"Building a Collection" at the Museum of Fine Arts highlights a stellar contemporary collection, displaying several recently acquired pieces for the first time.
The exhibit showcases works of many different media, including photography, painting, sculpture and mixed-media constructions. The pieces focus on various themes, with two in particular prominence: society's unrealistic expectations of women and the escalation of the AIDS crisis, especially in the artistic community.
"Under the Influence, 1992" by Rachel Lachowicz focuses on women's position in society. The piece is comprised of two layers of nine square glass panels. The bottom layer shows images of the artist with her body wrapped in cellophane. The top layer contains pictures of super model Linda Evangelista. When the entire piece is viewed from a distance, the images of the two women merge so that neither one is an accurate representation of herself.
Women's roles in contemporary society are also challenged in Doris Salcedo's "Untitled, 1992," a baby cribencased in wire. The work suggests "that motherhood can become obsessive and claustrophobic." The piece also forces the viewer to look at a commonplace object in an entirely new way.
The AIDS crisis has been the inspiration for countless works of art, and "Building a Collection" contains some of the most interesting pieces on that theme. The painting "AIDS Count I, 1988," created by Luis Cruz Azaceta, is an unmounted black canvas with a small figure in a coffin in the center. Surrounding the figure are white numbers that fill the remainder of the canvas, evoking the constantly growing number of AIDS victims.
The one work in the show dealing with the effect of the AIDS epidemic on women was in fact created by a male artist. Kurt Reynold's 1990 mixed-media piece "Blessed Art Thou Among Women?" illustrates the unfair treatment of women with AIDS. The base of the work is a framed picture of the Virgin Mary. Suspended in front of her portrait is a string of rosary beads made of capsules of AZT, the drug that counteracts some of the symptoms of the HIV virus.
Not all works in the show deal with one of these two themes. Another notable piece is "Last Seen," Sophie Calle's photograph of the wall space where Manet's "Chez Tortoni" used to hang before disappearing from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the largest art theft in recent history. Next to this photograph is a framed text of commentary on the work by employees at the Gardner.
"Building a Collection" is an important exhibit for the Museum of Fine Arts. As Trevor Fairbrother, Curator of Contemporary Art at the MFA, said, "The permanent collection [of contemporary art] has never been featured on this scale before." Indeed, the current show in conjunction with "Building a Collection: Part II," which opens in late February, gives the viewing public an opportunity to see what artists are producing today as well as what the Museum is currently collecting.
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