“I Smear Vaseline on Our Legs With a Pipe” aren’t words that one would
necessarily expect to see enacted within the hallowed halls of
Harvard’s Fogg Museum. But every weekend since June, in a second-floor
room roughly the size of a closet, a T.V. screen has been displaying
The video is one of Paul McCarthy’s “Red Poster Tapes,” which
themselves are only one part of “Nominally Figured: Recent Acquisitions
in Contemporary Art.” The exhibition, along with its equally
contemporary counterparts at the Busch-Reisinger Museum and the Arthur
M. Sackler Museum, represents a heightened commitment on the part of
Harvard University Art Museums (HUAM) to collecting and showcasing
The diverse trio of exhibitions was organized in anticipation
of HUAM’s efforts to give modern and contemporary art an increased
presence at Harvard, including renovations of existing buildings to
make room for modern and contemporary galleries and construction of new
facilities in Allston-Brighton to be dedicated specifically to this
BEHIND THE TIMES
Though groups like the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art as
well as the Busch-Reisinger Museum began showing more recent art as
early as the 1930s, HUAM’s Modern and Contemporary Art Department did
not come into being until 1998.
Even since 1998, Harvard museums have found it difficult to
display modern and contemporary art. Both Elizabeth and John Moors
Cabot Director of the Harvard University Art Museums Thomas W. Lentz
and HUAM spokesperson Daron Manoogian cite the previous lack of
suitable spaces for contemporary art as the main reason behind this
difficulty. The new building across the river promises to resolve the
problem of ill-suited facilities.
“It’s been a long process, but we are finally at the point at
which those facilities are imminent, and we will be able to wholly
dedicate ourselves to the exhibition and study of modern and
contemporary works,” writes Lentz in an e-mail.
Of the motivation behind these improvements, Lentz says that
“the study, conservation, and appreciation of these works is
fundamentally important in the continuum of art history—and our own
ability to serve students, faculty and the community.”
Expansion and growth are keywords throughout the fine arts
world of Boston these days, and many other museums in the area have
dedicated themselves to new building and development, including the
Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. With this
building boom, Manoogian says, “Boston is becoming more of a hub for
In addition to an increased interest in fine art in general,
many Boston museums are currently building up their collections of
modern and contemporary art. Manoogian cites the Institute of
Contemporary Art’s construction of a new $62 million building as
evidence for his claim that “there is a modern and contemporary arts
craze happening right now.”
Through Nov. 12: “The New Chinese Landscape: Recent Acquisitions”
Of the three shows, the Sackler’s “The New Chinese Landscape:
Recent Acquisitions” conforms least to the average Cambridge-dweller’s
expectations of “contemporary art.”
To the unitiated eye, many of the works—which tend to rely on
traditional materials and feature classical depictions of Chinese
landscapes—appear very similar to far older Chinese paintings. Luckily,
the incredibly comprehensive labels, including separate detailed
biographies of the artists, break down how each of them diverges from
One of the most complex works, “Sacrifice,” itself consists
of 24 different pieces, each a beautiful album leaf covered with a
rendering of the Chinese mountainside. To make the leaves, Li Junyi
forsook a standard brush for a gridded stamping technique that some
have likened to the work of contemporary American artist Chuck Close.
Li’s unusually geometric depictions of the landscape present a squarely
classical subject through the lens of an entirely new technique. An
accompanying label notes that Li created “Sacrifice” to commemorate
students who died in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
Based on the pieces on display, the artists appear to be
proponents of the motto “Modernization without Westernization,”
exploring new techniques and styles from foreign cultures within the
context of the classical Chinese foundation. Many of the points of
divergence are so subtle that some previous knowledge of Chinese
landscape art is necessary, though the labels go a long way towards
helping those who lack this expertise.
Regardless, the elemental beauty of the paintings and
sculpture, all of which HUAM term their “most important contemporary
Chinese acquisitions to date,” is patent.
Through Dec. 3: “German Art of the 1980s from the Heliod Spiekermann Collection”
Consisting of only five pieces, “German Art of the 1980s,” now
on view at the Busch-Reisinger Museum, provides a concentrated look at
exactly what the title says it does. Likewise, Rosemarie Trockel’s
“Made in Western Germany” is aptly titled on several levels: quite
literally made in Western Germany, the pea-green wool background of the
piece is also broken up by row upon row of the title’s words.
Georg Herold’s “Portrait” tempts those with a sophisticated
palate and who pine for something they won’t find in the dining halls.
Caviar dots the work’s surface, its precious little lumps making a
social statement as they compose the faintest outline of a face.
As a whole, “German Art of the 1980s” displays a sly
intelligence, making the little show of big loans a small, smart and
highly recommended exhibition.
Through Oct. 15: “Nominally Figured: Recent Acquisitions in Contemporary Art”
The Fogg’s “Nominally Figured: Recent Acquisitions in
Contemporary Art,” whose first rotation will be followed by a second
show on view through Feb. 25, is a compilation of recent additions to
HUAM’s collection of contemporary art. The show’s accompanying
statement, written by the Fogg’s former associate curator of
contemporary art Linda Norden, cites the exploration of the human
figure as a unifying theme.
With many works in many different media, from painting and
sculpture to photos and film, everyone can find something to love—and
perhaps also something to loathe. Eight-year-old Sally Green and her
four-year-old brother Jack, visiting the gallery with their family,
find Luis Gispert’s interactive piece “You’ll Never Find Another Love
Like Mine” a source of smiles and a good reason to dance. As Sally
describes the squat cylinder, “When you stand on it or sit on it, it
However, Margaret Adachi’s “Rapture” is so bizarre as to cast
doubt on its merit as art. The plush red cow reclining on a
stool—udders erect and yarn pubic hair apparent—could easily have been
imagined as part of some sort of senior prank.
The first rotation’s second gallery, containing
two-dimensional works as opposed to the 3-D ones filling the first
room, is much stronger as a whole. The “study-storage” presentation of
well over 20 works on one wall, though initially an intimidating
profusion of different pieces, rewards the patient viewer.