The exhibit Faculty '76, like the statute of John Harvard, isn't what it calls itself. First, this collection of the work of some sixteen members of the Visual and Environmental Studies department--at the Carpenter Center through December 31--isn't one exhibit but pieces of 16 different jigsaw puzzles, none of which interlock.
Second, not all of the exhibitors are, strictly speaking, faculty, and not all of the artists in the VES faculty have contributed. The last and biggest lie is that the work on exhibit has relatively little to do with '76 and or with what these artists are doing here or now.
Though Roger Horn's design diagonally tries to connect the disparate samples of work, the exhibit does not hang together-indeed some of the pieces look most uncomfortable hanging in the same room.
Each exhibitor was given an eight-foot square white flat and told to fill it; a ridiculous idea, to put the frame before the picture. The result is predictably scrappy--Ted Spagna is three large black and white photographs and one color sequence are fit into the space, but none of the four bear any relation to each other above and beyond contiguity.
Many of the media are not capturable in two dimensions; so Dimitri Hadzi's sculpture stands awkwardly against the wall, and Bakanowsky's blueprints must shadow forth his architecture. The filmmakers will each have a showing this weekend, another fragmentation.
The work that has managed to adapt setting on the whole demonstrates a remarkable range of talent. Albert Alcalay's paintings represent solid aesthetic achievements, carefully balanced compositions of color and motion.
Barbara Norfleet's photographs are easy-to-read but enjoyable portraits of children "seen as people", she emphasizes. Michael Mazur and Flora" Natapoff justify their reputations as established Boston artists. But all that' can be seen of the works of any of these artists is a tiny fragment out of context.
Unlike most of the artists whose works are in Faculty '76, Ben Lifson had the luck to assemble a cohesive and slightly more comprehensive collection photographs. (Significantly, he is one of the few faculty members who bother to comment on their work in the explanatory notes attached to each flat.)
Lifson's pictures of California, of Niagara Falls tilt lyrically to the left--why? He says simply: "Because I like it."
These pictures are without exception more than just likeable, though. Lifson's lens views a subject and catches the formal connections and the frame intrinsic to that subject. "Niagara Falls", for example, is seen through a glass window and balcony that enclose the foreground. A row of skyscrapers provide the backdrop. Looking closer, one perceives the interconnections between the forms in front of the falls--the in bric-a-brac on the window sill--and those behind, the buildings on the sill of the river.
Lifson's work is among the most recent in the show. Distressingly, the dates of most of the other stuff reveal Faculty '76 to be a collection of artifacts. Perhaps the demands of teaching interfere with practice, but whatever the reason, drives home the point that the VES staff hasn't been producing much art worth exhibiting recently. Unquestionably they are a bunch of talented people, but what has happened to their creativity here? Faculty '76 shows artists institutionalized into Harvard professors. Trying to prove them still artists, the show is unfair to them both as practioners and professors of art.
The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly by James Hampton, at the Museum of Fine Arts through February 13.
Combine Babylonia and the Bicentennial with a Baptist church interior and you may have something approximating this.
One hundred eighty-plus glittering objects arranged around a central throne testify to a retiring religious janitor's conviction that he was commissioned to build a monument to Jesus in preparation for the Second Coming.
James Hampton. a native of Washington D.C. who died some twelve years ago, was inspired by visions of God and His angels to build these crowns, lecterns, podiums, eagles, tablets and of course the Throne, constructed of cardboard, light bulbs and tinfoil.
The MFA documents the religions significance and symbolism of Hampton's work. But as an artistic experience the work is at first glance visually amazing, on second thought sad, on reflection funny.
Hampton's dedication to this dream world he created, complete with magic script, elaborate ritual, and symbolic objects, is somewhat disturbing.
His imaginative transformation of scarps of gold and silver foil and discarded objects is the work of a schizophrenic, perhaps, someone who saw and worked in another universe certainly. Hampton was serious, but we don't have to be. A crown with a tinfoil-covered lightbulb sprouting our of it like a parody of an old cartoon, ("I've got it!") is one of the most ridiculous objets d'art of this or the other world.
Umbrella, photographs by Sage Sohier '76
Project, Inc. 141 Huron Ave. though December 1.
VES products like Sage Sohier may well be adequate explanation of where the faculty puts its energy. More likely, Sohier owes her ability to her own talent and hard work.
This book of photographs, her senior thesis, was the tantalizing unseeable crown jewel in the VES student exhibit last spring; it was clearly the finest work in that show, even hidden in a glass case with only one or two pictures visible.
Now that these photographs are out on exhibit, they are resplendent and surprising. Sohier's Umbrellas are a most amazing shape: they explode overhead, blossom underfoot, sprout and spring, collapse.