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At Krakow, text that makes its own context

In this untitled work by Robert Barry at Barbara Krakow Gallery, words “float’’ in mirrored decals over the walls and ceiling of a small room.

Art is about the unknown. So conceptual artist Robert Barry has said, and his work often embodies what cannot be pinned down. In the 1960s, Barry made art based on language and ideas, along with other founders of the conceptual art movement such as Lawrence Weiner and Joseph Kosuth. Barry was a proponent of nothingness, or non-events. He released inert gases into the atmosphere — which did nothing. For his exhibitions, galleries would simply close.

These days, he bases much of his work on text. His show at Barbara Krakow Gallery spins with open-ended words such as “strange,” “everything,” “again,” and “illusion.” The language is intimate, and not concrete. If he used the word “chair,” we could point to a chair in the gallery and agree on a meaning. But “illusion”? Understandings of such words are idiosyncratic. Even “everything” carries a different feeling for anyone on a given day. Say it with a sigh. Say it with a smile.


In Barry’s untitled works these words float — across three electrifying yellow canvases, or in mirrored decals over the walls and ceiling of a small room. Material matters to this artist with roots in nonmateriality: The mirrored decals reflect and energize their space, and navigate it with care — dropping out, almost respectfully, around doorframes.

Words on the yellow painting pulse in a pale violet. The first panel features text that disconnects: “unnecessary,” “distant.” “Together” bridges to the second panel, where the words have more traction, for good or bad: “despair,” “strange.” “Almost” crosses to the final panel, where “possible,” “needed,” and “meaning” bring us around to hope. Barry’s words prod and settle in the way of poems; they leave room for us to fall into their

Installation artist Sara Sze, a scrambler of space who represented the United States in the 2013 Venice Biennale and Monday (May 19) was awarded the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Medal Award, has a small show at Krakow.


While they don’t upend the gallery’s architecture, these prints and laser-cut pieces do reflect Sze’s madly off-kilter passion for deconstructing systems and utilizing whatever is at hand.

“Notepad” is just that, tacked to the wall so that pages belly out and roll downward. Each is cut with a laser (and singed), in grids that look like flattened balconies; indeed, along the side, in 3-D, Sze has cut out a fire escape with ladders — architecture that’s forgotten until needed, taking intricate form with sizzle and playfulness.

Changing his colors

For years, Terry Rose didn’t touch his paintings. He laid aluminum panels on the floor, applied varnish, and poured on oils and pigments to see how they’d react. He’s newly hands-on in his show at Gallery NAGA. After a move from Shanghai to Boston, he has altered his process from wait-and-see to make-it-happen.

He deploys a terrific variety of marks in pieces such as the diptych “Made in China XX.” He uses ink, Chinese watercolor, acrylic, and modeling paste to create sodden blots, fat and defiant strokes, a roiling blue-black oval, a surprisingly sparkly cloud of gray blue, and more. In the center, a descending, toxic brown column rams into a crackling explosion of white and purple. The artist seems delighted with his options; you can sense his exuberance.

Rose gets occasionally too giddy with gesture and color, but many works are wonderfully restrained.


“Made in China III,” another diptych, features a black panel textured with drips and brushstrokes, at its center a
foggy swipe of purple-black evokes a tubercular breath. The black continues onto the next panel, but then is held off by seeping vertical streaks of sandy brown, lit from within by white.

The painter’s fascination with how his materials interact with each other, and act upon their ground, remains at the center of his art. He’s a notably versatile mark-maker; it’s good that he’s back in that game.

Form and function

Elizabeth Atterbury’s show at kijidome traces the young artist’s recent evolution from still life photographs to photos of cut-paper constructions to sculpture. Throughout, she displays a keen sense of form, and how form can work hieroglyphically, as language.

The photograph “Blue Runner Night” depicts a sheet of cut and folded blue paper. Light glimmers off the folds; darkness looms behind the cuts. An unfolded oval looks like a half-open mouth. Curls of blue punctuate the dark slots they emerge from.

The piece is a sketch for “Big Black,” a considerably larger steel plane with the same cutouts, albeit more wobbly and dented. “Big Black” isn’t as mysterious as “Blue Runner Night” — Atterbury needs better cutting technique and to think out her lighting strategy — but the sharp sense of something nearing language remains.

You can see her kinship with Brancusi in “Best Behavior,” a playroom on a platform, stocked with discrete wooden pieces that are at once totemic and toylike. Each is carved from a single piece of wood. One looks like stacked eyes; another piece folds into a long U, slotted inside and out. They’re not alphabet blocks, but some almost might be, for a different alphabet, making a strict, lean, allusive poetry of shapes.


More information:

Terry Rose: Made in China At: Gallery NAGA, 67 Newbury St., through May 31. 617-267-9060,

Elizabeth Atterbury

At: Kijidome, 59 Wareham St., through June

Cate McQuaid can be reached at