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Boston Star Rising

Boston Star Rising
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As one who wishes the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston would do more with contemporary art in general and New England artists in particular, I’m pleased to call a little attention to the four new Kristin Baker paintings currently (through March 27, 2011) being shown in the MFA’s new Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art.

Kristin Baker: New Paintings is the inaugural exhibition is a new series focused on the work of artists who have graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Indeed, the new exhibition space is even called the SMFA Gallery. While that alumni focus is a little narrow given the fact that MFA has tended to ignore contemporary artists, the SMFA series is a welcome start and Kristin Baker is a good choice to kick it off.

Kristin Baker, a native of Stamford, CT, is a 1998 graduate of the SMFA/Tufts University program. She went on to receive her MFA at Yale in 2002 and now lives and works in New York, as all ambitious artists must. In the eight years since, Baker has become a rising star on the international art scene, showing her high-velocity paintings at the Deitch Project in New York, the Pompidou Centre in Paris, ACME Gallery in Los Angeles, and the Saatchi Gallery in London. The Boston exhibition is both a homecoming and Baker?s first museum show.

The paintings that attracted all this attention to a young, emerging artist were wildly colorful, energetic abstractions inspired by Formula 1 Grand Prix auto racing, Baker?s father being an amateur racecar driver. Beautiful young woman, beautiful big paintings, sexy subject matter. No wonder Baker attracted the attention of prestigious galleries and career-making publications such as Artforum and Vogue.

The four new paintings in the MFA exhibition are a departure from the motor racing theme and were created specifically for the Boston space. Though they do not feature the careening forms of racecars, Baker’s new paintings are executed in the same slick method.

“The artist’s non-traditional approach favors plastic on plastic in place of brushes on canvas,” explains the museum press release. “With palette knives and squeegees in hand, she glides fast-drying acrylic paints across slippery sheets of opaque PVC or clear acrylic. Some areas are masked with tape as an outline for straight lines or ripped edges. With these mark-making methods, she layers combinations of matte and gloss paint in more subtle or vibrant hues. Her resulting images explore how differently natural and artificial light might reflect and define flat and deep space.”

“Full Dawn Parallax,” “Within Refraction,” “Rime Affinity,” and “Matter Facture” are all large scale paintings that take the act of painting and the dynamics of seeing as both their subject and their meaning. As such, they are pure abstractions that call to mind the work of the Italian Futurists a century ago. The question for the future will be whether, as she enters mid-career, Kristin Baker can sustain the excitement created by her early work. All indications are that she can.

[Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston MA, 617-267-9300.]

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