Archive for July, 2011

MCC grant winners at Tufts

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

From our review of “New and recent work by 13 Massachusetts Cultural Council 2010 Award Recipients in Painting and Drawing,” which closes today at Tufts University Art Gallery:

The longer you look at Michael Zelehoski’s trompe-l’oeil images of shipping palettes (“Blue Palletes” pictured above), a striped construction barrier, and a ladder, the more something seems off, though it’s difficult to say just what. And that’s where the Lee artist’s work gets awesome — and what makes it stand out in the very specifically titled exhibit “New and Recent Work by 13 Massachusetts Cultural Council 2010 Award Recipients in Painting and Drawing” at Tufts University Art Gallery.

Zelehoski’s images are actually fashioned of painted wood strips that sit in slight relief against empty black or white backgrounds, which gives them a strange extra sensation of depth. He stretches perspective, often for a slight fish-eye feel. But look closely at his image of a construction-barricade crossbar. Note that the board’s perspective lines flip as they run from side to side, creating an object that looks convincingly real, but is, in fact, a magical M.C. Escher impossibility. These sturdy-seeming objects appear to warp, float, and teeter in space, and you can’t help but feel that the floor is falling out from under you.

Read the rest here.

“New and recent work by 13 Massachusetts Cultural Council 2010 Award Recipients in Painting and Drawing,” Tufts University Art Gallery, 40 Talbot Avenue, Medford, Massachusetts, June 2 to July 31, 2011.

Jerome Liebling has died

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Photographer and filmmaker Jerome Liebling of Amherst, Massachusetts, died yesterday, at age 87. From our archives, below is our review of his exhibit “Capturing the Human Spirit,” which was at the Currier Museum of Art in New Hampshire last summer:

After serving in the Army in World War II, Jerome Liebling returned to his home town of New York and studied with Paul Strand at the New York Photo League. There he also met members W. Eugene Smith, Lisette Model, and Aaron Siskind (then transitioning to early documentary projects about Harlem and the like). He picked up some of Strand’s burnished Modernist formality, as you can tell from a sensuous 1963 close-up of the needles and quilted trunk of a saguaro cactus. But Liebling turned his skill toward a social portrait of America, in the spirit of a good New Deal Democrat.

“Capturing the Human Spirit,” a 29-photo career survey at the Currier Museum of Art, shows how he photographed people in New York attending a 1948 May Day parade, and African-American children on the streets. “Butterfly Boy” (1949) [pictured above] looks down at a tiny kid who looks back with a defiant stare. His hands are in his pockets, lifting up the sides of his herringbone coat to reveal his tattered shirt, his badly laced shoes.

In 1949, Liebling started teaching in Minneapolis, and he developed a major body of work about Minnesota. He photographed political rallies and mental-health clinics, black workers sweating in cornfields, stout white men with blunt knives among the bloody cattle strung up in slaughterhouses, proud but poor denizens of Chippewa and Blackfeet reservations, and the bald white men in suits governing the board of directors of a railroad. It’s a body of gritty black-and-white work in the tradition of Bill Brandt’s 1930s studies of social class in London society or W. Eugene Smith’s 1950s survey of Pittsburgh.

Liebling went on to document ordinary lives in Franco’s authoritarian Spain during a year there beginning in 1966. In 1969, he moved to Hampshire College in Amherst, where he still lives. He shot the urban wastelands of New York’s Bronx in the 1970s and, switching to color, small towns dying as mining and the steel industry withered in the ’80s. “Morning in Monessen, Pennsylvania” (1983) is an Edward Hopper–esque image of an old stooped lady in white standing alone along a vacant, seemingly abandoned main street.

Currier curator P. Andrew Spahr hits the main points, but the photos feel as if they’d lost their context and, in turn, their social critique. Portraiture has always been a major part of Liebling’s work, but here it becomes the focus. The politicians are gone, as is much of the action, the poverty, the pain. It’s an odd retrospective reframing that shoehorns his work into today’s deadpan-portrait fad. And it makes Liebling less interesting, complex, and prickly than he actually is.

A 1997 interview with Liebling by Minnesota Public Radio.
A July 1, 2011, interview with Liebling at the blog This Is The What.

Yokelist update: Is the architecture against us?

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

In April, we asked: “Is new museum architecture against local art?” Our point was that galleries for post World War II art in the major new museum structures like Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art and Museum of Fine Arts are built to the scale of the international art Circuit, which is supersized. We asked: “But in Boston—and other non-art-world-capitals—which artists can afford to make giant paintings and sculptures? And if you make them, who can afford to ship and store them?”

This week The Art Newspaper notes that art on the international Circuit is getting even bigger because “the growth of private museums means alpha collectors have space to fill and the means to do it.” The newspaper reports that after a brief shift back toward “domestic-size art” at the beginning of the Great Recession, “judging by the two key art events this year, the Venice Biennale and Art Basel, the pendulum seems to have swung back towards bigger art, both for commissioned works and for those offered on the market.”

“The size of art also reflects the evolution of domestic, gallery and museum architecture, which are increasingly gigantic, and the emergence of artists in countries such as China or India where production costs are so low: where else but in China could you produce 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds, as Ai Weiwei did for his Turbine Hall installation?” András Szántó, author, consultant to cultural institutions, and contributing editor of The Art Newspaper said at an Art Basel panel on “How Will Museums Be Able to Collect?” in Switzerland in June, according to The Art Newspaper.

“Big works, however, are exactly what many of today’s alpha collectors want,” The Art Newspaper reports. “With the growth of private museums, they have space to fill and the means to do so. They also want works with huge visual impact: contemporary art spaces, be they private or public, need to grip visitors, give them an ‘experience’ and send them away thinking ‘wow!’ Size is one of the ways of achieving this. And the spaces available for art are breathtakingly huge today—just filling them can be a challenge.”

Picture above: Art Basel panel on “How Will Museums Be Able to Collect?” featuring (from left to right) Victoria and Albert Museum incoming director Martin Roth, Guggenheim chief curator Nancy Spector, Chris Dercon, András Szántó.

The Yokelist Papers:
Yokelist Manifesto Number 1: Boston lacks alternative spaces?
Yokelism at the 2008 Boston Art Awards.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 2: Montreal case study.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 3: Hire locally.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 4: We need coverage of our living artists.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 5: We need local retrospectives.
Yokelism update: Coverage of our living artists: Sebastian Smee responds.
Yokelism update: Dangers of Provincialism.
Yokelism update: Re: Dangers of Provincialism.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 6: Could the CIA help?
Yokelism at the 2009 New England Art Awards.
Re: “Yokelism with your wallet out.”
Globe: The revolution begins with Harvard – a Yokelist response.
Yokelist questions Globe diss of Boston.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 7: Can you love Boston art and still love the Foster Prize?
Yokelist Manifesto 8: We need local art history.
Yokelism and the Maud Morgan Prize.
Yokelist Manifesto 10: Is the architecture against us?

Portland museum awarded $100K grant

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

The Portland Museum of Art announced yesterday that it has been awarded a $100,000 grant from the Sam L. Cohen Foundation of Portland, Maine, to support the first two years of educational programming at its Winslow Homer Studio at Prouts Neck, Maine, which is scheduled to open to the public in September 2012.

The programs to be supported are “Cannon Rock Sessions,” a biennial residency “fostering creativity with two visiting scholars” beginning in the summer of 2013; “Art in Process,” a professional and curricular development program for Maine high school teachers; and “Homer High School Fellows,” a three-week studio art and museum internship program for Portland High School students.

Poor Yokelist’s Almanack: Upcoming Events

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Wednesday, July 27, 5:30 p.m.
Tom Plsek, Joanne Rice, and Alisia L L Waller of Mobius artists group in Cambridge speak at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts’ Clark Library, third floor, 230 the Fenway, Boston. Free.

Wednesday, July 27, 6 p.m.
Philadelphia artist Anthony Campuzano speaks at Maine College of Art’s Institute of Contemporary Art, 522 Congress St., Portland, Maine.

Saturday, July 30, and Sunday, July 31
Bumpkin Island Art Encampment, organized by the Berwick Research Institute, features five art collectives creating installations on the island in Boston harbor. Access by $17 ferry from Boston.

Friday, July 29, 7 p.m.
Allen Rokach talks about “the Power of Natural Light” and outdoor photography at the Clark Art Institute, 225 South St., Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Saturday, July 30, 2 p.m. to 1 a.m.
The Wooly Fair, “an annual explosion of expression by the local creative community and … all-inclusive platform for music, performance, and participatory art,” is at the Steel Yard, 27 Sims Ave., Providence.

Saturday, July 30, 8:05 p.m.
WaterFire lights up 80 bonfires along the three rivers of downtown Providence.

Sunday, July 31, 11 a.m.
Gordon Chandler speaks about his trophy room installation of wall mounted deer heads using reclaimed steel at Ferrin Gallery, 437 North St., Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with Ute Stebich, a former Lenox gallery owner.

Monday, Aug. 1, 6 p.m.
Workshop on “How to Live Within Your Means/Steps to Managing Your Finances” at Boston Center for the Arts’ Calderwood Pavilion, 539 Tremont St., Boston. Organized by ArtMorpheus, the BCA and Boston Home Center.

“Cocktail Culture” at RISD

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

From our review of “Cocktail Culture” at the RISD Museum:

Across the country, on January 16, 1920, citizens drank up at liquor “wakes” before the 18th Amendment, ratified a year before, went into effect at midnight, banning the manufacture, sale, and transportation of “intoxicating liquors.”
In Chicago, trucks motored across the city to fill the last legal booze orders. In Boston, Police Superintendent Crowley put a double force of officers on duty to enforce his order that drinking must be stopped and liquor seized at 12:01 am. As Daniel Okrent reports in his 2010 book “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition,” liquor was being secreted away in the woods of Maine, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, then assistant secretary of the Navy, was tossing back champagne with fellow members of the Harvard class of 1904 at a Washington club.

The next morning America went dry. Or was supposed to. Instead, illegal distribution and speakeasies sprang up to slake American’s thirst. The exhibit “Cocktail Culture: Ritual and Invention in American Fashion, 1920-1980″ takes this underground drinking culture as the starting point to examine 20th-century America, from sequined flapper dresses and streamlined cocktail shakers to Hawaiian shirts and disco gowns. RISD Museum curators Joanne Dolan Ingersoll and Kate Irvin and curatorial assistant Laurie Brewer have assembled some 220 ravishing objects (nearly all the outfits from RISD’s collection) for one of the best shows of the year. What makes it so sharp is the show’s attempt to reframe our view of that era through mixing — drinks, company, races.

Prohibition was supposed to be one of the crowning achievements of progressive reform, ranging from the abolition of slavery to trust-busting and the regulation of food. The ban on alcohol was seen as a way to cut down on men beating their wives and keep drunks from impoverishing their families by squandering their pay (though it was also driven by bigots aiming to keep European immigrants in check). The 18th Amendment was quickly followed by women winning the vote via the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

But Americans did not comply….

Read the rest here.

“Cocktail Culture: Ritual and Invention in American Fashion, 1920-1980,” RISD Museum, 224 Benefit St., Providence, April 15 to July 31, 2011.

“Don’t dismiss what they handed
to Raul and me”

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Artists reject our criticism

of MFA Community Arts Initiative

Two local artists who have participated in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ “Community Arts Initiative” say we undervalued the program when we called it “a kids art education workshop guided by a local artist, not a showcase for an adult artist.” We made that criticism while considering whether the MFA’s July 12 announcement that it had picked its first Maud Morgan Prize winner since 2006 might be a sign of the museum taking a greater interest in contemporary art being made here. Edward Saywell, the chair of the MFA’s contemporary art department and MFA programs, named the program as part of the museum’s Boston focus. We were disappointed that a program primarily focused on–in the MFA’s words–introducing “youth to the museum’s collections and the art-making process” is one of the museum’s primary efforts to show art made here. However artists Raul Gonzalez of Somerville and Caleb Neelon of Cambridge (his 2009-2010 project is pictured at top) take exception to our stance.

Caleb Neelon introduces their rebuttal:

So, in Greg’s never-ending quest to bust the balls of the MFA, ICA, deCordova, and every other museum that doesn’t show locally-made art to his satisfaction, he managed to poop on the MFA’s Community Arts Initiative exhibits. That pissed off Raul Gonzalez and me – the artists who did the last two of ‘em, so we thought we’d retort.

The Community Arts Initiative is an artist-run project that spans a school year, pairing an artist with about a hundred kids from Boston’s underserved or whatever-euphemism-you-want-to-use neighborhoods, mostly via Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, to create an exhibit in the big Linde wing of the MFA – aka the big space with the escalator, the one that used to be the entrance. And Greg seemed to feel that this project wasn’t a ‘real’ exhibition for a local artist at the MFA. Cue Raul and me pissed off.

Gonzalez writes:

The Community Arts Initiative Project is perfect for those artists who are interested in creating an artwork that reflects on the MFA’s collection, community and its place in an institution like the MFA. I viewed my project (from 2010 to 2011, pictured above) as an opportunity to reflect on the New American Wing and its definition of American History and Society. I felt that it would be perfect timing to show what the true make up of an American family is in any given city across the U.S.A.

The Community Arts Initiative is also a great introduction to kids who may not have exposure to art and museums. Here they are given the opportunity to work with a professional artist and to create artwork that will be seen by thousands.

I never looked at the project as simply being an “art project with kids” but as an extension of my work and philosophies.

The museum is choosing local artists who have had gallery and perhaps education experience to create a museum worthy exhibition. An artist is able to bring forth their ideas regardless of limitations and in this case we have upwards of 100 collaborators which makes for an interesting, challenging and fun experience.

Neelon adds:

Greg, I’m glad that you lean on the MFA, and props for getting the Maud Morgan awarded – little question that it was your stink-raising that got that in motion. And in general, yeah, the MFA could do a lot cooler things with the local art it shows. But don’t dismiss what they handed to Raul and me via the Community Arts Initiative, even though I know it is incredibly difficult for an art critic to push away the ‘it was made in part by kids’ fact. You at least did better than our imported Pulitzer-winner, who wrote an article about ‘things at the MFA your kids might enjoy’ and didn’t seem to think ‘art made in part by kids’ might resonate. But you push Yokelism, and we do great education here at all levels, ages, and disciplines – and to a degree unlike any city I know, we have educator stars – think Ben Zander. The Community Arts Initiative is the way that the MFA engages and develops the great local tradition of educator-practitioners. It’s not an opportunity that will work for every artist, but for those whose work and practice sometimes bridges the age divide, there’s no better game in town.

It’s simplistic to presume that all artists want the same thing, and the path to their desired goal must follow similar steps, and that all the MFA has to offer is single-flavor ‘status,’ doled out in either greater or lesser amounts. It’s a very Chelsea way of looking at things. The MFA, unlike the ICA or other local institutions, has the special power of putting any art ever in the ring with the rest of art ever, whether that’s a mummy, a basket, a painting, or a silver jug, and in that way not need to prioritize what the billionaires are buying these days.

Community Arts Initiative was an opportunity to do a big, well-funded, well-organized, and most important – unique and personal idea that fit with the rest of what I do, and do it on a primo piece of museum real estate. When I was a little boy, I’d visit the MFA and wish I could paint that bigass wall in what’s now called the Linde Wing. Guess what? The MFA moved a David Hockney and an Alex Katz painting to give the whole wall over to me. I don’t know that I’ve seen a local artist get that big a wall at the MFA in my lifetime. AND I had a ‘who farted?’ sign.

More thoughts on Brandeis’s Rose Art Museum

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

In the wake of the happy ending to the lawsuit to preserve Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum, Hub Review editor-in-chief Thomas Garvey and New England Journal of Aesthetic Research custodian Greg Cook have been discussing what the hell happened. And Garvey has kindly posted their exchange for our readers’ general edification here.

In it, Garvey notes, “that the donor community at large may have ultimately had more influence over the administration than the arts community alone. … Selling off the Rose collection betrayed and insulted the trust and intentions of precisely the kind of donors the university was simultaneously trying to woo!” And Cook says, “I keep thinking that the old Brandeis president, head finance guy, etc., might still have those jobs at Brandeis if they hadn’t targeted the Rose. Look at all the other schools–including Harvard–that suffered major financial losses in the Great Recession. Pretty much all of their administrators remain in place. It seems Brandeis leaders didn’t piss people off with their (mis)management of the school’s finances — but going after the Rose seemed to turn the tide against them.” And, most shockingly, Garvey admits that he may have made an error.

GASP to move?

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

GASP gallery, which was founded by artist Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons and her musician husband Neil Leonard in 2004, has closed its doors at 368 Boylston St. in Brookline, Massachusetts. Leonard tells The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research that they plan to reopen in a new space in the fall.

Campos-Pons, a teacher at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and one of the most prominent artists in the region, was the subject of a major traveling retrospective organized by the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2007. GASP, short for Gallery Artists Studio Projects, has been a gallery and performance venue, as well as renting studios to artists. Though it has been less prominent of late, the gallery has been a major alternative venue for local emerging artists–particularly those coming out of the Museum School–as well as presenting sharp, small group shows featuring international art stars like Kerry James Marshall and Carrie Mae Weems, whom Campos-Pons has brought in through her own extensive art world network. Around 2008, the gallery expanded into the storefront next door, about doubling its gallery space. But for the past couple years finances have been tight, and not helped by the Great Recession.

“Whatever we don’t have [in Boston] we make,” Leonard told me when the gallery celebrated its fifth anniversary in 2009. “And GASP is one of the ways we do that.”

Oct. 20, 2009: GASP marks five years.
Oct. 20, 2009: Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons interview.

Cody Thompson

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Our review of Cody Thompson’s now closed exhibit at Craftland:

The owl-falcon smiles with demonic, googly-eyes and a wide, maniacal, fanged grin. “Bird #1″ (pictured above) as Providence artist Cody Thompson calls his creation, is an array of rainbow-hued sequins and beads that he stitched to a bright magenta cloth bordered with blue and gold ribbons and blue fringe. The bird raises its wings in a brilliant display of flower-shaped sequins.

“Witch Doctor,” Thompson’s terrific exhibit of beaded and sequined banners at Craftland (235 Westminster Street, Providence, through June 11), takes its inspiration from traditional Haitian voodoo (or vodou) banners, with hints of ’80s glam. The Haitian creations usually arrange sequins to depict African deities, Catholic saints, and charged symbols that come from the tradition’s brew of African and European faiths. Thompson adapts this vibrant look to depict his own sparkly scenes.

In the past, Thompson has stitched together dolls — like those in the “Boys of Summer” exhibit at Craftland in 2009 — including cute, soft, morbidly witty flower-petal head figures, Hindu deities, a leather-clad bondage dude, an astronaut, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, a woman with a cracked head laying in a pool of blood, and a naked guy suckling at a she-wolf based on the founding Roman twins Romulus and Remus. You could unzip some of them and remove the soft fabric organs inside. The dolls were by turns charming and alarming, like rascal Muppets run deliciously amok.

Here Thompson evidences the same level of skill, while adopting a more cosmic outlook. One banner features blue and black sequined pyramids shining under a blue and white sequin moon and bead stars. Another banner shows the moon in sparkly green and silver sequins on a blue velvet night sky.

A misstep is a jokey banner showing a ring of eight planets with the Disney cartoon dog Pluto in the center. And some may be rubbed the wrong way by a pair of dolls that are caricatures of “savages” with rings around their necks and grass skirts.

When he’s on, Thompson uses the Haitian banner style to turn mundane things fabulous, as in “Victory” (pictured above), which shows a mouse dead in a Victory brand trap. But mostly Thompson makes fabulous things more fabulous like an owl shimmering under the sequined slogan “remember,” or a quartet of white mice circling a poisonous orange, black and yellow coral snake coiled in an interlaced pattern.

Traditional handcraft has become of the most vital strains of fine art today. It arises out of the ashes of the end of mainline Modernist art in the 1960s and ’70s. Minimalism pared down art to its elemental essentials. Then Conceptual art dematerialized art altogether in favor of ideas. Meanwhile, the past generation has grown synthetic as more and more artists turn over the creation of their works to assistants and outside contractors.

In the art world, you can begin a crafty lineage with the soft fabric Pop art sculptures of the ’60s, which were among the first works to push traditional women’s crafts — sewing, quilting, weaving — into the center of the art world. At the end of Modernism, artists were craving a return to imagery and beauty and wildcat energy. And Modernist artists have, of course, long mined art outside the precincts of “fine” art for raw energy — Gauguin posed as a Tahitian naïf, Picasso borrowed from African masks, Jackson Pollock fancied himself a Native American shaman, and Pop artists ripped off comic books.

The difference this time around is that the crafty movement arose out of feminism and gay rights activism. The Pop soft sculptures, which tended to be overshadowed by the more mechanical art by guys like Warhol and Lichtenstein, were followed by Pattern and Decoration art of the ’70s and the “AIDS Memorial Quilt” begun in 1987. All of this challenged the traditional gender-based categorization of, say, painting as fine art and fabric pieces as lady crafts. Craftland is one of the leading outposts of the crafty movement embodied by Etsy and Stitch ‘n’ Bitch that has entered the mainstream in the footsteps of ’90s Riot Grrrl punk feminism.

We’re also living at a moment when technology has become pervasive — from iPhones to automatic rest-room faucets, from in vitro fertilization to genetically-modified crops to smart bombs. Underlying all this is a notion that through technology we can perfect life. The crafty movement responds with a craving for the human touch and virtuosity of traditional handcraft. But it acknowledges that people’s idiosyncrasies and mistakes may in fact be a vital part of being human.

Cody Thompson, “Witch Doctor,” Craftland, 235 Westminster St., Providence, through June 11, 2011.
Cody Thompson, detail of “Bird #2.”

Cody Thompson, “Remember.”

Poor Yokelist’s Almanack: Upcoming Events

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Wednesday, July 20, 5:30 p.m.
Mari Novotny-Jones and El Putnam
 of Mobius artists group in Cambridge speak at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts’ Clark Library, third floor, 230 the Fenway, Boston. Free.

Thursday, July 21, 4 p.m.
Geographer and Artists In Context co-director Marie Cieri leads a workshop on nontraditional mapping techniques and theory at the C3 Office, 126 Main St., Northampton, Massachusetts. “DIY mapping projects will help participants create tools to respond to hegemonic frameworks. Participants will receive readings on the history of mapping and current alternative mapping examples.” To register, e-mail

Thursday, July 21, 5:30 p.m.
William H. Frake III, a layout and story artist on many animation projects for television and feature length films including “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” “Cabbage Patch Kids,” “ Pound Puppies,”” Who Framed Roger Rabbit?,” “Muppet Babies,” “Hercules,” “Pocahontas,” the “Ice Age” series, and “Robots” speaks at the Norman Rockwell Museum, 9 Route 183, Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Thursday, July 21, 6 p.m.
Sandy Zipp, assistant professor of American civilization and urban studies at Brown University, moderates a discussion on selected readings from Richard D. Lloyd’s book “Neo-Bohemia: Art and Commerce in the Post-Industrial City” at Libertalia, 280 Broadway, Providence. Readings will be available at Libertalia and AS220 in Providence starting July 12.

Thursday, July 21, 7 p.m.
Justin Martin discusses his new book “Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted” at Harvard Book Store, 1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. Free.

Sunday, July 24, 3 p.m.
Filmmaker, curator, and African art expert Susan Vogel screens her documentary “Fold Crumple Crush: The Art of El Anatsui” at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 225 South St., Williamstown, Massachusetts. Vogel will speak after the screening.

Wednesday, July 27, 5:30 p.m.
Tom Plsek, Joanne Rice, and Alisia L L Waller
 of Mobius artists group in Cambridge speak at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts’ Clark Library, third floor, 230 the Fenway, Boston. Free.

“Cave Project” at Gallery 263

Friday, July 15th, 2011

Laura Francis and Ben Ahles have organized a team of six other mostly local artists to create a papier-mâché over chickenwire cave at Gallery 263 in Cambridge. Organizers say “The Cave Project” is an homage to ancient cave paintings that “acts as a metaphor for the modern era, a time of man-made lakes and cities.” When we visited a few weeks ago, the installation felt underdeveloped (work is ongoing) with the papier-mâché still mostly bare newspaper decorated with just two okay paintings—(1) a guy wearing an antler crown surrounded by three ladies and (2) Angry Birds (ugh). But the dark room, with sunlight only coming in a few openings, and the rippling walls and stalactites were cool. You can’t help wanting to climb it.

“The Cave Project,” Gallery 263, 263 Pearl Street, Cambridge, June 26 to July 17, 2011.

Marc Leitzel, Rick Billings

Friday, July 15th, 2011

Our review of Marc Leitzel and Rick Billings’s now closed exhibit at AS220:

In Marc Leitzel’s sharply real scratchboard drawings in AS220′s main gallery, he depicts a tense moment between a couple in bed, a wind-blown woman wrapped in a cape, and a woman with tree branches and leaves bound up in her hair and opossums or rodents peeking out from the leaves. He also exhibits paintings and pastels of a soldier or a couple kissing, but his brushwork is a bit muddled, and these full color works don’t match the scratchboard drawing’s dramatic sense of light and dark.

In Leitzel’s scratchboard “I Need No Soft Lights to Enchant Me” (pictured above), sun glows down through leaves upon a woman, glinting off her long hair and the shoulders of her floral blouse, as she closes her eyes. And that sun really seems to shine because Leitzel’s command of the technique creates the electric effect of scratching light out of darkness.

Also on view in the main gallery are Providence artist Rick Billings’s sweet goth black-and-white pen drawings. A tree grows up through an old wooden chair as a decaying Victorian house lurks on a hill behind. Lampposts come alive and walk down a lane. A girl with wings grasps an iron gate at the bottom of a grassy hill with the Victorian house at the top. Billings’s design of characters and the composition of the spaces is still developing, but he has a feel for creating charming dark worlds in which everything seems spookily alive.

Marc Leitzel and Rick Billings, AS220′s main gallery, 115 Empire St., Providence, June 5 to 25, 2011.

Rick Billings, “Grandma’s Chair II,” micron, graphite, Prismacolor.

Marc Leitzel “His head full of nothing, Her heart of stone, together not even a whole,” scratchboard.

Jef Czekaj

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Beginning last November, Somerville cartoonist and illustrator Jef Czekaj (pictured above) solicited ideas for dozens of “OddAnimals” from patients at Children’s Hospital Boston as part of its “Art for Kool Kidz” program. The kids’ drawings and descriptions of their imaginary menagerie, plus Czekaj’s own renditions, of the ZebraEagle (pictured at left, “an elephant-sized crazy city dweller that eats computers”), Aquamarco by Shelly (pictured below, “likes to swim, make others laugh, and cook and eat healthy food like kale, broccoli, kelp and seaweed. It can multiply with kindness”) and many others are on view in “The Hall of OddAnimals” displayed in the hospital’s lobby gallery until the end of this month.

Czekaj explains:

“I was an artist-in-residence for 6 months or so at Children’s Hospital Boston. I worked with patients and their families to create imaginary creatures called OddAnimals. Workbooks/questionaires guided each child through a series of questions and drawings to help them develop a creature and place it in its environment. These were collected in a mailbox in the lobby of the hospital. I also worked directly with the patients to create them, sometimes in a group setting, and sometimes one on one.

“The goal was to collect over 100 OddAnimals, and the goal was far surpassed. Then, using the work created by the children as inspiration, I created a series of drawings and paintings which are currently hanging in the lobby of the Children’s Hospital. I also created a coloring book of the images that is available at the hospital.

“It was an incredibly inspiring experience for me. Going in to the project, I had no idea how into the idea the kids would get. I was really shocked how all of the children I worked with, regardless of age or ‘proper’ artistic ability, just dug right in, and came up with awesome creatures, creature that no adult could ever have thought of.”

The project was curated by Emily Isenberg under the hospital’s art program coordinated by Jessica Finch, which uses art to help foster a “healing environment” for child patients. The exhibit also includes pages from Czekaj’s Nickelodeon Magazine comic “Grampa and Julie: Shark Hunters” and his children’s books “Hip and Hop Don’t Stop,” “A Call for a New Alphabet” and “Cat Secrets.”

“The Hall of OddAnimals,” Children’s Hospital Boston, 300 Longwood Ave., Boston, through July 31, 2011.