Results tagged “Museum of Fine Arts Boston” from ARTicles

sebphoto-thumb-200x280-39131.jpgSebastian Smee, the chief visual art critic for The Boston Globe, was on a furlough day enjoying the beaches of Miami last Friday when executive editor Marty Baron called to say the writer had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for criticism. When Smee landed in the newsroom on Monday, he gave a speech that praised his editors for holding to "a belief that the arts matter, and that good writing about the arts is going to be an important part of newspapers as they evolve.'' When I called to congratulate him this week, Smee reiterated the passion he has for his work in New England, spoke of the importance of value judgments in reviews and explained why he believes arts coverage is necessary to the future of journalism. 

In your 2008 article The Mind of the Critic, you mention three categories people tend to associate with criticism: to judge, to educate and to entertain. What is the role of criticism?

It may not be the most interesting part of a critic's job, but it is the most important: that he or she expresses an opinion. That's what people are expecting from a critic. There's a tendency out of politeness or good manners or fear for critics to sit on the fence sometimes. I understand that, and sometimes I succumb to it myself. But I do think you need to form and express an opinion about the merits of something. Of course, that opens onto a whole world of much more interesting questions, and you can delve into ambiguities and mixed feelings and a certain amount of education.

You're not talking about stating that something is good or bad. You're talking about expressing an opinion. 

Yeah, but good or bad is part of that. That's a critic's job: to make a value judgment on what they see. It's not imposing that value judgment as the only possible judgment about the thing. I see it very much as starting a discussion, but the discussion is going to get off to a much less interesting start if the critic hasn't actually said whether he thinks the thing he's looking at is good or bad.

What do you think about Boston generating two Pultizers in the arts this year? We might expect such numbers from New York, but what does it say about Boston right now?  

April 20, 2011 12:15 PM |

CH mille.jpgThe glassworks of Dale Chihuly, on exhibition at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts through August, stir competing passions between elites and aficionados like almost no other work by a living artist. He's high art for the masses. He's low art for the mavens. His "joyfulness" and "commercial success" are problems for some people, Malcolm Rogers, director of the MFA, said recently in the Boston Herald. The work is "tasteless" and the show is "enervating," ragged Sebastian Smee in the Boston Globe. The battle rages on in the comments that follow Smee's story, but at least one commentator -- "letsplaytwo" -- fell squarely into the pro-Chihuly camp: "I saw the exhibit yesterday and absolutely loved it. Now I'm no art snob, but I do know I respond deeply to color and light. The use of both in this show was breathtaking."

Another approach to Chihuly's work might be embedded in the title of the MFA show: "Chihuly: Through the Looking Glass." The pop-culture reference is obvious, but as I descended into the bunker-like Gund Gallery in the basement of the MFA Art of Americas Wing, I felt the Alice label was only the beginning of a journey. Maybe Chihuly for all his twirls and twists and whimsy and wackiness is really an artist of the remix.

CH organe yellow.jpgHere are all the associations I made while walking through the exhibition (backward first, and  then forward aided by wall narratives): the poster for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz, a Mozart overture, I Dream of Jeannie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (with Gene Wilder), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (with Johnny Depp), every touristy store in Venice, a chemical stew of nuclear waste, Disney World's It's a Small World and mutations in nature after a post-apocalyptic disaster. (Sorry, I have no image for that.) 

Yes, I feel the love in Chihuly's work, too. But I also felt as if I had stumbled upon a mad scientist's secret (and very moodily organized) laboratory that investigates the impact of over-loving Italy, primary colors and drugs.

CH green.jpgBarbara Rose, who wrote about Chihuly in 2000, called the artist a "mischievous, cunning, inspired shaman--a magician, a contemporary Merlin, a Ken Kesey Merry Prankster who produces the psychedelic experience of a magical, glowing, and sparkling, brilliantly alive panorama without drugs. This enchanted glass world has as much to do with Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz as it does with the great Renaissance and Baroque festivals that sovereigns arranged to entertain their courts and subjects."

So I guess I'm not alone. But I'm also not put off, pissed off or particularly captivated by Chihuly. To me, his work is puzzling in the most engaging sense of the word. Best of all, seeing his creations made me curious to know more about his influences outside of RISD and Venice. Through the Looking Glass got me thinking about the history of glass art in this country -- and that got me climbing up the vaulting Americas Wing staircase. And wouldn't you know, three floors higher: works by two of the most famous glass pros -- Louis Comfort Tiffany and John La Farge.

In the end, the experience reminded me of what I like best about art: It sends you on a quest. Like Alice down the rabbit hole.


Photos: Alicia Anstead

April 17, 2011 11:56 AM |


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