High concept

‘Artadia Boston’ at the BCA, plus terracotta at the Gardner
By GREG COOK  |  April 6, 2010

1004_pelado_main
SUPER-CATCHY: Like Raúl González’s other pieces at the BCA, Pelado is as much fun to look at as it is to think about.

“Artadia Boston” | Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont St, Boston | Through April 25

“Modeling Devotion” | Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 280 the Fenway, Boston | Through May 23

The stars of the “Artadia Boston” exhibit at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Mills Gallery are Raúl González’s manic-Injun drawings. Pelado is a close-up of the orange face of a fellow with a giant green bull’s-eye eye and blood dripping down his calligraphically rendered hair. Weapons we will use against you! Part 1 is a row of spindly, cartoony, Philip Guston–like orange arms wielding a club, knife, axes, broken bottle, and so on. A purposely flickering scratchy old-timey animation that González made with Len White shows a cartoon Indian’s face shot full of holes, with real smoke seeming to pour out.

This Somerville artist draws with ink and paint and old coffee and who knows what else to produce big, bright, sharply rendered, super-catchy images. He even creates stains and seeming corrections that make the drawings appear nostalgically antique. The racist stereotypes and jaunty cartoon violence call up a legacy of war and oppression between Native Americans and, well, Americans. This stops you short, but at the same time, as drawings, they’re lots of fun.

That said, the real news here is that the Artadia show, which features seven local artists who won grants last August from the New York–based non-profit Artadia, confirms that the officially sanctioned style of Boston art is not what González is doing. It’s conceptualism. Other types of art get made here — techno inventions, cartoony escapades, rapturous pattern and decoration — but when it comes to our big local round-ups, like this show or the Institute of Contemporary Art’s biennial Foster Prize, conceptualism wins hands down. (The significant exception is the DeCordova Sculpture Park + Museum’s 2010 Biennial.)

Caleb Cole of Somerville shows a bunch of photos from his series Other People’s Clothes. Each photo is a performance in which the elfin Cole dresses up (despite the title, I’m told he assembles the costumes himself) as a new character in some pre-existing locale, which he uses as he finds it. He becomes a stooped old lady in a rainbow-flowered housecoat squinting into the sun in her paved backyard. Or an old bewildered guy in an oversized cardigan and big glasses sitting on a sidewalk bench and scratching a lottery ticket. BCA curator José Luis Blondet (who in June will depart for a new job in Los Angeles) has left out some of Cole’s most moving shots, but you still marvel at the artist’s knack for costuming, setting, light, and acting. There’s a Chaplin-esque humor in this cute little man’s taking on all these roles — but the shots speak about age, loneliness, and what we do to quiet our fears.

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