of chaos and chaos out of order.
The intense labor of these artists results in the complete entrancement of the viewer. We are attracted to these images because they require close scrutiny. When the drawing fills our vision we get lost in the enveloping detail, finding that the miniscule can be as overwhelming as the colossal. This experience makes us rethink how we relate to the world. It is reassuring to know that there are those who do stop and examine things with care, who value the direct mark of the hand, and who find a meditative calm in slowing down.
The exhibition features artists: Alice Attie, Astrid Bowlby, Jim Dingilian, Jacob El Hanani, Dave Eppley, Tom Friedman, Darina Karpov, Laura Kim, Ricardo Lanzarini, Martha Lewis, Cynthia Lin, Marco Maggi, Louise Marshall, Jane Masters, Julie Mehretu, Tadashi Moriyama, Mary O’Malley, Carol Prusa, Jessica Deane Rosner, Andrea Sulzer, Kako Ueda, Julia von Eichel, Rachel Perry Welty, David Omar White, Martin Wilner, and Daniel Zeller.
Drawn to Detail is accompanied by a 48-page catalogue. Funding for the exhibition and publication has been generously provided by Joyce and Edward Linde, Erica and Robert Mason, Melissa S. Meyer, Anthony and Beth Terrana, Penny and Jeff Vinik, and one anonymous member of the Museum’s Collections and Exhibitions Committee.
This exhibition is organized by Director of Curatorial Affairs Rachel Rosenfield Lafo and Koch Curatorial Fellows Kate Dempsey and Nina Bozicnik.
Stacey Steers: Phantom Canyon is a 2006 animated film that explores a woman’s fantastical journey through memories. Artist Stacey Steers is “interested in creative engagement with reality through the medium of memory, both as a social force involving shared symbols and artifacts and as an investigation of [my] own personal experience.” Composed of over 4000 handmade collages (or about eight for every second of animation), the film’s surrealist imagery is a mixture of 18th and 19th century engravings and Eadweard Muybridge’s human and animal locomotion photographs. Approximately 50 of Steer’s collages used in the production of Phantom Canyon will also be on view in the Media Space.
This exhibition has been organized by Director of Curatorial Affairs Rachel Rosenfield Lafo.
Laylah Ali: Notes/Drawings/Untitled Afflictions exhibits a new group of drawings by this critically acclaimed artist. Over the past decade, Laylah Ali has gained international recognition for her ability to condense complex, socio-political commentary into deceptively simple imagery. Her signature combination of jarring narratives and graphic visual style are best known through her “Greenheads” series, first featured in The 1999 DeCordova Annual Exhibition. Her jarring combination of humor and violence, in both form and content, cultivates what she describes as a “highly specific ambiguity.”
While language has always been at the heart of Ali’s investigations – in its cultural limitations and misinterpretations – she has just recently incorporated it into her drawings. Notes/Drawings/Untitled Afflictions marks the inaugural museum presentation of Ali’s newest body of work.
The notes are a compilation of random thoughts, overheard conversations, and snippets from newspapers, radio, and other media outlets. Ali carefully organizes these “found” texts in brief vignettes that are almost poetic in their attention to rhythm and syntax. The artist’s characteristically ambiguous characters are drawn over and under the notes. They too are cobbled together—dressed in masks, wigs, and costumes that confuse rather than clarify their sexual and racial identities.
In both word and image, Ali questions the conventions of our society by complicating its visual and linguistic symbols. In her art, meaning is never fixed. Exactly what her characters are doing, or why, is never made clear. Language, too, is slippery. Like imagery, it relies heavily on convention and context. All representation, she seems to say, is limited, unstable, and wholly unable to express truth. Bearing unexpected combinations of clothing, skin color, and hair, Ali’s characters subvert and question conventional visual markers of identity.
Laylah Ali lives and works in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and is an Associate Professor of Art at Williams College. Her work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; and DeCordova Museum, among others, and was exhibited at the 2003 Venice Biennale and the 2004 Whitney Biennial. She was a featured artist in the PBS series Art: 21—Art in the Twenty-First Century, broadcast in 2005.
This exhibition will be accompanied by a brochure and 80-page catalogue with additional text by poet Kevin Young. The catalogue will be available in mid-late October. Funding and support for Notes/Drawings/Untitled Afflictions has been generously provided by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, the Robert E. Davoli and Eileen L. McDonagh Charitable Foundation, James and Audrey Foster, Steven Rogowski, Anthony and Beth Terrana, and the Miller Block Gallery, Boston, MA.
This exhibition has been organized by Assistant Curator Dina Deitsch.
Zea Mays Printmaking: The Nature of Things features fifteen prints from the portfolio The Nature of Things, produced by the Zea Mays Printmaking studio in Northampton , Massachusetts . Zea Mays Printmaking specializes in non-toxic, environmentally safe printmaking materials and methods. In recognition of Zea Mays’s importance to the region, the DeCordova Museum acquired the studio’s commemorative portfolio with funds provided by Miriam H. Jagger.
The exhibition features artists: Meredith Broberg, Tanja Butler, Liz Chaflin, Brian D. Cohen, Martha J. Ebner, Anita S. Hunt, Louise Kohrman, Bobette McCarthy, Theresa Monaco, Lynn Peterfreund, Amaryllis Siniossoglou, Allison Williams, Carrie St. John William, Diane Worth, and Mark Zunino.
Since 2000, the Zea Mays Printmaking studio in Northampton , Massachusetts , has been searching for ways to create artwork – in a medium known for its reliance on toxic chemicals – in an ecologically sustainable way. The studio researches environmentally safe printmaking materials and methods and functions as a workshop and education center for the greater artistic community.
This exhibition has been organized by Director of Curatorial Affairs Rachel Rosenfield Lafo.
By combining domestic and industrial imagery and objects, Cal Lane breaks down function by exposing visual patterns. Lane applies decorative patterns such as lace to objects designed solely for function, such as steel I-beams, oil drums, wheelbarrows, shovels, and dumpsters. These masculine utilitarian objects are thus feminized and transformed from their original use to become beautiful objects often charged with politically meaning.
Cal Lane’s unique background as both a hairdresser and an industrial welder has informed her practice as a contemporary artist. She creates sculptures that are equally ornamental and tough. Using a plasma cutter or an oxy-acetylene torch, she incises intricate decorative patterns and designs into industrial cast-offs. By juxtaposing the domestic with the industrial, she subverts the original function of the steel object, and adopts a feminist strategy from the 1970s that validates domestic craft as a fine art.
For Cal Lane: Crude, Lane patterns I-beams, an oil tank, and oil drums stacked to construct a column. These heavy, rusty metal objects are transformed into transparent, delicate sculptures that reference maps, medieval tapestries, and architectural ornamentation. The title for the installation, Crude, not only refers to the original uses of the drums and tank but also comments on the consequences of our dependence on oil. The seductiveness of the artist’s sculpture is a foil to their political connotations.
The installation of Cal Lane: Crude is supported by the Nathaniel Saltonstall Arts Fund. Director of Curatorial Affairs Rachel Rosenfield Lafo organized this exhibition.