The realism, and the defiance, evident in Wang Du’s sculpture Youth with Slingshot (2000) — faithfully reproduced (distortions, cropping, and all) from a newspaper photograph of a Chinese protester outside the American Embassy in Beijing — points up the politically charged energy that infuses “On the Edge: Contemporary Chinese Artists Encounter the West,” which opens at Wellesley College’s Davis Museum on February 15. The sculpture melds an apparently social-realist style with in-your-face activism. Sui Jianguo’s Made in China series of cheap, red plastic dinosaurs (2002), meanwhile, reveal the ironic wit wielded by others to anticipate and ward off some of our old assumptions about recent Chinese art. “On the Edge” features experimental work made over the past 20 years by a dozen contemporary Chinese artists. It’s accompanied by a meaty catalogue, and there’s a site-specific installation in the museum’s lobby courtesy of provocative artist Xu Bing.
The dismal state of public art in America in the early 1980s was challenged with humor and intelligence by pioneering artists Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler, who took to the streets to make art that engaged with people and places. Opening at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center on February 9, “America Starts Here: Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler” examines this art-making duo’s decade-long career, which was cut short by Ericson’s death in 1995. Their subtle alterations of sites, using ordinary materials, produced poetic and idiosyncratic works. In one instance they used the 72 “authentic colors of historic Charleston” to create a camouflage pattern covering the entire exterior of a house in that city’s historic district.
Two shows opening on February 9 at Tufts look to be transporting. “Cross Currents in Recent Video Installation: Water as Metaphor for Identity” presents new installations by four artists with ties to Africa, all of whom use H2O as a metaphor for shifting notions of self. And “Diane Burko: Flow” brings us the fruits of this intrepid artist’s travels to extreme locations (volcanoes, craters, and glaciers worldwide), where she gathers the material for dramatic paintings and photographs that let us glimpse the ends of the earth.
Curated by Heidi Marston and Lydia Ruby and likewise giving expression to issues and images we don’t often see, the Rhys Gallery’s “Temporary Walls: The Visual Voices of Detained Youth” features art by young people detained in Metro Boston’s Department of Youth Services (DYS). Weekly art classes by DYS art instructors Brian Burkhardt and Derek Fenner have inspired youths between the ages of 7 and 21 to create art on issues from isolation and sadness to neighborhoods and pop culture.
“On the Edge” @ Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, 106 Central St, Wellesley | Feb 15–June 3 | 781.283.2051 or www.davismuseum.wellesley.edu | “America Starts Here” @ MIT’s List Visual Arts Center, 20 Ames St, Cambridge | Feb 9–April 9 | 617.253.4680 or web.mit.edu/lvac | “Cross Currents” and “Diane Burko: Flow” @ Tufts University Art Gallery, 40R Talbot Ave, Medford | Feb 9–April 2 | 617.627.3518 or www.ase.tufts.edu/gallery | “Temporary Walls” @ Rhys Gallery, 70 North Hampton St #105, Boston | Feb 10–March 4 | 617.541.2543 or www.therhysgallery.com