Contemporary art is growing more conceptual, more 3-D, and more virtual, but in the midst of it all, painting holds its own. It’s the most expressive medium, full of light, color, and the sweep or concision of the artist’s hand. Meanwhile, alternative spaces are making a comeback (Lincoln Arts Project, Lot F Gallery, and more), and performance art is experiencing a rebirth in these parts, as galleries such as Anthony Greaney, Samson, and Proof invite young performance artists to strut their stuff, and others take to the streets and the waterways. Here are some of my highlights of the year, in no particular order:
In May, Heidi Kayser anchored a raft in Fort Point Channel and undertook “The Remodeling Project,’’ a monthlong series of performances as part of Fort Point Art Community’s Floating Art Series. She regularly kayaked out to the raft to change the setup there — into an office space, a front yard, or whatever came to mind. Each visit to the raft, with its attendant chores, was a performance. A terrific public art project, it engaged passersby while posing questions about personal space.
Another performance artist, Derrick Adams, in “The World According to Derrick: Performative Objects in Formation” at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Mills Gallery, showcased his videos and sculptures in an exhibit curated by Nuit Banai. Many of Adams’s works exposed and played with stereotypes about black masculinity, and others used iconic American imagery to deconstruct tired, if persistent, assumptions. If that sounds earnest and scolding, it wasn’t — Adams’s vision is funny, and tinged with sweetness.
For the utterly weird, Josh Mannis’s video “Zeal for the Law” at Anthony Greaney couldn’t be topped. In it, Mannis, a portly guy in a blond wig, gold chain, and white mask, gyrates to a wild drumbeat. At first he’s alone, but then there are two or more of him, and the repetitive image has almost neural effects. Mannis is something of a trickster and a shaman, perpetrating visions upon the viewer through rhythm, hallucination, and his wily and blatant otherness.
The late Boston Expressionist Hyman Bloom had a revelatory show at Alpha Gallery. Bloom, who died in 2009 at 96, was a forceful painter who grappled with faith in the face of suffering. His works here, dating from the 1940s until his death, were mythic, dark, and exuberant. The jittery energy and opulent tones in “Leg on Table,” depicting a decomposing limb, expressed the vitality of decay. Bloom was a powerhouse who spent most of his career in obscurity. This was his first gallery show in years. He deserves more.
Gallery NAGA had two exhibits in a similar vein. Painters Henry Schwartz,
who also died in 2009, at 81, and Gregory Gillespie, who died in 2000 at 64, could both be considered second-generation Boston Expressionists (granted, Gillespie lived in the Pioneer Valley). Like Bloom, they made emotionally fervent, painterly work.
Schwartz’s diptych “Untitled (self-portrait with muses)” was the jewel of his show. It depicted a schoolboy contemplating a row of towering nude women, gray-skinned with protruding ribs, but also possessing large breasts and pronounced curves, which married sex and death in the same harrowing image. Gillespie, like Bloom, displayed a probing spirituality in paintings that were technically and chromatically brilliant, but often brooding and occasionally monstrous.
For his exhibit at Steven Zevitas Gallery, Peter Opheim painted figures he had built out of clay. The large-scale paintings made something cute and toy-like confrontational and strange, articulated in loose, sometimes aggressive strokes. Opheim set some of his blobby people in pairs and groups, suggesting sex and other activities, unnervingly blending themes of childhood and adulthood.
Steve Locke, who will have a solo show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in 2013, offered a sneak peak with his subversive and funny paintings at Samson. Locke has for a long time made luscious paintings of men who seemingly resist the viewer’s gaze — they stick their tongues out, they close their eyes. In this show, he further activated that perceived interchange by mounting his paintings on poles jutting up from the floor, a move that co-opts a trend toward making painting more sculptural. Not coincidentally, Locke will have work in the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum’s show opening next month, “PAINT THINGS: beyond the stretcher.”
“Simpatico,” a sharp and delectable group exhibit put together by director and chief curator Kate McNamara at Boston University Art Gallery at the Stone Gallery, spotlighted contemporary abstract painters who revel in the materiality of paint. They were all women, appropriating action painting, a movement mostly associated with men, and brought an unabashed and lighthearted spirit to it, throwing on the glitter and the neon rainbows.
The highlight of conceptual artist Annette Lemieux’s exhibit, “Unfinished Business,” at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University was the installation “Things to walk away with,” an array of found objects, set on the floor in rows according to height, in a formation akin to the Latin cross layout of Chartres Cathedral. These included a flattened earmuff box, helmets, and cloven hooves made into candleholders. Together, these objects accrued meaning, and seemed to move toward epiphany, all of which was yours to ascribe.
Finally, “Edifice Amiss: Constructing New Perpectives,” organized at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design by Lisa Tung, director of curatorial programs, was a bracing and beautiful show that woke viewers up to how we experience space, from the ethereal architecture of David Henderson’s work to the elemental geometry of Esther Stocker’s, and including Lead Pencil Studio’s playful, intricately detailed re-creation of a city street, all in blank-faced wood.
HEIDI KAYSER The Remodeling Project
At: Fort Point Channel, part of Fort Point Art Community’s Floating Art Series
DERRICK ADAMS The World According to Derrick: Performative Objects in Formation
At: Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts
JOSH MANNIS Zeal for the Law
At: Anthony Greaney
At: Alpha Gallery
HENRY SCHWARTZ Unexhibited Paintings and
GREGORY GILLESPIE Transfixed: Selected Works 1995-2000
At: Gallery NAGA
PETER OPHEIM Forest
At: Steven Zevitas Gallery
STEVE LOCKE You don’t deserve me
At: Boston University Art Gallery at the Stone Gallery
ANNETTE LEMIEUX Unfinished Business
At: Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University
Edifice Amiss: Constructing New Perspectives
At: Stephen D. Paine Gallery, Massachusetts College of Art and Design
Cate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.