This exhibition represents deCordova’s longstanding commitment to artists working in New England, celebrating the most compelling and ambitious art-making in the region. The sixteen artists selected for the Biennial are from across all six northeastern states—Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Their work represents a broad range of experience and explores diverse mediums and themes. These include creative translations of the natural world, innovations in abstraction, and investigations of digital processes and communication. Each artist is making a significant contribution to the contemporary art dialogue in New England today through the originality and dedication to excellence in their work.
The Biennial showcases recent works of art and newly commissioned installations that fill the main galleries of the Museum and extend into the Sculpture Park. It was organized by Jennifer Gross, Chief Curator and Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs, and Sarah Montross, Associate Curator.
The 2016 deCordova Biennial Artists:
Support for the deCordova New England Biennial 2016 generously provided by Robert E. Davoli and Eileen L. McDonagh, Geoff Hargadon and Patricia LaValley, Deborah A. Hawkins Charitable Trust, Barbara and Jon Lee, Joyce Linde, Amy and Jonathan Poorvu, and an anonymous donor.
Drawn primarily from deCordova's permanent collection, this exhibition presents a dynamic survey of photographs by Edward Steichen, whose innovation as a photographer helped define the breadth of the medium in the twentieth century. It will trace his exploration of the range of representation enabled by the photographic medium, from his early expressive, Pictorialist images, to his decades-long work as a commercial photographer taking portrait photographs of the rich and famous for Condé Nast. It will also consider his work as the head of the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit in World War II, and on to his work as the director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, NY where he curated over forty influential exhibitions.
In January 2016, at the inspiration of Executive Director John Ravenal, we inaugurated a new program in the second floor window gallery to bring focus to exceptional rarely seen artworks from deCordova’s permanent collection. Works will be rotated periodically to allow members and visitors to experience the breadth of artwork owned by the Museum. The second painting selected for this program is Sam Messer’s Don’t Go Out If You Don’t Have To, which came into the Collection as a gift from Stephen L. Singer in 1993.
During the 1980s, Sam Messer emerged as a significant painter in the Neo-Expressionist movement, which first began in the 1970s as a reaction against conceptual and minimalist art. Drawing inspiration from surrealists such as Max Ernst, Andre Masson, and Yves Tanguy, Messer’s bold paintings presented hallucinatory, theatrical scenes which seemed to slither straight from the subconscious.
Resembling a fever-addled dream, Don’t Go Out If You Don’t Have To has a striking composition of vivid color featuring several spectral figures. The enormous scale of the painting elevates this ambiguous yet macabre narrative of fear to epic proportions. In the center, a disembodied floating head screams over its grounded body—a self-portrait of the artist. Swirling, abstracted beings tower over him on either side, looking down at the chaotic scene. While the left panel is rendered with a smooth, calligraphic style, the right side employs gestural marks with a thick layering of paint and wiping or scraping to leave a stain. The title of the painting suggests that one’s subconscious should be as well protected as one’s physical being. Messer made the painting after, and thinking about, the artist Christopher Wilmarth’s untimely and sad death.
Sam Messer graduated from the Cooper Union in New York and the Yale School of Art. He is currently the Associate Dean at the Yale School of Art.
In addition to enabling the presentation of unseen works from the collection, this Highlights initiative also provides an opportunity to experiment with interpretative material in the galleries. In keeping with this idea, we invited Nina Nielsen and John Baker, Sam Messer’s former gallerists in Boston, to reflect on their relationship with the artist. Their insights are presented alongside our standard interpretative text to add the enrichment of a voice from outside the Museum to our visitor’s experience.
“We met Sam Messer in 1983 after enthusiastic recommendations from artists Jake Berthot and Harvey Quaytman. It led to a strong friendship and association with us at Nielsen Gallery, which included seventeen solo exhibitions and countless group shows.
From the beginning Sam reminded us of Jack Kerouac, who wanted to write fast and purely to outstrip his rational awareness; Sam was reaching for that release. The death of his father had been jolting; he was searching for love and questioning what life was. The naked complications and disturbing confrontations of those questions are central to this 1988 painting. A hot sun overflows Messer’s mouth while his dismembered head floats above a waif-like body. Ghostly creatures lurk about the space as if the memory of tragic loss or bad dreams. Rational intelligence is useless before such abrupt intensities and freaks. Sam wants you to feel his questions.
Sam lived like his paintings. His studios were a mess with piles of drawings underfoot everywhere along with the strange creatures he collected piled here and there. He would dash around oblivious to everything except what we were talking about—his paintings. On one early visit a collector was fascinated by a complicated work that included a cow’s scull. “Sam, what does that cow mean to you,” he asked. “Oh, it’s just the cow I used to milk,” he answered. We laughed. The painting’s title was Two Heads Are Better Than One.”
-Nina Nielsen and John Baker
This exhibition explores how artists represent prolific growth, expansion, and transformation in the natural world and the built environment. Coiling vines and other forms of unruly vegetation spread across the surfaces of paintings and works on paper. Scenes of vast urban construction convey the pinnacle of human ambition and ingenuity, as well as the negative effects of overdevelopment of the land. Artworks inspired by cellular mutation and the expansion of the universe reveal an equal fascination with microscopic and cosmic levels of transformation.
Overgrowth also examines how generative growth and additive processes are instrumental to the making of art. Viewers will observe different speeds of artistic creation, from slow, meticulous brushstrokes to rapid, painterly gestures. Biomorphic sculptures on view expand outward into real space, as if compelled by a vital life force. Drawn from deCordova’s permanent collection—and featuring work by international, national, and New England artists acquired over the past fifty years—this exhibition demonstrates how ongoing change spans natural, man-made, and creative enterprises.
Artists in the exhibition:
Albert Alcalay, Laylah Ali, Sandra Allen, Jean Arp, Bremner Benedict, Robert Bermelin, Barbara Bosworth, Alan Bray, Nancy Burson, Jedediah Caesar, William Christopher, Brian D. Cohen, Leah De Prizio, Friedel Dzubas, Harold Edgerton, Chris Enos, Robert Eshoo, Larry Fink, Sean Foley, Lee Friedlander, Sheila Gallagher, Frank Gohlke, George Hagerty, Willy Heeks, Jon Imber, Constance Jacobson, Kieff, Laura Kim, Yeffe Kimball, Kurt Kranz, Alex S. MacLean, Mary Mattingly, Michael Mazur, Todd McKie. Laura McPhee, Henry Moore, Jeff Perrott, Rachel Perry, Gabor Peterdi, Bill Ravanesi, Cristi Rinklin, Aaron Rose, Donald Shambroom, David Benjamin Sherry, Edward Steichen, Barbara Takenaga, Lois Tarlow, Chris Taylor, Sumru Tekin, Harold Tovish, Sarah Walker, Gary Webb, David Wolf, Makoto Yabe
The exhibition is organized by Associate Curator Sarah Montross.
Funding generously provided by Robert E. Davoli and Eileen L. McDonagh, The Nathaniel Saltonstall Arts Fund, and Amy and Jonathan Poorvu.
This exhibition presents street photography, portraits, and experimental work by émigré photographers Lotte Jacobi (1896–1990) and Lisette Model (1901–1983), created while they each lived in Berlin, Paris, and New York from the 1930s to 1950s. Jacobi was an ambitious innovator, expanding her work from refined portraiture of cultural elites to experimental abstract images. Model’s iconic street photographs depict extreme disparities in society, enabled by her incisive eye and use of dramatic cropping to monumentalize urban dwellers. Both Jacobi and Model relied on an intuitive approach to create powerful yet quotidian images of people, whether in the studio or on the street. Presented in adjacent galleries, their work exemplifies the breadth of the revitalization of portraiture and innovations in photographic techniques in the early- to mid-twentieth century.
The exhibition is organized by Helen Lewandowski, Koch Curatorial Fellow
Urban Camera is dedicated to the memory of Catherine S. England, beloved deCordova trustee, philanthropist, and friend. It has been generously funded by an anonymous donor.
This winter, at the inspiration of Executive Director, John Ravenal, we inaugurated a new program in the second floor window gallery to bring focus to exceptional rarely seen artworks from deCordova’s permanent collection. Works will be rotated periodically to allow members and visitors to experience the breadth of artwork owned by the Museum. The first painting selected is Michael Mazur’s Ice Glen which came into the Collection as a gift from the artist in 1998.
Mazur, a New England-based artist, had a long and rich association with deCordova. The Museum owns twelve of his works, consisting of paintings, drawings, and prints. His art was shown in numerous exhibitions, including a retrospective in 1998. Mazur experimented with different mediums and artistic styles with the natural world as a consistent focus. His earliest works are muted representational variations of his source material but over time he adopted a more varied color palette and expressive gestural approach to painting.
Ice Glen belongs to Mazur’s early 1990s Branching series that marked his first foray into abstraction. This shift was influenced by his fascination with Chinese scroll painting from the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). After undergoing heart surgery in 1993, Mazur began to paint compositions that resemble the delicate filigree of arteries. Here he employed an array of textural effects to produce lines in charcoal black and ghostly white that cascade over the surface of the canvas. Despite its non-representational style, the work recalls natural forms, such as bare winter branches or frost patterns. The overall effect is both turbulent and tranquil.
In addition to enabling the presentation of unseen works from the collection, this Highlights initiative also provides an opportunity to experiment with interpretative material in the galleries. In keeping with this idea, we invited Mazur’s widow, poet Gail Mazur, to respond to the painting in a manner she deemed appropriate. The work inspired her to write a poem, Ice Glen, which we are presenting alongside our standard interpretative text to add the enrichment of a voice from outside the Museum to our visitor’s experience.
ICE GLEN, 1993
Ice Glen, a side trip on our trip
to see old friends. Our plan,
a hike, and then there was the thought
of Hawthorne and Melville,
a century earlier, and their friends,
sitting on boulders singing,
drinking, and “telling tales,” calling
across the romantic mossed abyss—
we knew their incipient romance
crashed and burned…. Steamy
August afternoon in Stockbridge,
the sun above us a round flame.
Romantic to have thought of hiking up,
then down to the ravine, the icy chasm
someone once called a curious fissure.
Might it be like a bottomless well
we’d each drop a wishing stone into?
We only got close. What you saw there
you saw with your inner eye, a radiance;
what I saw was unfathomable, sunless.
Frigid, frosted, the air that turned us back.
Too cold for us, but we were laughing
as we fled to Main Street. Cold,
but I wish our two souls were there now
together in that dappled underworld.