Shape up

Fernand Léger at the Fogg, ‘Encounters’ at the BCA, ‘War’ at the MFA and Pierre Menard Gallery
By RANDI HOPKINS  |  April 3, 2007
Fernand Léger, Smoke over the Rooftops (1912)

In 1998, the Museum of Modern Art in New York mounted a retrospective of work by French artist Fernand Léger (1881–1955), long acknowledged as a pioneer of 20th-century modernism but underestimated as to the breadth and diversity of his art. At that time, Carolyn Lanchner, organizer of the MoMA exhibition, wrote, “In 1927 Alfred H. Barr, Jr., who became MoMA’s first director, defined Léger as a ‘French Cubist whose forms are polished and cylindrical like steel, clangorous in red and black like new fire engines.’ As applied to an artist whose mature working career had then lasted scarcely 12 years, Barr’s judgment was fair and succinctly descriptive. Unfortunately, this notion of Léger’s art endured, and he is still popularly perceived as a painter of circumscribed technique whose modernity rests on his preoccupation with the machine.”

Opening at Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum April 14, “Fernand Léger: Contrasts of Forms” is a small but powerful contribution to our understanding of Léger’s role in both the development of Cubism and of abstract art in the early 20th century. Focusing on two major paintings from a large cycle of works created by the artist between 1912 and 1914, and accompanied by a selection of related works on paper, this rare look at Léger’s early still-lifes, landscapes, figurative works, and abstractions offers a glimpse into the early dialogue between representation and abstraction.

Democratization and globalization are the international issues alluded to by “Encounters,” which opens April 6 at the Mills Gallery. Artists Nele Decock, Rob Hornstra, Stani Michiels, Anoek Steketee, Reza Abedini, and Hans Wolbers, from Iran, Belgium and the Netherlands, share their fascination with the societies of Iran, Uzbekistan, and Russia, using photography, the Internet, sound, and graphic design.

International relations at their worst are examined through artists’ eyes in “War and Discontent,” which opens at the Museum of Fine Arts April 10. Three exceptional works from the MFA’s collection — Manet’s The Execution of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico (1867); Goya’s print set The Disasters of War (1810-’20; published 1863); and Picasso’s The Rape of the Sabine Women (1963) — are joined by recent pieces by Richard Artschwager, Dinos and Jake Chapman, Anri Sala, Phil Collins, and others.

War is also taken up at Pierre Menard Gallery, where “Donald Shambroom: Recruits” opens April 11. Shambroom has been addressing the topic in his art since 2005; a discussion “Art and War,” with poet Kevin Bowen, actor Kermit Dunkelberg, and photographer Chip Troiano joining Shambroom, will take place at the gallery on April 15 from 3 to 5 pm.

“Fernand Léger” at Fogg Art Museum, 32 Quincy St, Cambridge | April 14–June 10 | 617.495.9400 | “Encounters” at Mills Gallery, 539 Tremont St, Boston | April 6–May 20 | 617.426.8835 | “War and Discontent” at Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave, Boston | April 10–August 5 | 617.267.9300 | “Donald Shambroom: Recruits” at Pierre Menard Gallery, 10 Arrow St, Cambridge | April 11-15 | 617.868.2033

On the Web
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Related: Year in Art: Beyond the gloom, Return to the edge of the world, Our town, More more >
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