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Museums Special

Ten shows to see at New England museums this fall

“Pacific Blue” by Toshiko Takaezu, 1980s, porcelain, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


TOSHIKO TAKAEZU: SHAPING ABSTRACTION Takaezu, born in 1922 in Hawaii to parents of Japanese ancestry, made spectacularly expressive abstract paintings and textiles (she died in 2011). But her ceramic work is perhaps her most lasting legacy. At the MFA, a selection of ceramic pieces are complemented by her work in other media, paying tribute to her pioneering formal innovations and broadening the story of the roots of American abstraction beyond the Abstract Expressionist cohort of painters, many of whom were her contemporaries. Through Sept. 29. Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 465 Huntington Ave. 617-267-9300,

DIALOGUES, DIASPORAS, AND DETOURS THROUGH AFRICA This exhibition comes out of the museum’s Black Art Residency, created by a partnership between the museum and the Boston-based artist-collective WHERE ARE ALL THE BLACK PEOPLE AT (WAATBPA), and is the product of seven artists’ deep, yearlong dive into the museum’s archives and collections. For the project, Archy LaSalle, George Annan, bashexo, Digi Chivetta, Sharon Dunn, Reginald Jackson, and Lou Jones each chose an object from the museum’s African holdings, and crafted a response to share gallery space alongside it. Through Jan. 14. Fitchburg Art Museum, 185 Elm St., Fitchburg. 978-345-4207,

DIGITAL IRIDESCENCE: JELL-O IN NEW MEDIA Invented in 1897, Jell-o, with all its rubbery, sugary, quivery, animal carcass-derived weirdness, has been delighting children — and vexing parents — for more than a century. I would never have guessed an exhibition based on its cultural import would be possible, but here we are: At the Museum of Fine Arts, a show of video works by five artists uses its slippery, gelatinous properties “to consider the sanctified social constructs of health, beauty, consumption, metamorphosis, performance, and ritual.” Oct. 28-March 24. Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 465 Huntington Ave. 617-267-9300,


Gelare Khoshgozaran, "U.S. Customs Demands to Know," 2013-ongoing. LED lit packages (corrugated plastic), dimensions variable. Gelare Khoshgozaran/Karen Asher

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 significant 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 break dancing (or breaking) 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,


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, and the sophisticated tools given to us by science -- by definition, fact-based -- 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,



POPE.L: SMALL CUP A legendary performance artist known for inserting himself unceremoniously in the public sphere — a well-known series had him literally crawl on elbows and knees through the streets of Manhattan — Pope.L has described himself as “a fisherman of social absurdity.” That absurdity has often been the raw material of a strident critique of racial inequity in the US, and has recently made him more visible and relevant than ever: In 2019, New York’s Museum of Modern Art mounted a survey of more than 20 years of his work; concurrently, the Whitney Museum of American Art installed a massive new work, “Choir,” an industrial water tank installed amid a soundscape that evoked Black Americans’ being denied basic access to clean drinking water. “Small Cup,” a homecoming of sorts — the artist was a lecturer at Bates College in nearby Lewiston from 1992 to 2010; he’s now faculty at the University of Chicago — is very much of a piece. In the video of the live 2008 performance, a herd of goats demolishes a small-scale replica of the US Capitol building, an eerie resonance that these days cuts close to the bone. Through Feb. 4. Farnsworth Art Museum, 16 Museum St., Rockland, Maine. 207-596-6457,

“Mountain Lake in Autumn”, by Susie M. Barstow, 1873, oil on canvas, 20 x 30 inches, private collection.Hawthorne Fine Art, New York, NY



A selection of works from the museum’s collection are arrayed within the cozy confines of a gallery furnished as an inviting space for contemplation. Predicated on the notion of illuminating the many ways in which place matters to the human experience,” it’s a small display that serves as an outward emblem of the museum’s reimagined mission of diversity and inclusion with its “Fleming Reimagined” The initiativeserves as a wholesale critical analysis of its collection and practice; among its priorities is transparency around the acquisition of Indigenous objects plucked from their home communities and, historically, put on largely context-free display. Through Dec. 8. Fleming Museum of Art, University of Vermont. 61 Colchester Ave., Burlington, Vt.. 802-656-0750,



WOMEN REFRAME THE AMERICAN LANDSCAPE On view through the end of the month at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, N.Y., this exhibition moves to the New Britain Museum of American Art for the winter with a little more room to breathe. It’s centered on the first-ever solo display of 19th-century American painter Susie M. Barstow, a contemporary and peer of Hudson River School artists Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Church. The exhibition unearths Barstow’s career, significant in her time, but largely disregarded by scholarly practice after her death, and pairs it with a display of 13 contemporary American women artists: Teresita Fernández, Guerrilla Girls, Marie Lorenz, Tanya Marcuse, Mary Mattingly, Ebony G. Patterson, Anna Plesset, Wendy Red Star, Jean Shin, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Cecilia Vicuña, Kay WalkingStick, and Saya Woolfalk. Nov. 18-March 31. New Britain Museum of American Art, 56 Lexington St., New Britain, Conn. 860-229-0257,

“Psyche Carried to the Mountain” French, Paris, unidentified workshop, c. 1660. Wool, silk, gold thread; 119 x 215 in. Gift of Mrs. N. Clarkson Earl. - (Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art)Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

TALES TO TELL: THE STORY OF THE PSYCHE TAPESTRIES AT THE WADSWORTH ATHENEUM A set of five rare 17th-century tapestries from France unfurl the story of Psyche, the Greek goddess of the soul, who attained immortality from the goddess Aphrodite after completing a series of near-impossible tasks she demanded of her, freeing Psyche to marry her lovestruck son, Eros. Tapestries, woven on looms from painted images, are the product of rare and refined craft; they were made in only a handful of European workshops to adorn the homes of monarchs and their elite associates. A chance to see five of an almost complete narrative cycle (the series originally comprised six) is an opportunity just as rare. Nov. 17-Jan. 7. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 600 Main St., Hartford. 860-278-2670,



DINÉ TEXTILES: NIZHÓNÍGO HADADÍT’EH The Rhode Island School of Design Museum is a trove of impressive historical collections and progressive thought; this exhibition is a great example of how deftly it merges those two elements with an exhibition of 20 textile pieces that span more than 150 years of Diné (Navajo) aesthetics and utility, right up to contemporary works. Through Sept. 29. 20 North Main St., Providence. 401-454-6500,

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Murray Whyte can be reached at Follow him @TheMurrayWhyte.