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Evgenya first saw me when I was a teenager, 14 or 15. She was about 18 and still is. Her double gaze found me many times in those first months I visited the gallery, in groups and alone, under the purview of various volitions, and by the fortune of my deepening familiarity with the museum.  In time, the room became organized around her.   

There are two Evgenyas present. At first, I was not sure.  

Evgenya on the left reminded me of someone I knew, and I was sympathetic to her physical presentation. I wore dark clothes and my hair fell over my eyes; these made up the compass by which I navigated my young world, and thus Evgenya was someone that I could know, and would have wanted to. Her tensed brow and just turned neck had a secretive trepidation which I felt empathized with me.  

Evgenya on the right and I did not know each other. Her role is clear from her clothes – gently worn, rusty, olive fatigues – in a way that was both alien and parallel to a young person in an art program, who thought they may become an artist. Yet I envied her relaxed, hidden arms and her calm, confrontational face.  

There are two Evgenyas present, and I learned to see each in the glass of the other.  

Rineke Dijkstra’s camera takes its place on either side of a decisive event – the start of compulsory military service.  I feel for Evgenya a hovering respect and a delicate protectiveness. Something of a violence seems to have already taken place, and not one implied by political context. She changes between the photographs, so my instinct is to parse out this difference. Evgenya also stays the same; she may indeed have become herself. In the photographs, Evgenya is emergently revealed to herself and separated from herself; though it reminds me of lepidoptery – skewered butterflies preserved in cabinets – it is not photography that does this.  

Most of my recent sojourns to the fourth floor have been with groups of teens participating in out-of-school programs. In past years we have been able to encounter Almerisa, also photographed by Dijkstra. More than once, gathering my group at the end of the last hour, I have sighted a teen lingering in her estimation, still absorbing her multiplicity. I think this kind of work, which follows on the heels of yet also keeps ahead of life, has an especial effect on young people, who are in the midst of such rapid outward change themselves – surely committed to the still image in even more frequent intervals than we see of Almerisa.  

I’m excited for Evgenya to return this fall. I look forward to encountering her abiding change, which I expect to see with new eyes. And when I am in her view, her gaze will ask me, and ask me to ask myself, how have I changed? My hair and dress are different from when I was younger, reflecting altered station, altered world – but I hope that I have developed the soft, sure eyes which I have admired of her for so many years, with which to see others and myself. 

 

Montgomery Alcott is the Teen New Media Program Assistant at the ICA. He cooks and reads.  

Friday Art Notes are personal reflections on works of art shown or in the permanent collection of the ICA, written by ICA staff, volunteers, and supporters. Read more

Collages catch my eye due to their multiple interpretations. They are reminiscent of magazine cutouts one might use for a scrapbook or as posters on a bedroom wall, but looking back serve deeper meanings.

During undergraduate studies, I took a few cinema studies classes that included dense, critical essays on films, genres, and authorship. The essays could often be enigmatic, just as Sterling Ruby’s works can. Without pondering them for quite a while, it can be hard to reach a full meaning. In my time spent at home during quarantine, I steadily viewed films. That time spent gave me much to think about. What I ascertain and enjoy from HRG Suite is a dreaded nature of oppression and confinement with a rebellion from the norm inside oneself. 

Imagine our lives as two halves when considering this piece: one in the physical realm, the other in imaginary/thought. If we think of each frame as a person, the work presents a grid of isolated people split between worlds. For instance, happiness and the macabre merge with the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz alongside two forms in a dreamlike state. The Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz is a sense of wonderment but ignorance. Alongside that are two shadow-like figures: judgement and doubt. Their facing away from each other creates a division of emotions that clouds the reach for joy. Tattoos express the person’s emotions through imagery on themselves as this confliction arises.

The colorful backgrounds mask the division of the frames. They are separate individuals with similar emotions. The Exorcist’s Linda Blair and a transformative picture of a woman embraced by a shadow figure of sorts. Someone who shows tattoos on their arm. As these two worlds of horror and change collide, a path emerges to create an image that reflects growth from trauma within oneself. Seen through the lens of film and other images, Sterling Ruby’s work creates a reflection of society of thoughts manifesting and rebellion, looking to break up the order and structure of our lives. Certainly, our natural order has been disrupted this year. While order is a natural thing, so is rebellion.

We try to create order in our minds, but as this piece is reminding me, we can also gain satisfaction from the unstructured thoughts clouding our minds, and released in physical transformations of art.

 

Kyle Kittredge is a Visitor Services Associate who has been working at the ICA for just over a year now. Besides appreciating the art that the museum has, he enjoys hiking in the Blue Hills area  and photographing around Boston. 

Friday Art Notes are personal reflections on works of art shown or in the permanent collection of the ICA, written by ICA staff, volunteers, and supporters. Read more

 

I find myself mostly reading poetry these days. In her recent book Night Philosophy, the Massachusetts-based poet Fanny Howe writes, “Sometimes the syntax of poetry helps me to see what life is really doing, and to find the key to the open air.” Many of us are trying to see; most of us are longing for open air.  

I find myself regularly thinking through what it might look like to live differently, and the imperative to do so.  

At the same time that I was reading Night Philosophy, among other things, I was thinking about Cuban-born, American artist Ana Mendieta’s Silueta Works in Mexico. Readings braided together.   

“Here is a lesson: what happens to people and what happens to the Earth are the same thing.” This, according to Chickasaw poet, essayist, and environmentalist Linda Hogan in her book Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World.  

I have always found that Ana Mendieta’s art works deploy a unique sense of poetry. The lyrical Silueta earth-body sculptures, known widely through photographs and films, reassert the ties between a body and the earth, in “a dialogue between the landscape and the female body,” according to the artist. Separated from her family in Cuba at the age of twelve and exiled to the United States, Mendieta set out to “re-establish the bonds that unite me to the universe,” as she said, while she pursued a “return to the maternal source.” Through these works, Mendieta herself sought models for living differently, such as the legend of the Black Venus of Cienfuegos, which the artist summoned as a symbol of refusal through which she reconnected herself and her work to Cuba. In the Silueta works, Mendieta used her body, or its silhouette, to create an ephemeral impression of the female form on the Earth’s surface. This figure-ground relationship embodies the interconnectedness, the lyrical braiding together, of our own bodies to the land, and a consideration of the layers of meaning to be found in, and beneath, such gestures. This is carried forward even through images that often stage an unresolvable interplay between presence and absence.  

According to Howe, “One definition of the lyric might be that it is a method of searching for something that can’t be found.”  

For me, Mendieta’s environmental works, if they can be called that, continue to resonate, reverberate even, along these lines. This impulse draws a sharp contrast to the contemporaneous masculine, sometimes permanent, incursions into the environment.  

I continue to give attention to the meaning I find in these readings, but maybe they are just surface readings. As Howe says, however, “sometimes a surface reading seems to bring you closer to the intention of the poem.”  

 

Jeffrey De Blois is Assistant Curator and Publications Manager.  

Friday Art Notes are personal reflections on works of art shown or in the permanent collection of the ICA, written by ICA staff, volunteers, and supporters. Read more

 

Dressed in a bright yellow shirt, a plaster of sticky sweat, and a ripe, feral excitement to revisit a museum, I entered the ICA at 12 PM on a Thursday in the middle of August. I wandered, waited. I was the only one in line. The only one in the bathroom. The only one on the stairs. And when I had mastered the fourth flight, I suddenly realized, wheezing, with a touch of embarrassment, that except for the Visitor Assistants, I was entirely alone.

In a lull, everything is amplified. As I walked through the galleries, the jangling of my keys sounded like sixty bells played by the tone-deaf; the clanging of a few loose nickels, like a penny piñata; and the merciless crinkling of my KIND bar wrapper, a personal purgatory. When I cracked my knuckles, it echoed. I felt like an elephant dancing in a jewelry shop.

A flurry of motion, trapped in sudden stillness.

In this way I would describe Sterling Ruby’s Alabaster SR08-2. Ruby is an artist of multitudes, frequently creating works that transcend medium, demonstrating a clear adroitness in work with wood, urethane, clay, dye, cast acrylic, felt, fabric, and so on, constructing mammoth sculptures, hanging mobiles, canvas works, and multitudes of other forms. And yet, one common thread ties his work together: tension. The contradiction that inevitably exists when an action, an idea, is caught between the fluid and solid, motion and stillness.

His Alabaster works resemble two liquids intermingling, SR08-2 reminiscent of milk dissolving into coffee, trapped in the moment just before diffusion. SCXV3ST/BD can be seen as a macabre drop of blood, dripping, arrested eternally in the moment prior to its splatter and spread. Even the work BC (5289) seems to encapsulate the crashing of a wave, captured just before its subsequent recoil into the water.

After the exhibit, I slinked back down the steps, staring frog-eyed at the closed doors, the empty halls. Somehow, the feeling of entrapment between mobility and stasis in Sterling’s work encapsulates the reopening of our museum, our city, perfectly. As if, slowly, and unpredictably, we are caught in time, trying our best to return to normalcy during COVID-19: motionless as our lives are put on pause, and simultaneously, tentatively kinetic as stores reopen, restaurants bustle, and even museums, the ones we know so well, so different today with their masks and sanitizers, and yet so constant, challenging and art-holding, make space for us, too.

It will all keep moving, SR08-2 reminds us, even if we are caught in this moment, just for now.

 

Naomi Mirny is a recent Brookline High School graduate and a former member of the ICA Teen Arts Council. She is currently studying English at McGill University and hopes to continue to mindfully engage with artwork and art institutions in Montreal.

Friday Art Notes are personal reflections on works of art shown or in the permanent collection of the ICA, written by ICA staff, volunteers, and supporters. Read more

Every morning when I walk from South Station to the ICA, the city reveals the brutality, inequality, and injustices that it tries to cover with a night sky. Besides the regular commuters every morning, I salute the usual occupants of the streets. Depending on the season, sometimes they have the prime location facing the ocean, and sometimes their home on the Harborwalk is under water. And every morning, when I see the shopping carts parked at the oceanfront, Nari Ward’s Savior comes to my mind.

Resembling the carts used by homeless or nomadic people, Savior rises up in its grandeur, while also becoming heavy with all the materials and memories attached to it. In contrast to the invisibility assigned to this population by the ignorant eyes of passersby, Savior asserts its visibility and asks for engagement and contemplation from the viewer. Like Ward claiming city streets in his 1996 video Pushing Savior, Savior claims its own space in the museum — and may be taking a step further as it demands its place in the untold histories within the walls of the museum.

Savior not only contemplates identity, representation, and politics in the streets – it also successfully mimics the transactions of the consumer world. There is always something left over, something collectible, in this world, and the values of these objects might be the same in essence; in an unjust world, values are imbalanced too. The clocks collected in a blue plastic bag hanging from the corner of Ward’s work are not any different from the objects that lay in the storage of a collector – maybe they are even luckier to be out there in the world.

After an encounter with Savior, as with many powerful artworks, your relationship with your surroundings changes and your eyes start to see, discover, and understand.
 

Mehtap Yagci has been with the ICA since 2018 as Executive Assistant. She moved to Boston from Istanbul, and holds degrees in Cultural Studies and Contemporary Art Theory. In her spare time she enjoys cooking Turkish food and connecting with her friends and family scattered all over the world.

Friday Art Notes are personal reflections on works of art shown or in the permanent collection of the ICA, written by ICA staff, volunteers, and supporters. Read more

I am captured when a contemporary artist takes the particular, their own experience, and creates something that has a universal resonance. A good example is Louise Bourgeois, an iconic figure and an inspiration cited by many women artists. She has often said her work is personal, a vehicle for expressing and grappling with the psychological struggles of her life. Her mother contracted the Spanish flu in 1919, never fully recovered, and died when Bourgeois was 20. This experience when Bourgeois was eight years old changed the artist’s life and was amplified by secondary and other, later losses. 

I have seen many of Bourgeois’s monumental artworks – her “spiders” and elaborate installations come to mind. In contrast, Untitled stands quietly in the gallery. There is something self-contained and almost luminescent about its presence. At least one visitor described it as “cold.” My first impression is of something tall, slender, almost fragile, as it stands on its tapered end. There is a rigid tension to the piece, which contrasts with the curves – there are no straight lines here. The rigid, elongated form is interrupted by round spherical shapes and a dimple, a kind of belly button, below the mid-point. The smooth, white surface of the sculpture evokes in me a tactile sensation, a wish to touch it, to feel how the piece was carved. 

Louise Bourgeois created this sculpture, one of her many Personnages, in her mid-30s while living in a New York City apartment with her husband and sons. She describes feeling bereft, missing the friends and family she had left behind in France. Her way of dealing with this absence was to begin carving these sculptures out of wood, often keeping them near to her in her apartment. The artist’s son has said that she would carve pieces of balsa the way another woman might knit, often going to the roof of their apartment to work.

Who is the person this sculpture portrays? Typical of the artist, there are both elongated masculine and spherical feminine forms here. Was Bourgeois feeling the unmoored, often physical sensations that come with loss, seeking to restore what she had lost through the visceral sensations of close repetitive work? We may never decode her visual language, but we can recognize these patterns in her work. The artist has spoken about these sculptures as referring to people, and as autobiographical, capturing aspects of her own experience – feelings of tension, of fragility, of working hard to maintain balance. Loss evokes these responses in all of us.

 

Carol Jensen has given tours at the ICA. Engaging with visitors and art has been a rewarding addition to her other creative endeavors in art-making and as a psychotherapist and teacher/mentor.

Friday Art Notes are personal reflections on works of art shown or in the permanent collection of the ICA, written by ICA staff, volunteers, and supporters. Read more

 

There is something mesmerizing about reflections that emerge between mirrors. As a kid I found they conjured realities where alternate versions of myself existed a la Alice Through the Looking Glass. This wasn’t just the realm of fantasy but also of theoretical physics. In college I was introduced to the concept of multiple infinities. There wasn’t just one infinity but layers that could be mathematically acted upon.

When I include McElheny’s Czech Modernism Mirrored and Reflected Infinitely in tours, visitors describe the display as sumptuous, enticing, lux. The work dazzles with layers of reflections receding into a silvery abyss. While the piece has an allure, I think the artist is going after something sinister; a feeling of objects and desires run amok.

McElheny recreates Czech decanters from the early 20th century and coats them with a reflective surface. They’re hermetically sealed in their own universe with a one-way mirror with no reflection out, creating abstractions as the objects echo off each other. This modernist period is a time where hand-crafted labor is being replaced by mass production. Objects of uniqueness are replaced with sameness. The reflected decanters become an apt metaphor for this shift in labor and consumption of objects, which continues today as goods are treated as easy throw-aways that keep amassing but never disappear.

McElheny draws viewers in with glass and mirrors that often parallel social conflict. In this work I’ve understood he is examining modernist thought about an alternate reality in which we reflect back on objects, thus creating such a world and asking us to enter. A visitor commented that our reality is like that already: not an actual mirrored reflection but one where beliefs are amplified back at us. I think of the Internet and social media, where content has run rampant, misinformed, and sometimes violent. This viewpoint has made me consider McElheney’s lush decanters, and the infinite, with a sense of things gone awry.

Bob Hall has been leading ICA tours since 2013. He works as a program manager for an informatics research program at the VA Healthcare system. While his focus is on big data during the day he likes to explore the right side of his brain with contemporary art, music, film, and theater.

Friday Art Notes are personal reflections on works of art shown or in the permanent collection of the ICA, written by ICA staff, volunteers, and supporters. Read more

Time during shelter-at-home seems to be on perpetual repeat, as days slip into weeks, and – can it really be? – into months.  Some say photography freezes time, but Leslie Hewitt calls her photographic series Riffs on Real Time, begun in 2002, a durational work, because she combines seemingly unrelated materials from different eras to continually make new meaning. She creates, then photographs, temporary arrangements of books, magazines, snapshots, and other printed materials against a backdrop of colorful shag carpets or well-worn wood floors. Time works in different registers in Hewitt’s series – we peer back in time through printed ephemera (from Ebony, Jet, and other Civil Rights–era publications), but we know that the arrangement itself is fleeting. We bring our own present-day associations to each work, so each reading is, in essence, time-stamped. In these works, world events and personal events are collapsed and Hewitt’s juxtapositions speak to dislocation and repetition, a feeling all too familiar now. 

Hewitt’s neatly arranged still life in the ICA/Boston’s collection features a seemingly ordinary snapshot of a man in shorts barbequing in a park (remember BBQs?) atop a magazine page featuring Walter Cronkite reporting the news (he seems rather quaint in comparison to the amped-up talking heads of today’s 24-hour news cycle). I study the jpeg on my screen, its slight pixilation a far cry from the actual work’s crisp description. I scan my visual memory for what it was like to experience this work in person. I remember the objects in the photograph appear slightly larger than in life, more like sculpture than photography. I look at the map behind Cronkite – what was going on in Lima, Peru? I attempt to read the text in the article, but am drawn to the doodles on the magazine page. Were they drawn by Hewitt? I wish more than ever that I could see this artwork in the flesh, as I am convinced it would unlock these mysteries. I think back to when I first showed this series over a decade ago (that seems like a lifetime ago) and if during our many conversations over the years, Leslie told me about the man in the snapshot. Is it her father, an uncle, a friend, or a stranger? Those shorts are pretty short, so it must be the 1970s or 80s.  But I digress. As I “read” the photograph rather than just look at it, I wonder what kinds of magazines, snapshots, news items, and ephemera will become the mementos of our distinctive time.  I wonder what riffs on tomorrow will look like.

 

Eva Respini is Barbara Lee Chief Curator at the ICA. This piece appeared on aperture.org.

Friday Art Notes are personal reflections on works of art shown or in the permanent collection of the ICA, written by ICA staff, volunteers, and supporters. Read more

 

I first met Nick Cave in 2019 when he came to Boston to work on Augment, a public art project that centered joy. I was thinking a lot about joy and wonder when I first looked at this Soundsuit in person as part of Beyond Infinity: Contemporary Art after Kusama at the ICA, a few weeks after the unveiling of Augment. Many months have passed since I was prompted to think about joy through art. The increased media attention to anti-Black violence these past few weeks, coupled with the four-year anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando this month and the recent murders of two Black trans women, Riah Milton and Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, makes joy sound like a radical proposition. As a queer, brown, second-generation immigrant from Mexico, grief and rage motivate a large part of my commitment to movements against systemic violence that targets Black and Indigenous people, people of color more generally, and queer and trans people. But these feelings are exhausting. I carry the weight of this collective moment and of my individual exhaustion as I think again about joy and wonder through Cave’s work.

Cave created his first Soundsuit out of twigs in 1991 after the beating of Rodney King, out of an impulse to protect the Black body—his body—from the violence of white supremacy. Cave’s Soundsuits have since evolved beyond their original function as physical armor by becoming more elaborate. When I first looked at this sculpture, I was drawn to the abundance of textures and colors that comprise its surface. I was also struck by its unconventional silhouette—while preserving a recognizable human form, the work is distorted by a chandelier crown. Its silhouette reminded me of spacesuits and personal protective equipment, which are technologies of survival. Even if Cave’s Soundsuits have become more exuberant than their prototype, the impulse to protect—from physical and perceptual violence—remains. Yet this sculpture also invites us to imagine a world free of anti-Black violence.

The wild silhouette and sensorial richness of this Soundsuit ground me in the possibility of wonder and joy. This sculpture is composed of a body of flowers with a nest of roosting birds as a head, an exaggerated entanglement of the human figure with non-human life. In a sense, this Soundsuit makes a wondrous spectacle of the fact that all things are connected. This sculpture pushes us to see beyond the structures and systems of anti-Blackness and capitalism that facilitate the devaluation of life, especially Black trans life, to revel in the possibility of worlds and futures where life is valued without qualifications. Cave reminds us through this Soundsuit that hope and joy, like grief and rage, are integral to the hard, messy work of bringing about a world where it will not be a radical gesture to state that Black lives matter.

 

Juan Omar Rodriguez joined the ICA last December as a Fellow in the curatorial department. He received an M.A. in Art History and Museum Studies from Tufts last spring.

Friday Art Notes are personal reflections on works of art shown or in the permanent collection of the ICA, written by ICA staff, volunteers, and supporters. Read more

 

This week, we feature a bilingual Friday Art Note, written and recorded in Spanish and English.
 

When I first saw Sterling Ruby’s Basin Theology/​La Brea 2, ​its disharmonious appearance prevented me from engaging with it further. But after a second look and learning some background, my feelings towards this piece changed.

It turns out that La Brea is considered one of the most important paleontological sites in the world due to the quantity and variety of fossils found there. This unusual site, located in urban Los Angeles, was once a tar pit and worked as a sort of time capsule, preserving an entire ecosystem for over 50,000 years. Findings range from big mammals such as mammoths or small animals such as rodents to plant remains.

When I became aware of this history, and the fact that Ruby’s ​Basin Theology/​La Brea 2 ​is filled with the remnants of previous ceramic work attempts which he calls Basin Theology, I had a newfound interest in the piece. Indeed, basin theology makes reference to the basin that Jesus used to wash the feet of the apostles during the last supper. In addition, Ruby’s studio can be conceived as an artistic paleontological site as well, because he keeps all his previous work scraps for long periods of time, looking for just the right moment to reuse them in future works.

All this information gave me a different perspective with which to look at this piece and be able to engage with it. ​Basin Theology/​La Brea 2 m​akes me think of a tar pit with its predominantly black color and harsh texture. I can imagine myself as a paleontologist, digging into what was formerly a geological time capsule, and finding Ruby’s previous ceramic work attempts. I feel they have a story about the process of making art. They are not futile efforts anymore; instead they remain timeless like fossils and hold new meaning and purpose in the basin. At the same time, the bright red and orange bring me the sensation of a still active site waiting to trap you.

Sergio Salicio is a visitor assistant from Barcelona, Spain. He holds degrees in sociology and social studies education. He is passionate about how history, sociocultural issues, and politics influence and shape the artistic world. 
 


Cuando vi por primera vez Basin Theology/​La Brea 2 de Sterling Ruby, su apariencia desarmonizada me impidió conectar con ella. Pero después de observarla con detenimiento por segunda vez y darle contexto, mis sentimientos hacia esta obra cambiaron.

La Brea está considerado uno de los yacimientos paleontológicos más importantes del mundo debido a la cantidad y variedad de fósiles localizados. Esta inusual ubicación, en la urbana Los Angeles, era un pozo de alquitrán y se le considera una especie de cápsula del tiempo, ya que preserva un ecosistema completo durante un periodo de más de 50,000 años. Los hallazgos arqueológicos van desde grandes mamíferos como mamuts o pequeños animales como roedores a restos de plantas.

Cuando conocí la historia y el hecho de que Basin Theology/​La Brea 2 tiene restos de previos trabajos de cerámica a la que él llama Basin Theology, tuve un renovado interés por la obra . De hecho, Basin Theology hace referencia a la vasija que Jesús utilizó para lavar los pies a sus apóstoles durante la última cena. Además, el estudio de Ruby puede concebirse como un lugar artístico pero también paleontológico pues mantiene todos los restos de trabajos previos que salieron mal durante largos períodos de tiempo hasta encontrar el momento adecuado para reutilizarlos en nuevos proyectos artísticos.

Toda esta información me dio una perspectiva diferente con la que mirar esta pieza y poder así conectar con ella. Basin Theology/​La Brea 2 me hace pensar en una cápsula del tiempo en forma de pozo de alquitrán por su color predominantemente negro y textura ruda. Me imagino a mí mismo como paleontólogo, investigando el pozo y descubriendo los trozos de cerámica de sus descartes. Siento que estas piezas transmiten una historia sobre el proceso de crear arte. Ya no son restos inútiles, sino que permanecen atemporales como los fósiles y tienen un nuevo significado y propósito en la vasija. Al mismo tiempo, estos colores brillantes rojos y naranjas me dan la sensación de un lugar aún activo esperando para atraparte.

Sergio Salicio es originario de Barcelona, España y trabaja como asistente del visitante en el ICA. Tiene estudios superiores en sociología y educación, en la especialidad de ciencias sociales. Le apasiona la historia, los eventos sociales y la política, y como todos ellos influencian y dan forma al mundo artístico. 

 

Friday Art Notes are personal reflections on works of art shown or in the permanent collection of the ICA, written by ICA staff, volunteers, and supporters. Read more