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Fall Arts Preview

10 visual feasts at New England museums this fall

Curtis Talwst Santiago, “What you doing? Just chilling with some friends,” 2017. Mixed-media diorama in Edwardian silver jewelry box. Collection of Molly Creamer, Philadelphia.Dirk Tacke/Curtis Talwst Santiago

MICKALENE THOMAS / PORTRAIT OF AN UNLIKELY SPACE Thomas, much-celebrated for her sparkly enamel paintings embedded with rhinestones, has always had the history of Black representation close at mind, and the scenes she depicts — aggressively sexualized, often menacing — speak to an intent of reclaiming the Black female figure from the exploitations of mainstream art history. In this show, Thomas assumes the role of curator as well as artist, assembling an array of small-scale portraits of Black Americans, from early-19th-century photography to contemporary works by such artists as Curtis Talwst Santiago and Sula Bermúdez-Silverman. Sept. 8-Jan. 7. Yale University Art Museum, 1111 Chapel St., New Haven. 203-432-0601,

BATS! It’s always Halloween in Salem, at least to some degree, but this exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum has less to do with the flying rodents’ vampire-adjacent characteristics than their important role as indicator species of healthy ecosystems (or, recently, the opposite). The show will include real, live bats (safely behind glass), and will explore the critters’ environmental, social, and cultural impacts through works by artists Resa Blatman, Michael Brolly, Nick Demakes, Juan Nicolás Elizalde, Steve Hollinger, Michael LaFosse and Richard L. Alexander, Tony Rubino, David Yann Robert, Rebecca Saylor Sack, Lino Tagliapietra, and Jeffrey Veregge. Sept. 9-July 28. Peabody Essex Museum. 161 Essex St., Salem. 978-745-9500,


OBJECTS OF ADDICTION: OPIUM, EMPIRE, AND THE CHINESE ART TRADE Spanning more than 200 years from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries, this exhibition explores the inexorable link between the vast wealth generated by the opium trade, the cultural exchange and riches that it made possible, and its devastating echoes that continue to reverberate with deafening force in the form of the opioid crisis today. Sept. 15-Jan. 14. Harvard Art Museums, 32 Quincy St., Cambridge. 617-495-9400,

Opium pipe, China, Qing dynasty to Republican period, inscribed with cyclical date corresponding to 1868 or 1928. Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum

FORECAST FORM: ART IN THE CARIBBEAN DIASPORA, 1990s–TODAY Amid the tumult of the 1990s — the dissolution of the Eastern bloc, transnational trade agreements, the internet — Caribbean society found itself in rapid transformation, like most everywhere on the planet. Folded into the upheaval was increased attention in the cultural world to fluid notions of identity, whether national, racial, or otherwise, and artists from the Carribbean, this exhibition suggests, were in the spotlight as never before. Calling itself the “first major group exhibition in the United States to envision a new approach to contemporary art in the Caribbean diaspora,” “Forecast Form” explores the mutability and uncertainty seeded in a fertile decade, still growing today. Oct 5-Feb 25. Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, 25 Harbor Shore Drive. 617-478-3100,


FRAGMENTS OF EPIC MEMORY More than 100 historical photographs from the period just after Emancipation from Britain on various Carribbean islands (1838) pair with works by contemporary Carribbean-descended artists that grapple with the legacies of colonialism, enslavement, and the region’s ongoing struggle to craft its own destiny amid a global culture and economy that regards it largely as a sunshine-filled tourist escape. Oct. 6-Jan. 7. Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square, Portland, Maine. 207-775-6148,

A still from Jeannette Ehlers's “Black Bullets,” 2012. Jeannette Ehlers

THIS MACHINE CREATES OPACITIES: ROBERT FULTON, RENÉE GREEN, PIERRE HUYGHE, AND POPE.L It’s the 60th anniversary of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard, and true to form, celebration comes with an intensely rigorous re-installation of four complex and compelling conceptual projects from its history. Speaking of rigor, four artists, Robert Fulton, Renée Green, Pierre Huyghe, and Pope.L, present film and video pieces focused on the center’s iconic Le Corbusier-designed concrete home; an elegant fortress of swooping gray, it holds the distinction of being the only building the Modernist master architect ever completed in the United States. Oct. 6-Dec. 22. Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University, 24 Quincy St., Cambridge. 617-496-5387,


FAITH RINGGOLD: FREEDOM TO SAY WHAT I PLEASE Sixty years into a career that came of age in the tumult of the Civil Rights Movement, Ringgold, now 93, might be more visible now than ever before. Pablo Picasso, her most profound influence and nemesis, is the touchstone here; her 1967 piece “American People Series #20: Die,” which was installed prominently alongside several Picassos for the 2019 reinstallation opening of the Museum of Modern Art, drew a parallel between the fascist aggression depicted in Picasso’s “Guernica” and the everyday violence Ringgold saw amid the struggle for civil rights. This show draws on Picasso again, using Ringgold’s “Picasso’s Studio,” 1991, as a fulcrum, pivoting into a tight survey of works in which the artist’s frank critique of American life, then and now, is as sharp as ever. Oct. 7-March 17. Worcester Art Museum, 55 Salisbury St., Worcester. 508-799-4406,

“Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast”, 1882–1883. By John Singer Sargent, at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

INVENTING ISABELLA Mild hagiography of its namesake is typically an at least marginal element in most of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s program; this fall, any facade drops. A full-throated celebration of its eccentric founder, “Inventing Isabella” isn’t mere hero worship, though it’s surely that: Through a wealth of images, objects, and articles of clothing, the museum sketches a broader portrait of a willfully enigmatic figure whose public persona was carefully crafted to mask her private self. Oct. 19-Jan. 15. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 25 Evans Way. 617-566-1401,


LIKE MAGIC A great irony of our moment is that, in this world of data-driven certainties, reality has become more difficult to define than ever; the tools fact-based science has given us have been torqued in realms like social media to ever more distorting effect. Seeking refuge in the hazy realm of spiritual concoction is as old as uncertainty itself, and this show’s 10 artists look for solace with such mystic tools as healing earth, witches’ brooms, divination, and, yes, AI, to name a few. Opening Oct. 29. Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, 1040 Mass MoCA Way, North Adams. 413-662-2111,

DAY ONE DNA: 50 YEARS IN HIPHOP CULTURE FROM THE PRIVATE COLLECTION OF ICE T & AFRIKA ISLAM The Cooper Gallery is set to mark this cultural milestone with a trove lent by one of the form’s early superstars, the rapper Ice T, and producer Afrika Islam. Comprising music, dance, and visual art, hip-hop might be the most penetrating, popular, and market-dominating cultural force in the world today — or hadn’t you heard breakdancing is now an Olympic sport? A look at its roots and indomitable spirit of defiance is an essential element of any examination of American culture. Nov. 3-May 31. The Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African and African American Art, Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University, 102 Mount Auburn St., Cambridge. 617-496-5777,


Murray Whyte can be reached at Follow him @TheMurrayWhyte.