Archive for December, 2010

Gardner appoints landscape curator

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Charles Waldheim has been named the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s consulting curator of landscape, the Boston museum has announced. He is expected to begin work in January.

The move, the museum says, will “highlight and expand the importance of landscape scholarship at the Gardner and to elevate the Gardner as a center for discussion of contemporary issues related to landscape and community. … A leader in landscape scholarship and a founding proponent of landscape urbanism (an emerging area of urban thought and landscape practice), Waldheim/Urban Agency will bring new thinking, research, lectures, and exhibitions to the landscape program at the Gardner Museum. This appointment reflects a commitment by the Gardner both to engage the landscape community more directly within the context of the Gardner’s landscape history, innovation, and importance and to help the public think more deeply about the link between landscape at the Gardner Museum and the surrounding urban fabric. New programming will support emerging thinkers in the area of landscape—much like the museum’s Artists-in-Residence program.”

Waldheim is said to have coined the term “landscape urbanism” to describe emerging design practices at the intersection of landscape and contemporary urbanism. He is a licensed architect and a principal of Urban Agency, a consulting practice advising public and private clients on a range of issues relating to contemporary urbanism. He is also the John E. Irving Professor of Landscape Architecture and the current Chair of the department of landscape architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.

Rose Art Museum lawsuit update

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

The case of the three Rose Art Museum overseers who sued Brandeis University to stop the Waltham school from selling off the museum’s collection continues to slowly, slowly wind its way through Suffolk Probate and Family Court in Boston. The latest (sort of) news is that the case has been pushed off to its next hearing on April 26, after a hearing on Dec. 13. The idea seems to be to wait until after Jan. 1 when Frederick M. Lawrence is scheduled to replace outgoing Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz, who was at the center of the bad Rose decisions. The thinking seems to be that new leadership could maybe, maybe change the Rose picture.

Neal Rantoul

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

From our review of Neal Rantoul “Twenty-Five Years” at Panopticon Gallery in Boston:

Rantoul of Cambridge is one of the eminences of local photography (in part because he’s headed Northeastern University’s photo program since 1981), yet he occasionally falls off the radar screen. So until one of our museums gets around to an official retrospective, we’ll have to make do with Panopticon Gallery’s sharp survey of the 64-year-old’s landscapes and cityscapes from 1980 to 2005.

The show begins with Rantoul’s 1980 “Boston Infrared” series — vertigo-inducing portraits of local skyscrapers. The camera feels tipped up and off balance as it records with impressive Modernist formalist rigor the repeating patterns of windows and moldings of towers against soft clouds above.

Read the rest here.

Neal Rantoul “Twenty-Five Years,” Panopticon Gallery, 502 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, through January 4, 2011.

Pictured at top: Neal Rantoul, “Untitled #1 from the series Peddock’s Island, Boston Harbor, Boston, MA,” 2004. All photos courtesy of the artist and Panopticon Gallery.

Neal Rantoul, “Untitled #3 from the series Boston Infrared, Boston, MA,” 1980.

Neal Rantoul, “Untitled #7 from the series Northampton Fairground, Northampton, MA.”

Neal Rantoul, “Untitled #6 from the series Oaksdale Cemetery, Oaksdale, Washington,” 1997.

Neal Rantoul, “Untitled #1 from the series Old Trail Town, Cody, WY,” 2005.

Neal Rantoul, “Russian River, Duncan’s Mills, CA.”

MFA returns hinky 14th century embroidery

Monday, December 27th, 2010

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts announced last week that it had returned a 14th century embroidered panel believed to depict the Entombment of Saint Vigilius to the Museo Diocesano Tridentino (Diocesan Museum of Trent, Italy) because, it seems, the MFA came to suspect that the piece, which it purchased in 1946, may have been illegally spirited out of the Cathedral of Saint Vigilius in Trent and from Italy during World War II. Or as the MFA more delicately puts it: “presumably between 1939 and 1944, all trace was lost of the panel.”

The MFA says:

“The MFA purchased the embroidery in 1946 from an Italian art dealer in New York without knowledge of its subject matter or provenance. Prior to the acquisition, curatorial staff inquired about its history and were told only that its previous owner had inherited it along with a large collection of other antique objects. The museum had no additional information about its provenance until 2008, when Dr. Evelin Wetter of the Abegg-Stiftung (Riggisberg, Switzerland) contacted the MFA, indicating that the panel was once part of the Saint Vigilius series from the Museo Diocesano Tridentino. Curatorial research by the MFA confirmed that the embroidery belonged to that series. In June 2008, the MFA contacted the Museo Diocesano to initiate discussions about its return, which concluded in April 2010 with the signing of an agreement by the MFA, the Archdiocese of Trent, and the Museo Diocesano. The transfer of the work from Boston to Trent in November 2010 has allowed for the reconstruction of the narrative cycle of the life of Saint Vigilius. This set of embroideries is particularly important to the Trent region for its historic subject matter and its artistic rarity. The resolution came about thanks to the excellent relationship between the two museums, which are both dedicated to preserving, caring for, and educating the public about the works of art in their collections.”

The MFA says the embroidery was made around 1390 to 1391, “commissioned by George of Liechtenstein on the occasion of his appointment as bishop prince of Trent in 1390, the embroidery depicts the entombment of Saint Vigilius (b. about 353–d. 405), the third bishop and patron saint of Trent, and the delivery of the news of his martyrdom to the pope and Emperor Theodosius.”

William Holbrook Beard’s “Santa Claus”

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Each winter the RISD Museum puts on display William Holbrook Beard‘s oil painting “Santa Claus” from around 1862. The Ohio-born, New York based Beard (1824-1900) seems to have been a devoted realist who fancied painting scenes that would be most at home in fairy tale books. He’s best known for his great painting “The Bear Dance” (c. 1870), a remarkable scene of a crowd of bears dancing like people in some wood, which resides in the collection of the New York Historical Society.

In the RISD Santa painting, Beard presents a familiar Santa flying over a sooty city, in sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. The unfamiliar bits are the swan sleigh and that Santa tosses the presents down the chimney (surely a time saving measure) rather than going down the chimney himself.

The origins of image of Santa as the jolly, fat, bearded old gent familiar to us today are often credited to the great, acid Civil War era political cartoonist Thomas Nast, who dreamed up the Republican elephant mascot. Nast drew a star-spangled Santa visiting a Union military camp in 1863 for Harper’s Weekly, though his most iconic Santa drawings seem to come around the 1880s. This might put William Holbrook Beard and Nast coming up with Santa images around the same time.

However, “It Happened Here: The Invention of Santa Claus,” an exhibit at the New York Historical Society through Jan. 7, traces this jolly, tubby version of Santa Claus even earlier, at least to Robert Walter Weir’s 1837 painting “St. Nicholas.”

Pictured: William Holbrook Beard’s oil painting “Santa Claus,” ca. 1862, American, 1824-1900, oil on canvas; 24 1/8 x 36 1/8 in., Jesse Metcalf Fund, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence.

Seeking nominations for 2010 Art Awards

Monday, December 20th, 2010

The 2010 New England Art Awards is a contest to honor the best art made here, local writing about local art, and exhibits organized here in 2010. And we are seeking nominations from you, expert reader. So submit your recommendations here.

The aim of the awards, which are organized by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research, is to promote a more exciting local art scene by encouraging and celebrating the work of artists, art writers and curators active in New England (except Yalies – see why below). Everyone is welcome to nominate. Winners will be chosen by (1) local active art journalists and (2) anyone else who wants to vote – and will be announced in terms of these two categories of voters.

This year we’ve added two new awards categories. First is the Maud Morgan Prize for local midcareer woman artist. We plan to award this prize annually until Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts reinstates its own annual Maud Morgan Prize, which it has neglected to award since 2006. Second is the “essay by a local writer about locally-made art,” a category which has been suggested to us by several people since we began the awards. We, of course, believe that art writing is vital to creative communities. But as we are in the writing game, we’ve felt odd about overseeing such an award. But participation in the awards nominating and voting has grown large enough that we believe we can offer this award without undue conflict of interest.

So consider yourself invited to submit nominations here (and vote once the ballot of nominees is posted here in January). The nominating process is automated – and our robots are standing by to receive your suggestions. You’re welcome to submit as many nominations as you like or to leave lots of blanks. Each nomination must be accompanied by a link to the show or publication. This is to help us save time in confirming each nomination’s eligibility and in building the awards ballot. Also we ask you to submit a name and e-mail address to prevent fraud and to help us doublecheck submissions, but we promise not to share it with anybody or add you to any mailing list.

Nominations should be received by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 5, to be considered. The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research (at its sole, imperfect, capricious discretion) will prepare an awards ballot culled from all the nominations we receive. We’re actually going to cull the nominees significantly. And we could use some help. If you’re interested in helping advise our culling, please e-mail us a brief note explaining why the awards would benefit from your expertise and/or point of view. We’re especially interested in help from people who have different views from us and so could help us fashion an awards ballot that is broadly representative of the best of our community.

The awards ballot will be posted here in mid January and voting will run for a week. (Deadlines will be posted here). Winners will be announced during our New England Art Awards Ball (which we aim to keep free and open to all) and here at The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research in (we think) early February. (Note: Details may change somewhat as this year’s contest shapes up.)

Please contact us with any questions, suggestions, complaints, dire warnings. And please submit nominations. (But remember nominations will only be accepted via the robot nomination form thingie.)

Some nomination rules:

For artist nominations: Artists must reside in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire or Connecticut. And the art must have been exhibited in New England (in a gallery, on the street, online, published) in 2010. No Yalies will be accepted – as we believe that Yale is a suburb and satellite of New York and this is not the New York Art Awards. We will identify and banish Yalies at our sole, nutty discretion.

For writer nominations: Writers must reside in New England, excepting Yale. The essay must have been published – in print or online – in 2010.

For curator nominations: Exhibits must have been organized by a local institution or curator and must have been on view in New England in 2010. For example, “Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese” at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts in 2009 qualified that year because it was organized by the MFA, but the great “R. Crumb’s Underground” show at MassArt in 2009 did not qualify because it was organized by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Also, “Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand” at the ICA in 2009 qualified because even though it was organized (mostly) by an outside curator it was organized exclusively for the local museum.

The 2009 New England Art Awards winners.
2009 New England Art Awards photos and press.
The 2009 New England Art Awards ballot.
The 2009 New England Art Awards nominees.

The 2008 Boston Art Awards winners.
2008 Boston Art Awards photos.
The 2008 Boston Art Awards ballot.
Vote for the 2008 Boston Art Awards.
Seeking nominations for 2008 Boston Art Awards.
Planning the “2008 New England Art Awards”?

Construction continues at Musee Patamecanique

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

For some months now, the remarkable Musee Patamecanique in Bristol, Rhode Island, has been undergoing an expansion and renovation as it moves to new quarters. Every now and again, we check the museum’s website for an update (it reads “we’re almost done,” as pictured above) and then send a missive to the proprietor Neil Salley and his, um, fantastic collaborator Martial Canterel inquiring how the work is progressing. Because, frankly, we can’t wait to see how the institution is transformed. A major project of this sort takes time — often more time than initially anticipated. So while improvements to the Musee continue, we’re told that it still will be some months before a grand reopening to the public. But to give you a sneak peak, dear readers, we offer this missive we recently received from a vacationing M. Canterel (who, we must say, somewhat exaggerates our impatience with the project):

Dear Mr. Cook,

I too, am flabbergasted at the current state of affairs at Le Musee. While I believe Mr. Salley’s efforts are sincere and he has made enormous progress with the Museum – the limits of my patience have been pushed beyond all measure.

For instance, today he wrote (I am currently on vacation in Disney Land) to explain that he has flooded three of the subterranean levels so as to enlarge the Hall of Mermaids. These levels, mind you, contained our administration offices as well as my own cherished collections of false mustaches and false beards, wax grapes, glass eyes, pubic wigs, extraterrestrial footprints, an aerial paving beetle of my own design as well as a golden cup from El Dorado. But what troubles me most is that my close friend Dr. Winkinshine and his talking horse Millhauser were temporarily lodged on level 6. I do not know what has become of them, but fear the worst.

So I share your frustrations Mr. Cook. It has become increasingly difficult to maintain the sense of mystery and spontaneity which drew us to this project in the first place!



Previously: Our 2007 interview with Neil Salley.

Rockport’s Christmas Nativity Pageant

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

The annual Christmas Nativity Pageant in Rockport, Massachusetts, as photographed by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research tonight. The live, torchlit procession began in Dock Square, continued up Main Street to the Rockport Art Association, where the Holy Family was turned away from the “inn,” then to the Congregational Church, where the Nativity scene was reenacted. The art association has been organizing the pageant the since 1947.

Siegel wins ICA Foster Prize

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

And NEJAR correctly predicts winner, again
Harvard professor Amie Siegel has been named the winner of the Institute of Contemporary Art’s $25,000 James and Audrey Foster Prize for 2010 for “Boston-area artists of exceptional promise,” the Boston museum announced. Though it’s unclear exactly how Boston-area she is. Her website says she lives and works in Berlin, New York and Cambridge, but Harvard’s website and the 2008 Whitney Biennial website say she lives in New York and Berlin. ICA materials seem not to identify where she resides. Update: The ICA tells us that she “divides her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and New York, but her studio is located in Cambridge.”

She was chosen the winner from among nine finalists, whose work is on view through Jan. 17, by a three-person jury: New York-based sculptor Chakaia Booker; Dominic Molon, chief curator at the Contemporary Art Museum, St Louis; and Claudia Schmuckli, director of the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston.

We correctly predicted the winner when we wrote on Oct. 5 that:

“I’m betting they’ll pick Harvard professor Amie Siegel, whose surreal, 20-minute, B-art-movie, ‘Black Moon’ (pictured above), has women in fatigues armed with rifles running around abandoned suburban housing developments in a mountain valley. Sharply filmed and not too long, it echoes the housing crash, war in Afghanistan, global warming, and the 1984 Patrick Swayze film Red Dawn, in which the Soviets overrun Colorado. (The ICA says Siegel is actually alluding to Louis Malle’s surreal 1975 war-between-the-sexes film, ‘Black Moon.’ Oh well.) I’m not saying that the judges will pick Siegel because her fun film was my favorite thing in the show. I just don’t see how they can resist a Harvard exploitation movie.”

We also correctly predicted that Andrew Witkin would win the 2008 Foster Prize. Which makes us two for two. (We were too chicken to hazard a prediction when the ICA first instituted this game show format in 2006. But, hey, has any other local writer over the years correctly predict the winners?)

Goulis, Leone, Montford, Tryforos and Wetmore at Chazan

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

From our review of a group show featuring Richard Goulis, Lucky Leone, James Montford, Tina Tryforos and Ellen Wetmore at the Wheeler School’s Chazan Gallery, which closed on Dec. 8:

It seems life should feel easy with all our faster foods and whiter teeth and smarter bombs, but despite — or perhaps because of — all our modern conveniences, we feel as awkward and hapless as ever. That is one unspoken theme that viewers might draw from the five local artists exhibiting at the Chazan Gallery at the Wheeler School.

Lucky Leone of Providence presents his “Particle Dust Accelerator” (pictured above), a hexagonal arrangement of metal ventilation pipes with lights, buttons, and handles on the sides, and caution-striped legs. It looks like the mutant offspring of ventilation shafts, construction barricades, and a lunar lander.

On top are little boxes with blue screens that appear to offer data about whatever the humming machine is doing: “chamber temperature,” “wind vector index,” and so on. Press red buttons on the boxes and the screens flash the text of a story about a grad student roped by his department head into helping an undergrad attempt to build a perpetual motion machine, no matter the impossibility of the task. He gets out of it by ducking into an elevator, and never seeing the student again. “Am I a bad person/teacher or a smart one? Can I be both?” the blue screens ask. It’s an elaborate sculpture for a wispy, sad sack fantasy gag.

Read the rest here.

Group show featuring Richard Goulis, Lucky Leone, James Montford, Tina Tryforos and Ellen Wetmore at the Chazan Gallery at the Wheeler School, 228 Angell Street, Providence, Nov. 18 to Dec. 8, 2010.

Tina Tryforos

Ellen Wetmore, “Dora Maar.”

James Montford, “My Wife.”

Richard Goulis, “Television II”

Mass MoCA given $3M for dance

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Mass MoCA has been promised a $3 million gift from the estate of Irene Hunter to endow dance programming at the North Adams, Massachusetts museum, the institution announced. The donation also leverages the release of a $1 million challenge grant. With this $4 million, Mass MoCA says it has completed its goal of raising $36 million for its Permanence Campaign, begun in 2007 to build an endowment for MASS MoCA’s future, support its “museum within a museum” dedicated to Sol LeWitt’s wall drawing retrospective, and to support operations during the campaign period.

Irene and Bing Hunter had already made a donation to Mass MoCA in 1999 that helped fund the creation of the museum’s Hunter Center performing arts space that is named for them.

“Some might ask if this somehow relieves Mass MoCA of the need for continuing fund raising,” Mass MoCA Director Joseph Thompson said in a prepared statement. “While a terrific boost, we are still very much dependent on the continuing support of our members, gifts to our annual fund, grants and sponsorships. Indeed, there are two realities to the completion of this Permanence Fund campaign. The first is that many donors are still making multiple year payments on their endow-ment gifts, so we cannot expect to enjoy the full benefits of investment earnings on endowment for several years out. And while people are making these large capital gifts, our ‘bread and butter’ annual gifts to everyday operations and programs will continue to be tight. Secondly, the textbook definition of a financially robust not-for-profit is one that obtains approximately 35 percent of its annual operating budget from endowment earnings. Even after all the Permanence Fund endowment pledge payments come in over the next few years, our earnings from endowment will be about 13 percent of our total budget, thus a balanced budget will still require lean operations, coupled with strong annual giving. This is a great beginning.”

Ben Jones’s “Problem Solverz” coming to Cartoon Network

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

Ben Jones, who has bounced back and forth between Massachusetts and Rhode Island working with the collaborative Paper Rad as well as on solo projects, is now in Burbank, California, “working long days on his Cartoon Network series ‘The Problem Solverz’” (above, a sample posted to YouTube on Dec. 5), according to his New York publisher PictureBox. The publisher adds, the first season of his trippy fabulous cockamamie series, “which was written with Eric (Futurama) Kaplan, is in the middle of production, with an air date sometime in 2011. This is not, as some of you may know, ‘Neon Knome,’ which was an Adult Swim project that sprung briefly to life. This new show is, if anything, a more pure expression of Ben’s longtime characters, Horace, Roba, and Alfe. It perfectly exemplifies Ben’s genius for character, dialogue, and strikingly beautiful world building.”

As we’ve said before: If you’re a local museum having trouble finding a local artist to feature, consider this MassArt grad who has shown at Deitch Projects, The Museum of Modern Art, The New Museum, Yerba Buena, and Tate Britain. Do you want to be the last museum to figure out that this hometown guy is worth paying attention to? And he’d make a great keynote feature at the 2011 Boston Cyberarts Fest.

How the Maud Morgan Prize was restored

Friday, December 10th, 2010

A timeline of the (apparently) successful effort to get Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts to reinstate its annual $5,000 Maud Morgan Purchase Prize and exhibit for midcareer women artists, after the museum failed to award it since 2006. It’s an example of how a small group of people can better our art community. Hurray!

Oct. 1, 2009: MFA spokeswoman responds to The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research’s inquiry about the museum neglecting to award the Morgan Prize: “The prize is currently being evaluated in an effort to make its impact as substantive as possible for future recipients. We expect to continue the award tradition in 2010.”

Oct. 7, 2009: We publish article “MFA neglects to award prize for neglected female artists” in The Boston Phoenix, saying: “The MFA is finishing up a renovation and expansion project that is scheduled to conclude with the opening of a new American Wing in November 2010. That would be the perfect occasion for the museum to reaffirm its commitment to locally made art.”

Sept. 20, 2010: MFA spokeswoman responds to our inquiry about the status of the Morgan Prize: “I spoke with Edward Saywell (Head of Department of Contemporary Art & MFA Programs) and he let me know that there is active discussion about the prize, but it won’t be awarded this year.”

Oct. 5, 2010: We publish article “Can you love Boston art and still love the Foster Prize? And what happened to the Morgan Prize?” in The Boston Phoenix, saying:

“If the MFA isn’t interested in giving out the money, I’d be happy to take over administration of the grant. In the meantime, send polite reminders to MFA director Malcolm Rogers, 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston MA 02115. Or email him at Also, during the New England Art Awards, which I organize each winter, I aim to launch a new people’s-choice award, the Maud Morgan Prize for Local Museums That Overlook Local Women Artists. I’m now accepting nominations.”

October/November 2010: Laura Chasman, who won the Morgan Prize in 2001, tells us that her husband read our Phoenix article, told her she had to read it, and she kept it on her desk for some time, and followed our advice to contact Malcolm Rogers. “His response was immediate, and it was simply ‘I appreciate your thoughtful e-mail,’ and it was CC’d to the curators,” Chasman says.

November 2010: MFA contemporary art curator Jen Mergel contacts artist and School of the Museum of Fine Arts teacher Mags Harries to schedule a meeting during the week of Dec. 6 to discuss Museum School alums who might be exhibited at the MFA and the Morgan Prize, according to Harries.

Nov. 20, 2010: Another local artist (who has asked for anonymity) e-mails a bunch of people, specifically encouraging them to follow our suggestion and contact the MFA about the Morgan Prize. We and Cate McQuaid of The Boston Globe are also sent the note.

Dear Fellow Artists,

Ever since reading Greg Cook’s article in the Providence [sic] Phoenix several weeks ago I have been meaning to forward this to all the Boston women artists I know (or have email addresses for). It’s infuriating that the MFA has not given this award for the past four years. I made a contribution to the prize fund when it was established as I imagine several of you did, too. Let’s follow Greg Cook’s suggestion and email Malcolm Rogers asking why the prize hasn’t been awarded since 2006! There is so little support and recognition for artists in Boston that we should make sure the MFA doesn’t let this slip away. Please forward to all our colleagues whose addresses I don’t have and send an email to or a letter to Malcolm Rogers, 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston 02115.

Nov. 29, 2010: Edward Saywell, chairman of the MFA’s contemporary art department, responds to e-mails from this group:

Many thanks for your message regarding the Maud Morgan Prize at the MFA. We have not awarded the prize in recent years because unfortunately the fund is modest enough that the prize is not able to be of a meaningful size if awarded on an annual basis. We have decided that giving the prize a bit more sparingly, but with greater funds, will be a better way of meeting the original intentions of the award. Please rest assured that we have plans in the works to reinstitute the prize shortly on a regular basis and in a manner which will ensure that we better meet Maud Morgan’s vision for the prize. A formal announcement will be forthcoming relatively shortly and I will ensure that you are forwarded news of that.

Dec. 1, 2010: MFA spokeswoman tells us the museum has received 10 e-mails about the Maud Morgan Prize.

Dec. 6, 2010: MFA spokeswoman e-mails us: “Edward is back from Miami and I spoke with him about Maud Morgan. The prize will be continued in fall 2011. The details are still being worked out.”

Dec. 8, 2010: Boston Globe publishes report: “MFA shelving of award draws artists’ ire: Local prize placed on hiatus in midst of $504m building drive.”

Dec. 8: 2010: We publish report in Phoenix: “MFA reinstates women’s art prize.”

Jenny Holzer projection on Portland Museum of Art

Friday, December 10th, 2010

New York artist Jenny Holzer presented “For Portland,” a projection of poetry by Wisława Szymborska onto the facade of the Portland Museum of Art Tuesday night, Dec. 7, 2010.

Video by Althusser.