This week's galleries listings is dedicated to Afro-American art (although there are other kinds of exhibits included here too).
Perhaps the best place to begin is with the special exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts called The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nation's Millenium General Assembly. It's difficult to describe this work; some call it "primitive art," others just attribute it to sheer madness and leave it at that. The Throne is a series of chairs, tables, little altars and tablets, all elaborately decorated in tin foil. It was created by James Hampton, a black, Washington D.C. janitor who apparently saved all of the tin foil he found on the job to construct his tribute to the second coming of Christ. Hampton built this set-piece in a poorly lit, unheated garage in D.C. He took just about anything he found to design an almost symmetrical arrangement of over 180 pieces. In the center and in back is a larger throne (for God) flanked by two smaller chairs for the archangels. In front of the throne is a podium, where, it seems, the Lord is supposed to stand as he hands down his final judgements. It is interesting to think about what Hampton had in mind when he designed this podium... Perhaps he was equating the last judgement to a preacher's hell-fire sermon from a pulpit.
There are lots of little things in this exhibit that inspire the viewer's curiousity about Hampton's influences. For instance, he has made several crowns and most have lightbulbs attached on top (covered with tin foil, of course). It seems obvious, and funny, that Hampton was inspired by cartoon depictions of "having an idea" (pop! the light bulb goes on over the head).
Very little is known about Hampton himself; he stuck to himself and died of cancer in 1964. One fact everybody agrees on: it sure did take a lot of cigarette and candy wrappers. The exhibit runs at the MFA through February 13. Tuesday evenings 5 p.m.-9 p.m.) are free at the MFA this month.
The Museum of Afro American History continues to present The World of Hamilton Smith, a pictorial view of black middle-class life from 1890 to 1924 with photographs made from Smith's original glass plates. The museum has just recently opened a shop, which is the only place besides the U.N. where you can get hand-made Rastafarian dolls from Jamaica. It also has jewelry and baskets from Ethiopia, Jamaica and the Carolina See Islands. The shop is at 719 Tremont Street (Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.). Call before you go because the museum is not always open during its hours.
During january, if you go to the MFA, the MAAH or any of nine other museums, you get a free pass to any other participating museum in Museum Goers Month.
If you acquire this pass (redeemable weekdays at 1 or 2 p.m.), go to the Museum of Science where, through January 23, over 300 watercolors by Olemara and Verda Peters depict the Tribal Peoples and Costumes of Southern Africa, including displays of tribal artifacts.
At Boston's City Hall, a Festival Bostonian Retrospective features the fine art, crafts and cultural artifacts of 23 ethnic groups celebrated by Festival Bostonian since April, 1975 (9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, through January 28).
On permanent display at Northeastern University is a Tryptich by Boston Artist Dana Chandler, depicting the beating of black attorney Theodore Landsmark last April by a group of ROAR demonstrators. Northeastern acquired the paintings after somebody punched holes in them and scrawled "KKK" on the canvases while they were on exhibit last October. Call Northeastern's Afro-American Studies Department for more information.
At Baker Library, across the river, a group show called Innovative Graphics is being exhibited through January 24 (Daily, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.)
Homer to Hopper, at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, looks at the golden age of American watercolor (1870-1930). Included are the works of Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Edward Hopper, John Marin, Charle Demuth and some lesser-known painters. (Tuesday-Friday, 1 p.m.-5 p.m.)
Three exhibits at the Mseum of the American China Trade in Milton are: Chinese Snuff Bottles; Wassail Vessels from China; and Chinese Export Porcelain: A Guide for Collectors (Tuesday-Friday, 2 p.m.-5 p.m.)
If you've ever had this urge to touch art, to be able to buy it, and even to be able to wear it, you might enjoy a T-Shirt Exposition and Auction at the Museum School, next to the MFA at 230 The Fenway. The T-shirts are painted, printed, stretched, stuffed, stitched, stained, fiberglassed and mounted. The shirts have been on silent auction since January 4 and those bids will close at noon, next Tuesday. Then, Tuesday evening (6:30-8:30 p.m.) at the MFA's lecture hall, the shirts will go on open auction (the silent bids having determined the starting bid). Shirts are on view at the Museum School Gallery (daily, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.)
What sounds like an excellent exhibition of modern masters is continuing, through February 9, at the Pucker/Safrai gallery at 171 Newbury Street. Works shown include linocuts, engravings and lithographs by Picasso; drawings of the human face and figure in ink, lithograph and charcoal by Matiss; and silk screen prints of Hundertwasser's Japanese woodcuts. There are also some lithographs by Chagall. A film, "Hundertwasser's Rainy Day," will be shown periodically in the course of the exhibit (Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.)
At the Fogg two exhibits are in progress: Art of Mughal India and Ottoman Turkey (through January 23) and Italian Drawings of the Renaissance and Baroque (through January 30.