fb-pixel Skip to main content
Art Review

Delights on view in Danforth Art Museum’s graceful new space

Among Lois Tarlow’s “Caged” is part of the “Material Vocabulary” exhibit.
Among Lois Tarlow’s “Caged” is part of the “Material Vocabulary” exhibit.Danforth Art Museum

FRAMINGHAM — The Danforth Art Museum’s new space at Framingham State University is tailor-made to show and stow art. That’s a big step up from its old home, a former school that was creaky and stubborn. Boiler issues forced the museum out of that city-owned venue in 2016.

The new museum opened in April, thanks to the efforts of executive director Debra Petke ina new partnership with Framingham State University. It’s on the second floor of a building on the town green. The museum’s art school is upstairs; the university’s sculpture and ceramics courses are downstairs. The first exhibitions underline the institution’s mission of spotlighting regional artists and movements.


It’s a welcoming place. The exhibition space is roughly two-thirds the size of the old galleries, but it’s more graceful, with high ceilings, hardwood floors, climate control, and moveable walls that enable curator Jessica Roscio to equal or better the old museum’s wall space.

Two and a half years without a home gave Roscio an opportunity to dive more deeply into the museum’s permanent collection. The first exhibition drawn from that storehouse, “Landed,” bridges centuries, and examines migration, travel, and landscape.

The show’s breadth, from bucolic 19th-century scenes to fractured contemporary cityscapes, gives it some crackle, and in a sweet sidecar show, “Armchair Travel,” Emily Belz, Rachel Loischild, and S. Billie Mandle turn their camera lenses on the ordinary marvels of intimate spaces.

The Danforth is best known for championing mid-20th-century painters such as Hyman Bloom and Jack Levine who wagered on the psychological clout of figurative expressionism at a time when abstraction held a steely grip on the art world. But Boston’s odd strain of modernists includes artists who did not do figural work. Roscio intends to shed more light on them.

“Landed” includes a terrific suite of watercolor landscapes from artists in just such a group — the Boston Five. Charles Hopkinson’s tart painting “The Pink Tent (New Zealand Scene)” is a breezy, open image, but it’s hardly bucolic, with a simmering, sweet-and-sour palette in bubblegum-pink and yellow-green. Like Bloom and Levine, Hopkinson freights his painting with discord. He pulls you in even as he pushes you away.


Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (1877-1968), a pioneering African-American sculptor and a protégé of Rodin’s, lived and worked in Framingham. She had a successful career but regularly met resistance and bigotry. In 2006, the Meta V.W. Fuller Trust gave a trove of the artist’s work, ephemera, and process pieces to the Danforth. The old museum only showed a handful of objects from this remarkable collection at a time; now it has its own gallery.

A vivid re-creation of Fuller’s attic studio offers a sense of the artist at work. She imbues Rodin’s style of highly wrought emotional realism with social-justice concerns. A maquette for her sculpture “Immigrant in America” depicting an American mother and child embracing a newly arrived family, exhausted and gaunt, is a symbol of hope and solidarity.

The Danforth’s gallery is a delicious invitation for more research on Fuller, whose art and life story seem especially resonant today.

“Lois Tarlow: Material Vocabulary” justly lauds Tarlow, 90, a force in the Boston art world for more than 60 years. By turns foreboding, astringent, and clarion, the exhibition traces her evolution from her origins as a figurative painter who studied with Karl Zerbe, a leading light of Boston figurative expressionism. Tarlow’s current work is largely abstract, delighting in textures and layers. It has heart and Zenlike lucidity.


“Self Portrait in a Persian Jacket” starts the show off: A confident young woman gazes studiously at us, holding a paintbrush, hand jauntily on her hip. Tarlow made it in 1954, before she and her then-husband, the painter Arthur Polonsky, had children.

Things get more fraught in depictions of her family. In “Caged,” an ink drawing, we’re peering through the bars of a crib at a boy on the other side; a naked toddler stands inside, his back to us, his face reflected in a mirror on the wall. You may not notice the faint outline of another face in the corner of that mirror — the ghostly visage of the artist and mother. Who here is caged?

A sturdy thread of darkness runs throughout Tarlow’s work. Some pieces, such as the extraordinary “Night Flight of the Red Eyed Birds,” are black on black. Others, such as “Last Catch, Vietnam,” a long view of fishermen silhouetted against dark water that shimmers in silver and blue, depict the impact of light on darkness as if they were two cymbals striking.

Tarlow’s fascination with materials reflects her engagement with landscape, the earth, and climate. Painting the hot and vaporous “Year of the Drought #1” and the scorched “Aftermath #1” after witnessing a forest fire in New Mexico, she mixed dirt, charcoal, and ashes into the paint. Both are epic.

Work of the last two decades is smaller scaled, often on paper, more monochromatic, and pulsatively alive. “Morning Rain #1” and “Night Rain” feature shifting or stuttering verticals, invocations of raindrops; they’re as quiet and mind opening as an Agnes Martin painting. Tarlow’s tenacity and endless curiosity still push her from one idea, one project, one theme to the next: She does not stand still. But her work deepens and deepens.


LANDED: Selections From the Permanent Collection 

Through July 14

ARMCHAIR TRAVEL: Work by Emily Belz, Rachel Loischild, and S. Billie Mandle

Through July 14

IN THE STUDIO: The Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller Collection 

Permanent display

LOIS TARLOW: Material Vocabulary

Through July 28

At Danforth Art Museum at Framingham State University, 14 Vernon St., Framingham. 508-215-5110, danforth.framingham.edu

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.