Collection Highlight: Harold Tovish

DeCordova Exhibits
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On View 2009

Harold “Red” Tovish (1921-2008) was one of the most important artists working in Boston during the second half of the twentieth century. A distinguished teacher at Boston University, Tovish made an influential mark on Boston art history. The DeCordova is pleased to announce an exhibition of Tovish’s sculptures, lithographic prints, drawings, and a multi-media installation—all from DeCordova’s Permanent Collection—that honors the artist’s vision and career. Despite coming of age in the 1950s when New York School abstraction became the dominant style in the international art world, Tovish remained committed to the human form as the primary vehicle for exploring metaphysical existence.

Tovish’s innovative approach to the figure ranged from academic naturalism and twentieth-century abstraction, to prescient experiments that anticipated contemporary technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging. He manipulated images of the body to explore the growing social, physical, and psychological confinement and alienation intensified by an accelerating reliance on technology. The work in this exhibition embodies Tovish’s concern with the state of humanity by evoking themes and images of the infinite and the transient, disembodiment and fragmentation, isolation, and illusion.

In the floor installation Downfall (1984), for example, human heads appear to be perpetually falling into a dark, endless abyss. The effect confounds our spatial perceptions as we gaze into the flat gallery floor turned void. As we stand on the precipice of a bottomless hole, we are flooded with anxiety, an emotion Tovish found symptomatic of contemporary life and the human condition.

The exhibition also includes a selection of six bronze heads (1977-79) from the series “Transformations of A Unit of Measure.” This series is comprised of multiple iterations of the artist’s visage in a variety of aesthetic vocabularies ranging from Cubism to Surrealism to contemporary biomorphic abstraction. Seen in a group, the bronze heads speak to physical malleability and the fraught terrain of material, bodily existence.

Lithographic prints from 1971-72 also represent fragments of the human form in compositions that move between the fiercely agitated and the precisely schematic—indicative of Tovish’s preoccupation with exploring the futility and folly of modern society.

Tovish, born in New York, NY in 1921, graduated from Columbia University in 1943. After traveling to Paris and Florence to study sculpture and drawing, Tovish settled with his wife and sculptor Marianna Pineda in Boston in 1957. Before his tenure at Boston University (1971-84), Tovish taught at the School at the Museum of Fine Arts and was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1967, Tovish exhibited at the 28th Venice Biennial, Carnegie Institute International, Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, amongst other prominent national institutions. In 1953 and 1988, respectively, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MI and the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, MA hosted solo exhibitions of Tovish’s work.

This exhibition was organized by Koch Curatorial Fellow Nina Gara Bozicnik.