Amid the bustling Boston fall events calendar is the vibrant arts community. From museums to galleries, the fall is ushered in with outstanding exhibitions each year. Although there are many to see, here are some of the standout exhibitions coming this fall.Read More
Ariel Basson Freiberg’s paintings are intense, acidic statements about female sexuality that offer the viewer temptation and denial in a single vibrant image. Freiberg’s women emerge from a saturated background in undeniably erotic poses, a mess of spread legs and arched backs, slightly blurred in mid-motion. Yet Freiberg leaves all of the key information playfully concealed with thick smears of paint: faces, genitals, anything that might expose her subjects. She embraces paint as a sensual medium—described with words like silken, smooth, thick, creamy—and uses it as a means of suggestion without indulgence.
Freiberg’s fascination with the skillful manipulation of paint goes back to a formative trip to Florence. At age 12, Freiberg was captivated by Sandro Botticelli’s “Primavera.” Its mythical subject matter and sheer scale, every corner packed with over 500 types of flora and fauna, lay the foundations for the work she would later create. Botticelli’s masterful technique opened her eyes to a painter’s ability to wield their medium, bring together the softness of the brush and the clarity of pigment to move the viewer.
When she attended the High School for Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, Texas, she began to exploring ideas of feminine identity through painting, installation, and sculpture. In her undergraduate studies at Smith College, she narrowed her focus to two-dimensional mediums. She never took a break from painting—she earned a degree in psychology and studio art, and then immediately continued her practice while receiving an MFA at Boston University
Figurative painting emerged as a subject through which Freiberg could fully explore the interaction between society and feminine identity. “I’m interested in a body that is in a state of transition, a state of being revealed and concealed at the same time,” Freiberg explains, describing the conception of her current body of work. “Of having to self-censor one’s sexuality, which is part of everyday life and part of our society.”
In spring of 2016, Freiberg made a painting of a face colliding with brush strokes that moved her. She related it with frustrations from her personal life, her own experiences in having to censor her sexuality and mold to a certain concept of femininity. She felt that she needed to address these issues more directly in her paintings. That’s when she began blocking out parts of the figures she painted with big, energetic brush strokes. These gestures are the most active parts of the painting; they lead the eye, creating a playful engagement with the body. The censorship empowers the subject, obscuring the vulnerable details from the viewer’s gaze.
Freiberg’s process begins with drawings, referencing an archive of photographs and exploring different gestures. She is influenced by artists like Lisa Yuskavage, Marilyn Minter, and Cesily Brown: women exploring ideas of sexuality through figures that are in movement. She views painting as a method of building, deconstructing, and resurrecting visual information. Though her paintings appear fresh and raw, each piece is a unique journey of adding and taking away until she strikes the right balance.
For Freiberg, color is an organic, intuitive process. Her palettes are in conversation with one another, in reference to other painters. Her current body of work favors intensity and saturation, hues associated with both vitality and toxicity. They reference the Iraqi amulets unique to the Baghdad region, where her mother was born—a way for the artist to incorporate the Iraqi part of her identity that she is newly reconnecting with.
There is an inherent sensuality in Freiberg’s manipulation of paint. She emphasizes the physical nature of it. The smears carry an almost phallic energy in the way they graze the canvas with an intimate touch. It heightens the viewers’ awareness of how their gaze touches the body on display. It draws attention to the constant self-imposed resistance we place on our desire to look, to touch.
Freiberg addresses these complex interactions with a sense of humor and play. Her colors and gestures act as a manifestation of the sexual freedom that is both discussed and censored in her work. The contradictory nature of this practice reflects the contradictions within an individual, and the way we negotiate different pieces of our identity. Its incongruity feels authentic.
“I’m interested in these relationships,” Freiberg says. “Taking the fragments of who we are and piecing them back together with the semblance of something genuine. It never truly lands in one spot. It’s always shifting, never quite still.”
Tuesday, August 22, 2017: Puloma Ghosh
Late July brought an unexpected amount of controversy in the Boston contemporary art world when the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston opened their second summer exhibition covering a decade of work by painter Dana Schutz. Here’s everything you need to know about the artist, the exhibition, and why it has sparked national attention:
Dana Schutz is a prominent American painter whose work combines abstract and figurative styles in vibrant colors. Her paintings are expressive and often uncomfortable. She stretches and twists the emotional content of her work the same way she distorts her depiction of human face and figure, presenting reflections of self, history, and society in a way that disquiets the viewer. Her pieces are packed tight with visual information, denying the eye any moment of respite. She crams complex narratives into her paintings with a technique that makes even the massive scale of her larger canvases feel claustrophobic. Her work is confrontational by nature: violent moments of tension or conflict in paintings such as Fight in an Elevator (2015) and Big Wave (2016); scenes that are physically impossible but emotionally true in work like Swimming, Smoking, Crying (2009) and Building the Boat While Sailing (2012); candid depictions of intimacy, in pieces like Shaking Out the Bed (2015) and Slow Motion Shower (2015) . There is an authentic note of struggle and chaos in every piece, both in its content and style.
THE ICA EXHIBITION
The Dana Schutz exhibition currently on view at the ICA is a retrospective of the past decade of her work. The exhibition showcases the impressive scale of some of her paintings, and her ability to weave intricate stories in a single image. Many of the pieces are accompanied by a short description that reveals and contextualizes the concepts behind it. The exhibition occupies three galleries. Each doorway opens to a massive painting, providing enough space to see the work from a distance. The juxtaposition of the smaller paintings on the walls flanking the opening allows the viewer to easily compare the different sized work, emphasizing the artist’s ability to consistently effect a loaded visual impact regardless of scale.
THE WHITNEY CONTROVERSY
Schutz’s unflinching insistence on discomforting her audience brought forth controversy during the 2017 Whitney Biennial. The offending painting, Open Casket, was based on a photograph of Emmett Till, an African-American boy lynched in the 1950s for allegedly flirting with a white woman—an accusation which was later admitted to be false. Till was 14 at the time. As implied by the title, the photograph Schutz chose as a basis for her painting was one from his funeral. His mother insisted on an open casket to display the brutality of his murder. The painting was met with immense outrage, especially within the Black community, from those who considered it an appropriation of Black struggle by a white woman who does not have the authority to utilize this ongoing injustice in her work. The issue has been divisive between those who consider the painting exploitative and those who consider its removal to be a censorship. The painting is not included in the ICA’s exhibition.
In response to the ICA’s decision to move forward with an exhibition of Dana Schutz’s work following the Whitney controversy sparked a slew of protests demanding that the ICA cancel the show. In response, the ICA invited open conversation on the issue by scheduling a meeting with community representatives to discuss the implications of the exhibition. After the conclusion of this meeting, the ICA and its Chief Curator, Eva Respini, and Director, Jill Medvedow, decided to move forward with the exhibition while continuing dialogue about the underlying controversy. While grateful to the ICA for extending the meeting, those opposing the exhibition found it an inadequate response to the issues raised, criticizing the ICA for condoning the action on an institutional level by allowing the show to continue.
Supporters of Dana Shutz’s work remaining on view believe that taking down her exhibition would be an act of artistic censorship. In an open letter signed by 78 members of the National Academy, a society of famous artists, they expressed that cancelling the ICA exhibition, which does not include Open Casket, would promote the suppression of diverse artistic perspectives. Respini maintains that Open Casket was never meant to be in the exhibition, which was always meant to focus on her more imaginative scenes.
Regardless of where we stand on the controversy, it is our responsibility as supporters of the arts to remain informed about the conversations incited by the community – the function of compelling contemporary art is to create cultural dialogue.
Tuesday, August 15, 2017: Puloma Ghosh
One of the biggest mysteries artists and collectors alike want to know about fine art galleries is how we determine which work gets on the walls. The answer is very simple: we show the work that speaks to us. This means something different for every gallery – each has their own set of conventions that tie together the work they show, which become clearer with every exhibition. For Abigail Ogilvy, it can be broken up into four distinct categories: technique, process, aesthetics, and concept. Every artist we show brings something unique and contemporary in one of these aspects.
We look for artists who find unexpected applications for their medium. Genre-bending work like Kristina McComb's photography/sculpture hybrids, Lavaughan Jenkins' 3-dimensional oil paintings, and Lisa A. Foster's quilted textile paintings are some examples of artists whose works are not constrained by the conventional uses of their materials. The work is refreshing, adding something new to the ongoing conversation of contemporary art.
When an artist describes their work, uncommon or involved processes can really add depth to a piece. Artists like Holly Harrison, whose process involves photography, printing, painting, and collage in each piece, show skill in their ability to combine various techniques harmoniously. Ola Aksan, who pours paint onto the surface of her pieces and allows it to leak past the bounds of her canvas, demonstrates innovation in the application of her medium. We appreciate work that encourages the viewer to look closer and ask questions.
It goes without saying that appealing artwork often has high aesthetic value, but this goes beyond being just "pretty". We look for work with compelling aesthetics that intrigue the eye more than just pleasing it. The crunchy, highly textural quality of Keenan Derby's sand-mixed acrylic paintings, and the signature mark-making in Natalia Wróbel's abstract work, are examples of how an artist's aesthetic sensibilities evolve into an unmistakable style which sets it apart from other work in its genre.
An interesting concept can really elevate artwork by starting conversation. Whether it is spiritual, social, political, or personal, the ideas behind a piece or series can lead to mature, well-developed work. This can come in many forms: Nicole Patel's minimalist artwork strives to adhere to the inherent quality of her materials by working only with organic, sustainable materials in meticulous processes that invokes Zen Buddhist meditation; Ariel Basson Freiberg's explores female identity and sexuality by depicting women in erotic poses and obscuring their faces and genitals with with thick smears of paint. Artwork is enhanced by the stories behind them, and part of showing fine art is sharing those stories with our viewers.
Ultimately, every gallery is attracted to an artist for different reasons. The fun part of exploring the art world is navigating those diverse spaces. They are all united by one goal: finding unique perspectives we feel strongly about sharing with the world.
Monday, July 24, 2017: Puloma Ghosh