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OnlineMar 29, 2022

Mark Your Calendars: Eight Shows to Check Out in Greater Boston This Spring

The BAR Editors share their not-to-be-missed exhibitions on view this spring. From home-grown solo showcases to an international mega-exhibition, there is so much to absorb and inspire in New England.

Feature by BAR Editorial

A table with an artistic display by Estefania Puerta on top against a white background.

Estefania Puerta, Medicina Fantasma 2021. Foam, aluminum leaf, epoxy, silk, glass, plant, latex, pastel, oil, ghost pipe tincture, plaster pulp. Courtesy of the artist and deCordova Sculpture Park & Museum. Photo by Sam Simon

It’s spring in Boston. The weather is bizarre, and the city’s lifeblood—its schools—is pumping out graduating makers and visionaries of all kinds. To encourage you out of hibernation and back into the world, we’ve rounded up eight shows happening now (or very soon) in and around our city—with one very notable, and very exciting, exception. From home-grown solo showcases to an international mega-exhibition (there it is!), there is so much to absorb and inspire in New England. In one afternoon, bounce from student-driven shows to exhibitions of artists with decades of art-making behind them. You won’t be disappointed: These shows are thought-provoking and beautiful to behold, with efforts that mine our past and map our future, to make our community brighter, right now.


The Black Biennial: New Beginnings
Gelman Student Exhibitions Gallery, Chace Center
RISD / Providence, RI
March 11 – April 10, 2022

“The Black Biennial: New Beginnings,” installation view, Rhode Island School of Design, 2022. Photo by Jo Sittenfeld. 

Rethinking inclusion and community, student co-curators Rey Londres (RISD) and Melaine Ferdinand-King (Brown University) organized “New Beginnings” to create meaningful space for Black artists and designers in Providence. Viewers enter a purposefully white-walled gallery to see a striking range of vibrant artwork from eighty artists filling the space. The scope of work reflects the curators’ desire to present a wide array of mediums and experiences, including works on paper, photographs, paintings, sculptures, video, textiles, and apparel ranging from the 1970’s to 2022, and participating artists—whether they be students, staff, alumni, or from the broader local community—aged 17 to 70. The inaugural “Black Biennial” opens the door for continued collective conversation with Black creatives in the Providence area while setting a high bar for student-led initiatives that reach beyond their university walls.
– Kaitlyn Ovett Clark

Listening Works
Gallery 263
March 17 – April 16, 2022

Martha Chason-Sokol, “Listening Works,” installation view, 2022 . Photo courtesy of Gallery 263.

Tucked on the corner of a quiet residential street in Cambridgeport, Gallery 263’s solid lineup of exhibitions are seldom in the limelight. Currently on view, “Listening Works,” is the Everett-based artist Martha Chason-Sokol’s first-ever solo exhibition in Massachusetts. Chason-Sokol’s sculptures transform found objects (takeout containers, tequila bottles, plumbing supplies, and shaving cream canisters among the many) into flamboyant characters, wrapped by tapes and plastics in vibrant hues of orange, bright red, turquoise, and baby pink. Chason-Sokol describes each of these sculpture-characters as an “archive,” a collection of debris vibrating with its own unique histories and multiple, recycled lives. The work first emerges from a drawing process informed by the artist’s inner dialogue, ultimately fusing the personal with the universality of circulating matter. Viewers can meet the cast of sculpture-characters through April 16, or experience the virtual exhibition here.
– Maya Rubio

MassArt x SoWa
March 12 – April 17, 2022

Installation view, “SOURCE,” MassArt x SoWa, March 12 – April 17, 2022. Photo courtesy of MassArt x SoWa.

In 2015–seven years and a lifetime ago—I fell in love with a small, wall-bound piece by Diana Jean Puglisi on view during that year’s BCA Drawing show, Feelers, curated by Susan Metrican. It was delicate, made of dust and lace if I remember correctly, and questioned the idea of drawing. It was slight but held its own in a span of large-scale, gestural work, and made me look forward to Puglisi’s thesis show at MassArt the following year. Her class’s show introduced me to artists who defied disciplinary boundaries and incorporated new materials in fresh ways. Makers like Loretta Park, Janet Loren Hill, and Courtney Stock, who I’ve been following ever since.

So it’s with huge excitement that I’ve watched this spring unfold at the MassArt x SoWa space (ok, maybe they need a better name?) with some of my favorite alumni at the helm. Opened in April 2021, the space offers MassArt graduate students, alumni, and faculty opportunities to curate, design, and show off campus. 

First, Park curated “Triple Oscillation,” which contextualized her mixed media work alongside that of YoAhn Han and Youjin Moon. Now, Puglisi and Stock have curated a mix of ten artists, all trained at MassArt who resist flattened images, in “SOURCE.” Up through April 17, the exhibition suggests that artwork is a “primary source” of inquiry and asks us to consider our own positionality and relationship with the domestic, craft, and technology-based artworks included here. It’s a show that seems to ask how we relate to one another and our experiences through the everyday materials that shape our perspectives. Next, I’ll be watching the space for this year’s MassArt MFA thesis show. Hopefully, I’ll find some other artists to follow for years to come.
– Leah Triplett Harrington

Eva Lewis: Disparate
LaiSun Keane
April 1 – May 1, 2022

Eva Lewis, Anjanette’s Home, 2021. Oil on canvas: 38 x 48 in. (96.5 x 121.9 cm). Photo courtesy of the artist and LaiSun Keane Gallery. 

At a time of year when it’s possible to live through all four seasons in the course of a week, a new show at LaiSun Keane offers some relief. There, in lush oil paintings by 2022 Boston University MFA candidate Eva Lewis, we are treated to unmitigated summer. Whether stretched out on a lawn, perched on the edge of a lake, or chatting under the glow of a porch light, Lewis’ women—her work centers on feminine identifying subjects—all revel in the warmth and ease of a perpetual July dusk.

Skillfully, the paintings invite you to do the same. The point of view is often intimate, the twists and bends of the figures draw your eye in, and the tones—fire-lit or sweetly sepia—are sleepy and nostalgic. One can practically hear the crickets chirp.

Originally from Ohio, Lewis has made waves in recent months in a number of group exhibitions throughout the city; “Disparate” is her first major solo show. She’ll be one to watch out for, so be sure to stop by SoWa in April.
– Jessica Shearer

Being Muholi: Portraits as Resistance
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
February 10 – May 8, 2022

Sir Zanele Muholi, “Being Muholi: Portraits as Resistance,” installation view, 2022. Courtesy of Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Photo by Sean Dungan.

South African visual activist, Sir Zanele Muholi’s practice has for years examined and exalted Black womanhood and the LGBTQIA+ community. In this show, visitors gain access to their globally celebrated Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness and Brave Beauties series, which feature glistening, high-contrast black-and-white photographs (often self-portraits), as well as new work: nine boldly hued paintings and the artist’s first bronze bust. Acting as diffused frames, two ekphrastic poems penned by Boston’s own Poet Laureate Porsha Olayiwola are also exhibited as pieces in their own right. 

As with any show at the Gardner, half the fun is seeing how the work interacts with the historic space. After you see the larger exhibition in the Hostetter Gallery, don’t miss the smaller one tucked away in the Fenway Gallery. There, joyful, vibrant color photographs capturing queer South African friends and acquaintances are hung salon-style like the rest of the Palace’s rooms, a reminder that—like Mrs. Gardner herself—Muholi is a fierce champion of a beloved community. 
– Jessica Shearer

Matthew Angelo Harrison: Robota
MIT List Visual Arts Center
March 25 – July 24, 2022

Matthew Angelo Harrison, The Blue People, 2021 (detail). Paper, leather glove, and polyurethane resin, two parts: 31.5 x 15 x 6.625 in.  (80 x 38 x 17 cm) overall. The Rennie Collection. Courtesy of the artist, MIT List Visual Arts Center, and Jessica Silverman, San Francisco. Photo by Timothy Johnson.

How do you move into the future? By taking a good hard look at the past. With his particular brand of high-tech meets historic, Matthew Angelo Harrison does just that. His process involves sealing objects into solid blocks of resin, which he then carves with hand-built computer numerical control (CNC) routers. The result is something like a shrine, something like a cryogenically frozen head—an artifact fixed in time, but looming with potential.

In earlier iterations of his “Dark Silhouette” series, Harrison explored foundational aspects of race, identity, and humanity with work that showcased West African sculptures and animal skeletal remains. With these latest additions, exhibited in conversation with his older work, he narrows his focus to his home base in Detroit, and draws on his experience as a clay modeler at Ford Motor Company to examine the role of the prototype in society, particularly at a time when the assembly line is undergoing a robotic revolution. Union signs, auto parts, hard hats, and other rust belt relics, all trapped in resin, remind us of the traditions that have long defined labor in the United States—rightly or wrongly—and beg the question: If the future is ours to build, what should we take with us?
– Jessica Shearer

New England Triennial
deCordova Sculpture Park & Museum
Fruitlands Museum
April 8 – September 11, 2022

Heather Lyon, Semaphore Love Letter—Isle au Haut, 2020. Performative video, 3:20 minutes. Courtesy of the artist. Filmed by Luke Myers.

Much has changed for deCordova Sculpture Park & Museum since it last presented an exhibition of work from twenty-five artists across New England in the spring of 2019. The biennial has become a triennial and, when the exhibition opens on April 8, it will span two venues, adding the Fruitlands Museum into the mix—both institutions are now sites managed by The Trustees. Like most “ennial” exhibitions, the theme for this New England Triennial feels as wide reaching as the states these artists hail from. Planning began before COVID was a part of our lexicon, but most of the work on view has been made during the pandemic era. A unifying thread will be resilience and change, something we can all relate to over the past two years. Featuring an intergenerational cohort of artists working in nearly every media, this exhibition is certain to be a smart display of work that will hopefully help us all feel a bit more on the pulse with what artists across New England have been thinking about. 
– Jameson Johnson

Simone Leigh: Sovereignty
La Biennale, Venice
Presented by Institute of Contemporary Art / Boston
April 23 – November 27, 2022

Simone Leigh, 2021. Artworks © Simone Leigh. Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery. Photo by Shaniqwa Jarvis.

Though happening nearly 4,000 miles away from Boston, the buzz from the ICA / Boston’s presentation of work by Simone Leigh at the U.S. Pavilion in Venice is sure to be felt back in the Bay Sate. Leigh is the first Black woman to represent the United States at the Biennale, and quite fittingly, she’s filling the space (to a monumental scale) with what it means to be a Black woman. Previously Grittin, and more recently shifted to Sovereignty, the exhibition’s title speaks to the artist’s interest in self-determination and self-governance. The work will pull from Leigh’s long history of using practices and materials from Africa and the African diaspora to present large-scale sculptures of female figures, though for this presentation, the artist has begun working with bronze. Much of the final display is being kept under wraps, though recent press has rumored the artist is working to construct a thatched roof inside the pavilion and viewers can expect to be met with a multi-media installation consisting of sculpted and cast figures, immersive spaces, and even video. Beyond the exhibition, Leigh is collaborating with scholars, historians, artists, and activists to present a symposium titled “Loophole of Retreat:Venice,” which will build on a similar event Leigh held in 2019 to explore the many facets of Black women’s creative labor and thought leadership.

For those not traversing the Atlantic Ocean this summer, the exhibition will be on view at the ICA in the spring of 2023 before it travels to other museums across the country. Stay tuned on the BAR Instagram for a sneak peek from Venice later this month. 
– Jameson Johnson

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