Artist Ambreen Butt's works seem take her craft and process to the extreme, and her latest pieces take on political extremism as a subject. Her portrayal isn't sensational or single-minded, but systematic: One extreme can't exist without its polar opposite, neither can exist without everything in between; and her works engage us with a spectrum of ideas and viewpoints.
Her Carroll and Sons solo exhibition, “Ambreen Butt: Beyond the Ideas Of Rightness Or Wrongness There Is A Field; I’ll Meet You There” [Reception, Nov. 2; on view through Dec. 22] is aptly named.
Read my short essay about Butt’s works and processes in the latest issue of Art New England.
Pictured above: A view of Butt’s “I Am My Lost Diamond” (2011) from the exhibition Realms of Intimacy: Miniaturist Practice from Pakistan at Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center. The Carroll and Sons exhibition includes a new installation of this work.

Artist Ambreen Butt's works seem take her craft and process to the extreme, and her latest pieces take on political extremism as a subject. Her portrayal isn't sensational or single-minded, but systematic: One extreme can't exist without its polar opposite, neither can exist without everything in between; and her works engage us with a spectrum of ideas and viewpoints.

Her Carroll and Sons solo exhibition, “Ambreen Butt: Beyond the Ideas Of Rightness Or Wrongness There Is A Field; I’ll Meet You There” [Reception, Nov. 2; on view through Dec. 22] is aptly named.

Read my short essay about Butt’s works and processes in the latest issue of Art New England.

Pictured above: A view of Butt’s “I Am My Lost Diamond” (2011) from the exhibition Realms of Intimacy: Miniaturist Practice from Pakistan at Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center. The Carroll and Sons exhibition includes a new installation of this work.

This is a Kickstarter video you’ll want to watch more than once. I’m biased, but I think it’s the best Kickstarter video ever made.

Watch it, share it, and support the relaunch of Boston art journal Big Red & Shiny.

Out of this Body: Inside Lana Z Caplan’s mind?

Out of This Body promo

Out of this Body, Lana Z Caplan's installation in Fountain Studios' project space, feels like a cacophonous mess of point-of-view video, but only if you don't give the work the time it deserves. The installation, titled When you cut into the present, the future leaks out (2012), seems like a real-time representation of a mind’s eye in r.e.m. sleep and shows off Caplan’s knack for spell-casting in the language of cinema.

Two wall-sized projections at 90 degrees from each other show handheld video camera footage shot by the artist. Both show content pulled from the same source material (cocktail parties, interviews, lectures, street scenes, all through different seasons), but one screen shows footage seemingly edited for timing rhythm while the other, triggered by a light sensor, frenetically flips through 200 different clips. Hanging from the ceiling are two domed speakers, each one trained directly at the floor and tightly focusing the sound of one of the projections. Their shape focuses the sound they emit and allows viewers to step in and out of each video’s diegetic sound.

The POV footage (you only hear Caplan’s voice, and rarely, and you don’t see her) shows you just what the filmmaker sees and hears, and the spontaneously fractured footage with its disconnected sound in the darkened gallery create a disorienting effect that’s best described like being in a dream. A set of speakers (Untitled, 2012; 2 subwoofers, amplifier, CD player with audio track, infinite) installed in a wall nearby provide the space with low, drowning rumble that helps lull you into the trance-like state in which one best enjoys the work.

The only detraction from the exhibition is a slide projector nestled closely to a wall (Unwrapped, 2012). A small sign, or friendly gallerist, invites visitors to click through Caplan’s photographs (digital transferred to slide film), which fit with the show’s theme with their beauty and contemplative nature, but the projector adds as much to the experience of the show as it takes away.

If you can manage an hour outside of Bushwick this weekend, head down to Prospect Heights/Crown Heights for the last weekend of Caplan’s show. Email Fountain (fountainstudios(at)gmail(dot)com) to plan a visit or just show up at the artist’s talk and closing reception on Saturday, 2 June at 7pm.

Biennials abound. Prospect postpones.

Via Gallerist, via New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Prospect 3 New Orleans is now scheduled for the fall of 2014, bumped up from 2013.

Prospect consulting director and former MIT List Visual Art Center director Jane Farver told the Times-Picayune that the exhibition was rescheduled so it doesn’t coincide with the biennials slated for Venice, Istanbul, and the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh.

A few days ago, after having a couple discussions about art fairs and reading on imaginings of a Chicago BiennialI imagined, briefly, what it’d be like for Boston to hold a biennial on the scale of Prospect. It seems, however, that it’s a tough business to run a biennial, especially considering Prospect’s reception and the folks running it - and (moreover) the art world’s saturated with large international events.

But it’s still worth a shot, no?

A campaign to make Brooklyn seem less hip so artists want to leave and move back to their hometowns.

I’m thinking about launching a campaign to make Brooklyn seem less hip so artists want to leave and move back to their hometowns.

Think about it. Most artists (visual, musical, wordical, etc.) are poor, and yet so many live in - or aspire to live in - Brooklyn or somewhere else New York City, one of the most expensive cities on the planet. The idea is that there’s more opportunity, more culture, a more verdant community, yada yada yada, yet most young artists never make the big time. They make work in their free time and pay their emaciation-inducing rents waiting tables or working for Jeff Koons. Some move to Japan to teach English, some move back home with their parents, and others give up and take the less entrepreneurial route of going to graduate school, accruing more debt.

But what if these young artists never moved to Brooklyn and instead stayed closer to their hometowns or moved to smaller cities like Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Portland[ia], etcetera? There are many more affordable places to live than Brooklyn, paying less rent means more time to make art, and artists provide significant economic boons to less affluent communities, and moreover, their economic impact is long-term. Win/win/win/win.

A highschool friend of mine, Jestis Deuerlein, and I had a conversation about this on Facebook.

Our conversation started with my following tweet (and corresponding Facebook post): “I think we can all agree that NYC thinks it’s the center of everything. Q: What harm does this do beyond hurting non-NY’ers feelings?”

“I suppose it only does harm if people living outside of NYC also begin to feel like NYC is the center of it all. Which could mean hurt feelings, or just a general itchiness that they’re in the wrong place,” Jestis wrote. (I’ve truncated her response slightly for efficiency.)

Dan Levy, an editor at Sparksheet, inhabitant of the great city of Montreal, and alumnus of the same grad-school program as me, suggested that one problem in the NYC-centered-ness of so much cultural production (art and media of all types) is a location, or convenience bias: we gravitate toward sources of culture that are geographically closer.

NYC-as-the-center-ness also means less opportunity for non-NYC artists on bigger stages, for what it’s worth. Dealers, curators, and writers/critics don’t often seek art beyond NYC, but that shouldn’t be artists’ problem.

“This definitely is the case amongst some of my artist friends who feel like they have to be in NYC to remain relevant—even though Philly gives them the time and affordability to simply make art,” Jestis wrote, and she added that NYC siphons off some of Philly’s best talent. I lived in Boston for 14 years and the brain drain is something we experienced as well.

It was at this time in our conversation that I thought of the anti-Brooklyn campaign. What if vast swaths of American youths suddenly started thinking that Brooklyn was no longer, like, you know, the coolest place to live on the planet?

I came up with a couple slogans:

1: “Brooklyn: Responsible for the mullet’s second coming.” (This could also be reused for creepy mustaches or any aesthetically displeasing fashion for that matter. The interesting thing about creepy mustaches is that they saw at least two rebirths in Brooklyn: In the 70’s and later in the early 00’s.)

2: “Brooklyn: Where knock-off Skidz with Jets logos came from.”

But Jestis nailed both the potential campaign concept and its slogan:

“New York City: That was so 25-62 years ago.”

“You start with the beat poets, folk in the Village in the 60’s, Bowie and Freddie partying in the 70’s and early 80’s, and you end with Larry levan and the end of Paradise garage in ‘87,” she wrote. “What have you done since, NY? I’ll accept Wu and Biggie but that’s where it ends.”

Brilliant, especially for the yet to be 25-62 set.

Jestis later told me that our Facebook exchange propelled her to start a book club in Philly about Philly, and she already has 12 members. “our book list is pretty great—people are really stoked about it!” she wrote.

UPDATE, 24 April, 3:20 p.m.: It seems that Travel + Leisure magazine in its April 2012 issue ranked New York City #12 in its list of “America’s Best Cities for Hipsters,” behind Seattle, Portland, OR, San Francisco, New Orleans, Portland, ME, Providence, Austin, San Juan, PR, Philadelphia, Denver, and Savannah. Not all artists are hipsters and not all hipsters are artists, but there is significant overlap in the two categories that we should recognize when considering within which cities they might thrive - and New York City isn’t number one.

Boston should never host an art fair.

Boston should not host an art fair. It would neither benefit Boston artists nor the city of Boston and would likely fail. What Boston and its arts community might want to consider is a city-wide biennial, but that’s another post for another day (and perhaps another writer).

The Boston artist Donna Dodson emailed me a week ago to talk about some ideas she had for business-oriented Boston Globe blog for which she is a regular contributor. She had been considering fairs as a sales outlet for her own work. With a collective of other artists, she rented space at the Fountain Art Fair, which she said was a great experience but resulted in no sales yet. We talked at length about the potential for planning an art fair in Boston.

I’ve adapted our email exchange into this blog post:

I don’t recall anyone ever talking about having an art fair like an Armory Show, Pulse, etc., although Scope had entertained the idea according to one Boston-based gallerist. I’m sure a Boston fair has been considered elsewhere, but without much seriousness. The market for contemporary (and modern, for that matter) art in Boston is just too small, and Boston contemporary art galleries participate in few fairs as it is. Steven Zevitas, Samson, and LaMontagne galleries actually combined resources to rent one booth (for $15,000) as, aka “Boston Contemporary Group,” rented $15,000 booths at Volta during this year’s Armory Week. A place like Miami, which boasts massive fairs, may have a small art market when compared to New York, but Miami has a lot to offer that Boston can’t (namely, nicer weather and a healthy Dionysian culture). I think all this means that a Boston art fair would be a hard sell to the art world.

All that said, there’s nothing stopping Boston from hosting one or even several art fairs in an attempt to bring the global art market to Boston – at least for a few days – but I don’t think it can compete in a fair-saturated art market and even with smallish cities like Cologne or Basel that have hosted art fairs for years. Moreover, the Next Art Chicago 2012 fair was cancelled in February, which also doesn’t bode well for a city with the size and art-market stature of Boston.

"If the point is to drive local sales, it’s misguided, since why would a local gallery owner pay additional overhead only to show the same work in the same city to largely the same people but alongside a great deal more competition?" Cambridge, Mass.-based artist and writer Caleb Neelon asked. (Neelon quote added 21 April 2pm.)

Whether art fairs would be good for Boston or for Boston artists are also two separate issues. Consider two of Boston’s largest intuitions like the Institute of Contemporary Art or Museum of Fine Arts, which include relatively few local artists compared to their programming. I think the same goes for the thousands of artists living in New York (full-time artists and those that supplement their incomes with other jobs): most don’t benefit from fairs.

Why would any gallery from any city pay to participate in the fair system? I think the answer is that it’s about access to buyers. Fairs are an easy way to reach a large clientele with deep pockets. At fairs, business is less about competition than promotion - fairs only last three or four days, and, beyond their brevity, most buyers already know which booths they want to hit before even stepping foot into a fair. It’s just that the risk involved in renting a booth is higher for Boston galleries because they have comparatively lower revenues. Boston galleries also have much smaller brand recognition, so they’ll have less luck with impulse buyers. Art fair competition is more about the fairs competing amongst themselves for the best galleries than galleries competing for buyers who go to the fairs - I think galleries are much more competitive about which artists they represent - a longer term enterprise than fair participation.

If competition was a concern, and you wanted to level the playing field, I suppose you could hold a Boston-centric or New England-centric art fair, but I’m not sure there are enough galleries in Boston (or all of New England (I suppose you could incorporate Canada as well, but then you’d be competing with the Art Toronto fair.)) to fill a convention center and create an event large enough to attract the thousands of attendees that fairs need to be sustainable. Planning could, perhaps, incorporate non-profit and alternative spaces, but their entrance to the fair would need to be subsidized.

Donna said it could be the goal for a Boston fair to have the most Boston-based art galleries participating and to feature the Boston arts community and art spaces, even if their costs were discounted. She added that Boston has numerous large facilities that could host art fairs such as new convention centers, and suggested that if fairs were scheduled alongside another big event in the city like fashion week, the fair could get cross-pollination. Boston, she wrote, already has the Craft Boston art fair and the International Fine Art Fair. (Caveat: I personally avoid the International Fine Art Fair because I find most of the work to be decorative.)

A biennial?

Another idea Donna suggested was to create a fair that was more like a biennial or arts festival, and run it in conjunction with Mary Sherman’s TransCultural Exchange conference while international visitors and guests are already in town.

I think there is the most potential for cross-pollination with the TransCultural Exchange, but conference attendees don’t go in order to buy art; and the artists who typically benefit from TSE aren’t the artists who typically benefit from the art market. They’d love to sell their work, but are more likely – given the type of work they make and the stage of their careers – to benefit from international residencies and cultural exchanges, which TSE was designed to showcase.

I do like the idea of a Boston Biennial. #BoBi14, anyone? Chicago-based artist and writer Tony Fitzpatrick in ArtNet last week wrote about the potential for a Chicago Biennial and what the city-wide Prospect biennial meant for New Orleans (read it). If the Big Easy can have Prospect, why can’t Chi-Town, or Beantown, have a contemporary art fest? There are many reasons not to, actually. But c’mon, let’s at least think about it.

Section added 21 April, 2pm: There is the deCordova Biennial (which closes April 22 if you haven’t seen it yet!), the ICA’s bi-annual Foster Prize and its corresponding exhibition, and other Boston-centric shows such as Proof Gallery’s “Boston does Boston" series, but unlike Prospect New Orleans, they are centralized single-venue events. The deCordova’s biennial and Proof’s "Boston does Boston" are curatorial projects, but they focus only on New England and Boston, respectively. Prospect is a curatorial lab that incorporates local, national, and international artists. New Orleans and Boston are two cities more different from one another than they are to most other cities in the U.S., but perhaps that’s a reason to consider a Prospect-like project in Boston. Boston is special in just as many ways as New Orleans, just for much different reasons.

And finally, a late disclaimer: I dislike just about everything about art fairs except for the fact that they allow certain, more progressive, galleries and galleries outside of big markets like New York City that don’t sell enough throughout the year to raise revenues with access to a relatively large number of deep-pocketed buyers and stay in business at their brick-and-mortar locations. The art we see at art fairs is the art that galleries believe will sell, and this is why fairs are generally boring and predictable. I’ve always thought that the Boston art community’s ability to subsist without fairs and big-ticket sales are its most important attributes. Boston is a perpetual academic conference and it’s perfect for events like TSE, the Flash Forward photography festival, and the Boston Cyberarts Festival, which people attend to learn and experience new work and ideas.

H/T to Corinna Kirsch, who fortuitously (for me, anyway) published a similar post on Art Fag City that led me to Fitzpatrick’s post on a Chicago Biennial during the time Donna and I were carrying on our conversation.

Update, 25 April, 10:30 a.m.: I’ve just learned through Facebook that at least one individual, architect Ramsey Bakhoum, is planning a Boston Biennial - tentatively scheduled for 2015 according to the proposed event’s website.

Why the @BCASouthEnd continues to disappoint as a visual arts venue, some conjecture:

This is a semi-edited response to a friend’s Facebook post asking why the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) would be losing its Director of Programs, Kristina Newman-Scott after only one year. My response essentially tries to answer the question in the headline.

This is what I think (and I’m drawing some conclusions from the reasons behind Laura Donaldson’s departure in 2007): Perhaps the BCA generates so much revenue from performing arts that visual art (which is Newman-Scott's background) just aren't on the minds of their leadership and the board that backs them. The visual arts community of Boston could make an attempt to seed and influence the the BCA board with more visual arts enthusiasts, but performing arts (theater, ballet) are the organization's cash cow: It represents massive revenues from theater rentals in addition to boosting their foot traffic (which looks great on grant applications). It'd be great if the BCA directed its rental income (there is $1.5 million of it (Not much comes from the restaurants: The Beehive anted up about $110k in FY2010 according to tax documents)) towards visual arts, but again, I just don't think their decision-makers want to support enterprising visual arts. Performing arts are their niche.

Why is Newman-Scott leaving her post at the BCA? You’ll have to ask her.

My best guess is that she didn’t mind moving back to Hartford, whence she moved to Boston, and that she got a huge bump in income (Click here (PDF) for the job posting. It’s marginally possible that she’ll be making more in her new role as Hartford’s Marketing, Events, and Cultural Affairs Director than her boss at the BCA). Moreover, with her background as an artist and curator of contemporary visual art, why would she want to work for an arts organization where visual arts are seemingly an afterthought to performing arts. Prior to coming to the BCA, she was Director of Visual Arts at Hartford’s Real Art Ways until her position was eliminated due to funding constraints in the fall of 2010.

The news of Newman-Scott’s departure sent ripples of cynicism around various spheres of social media, especially from individuals in the Boston visual arts community. Many artists seem to resent the BCA’s treatment of visual arts and artists. Now, I do think a lot of people have a right to be disappointed with the way the BCA manages the space it has allotted to visual arts. It has the standing and space for exhibitions like its current show: william cordova: this one’s 4U (pa’ nosotros), which was curated by Evan Garza. However, a lack of consistency in vision and quality for visual arts at the BCA has many wagging their fingers. Many see the BCA, with its 2,200-square-foot Mills Gallery and 23,000-square-foot Cyclorama, as a ripe location for a powerhouse alternative space with a national reputation. There are many examples - a major one being Real Art Ways, which has revenues totaling less than half of the BCA’s ($1.1 million in FY2010) - of comparable organizations with visual arts programming that dwarfs the BCA’s. Its annual revenue of $2.5 million (in fiscal year ending June 2010) is an indication of mismanagement for some.

The truth, however, is that the BCA’s core constituency loves performing arts, a medium which makes up a massive chunk of the cultural economy and cultural ecology of Boston. If you’re upset about the BCA’s or Boston’s lack of enterprise in visual arts, focus your energy on other underutilized spaces, spaces that have little or no leadership or vision attached to them. Or get to work on the BCA’s board. OR, apply for Kristina’s position: the BCA is recruiting to fill the position.

.@AestheticResear, why don’t you curate a show of conceptually-driven sculpture & installation art from Boston?

The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research writes that Boston University’s 808 Gallery, a former car dealership, should see more programming. As one of the largest venues in the region, its size gives it potential as a “major new museum,” writes the Journal's Greg Gook.

It would be a great venue to do a big, blowout survey of the conceptually-driven sculpture and installation art (Andrew Mowbray, Deb Todd Wheeler, Jane Marsching, John Osorio-Buck, Doug Weathersby, Antoniadis and Stone, Joe Zane, Andrew Witkin, and so on) that has been prominent around Boston over the past decade.

Why don’t you put this show together, Greg? I’ll volunteer a catalog essay.

Performance art confronts the present.

The fourth floor of the Whitney Museum will be devoted to performance works for the 2012 Biennial.

Does the current state of performance warrant that nearly an entire floor of the Whitney Biennial be devoted to the art form? This is “is the first Whitney Biennial in which nearly a full floor of the Museum has been given over to a changing season of performances, events, and residencies," according to the museum. Relative to the recent past, is there more performance being created now? Are the 100 Years exhibitions and Performa biennials raising awareness for the genre/method/medium/etc.?

(Get your tickets now if you want to see the performance works included in the 2012 Biennial.)

Hennessy Youngman, who in many ways epitomizes contemporary performance artistry, last week posted a new video (Watch it if you haven’t already!) for his Art Thoughtz web series about the contemporary state of “the field art production known as performance art,” as he calls it. It’s a reprise of his Nov. 20, 2011 lecture/performance from Performa, but YouTube seems like the only way to see the work in its truest form. The lecture-cum-rant is both critique and mockery of performance art, but also an epistemological analysis of society and identity in the age of YouTube – in “the present” it seems that we don’t even exist unless we’re performing.

In the performance edition of Art Thoughtz, Youngman calls “Performance Art” “a pre-internet method of annoying groups of people using your body and voice working in conjunction in order to create a compelling spectacle that heightens said annoyance.” There are still artists who create performance using the methods Youngman initially describes, but his sense that the performative aspects of interaction are forever changed in the internet age is indeed spot on. Yet “in order to battle this technological sahara of experience” he says, “and jumpstart human interaction once again,” performances artists are now “calling attention to the basic structures that compose life.” He points to Marina Abromović’s “The Artist Is Present” (2010), in which she sat and stared, one-on-one, at MoMA visitors hours, and Marni Kotak’s “The Birth of Baby X” (2011), which is self-explanatory, among other artists whose media seem to be basic concepts of humanity.

Maybe we should be paying close attention to new performance, if not just to the way our perception of human interaction has changed in the last 10 to 15 years. The Whitney’s performance artists include Charles Atlas, Dawn Kasper, who sometimes plays dead, and Sarah Michelson, who creates work that “at its deepest structural core, denies safety in favor of trying to understand through action.” They seem to fall into the category of contemporary performance defined by Youngman.

The 100 Years exhibition is an “introduction to the history of performance art,” which “has been entirely missing from the history of art so far,” according to Performa director RoseLee Goldberg, who co-curated the show with MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach. Goldberg calls is a “draft,” a “’living exhibition,’” that grows and expands with each new iteration,” and her curatorial approach fits the historization, or canonization, of works that have resisted the canon. Works have been added and subtracted from each one of the exhibition’s four renditions, including pieces from active local artists, which creates a living archive. 100 Years (version #4 Boston, 2012) is installed and takes place at the Boston University Art Gallery, and BUAG director and chief curator Kate McNamara, who assisted Goldberg and Biesenbach on 100 Years, worked with Cambridge-based performance collective Mobius and artist and RISD professor Kurt Ralske, among others, to build a program around the exhibition.

The BUAG and BUAG Annex programming for 100 Years includes:
February 7 – 18: Performances and actions organized by The Present Tense, including: Archiving the Ephemeral: The Present Tense 2005-Now*
February 21 – March 4: Trading Post with John Gonzalez
March 6 – 9: Artist Dirk Adams, organized by Mobius
March 13 – 30: Wastepaper Theatre Archive Resources with Randi Hopkins
*(One of the reasons why the art world establishment has resisted performance art is its ephemeral nature. It is, at times, impossible to recreate and almost always difficult to document. The 100 Years curators became archivists as they traced backwards through the Bauhaus, Dada, and Futurist movements.) 

Boston-based performance duo The Present Tense, which is comprised of artists Sandrine Schaefer and Philip Freyer, has already begun carrying out their site-specific “False Summit" work, which continues through Feb. 18. Documentation of the work is available on Vimeo.

I had the opportunity to write about 100 Years (version #4 Boston, 2012) in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of Art New England, but would like call your attention to a few pieces that I didn’t get to adequately address in review due to lack of space:

The title of the exhibition stems from the 100-year anniversary of the Italian poet and Futurist movement founder Filippo Marinetti publishing his “Futurist Manifesto” (1909) in French and Italian newspapers. While calling for the glorification of war, contempt for women, and the burning of libraries, he also challenged artists to dedicate their bodies to acts of artistic creation. A facsimile of his work as originally published is available for your inspection along with an English translation.

The female Futurist Valentine de Saint-Pont wrote a response (“Manifesto of Futurist Women” (1912)) to Marinetti’s text that beseeches women to “go back to your sublime instinct, to violence, to cruelty” and urges them to procreate “while men are in charge of wars and battles.” The polemic is a welcome inclusion to the show not only because of women’s unpopular standing with Futurists, but also their absence from art history. It’s also interesting to consider the work’s place in the history of feminism’s development.

Also worth some contemplation is one of the most pertinent inclusions in 100 Years: Abbie Hoffman’s 1967 New York Stock Exchange “intervention,” as the BU gallery describes it. The work was a protest in which Hoffman and several of his comrades threw fistfuls of both real and fake dollar bills from the viewing gallery above the exchange’s floor as the traders below scrambled for the cash.

100 Years is on view until March 25 at the Boston University Art Gallery, 855 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215.

Does a more competitive Boston art museum community mean no more shows for artists like Shepard Fairey at the ICA?
Does a more contemporary-minded Museum of Fine Arts Boston mean Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art will be more progressive? They can’t compete with the MFA’s deep pockets, so they may need to draw visitors with shows that match their more progressive brand.
This could mean fewer blockbuster shows at the ICA, but only because cutting edge, despite the possibility of a “wow factor,” are typically more difficult. Crowd pleasing art and curatorial experimentation in contemporary art are often mutually exclusive.
This means the ICA might not be able to do shows like Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand, because Fairey (pictured above) is essentially the Dale Chihuly of street artists.
Boston Globe reporter Geoff Edgers last week published a piece in Boston Globe Magazine titled “Double visions” (subscription required), that examines the possible overlaps between the ICA and the MFA after it opened its new Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art.
Edgers quotes Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum director Anne Hawley’s opinion’s about the hugely successful Chihuly exhibition at the MFA, Through the Looking Glass (April 10, 2011 - August 8, 2011).

“Would the ICA do that? Never,” Hawley says. “Chihuly’s very mainstream, almost commercial, and very accessible. I think this is a good thing. These institutions are going to offer different entries into contemporary art.”

Fairey and Supply and Demand guest co-curator Pedro Alonzo at a press briefing prior to the exhibition’s opening.
Fairey is also mainstream, commercial, and very accessible, and both artists’ work is made in what are essentially factories. For both the ICA and the MFA, the artists were huge boons for attendance. Two major differences are the prices that each artist fetches for an individual work, due in part to the labor involved in creating them, and that Fairey’s works are typically made in identical multiples. It’s worth noting, however that the differences are essentially determined by the artists’ chosen media.
It’s tough to say whether the MFA, with its new wing, could have originated Supply and Demand or even picked it up as a traveling exhibition, but they’ve certainly delved into the exhibition of cultural significant, mass produced objects in the past, such as cars or guitars.
In his piece, Edgers writes that the “MFA isn’t trying to out-hip the ICA. In fact, it’s perfectly fine serving as an introduction to contemporary art for the uninitiated,” and quotes the museum’s senior curator of contemporary art, Jen Mergel, calling her employer’s fancy new wing a “potential gateway.”

“Somebody might come in and say, ‘I’m much more curious about contemporary art, and I may want to spend a day at the ICA.’ If that happened, I would feel that I did my job.”

Edgers also points out that the ICA will need to compete with Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum, which is undergoing a major renovation, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which is soon opening a new building. These museums, however, don’t need to attract the 200,000 visitors per year that the ICA has been drawing since reopening on the Boston waterfront.
ICA chief curator Helen Molesworth told Edgers that she believes competition will make the ICA a better institution. Edgers quotes both Molesworth and Bill Arning, the former curator of the List Visual Art Center at MIT and now director of Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, both suggesting how new diversity in contemporary spaces in Boston will be good for the public and community of museums in New England.
Added after publishing: Although I’d like to think of the ICA and the MFA in the same local art ecosystem, they are both relatively big players in a big field, and so they may not have any effect on one another at all. However, they are only a few miles apart and rely on the same visitors and donors (which Edgers does well to point out).
Edgers makes a car dealership analogy, pointing out that many car dealerships are situated on the same strips of highway. “As long as all the dealers aren’t selling Toyotas, there might actually be strength in numbers,” he writes.
I highly recommend Edgers’s article, and it’s an excellent campanion to Globe critic Sebastian Smee’s, somewhat puffy September 18 piece with the headline “Contemporary art blooming across region.” Edgers is far less laudatory of the New England community and more analytical (the majority of his sources are curators or have curatorial roles), but his piece is more fun to read.

Does a more competitive Boston art museum community mean no more shows for artists like Shepard Fairey at the ICA?

Does a more contemporary-minded Museum of Fine Arts Boston mean Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art will be more progressive? They can’t compete with the MFA’s deep pockets, so they may need to draw visitors with shows that match their more progressive brand.

This could mean fewer blockbuster shows at the ICA, but only because cutting edge, despite the possibility of a “wow factor,” are typically more difficult. Crowd pleasing art and curatorial experimentation in contemporary art are often mutually exclusive.

This means the ICA might not be able to do shows like Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand, because Fairey (pictured above) is essentially the Dale Chihuly of street artists.

Boston Globe reporter Geoff Edgers last week published a piece in Boston Globe Magazine titled “Double visions” (subscription required), that examines the possible overlaps between the ICA and the MFA after it opened its new Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art.

Edgers quotes Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum director Anne Hawley’s opinion’s about the hugely successful Chihuly exhibition at the MFA, Through the Looking Glass (April 10, 2011 - August 8, 2011).

“Would the ICA do that? Never,” Hawley says. “Chihuly’s very mainstream, almost commercial, and very accessible. I think this is a good thing. These institutions are going to offer different entries into contemporary art.”


Shepard Fairey Press PreviewFairey and Supply and Demand guest co-curator Pedro Alonzo at a press briefing prior to the exhibition’s opening.

Fairey is also mainstream, commercial, and very accessible, and both artists’ work is made in what are essentially factories. For both the ICA and the MFA, the artists were huge boons for attendance. Two major differences are the prices that each artist fetches for an individual work, due in part to the labor involved in creating them, and that Fairey’s works are typically made in identical multiples. It’s worth noting, however that the differences are essentially determined by the artists’ chosen media.

It’s tough to say whether the MFA, with its new wing, could have originated Supply and Demand or even picked it up as a traveling exhibition, but they’ve certainly delved into the exhibition of cultural significant, mass produced objects in the past, such as cars or guitars.

In his piece, Edgers writes that the “MFA isn’t trying to out-hip the ICA. In fact, it’s perfectly fine serving as an introduction to contemporary art for the uninitiated,” and quotes the museum’s senior curator of contemporary art, Jen Mergel, calling her employer’s fancy new wing a “potential gateway.”

“Somebody might come in and say, ‘I’m much more curious about contemporary art, and I may want to spend a day at the ICA.’ If that happened, I would feel that I did my job.”

Edgers also points out that the ICA will need to compete with Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum, which is undergoing a major renovation, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which is soon opening a new building. These museums, however, don’t need to attract the 200,000 visitors per year that the ICA has been drawing since reopening on the Boston waterfront.

ICA chief curator Helen Molesworth told Edgers that she believes competition will make the ICA a better institution. Edgers quotes both Molesworth and Bill Arning, the former curator of the List Visual Art Center at MIT and now director of Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, both suggesting how new diversity in contemporary spaces in Boston will be good for the public and community of museums in New England.

Added after publishing: Although I’d like to think of the ICA and the MFA in the same local art ecosystem, they are both relatively big players in a big field, and so they may not have any effect on one another at all. However, they are only a few miles apart and rely on the same visitors and donors (which Edgers does well to point out).

Edgers makes a car dealership analogy, pointing out that many car dealerships are situated on the same strips of highway. “As long as all the dealers aren’t selling Toyotas, there might actually be strength in numbers,” he writes.

I highly recommend Edgers’s article, and it’s an excellent campanion to Globe critic Sebastian Smee’s, somewhat puffy September 18 piece with the headline “Contemporary art blooming across region.” Edgers is far less laudatory of the New England community and more analytical (the majority of his sources are curators or have curatorial roles), but his piece is more fun to read.