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DeCordova's Boston Biennial

DeCordova’s Boston Biennial
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   Back in 1987, the then-DeCordova and Dana Museum and Park in Lincoln, Massachusetts, mounted New England Now: Contemporary Art from Six States, a truly authoritative regional survey of the sort that New England needs. The DeCordova became the New England regional hub for new art under curator Rachel Rosenfield Lafo, but, now renamed DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, the museum has taken a new direction, scrapping its annual exhibitions in 2010 in favor of curated biennials. Not sure yet what I think of the new direction.

   The 2012 DeCordova Biennial, which opens January 22 and runs through April 22, is shaping up to be an oddly parochial exhibition, a Boston-centric biennial, a Hub show rather that a New England hub show. The again, being from Maine and seeing no Maine artists in the mix, I may be guilty of provincial chauvinism myself.

   Curator Dina Deitsch and co-curator Abigail Ross Goodman, formerly of the Judi Rotenberg Gallery on Newberry St. in Boston, reportedly visited close to 100 studios and reviewed even more portfolios in coming up with the 23 artists featured in the 2012 biennial. Twelve of the selected artists work in the Boston area, three are from the North Adams, Mass., artpost, at least four are from Providence or went to school in Providence. Two live in Vermont, one in New Hampshire. None of the artists work in Connecticut (which is generally viewed these days as a suburb of New York and not part of New England at all) and, as I said, none are from Maine. Odd, since Maine artists such as Randy Regier, John Bisbee, Mark Wethli, and Greta Bank have headlined at the museum in recent years.

   As with most curated shows, who gets in generally has a lot to do with who you know and who knows you. The 2010 DeCordova Biennial had several Maine artists in it, probably because the advisory board inlcuded Portland Museum of Art director Mark Bessire and Yale curator Jennifer Gross, who was once the curator of the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art. The 2012 advisory board had folks from New York, Connecticut, and North Adams on it.

   I’m also not sure when the DeCordova started going by lower case deCordova, but it smacks of Euro pretences and I can’t quite bright myself to do. But, okay, enough with the small town homer’s lament.

   The essay in the 88-page catalogue that accompanies the 2012 DeCordova Biennial breaks the art down into five vague categories. Steve Lambert (Jamaica Plains), Joe Wardwell (Jamaica Plains), and Jonathan Gitelson (Brattleboro) fall under the category of Language. Joe Zane (Cambridge), Kim Faler (North Adams), Chris Taylor (Providence), Meghan & Murray McMillan (Providence), Matthew Gamber (Boston), and the team of Antoniadis & Stone (Boston) are all united by concepts of Failure/Fakery/Skepticism.

   Laura Kalman (Detroit by way of Mass Art), Anna Von Mertens (Peterboro NH by way of Brown), Jo Dery (Chicago by way of RISD), and Matt Saunders (Cambridge and Berlin, Germany) are considered practitioners of Hybridity/Materiality/Third Wave Craft. Kalman pierces her own body as an art form.

   Taylor Davis (Boston), Ann Pibal (North Bennington, Vermont, and Brooklyn, New York), Corin Hewitt (East Corinth, Vermont, and Richmond, Virginia), Mary Lum (North Adams), and Cullen Bryant Washington, Jr. (Roxbury and Brooklyn, New York) all wear the one-size-fits-all label Abstraction.

   And Ven Voisey (North Adams), Jessica Gath (Boston), Eric Gottesman (Cambridge), Caitlin Berrigan (Boston), and the South End Knitters (Boston) are engaged in art forms identified as Public/Performance/Participation.

    Not confined to the DeCordova museum and grounds, this year’s biennial will also take place at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Cyclorama where Steve Lambert’s Capitalism Works for Me! True/False sign will flash and Caitlin Berrigan’s Spectrum of Inevitable Violence class war will rage.

    “Part installation, part public performance,” expl;ains the biennial catalogue, “Berrigan’s piece invites participants to fill out a survey to determine their rank in four categories: Class Status, Socioeconomic Status, Cultural Capital, and Cultural Mobility. The resulting status scores are grafted onto a four quadrant platform, which serves as the stage for this spectacular, semi-choreographed conflict. With personal territories staked out and participants boldly standing their ground, the battle will ensue and

weapons will fly – in the form of expired foods that Berrigan has selected

for their colors, softness, and colossal mess-making properties.”

   Sounds like fun to me.

[DeCordova Sculpture Park & Museum, 51 Sandy Pond Rd., Lincoln MA, 781-259-8355. Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont St. Boston MA, 617-426-5000.]


Edgar Allen Beem


Edgar Allen Beem


Take a look at art in New England with Edgar Allen Beem. He’s been art critic for the Portland Independent, art critic and feature writer for Maine Times, and now is a freelance writer for Yankee, Down East, Boston Globe Magazine, The Forecaster, and Photo District News. He’s the author of Maine Art Now (1990) and Maine: The Spirit of America (2000). In 1988, he won the Manufacturers Hanover Art/World Award for Distinguished Newspaper Art Criticism for his coverage of the 1987 auction sale of Vincent Van Gogh’s Irises. Ed says, “My credo as an arts writer has long been: ‘The work of art is the search for meaning.’ I believe art is not only a form of personal expression but also a form of inquiry, every bit as much a quest for truth as scientific research.” Ed Beem’s newest book, Backyard Maine: Local Essays, has just been published by Tilbury House, Publishers, of Gardiner, Maine. It’s not about the meaning of art; it’s about the meaning of family, community, and life in general. Edgar Beem is currently at work on a new book about contemporary art in Maine to be published in the fall of 2012.
Updated Monday, April 22nd, 2013

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