For decades, Boston was a backwater when it came to contemporary art. Now, however, some local museums are beefing up their collections of 21st-century works and others are staging more ambitious exhibits. What makes art contemporary? It’s not simply a matter of timing. Today’s art reflects today’s society. Here are 10 of the best new works on view in these parts this summer.
Photograph from the artist and Steven Zevitas Gallery
DILUVIAL: By Cristi Rinklin, at the Currier Museum of Art Manchester, New Hampshire, through September 9, currier.org
Rinklin, a Boston painter, has covered floor-to-ceiling windows and adjoining walls with a translucent installation inspired by the Currier’s 19th-century American landscapes. She combines painting with digital techniques in a work that draws on the tools of visual storytelling over the centuries, addressing depth and surface, representation and abstraction, paint and pixels.
photograph from the artist and bortolami gallery, New York (photograph by staff)
JUNGLE HEADACHE: By Gary Webb, “Mr. Jeans” exhibition at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, through August 12, decordova.org
This British sculptor is a virtuoso with materials, giddily crafting works from anything he can get his hands on — steel, brick, fabrics, spray paint, mirrors — to fashion snazzy objects that look like big toys. He draws on furniture design and the glitz of retail displays, but also taps Modernist abstraction. His sculptures are dense with associations, but come across as objects of pure whimsy.
photograph from the artist, by stewart clements
EMPIRE 2009-2012: By Steve Locke, “You Don’t Deserve Me” exhibition at Samson Gallery, Boston, through July 21, samsonprojects.com
Locke, a Boston artist, examines the complexity of desire, painting men who respond to the viewer’s gaze, often by sticking their tongues out. Now he raises the stakes, entering a new realm: Placing his paintings on poles, the artist marries painting with sculpture and installation. That ratchets up the perceived response of his subjects to the viewer. And vice versa.
photograph by Erik Gould from Rhode Island School of Design museum of art
“NAVIGATING THE PERSONAL BUBBLE” (installation view): By Wendy Richmond at the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, through November 4, risdmuseum.org
As technology evolves, artists grapple with our new tools and toys and their implications in society. Richmond’s three-channel video installation surrounds viewers with people working on laptops in cafes and libraries; the footage was taped by their computers’ cameras. These people are out in the world, making their own privacy.
photograph from the artist, by todd-white art photography, london
ISLAND UNIVERSE: By Josiah McElheny, “Some Pictures of the Infinite” exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Friday through October 14, icaboston.org
As life grows increasingly virtual, many artists turn to handcraft to keep a grip on the tangible. Boston-born McElheny is a stellar glass blower, but his work doesn’t rest on the sheer beauty of his medium. This conceptual artist deploys transparency, mirrors, and the gleam of glass to contemplate astronomy, philosophy, infinity, history, and the churning passage of time.
photograph from gonkar gyatso & Beyer projects
RADIOACTIVE: By Gonkar Gyatso, “Seeking Shambhala” exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, through October 21, mfa.org
Just as Buddhists strive to dissolve dualities, contemporary art often melds polar opposites. This Tibetan artist performs a mash-up of highbrow and lowbrow, spiritual and commercial, detached and grasping. He has covered his cast-resin Buddha with garish decals — hearts, information about condoms, and, at his third eye (beware!), the symbol for radioactivity.
photograph from paula cooper gallery, new york, and Rhode Island School of Design Museum of art
SIGNAL: By Dan Walsh, “UnCommon Ground” exhibition at the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, through October 21, risdmuseum.org
For centuries, artists strove to portray space and volume expertly. These days, they aim to bollix up expectations. Walsh’s paintings blend minimalist grids with a handmade aesthetic and luminous tones. He hangs them in relation to lines of black tape on the wall, toying with viewers’ perceptions of the museum’s space.
photograph by A. Elizabeth Berg
CANADA DE FANTAISIE: By BGL (Jasmin Bilodeau, Sebastien Giguere, and Nicolas Laverdiere), “Oh, Canada” exhibition at Mass MoCA, North Adams, through April 1, massmoca.org
“Do it yourself” may seem inherent to making art, but the DIY viewpoint is hot these days, and this scrappy self-propelled carousel fits the bill. Pulled together out of old, rusted temporary barricades, it looks like something your kids might try to erect in the backyard — except it’s bigger and better executed. It has another contemporary edge: interactivity. Adults are as eager to play as children.
BIKING IN BERLIN #37: By Nancy Murphy Spicer, “Biking in Berlin” exhibition at Carroll and Sons gallery, Boston, July 4 through September 1, carrollandsons.net
Blame it on the GPS. As artists attempt to preserve a part of the brain that may become vestigial, mapping in art has burgeoned. Murphy Spicer’s lyrical works on pages from a guidebook trace her travels by bike around Berlin. Her responses to the terrain sport big blocks of color, with collaged bits and cutouts adding texture to the abstracted cityscapes.
photograph by evan richman
AXIOM #3: TERRITORY: By Francois de Costerd and Todd Antonellis, “Art on the Marquee” exhibition at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, ongoing, artonthemarquee.com
When it comes to public art, Boston still lags. Here’s an exception, in a fast-growing frontier for public art: video. The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority’s 80-foot-tall, seven-screen marquee is showing multiple videos by local artists, curated by Boston Cyberarts. The videos, crafted to the marquee’s odd shape, are short and silent, smart and funny, and range from animation to meditations on landscape.