‘A Woman’s Arms’ a refreshing show of force
Exhibits featuring art exclusively by women rarely bill themselves as “women’s shows” anymore. The last big “women’s show” I saw was “Global Feminisms,” organized by the Brooklyn Museum, and presented at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College in 2007, a finger-wagging exhibition that doted on victims and scolded oppressors.
Now, independent curator Robert Moeller has organized “A Woman’s Arms: Weapons, Documents, and Strategies,” at Lincoln Arts Project. The show is refreshingly fierce. Moeller’s statement about it begins with a random list that includes “juggling a cat,” “forgiveness,” and “taboos,” but repeats “GUNS” throughout — just so we know where we stand. In the old days, women artists railed against power. Now they’ve taken it, even as they decry its abuses.
The show’s centerpiece is Karley Klopfenstein’s weirdly magnificent “Camouflage Tank,” a near life-size tank shape completely covered in handmade, hooked carpet, in warm-toned, abstract, geometric patterns — like those on any Oriental-style rug.
The piece could be a metaphor for the implicit threats and enforced silences lurking in many family rooms. But Klopfenstein also macramés cozies for semiautomatic pistols and assault rifles, and taken all together, her works’ marriage of domesticity and war make the weapons seem all the more outrageous. Katrina Majkut follows a similar route with her cross-stitched “2 M9 Guns.”
Elaine Bay’s glitzy “Makeup Tips for Anonymous You –HEY GurL!” video installation shows, on gold-covered TVs, the pixelated faces of young women applying makeup to a loud, proud soundtrack. The piece at once celebrates the makeup and sees it as a mask.
Video and performance artist J.R. Uretsky specializes in a kind of goofy drag that makes her seem naked. In “Jesus Cleans House,” the artist, in her underwear, tapes on a bathmat for a beard and plucks flowers from a pot to make her crown of thorns before she sets to picking up and washing, as humble as Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. It’s sweetly mundane, yet ridiculous and edgy.
Moeller has crafted a mordant show that often pivots on domestic tropes and mediums still seen as feminine. Ramping up the firepower with unapologetic artists, it seems as if he’s changed the conversation, but maybe it’s just the times that have changed.
Changing visual planes
Caitie Moore and Sarah Pollman, photographers and curators in their 20s, have organized “Flash of an Instant” at the New Art Center, which examines the expectations we bring to looking.
We usually expect a landscape photograph to realistically represent the acreage it portrays. Mark Dorf digitally manipulates his landscape photos, and his “Plate #21,” which at first glance might be a serene woodsy scene, turns out to have impossibly square grassy planes rising up off the ground. There’s something equally eerie about Sam A. Harris’s photos; in “Rebirth,” a tree trunk glows with flame, but only in one contained area. And Robin Myers’s “Untitled (Touching Fur)” shows nine hands running through a broad plane of black fur — almost as if they were petting a dog, but with too many hands (some identical), on too big a dog.
Sharon Harper’s photo series “Sun/Moon (Trying to See Through a Telescope)” features images mounted on grids. We see pale orbs, but also odd shadows and blurs imposed by all those instruments we’re looking through. The sun and moon are only incidentally the objects of observation; these works are really about the act of looking, and what frames and shapes our vision.
Not all the work is photography. Anne Lilly’s kinetic steel sculptures, all rods and cogs and gears, move with startling grace. Pablo Gnecco’s “No There” video installation uses motion detection and text on a video screen to direct a viewer’s movement around traffic cones. It’s comical, how willing we are to follow orders.
Inspired by details of a place
“Place Value: Place as Inspiration,” a small show at the Middlesex School’s Cornelius Ayer Wood Gallery, feels wonderfully crisp and grounded in detail, yet often ethereal. Pat Shannon makes strangely gorgeous impressions in aluminum foil of signage painted on asphalt that read like relics of ancient cave art. You can barely see the wheelchair symbol in “Reserved Parking,” smooth amid the pebbly surface of the parking lot where it was painted, all in shiny aluminum.
Meg Alexander’s inkjet print “Ocean Fog” is so delicate as to be nearly invisible. The details feel elusive: soft ripples and foam on the water’s surface, glimpsed through a heavy mist. In her ink drawing “Marden Peony Field,” petals look like baubles of light, cradled amid soft blades of grass. Nearby, Beth Galston has installed the dreamy “Luminous Garden (Aerial),” with groups of amber lights nestled in frosted glass, bobbing like fireflies amid the wires that feed them power.
The other two artists take inspiration from Berlin. Nancy Murphy Spicer draws spritely geometric abstractions of her bicycle journeys through the city on pages of a guidebook. Maggie Stark’s regimented but magical video “Mauer Spiel (Wall Play)” features a light grid on a dark ground; two performers move methodically around the grid, unscrewing bulbs to create patterns of light. Both are impressions of a place rather than representations, and equally evocative.
Flash of an Instant
At: New Art Center, 61 Washington Park, Newtonville, through May 9. 617-964-3424, www.newartcenter.org
Place Value: Place as Inspiration
At: Cornelius Ayer Wood Gallery, Middlesex School, 1400 Lowell Road, Concord, through May 4.