Animal symbolism and the historic and ceremonial significance of small bronze bears, cats, rams, and deer from ancient China are the subject of “A BRONZE MENAGERIE: MAT WEIGHTS OF EARLY CHINA” at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (280 the Fenway, Boston; October 6–January 14). Mat weights were originally believed to delineate sacred tomb spaces or to hold burial garments in place, but new archæological evidence indicates more-life-related uses, like holding down game boards or woven seating mats. This show reunites a pair of bronze bear mat weights owned and adored by Isabella with many far-flung relatives.
“Nature” and “culture” are often set up as opposing factions — “binary oppositions” — and their relationship with other dualities in our lives (feminine/masculine, body/mind) is the focus of “PEACE KING MOTHER NATURE: PARTS 1 & 2” at Second Gallery (516 East 2nd St, South Boston; Part 1 through October 15, Part 2 October 28–November 26), with work by artists including Michael Bell-Smith and Saya Woolfalk that explores these ideas through an array of lenses: gender, race, technology, video games, crafts.
The intimacies and anxieties of human relations have been the subject of Louise Bourgeois’s innovative and influential art since the 1940s; her work has spanned Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, feminism, and installation art. “LOUISE BOURGEOIS: THE WOVEN CHILD (IN CONTEXT)” at the Worcester Art Museum (55 Salisbury St, Worcester; October 21–February 25) incorporates a group of her fabric figures and books from 1996 to 2004; the focal point is a major fabric sculpture, The Woven Child (2002), recently acquired by the museum. Also at WAM, “MI PUERTO RICO: MASTER PAINTERS OF THE ISLAND, 1780–1952” (October 8–January 14) has portraits, landscapes, and scenes of everyday life by Puerto Rico’s great masters, José Campeche, Francisco Oller, and Miguel Pou.
In June 2005, the Peabody Essex Museum hosted a workshop offering 22 studio furniture artists from the US, Canada, and China the opportunity to view more than 40 pieces of traditional Chinese furniture and to create new work based on them that would be displayed in “INSPIRED BY CHINA: CONTEMPORARY FURNITUREMAKERS EXPLORE CHINESE TRADITIONS” at the Peabody Essex Museum (East India Square, Salem; October 28–March 4). The show includes 29 examples of historic Chinese furniture together with 28 new works by artists including Ai Weiwei and Judy McKie.
The relationship between our bodies and our electronic technology has been changing dramatically in past decades, and “SENSORIUM: EMBODIED EXPERIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND CONTEMPORARY ART, PART I” at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center (20 Ames St, Cambridge; October 12–December 31) presents art that explores the influence of technology on the experience of the senses. Mathieu Briand’s customized helmets allow gallery visitors to exchange visual perspectives; there’s also a new sound installation by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller.
The relationship between consumption and expression takes center stage in “GLOBAL POP: SELECTIONS FROM THE BOSTON DRAWING PROJECT” at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Mills Gallery (539 Tremont St, Boston; through October 29), which, curated by Joseph Carroll, has work by Steve Aishman, Alfredo Conde, Robin Dash, Julia Feathergill, and more. It is the pleasures, and excesses, of the flesh that come to mind when we think of Cecily Brown, a passionate painter with an eye for history. Eighteen of her canvases, from 1997 to the present, come to town in “CECILY BROWN” at the Museum of Fine Arts (465 Huntington Ave, Boston; October 18–January 15), giving a feminine twist to the kind of gestural work once associated with big boys like Willem de Kooning and Lucien Freud. And the pleasures, and excesses, of the closet come to the MFA in “FASHION SHOW: PARIS COLLECTIONS 2006” (November 1–March 18): luxurious and provocative new clothing from 10 glamorous designers including Azzedine Alaia, Christian Lacroix, Chanel, Valentino, and Viktor & Rolf.