After dark, artist Kara Fall wanders the streets of Cambridge and picks up odds and ends that catch his eye — buttons, Popsicle sticks, scraps of leather. He takes them back to his studio and crafts them into dense, alluring assemblages that broadcast gravity and joy.
Fall, Senegalese-born and self-taught, maintains studios in Cambridge and Dakar. His show at the Chandler Gallery at Maud Morgan Arts, “Deeki: Cambridge Nights,” borrows a word from the West African language Wolof — “deeki” means “to give new life.” His sculptures revivify objects that have been consigned to the gutter. They’re not simply about reclaiming trash, like so many earnest and wearying art objects about recycling. They’re too well designed, too attuned to textures, too layered with cues about culture and life.
“Le Collier de L’Enseignement (The Chain of Teaching)” looks like a shield — a great, round panel, ringed with brown and red. A smaller brown disk with a knob hovers near the top, with sticks wrapped in tape and twine fanning below. Most intriguingly, Fall has placed Scrabble tiles, along with buttons and dots of white paint, throughout the piece. The constellation of letters, ornaments, and bright dabs reads like a chorus of knowledge and possibility.
Fall appears to blithely use whatever materials are at hand. “Buste (Torso)” is built from a stub of a log with three protrusions like a neck and two arms, although they don’t quite match human proportions. It sits upon an old vinyl LP. The artist has stapled white cotton over it, topped the protrusions with colorful scarves and a hat, and crisscrossed the chest with a dapper silk tie. Metal jewelry is strung here and there. It’s a strident piece — fashionista meets martinet — yet the humble materials make it charming.
His paintings are rhythmic, and exuberant. “Une Famille Malienne a Mopti” melds pulsating pattern with family portrait. The subjects’ football-shaped heads and willowy necks emerge from strong bands of yellow and red, with eyes and mouths appearing almost randomly among grids and diamonds. The paintings, for all their brightness, don’t have quite the intrigue of the sculptures, which are so cleverly layered with odd items that each tells its own bracing, peculiar story.
Marking time in the present
“OccupyING the Present,” an outdoor, site-specific sculpture show at the Boston Harbor Shipyard and Marina, takes transience as its theme, and with that, perhaps it aspires to thrust us into the present moment.
The shipyard is a great place for lovers of 3-D art to explore. HarborArts, the presenter of “OccupyING the Present,” has in recent years turned the area into a public art park, with more than 25 installations. Artist Steve Israel, HarborArts founder, crafted a 40-foot-long metal cod that sits atop one of the buildings, and other giant sea fauna sculptures loom here and there, quite captivatingly.
Comparatively, “OccupyING the Present” feels like a wisp on the breeze, and on a not very breezy day, at that. Small pieces made of fluttering plastic just can’t compete — not only with the more permanent sculptures, but with the visual drama of the shipyard itself, with its stanchions, its giant coils of rope, its piers, docks, and ramps.
Nor do the ideas that drive the pieces such as Barbara Vogelsang’s plastic palm trees in “Global Warming Arrives in Boston” and Kerri Schmidt’s mess of steel and plastic bags, “From the Plastic Planet Series,” seem all that deep or nuanced. In fact, much of the work in this show falls under the earnest and wearying category of art about recycling.
A couple of pieces hold their own. Nora Valdez’s “Still Waiting,” a partial torso carved from limestone crouched along a dock, seems poignant and adrift, despite its solid materiality. And Gail Jerauld Bos’s “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: The Children’s Chairs Project” uses small, brightly painted chair sculptures as building blocks for larger pieces. They suggest innocence and, like Valdez’s piece, waiting. Funny that the strongest works in a show about the fleeting present evoke marking time, rather than its quick passage.
Showing promise at launch
“Fresh: New MFA Grads” at the Bromfield Gallery features the work of three artists recently launched from local art schools. They’re all promising. Case
Hathaway-Zepada’s three-part video investigation of grief wasn’t completely up and running when I was there, but “Indelible,” a two-channel video featuring a man and a woman underwater, expressively conveyed the submerged feeling
Karmimadeebora McMillan’s dense, jangly, colorful painting “It’s Like a Jungle,” plays with fractured space, patterns, and iconic imagery — such as at the center, two silhouettes of a woman with an afro, like a Pam Grier character from a blaxpoitation flick, pointing guns at one another. Alexander Squier uses spare screenprints to examine urban decay and progress.
The second show at Bromfield marries painter Steven Bogart’s biomorphic abstractions with the songs of Mali Sastri. Sastri’s songs have a refreshing pop-folk sound, but if you’ve got to pair music with abstract paintings, stick to instrumentals. Lyrics assign a story to the paintings’ moods, and severely limit the viewer’s experience.
OccupyING the Present
At: Boston Harbor Shipyard and Marina, 256 Marginal St., East Boston, through Sept. 22. 617-568-0000, www.harborarts.org
Fresh:New MFA Grads
and Mali Sastri:
Ten Paintings Ten Songs
At: Bromfield Gallery,
450 Harrison Ave., through Aug. 24. 617-451-3605, www.bromfieldgallery.com
Cate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com.