I wanna rock

LaMontagne’s vision for Boston art
By GREG COOK  |  December 12, 2008

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AFTER BEFORE: Bostonians like Taylor Davis weight the scene toward an æsthetic that’s serious and angsty.

“Taylor Davis: N W rk Ab t” | Samson Projects, 450 Harrison Ave, Boston | Through December 13

“This is Boston, Not LA” | LaMontagne Gallery, 555 East Second St, South Boston | Through December 27

“Boston Does Boston II”
| Proof, 516 East Second St, South Boston | Through January 17
In 1982, a group of local hardcore punk bands released what would turn out to be a landmark compilation album, This Is Boston, Not L.A. The hardcore scene was very territorial, and the title of the album, taken from the Freeze song on the record, was seen as a challenge and an F-you to the prominence of Los Angeles and Washington hardcore, as well as a call to Bostonians to assert their own local (musical) identity. Now comes “This Is Boston, Not LA” at LaMontagne Gallery to take up that old title as a sort of manifesto of what Boston art can be.

There are three modus operandi that local artists bunch around today: deadpan set-up photos; new-media explorations; and rigorous conceptually driven installations, often with video of a performance. There are outliers, of course, and the visionary expressionist painting that began here in the ’30s continues, and a cluster of lush decorative pattern painters is forming. But the photo, new-media, and installation folks are most prominent. And they weight the scene toward an æsthetic that’s serious and angsty.

Take the work of Bostonian Taylor Davis, who won the 2001 ICA Artist Prize and was included in the 2004 Whitney Biennial. She comes out of classic hardcore Minimalism, making stuff like a wood-and-mirrors version of a typical shipping pallet. Her current show at Samson Projects, “N W rk Ab t,” offers esoteric sculpture on the edge between art and carpentry: an iron rod rising up from two crossed wood planks; a plywood screen; a beaver-gnawed log inside a spinnable wood box; a log milled flat on two sides but otherwise left raw. It epitomizes a certain branch of Boston art (the kind that, say, the ICA tends to reward): cold, rigorous, smart, dry, and (too often) kind of boring.

The 22-artist line-up of “This Is Boston, Not LA” suggests a different Boston art (though note that a number of the artists are former Bostonians), a scene fueled by rock and roll and ’80s nostalgia that includes Larry Bird’s Celtics and the sort of murals you might have painted on the side of your tricked-out van back then. The big difference is attitude. It’s a vision of a Boston scene that makes you want to throw up your hands and flash the devil’s-horns salute: yes!

Raising the show’s banner is Samantha Moyer, who grew up in Boston but now lives in Brooklyn. She leans three stretched flags against one another to form a sort of teepee atop a California state flag laid on the floor. (Take that!) The three flags — a lobster with the slogan “Welcome,” a Red Sox banner, and the Irish tricolor — represent the three-legged stool of (white) Boston identity.

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