Most of the show is more detached. The top $15,000 Artadia grants went to Cambridge artists Amie Siegel and Joe Zane for making art about art. (The remaining awardees were given $3000 each.) Siegel edits together old home movies into a video of a woman (her mom filmed by her dad, it turns out) looking at sculptures — from a replica of Michelangelo’s David to Picasso figures — in museums and parks over the years. Maybe it prompts thoughts about women as objects or models and men as artists or documenters. Or, as Blondet writes, “notions of gender, portraiture, and representation.” But to get there, you wind up doing most of the work.
Zane commissioned a Chinese art factory to paint his “self-portraits.” Two of the four examples here have been splattered in a way meant to suggest that someone has thrown pies at the canvas, but the “pie” is more like white paint. It’s an abject, absurd joke on self-portraiture — and the splashy paint of Abstract Expressionism. Another canvas features that familiar museum sign, “Work temporarily removed for repair.” It’s an art-world meta in-joke about how such signs become art as they fill in for absent pieces. (And perhaps an extra in-joke about how a tour guide broke one of Zane’s sculptures at the ICA Foster Prize show in 2008.) The work is kind of thoughtful and sort of humorous — it’s the brand of dry wit that might get a smile from you but never a laugh.
Eric Gottesman, from Cambridge, shows photographs of photographs. Wall texts explain that they document the personal pictures of Ethiopians, in whose country photography was banned — except for official documents — by a brutally repressive Communist military regime in the 1970s and ’80s. One piece, its text points out, is the photo of a photo that pastes together an image of a young man missing since 1982 and a recent portrait of his mother. The backstory is heart-wrenching, but Gottesman’s photos? Meh.
MUD VERSUS MARBLE: The delicate realism of Matteo Crivitali’s Virgin and Christ Child makes a strong argument for the viability of terracotta.
Claire Beckett, from Jamaica Plain, photographs American service men and women pretending to be our enemies, or else plain old Iraqis, during military training. The work prompts questions about how we train our soldiers, and whether we understand our enemies — or, for that matter, the people we’re supposed to be trying to help. But the formal deadpan posed portraits are just okay.
“Artadia Boston” favors the kind of art that privileges thinking (and wall texts) over the senses. And underlying it all are ever more tired postmodern questions about the nature of art and representation, simulation versus reality. So much of this work is so dour and serious and edifying and uncolorful that it makes my heart feel sad. And my eyes, too. You might consider it as a flavor of New England reserve. That has its good points — intellectual rigor, Yankee devotion to hard work — but it also means no Boston bars serving after 2 am.