High concept

By GREG COOK  |  April 6, 2010

Still, if conceptual art is Boston’s big thing, then let’s embrace it. The ICA should assemble a round-up of major local conceptualists, including the artists here (who despite my reservations are some of this sector’s major representatives), plus folks like Catherine D’Ignazio, the Institute for Infinitely Small Things, Andrew Mowbray, the National Bitter Melon Council, John Osorio-Buck, Ben Sloat, Jeff Warmouth, Douglas Weathersby, Deb Todd Wheeler, and Andrew Witkin.

If after this mental workout you crave a treat for your senses, indulge in “Modeling Devotion: Terracotta Sculpture of the Italian Renaissance” at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It’s a small (11 works), lovely, scholarly show in which curator Alan Chong argues that Renaissance marbles have overshadowed the cool stuff people squeezed out of clay. Chong addresses notions propounded by Michelangelo et al. that marble was awesomer because it was more challenging to work with, and so the magnificent results were evidence of greater skill. And besides, we always seem to favor fancy rocks over mud and dirt.

None of the portrait busts, crucifixions, or other Christian sculptures here kicks Michelangelo’s ass, but Matteo Crivitali’s Virgin and Christ Child, from about 1480, is astonishing in its delicate realism. The slightly-smaller-than-life-sized Virgin kneels as if praying to her little naked baby, who kneels in prayer right back at her. The wide-eyed boy seems ready to topple over — it’s almost as if he were playing. But the Virgin, in a rich red dress, blue cloak, and gold band holding in place her long wavy Italian hair, is a model of solemnity. Her eyes are half closed — it’s an inward gaze that along with her posture conveys an incredible motherly, holy tenderness.

Read Greg Cook’s blog at gregcookland.com/journal.

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