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13 art exhibits to brighten up the darkness of winter

YoAhn Han, "Flora morphosis #6." (Courtesy the artist and Chase Young Gallery)
YoAhn Han, "Flora morphosis #6." (Courtesy the artist and Chase Young Gallery)

Nude trees, a pale sun, gelid wind and shoe trays overflowing with salty boots and squishy shoes. Winter has arrived.

But don’t fret. Although winter can be a downer, there are still places to go and art to see. In 2022, even as omicron causes more closures and confusion, local museums are forging ahead with a roster of exhibits promising to scintillate and delight — or, at least, to get us out of the house if we dare to leave. From the work of Syrian American artist Mohamad Hafez who excavates the pain and trauma of the Syrian civil war through sculpture, to the work of Sharona Franklin who creates “bioshrines” incorporating medicinal plants and food items to elucidate her life as an artist grappling with chronic illness, there are lots of wonders afoot.

Keep in mind that last-minute pandemic changes may cause some venues to close, depending on COVID developments. Check with each venue first before making a visit.

Mohamad Hafez
University Hall Gallery, UMass Boston

Through Feb. 4

Syrian American artist Mohamad Hafez creates miniature sculptures of war-torn scenes from Syria using found objects, paint and scrap metal. His surreal streetscapes, which condense entire blocks down to just one or two feet, carry a big message: war brings ruin and destruction, but the human spirit persists.

His 3D collages incorporate his wartime memories of Damascus — surveillance cameras, ivy, plush Victorian furnishings and trucks belonging to security forces. On his website, he writes about his 2018 series, “Damascene Athan,” “While flowers and jasmine ivy continued to peacefully grow on our architecture, so did fear and stress depicted in surveillance cameras. The contrast between what I recorded and what I witnessed reveals the complexity of what one experiences at the cusp of a vicious war in their homeland.”

Hafez now works as an architect at the firm Pickard Chilton in New Haven, Connecticut. In this show, he presents not only his recent sculptures, but also paintings and some early work made long before the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. Although homesickness and nostalgia may motivate Hafez’s work, it is the loss and celebration of an ancient city that is the emotional heart of the show. Please note: this exhibit is open by appointment only to visitors who are not UMass Boston students, faculty or staff, so call ahead.

Mohamad Hafez, "Damascus Memory," 2005. (Courtesy UMass Boston)
Mohamad Hafez, "Damascus Memory," 2005. (Courtesy UMass Boston)

'YoAhn Han: In Search of Floral Bodies'
Fitchburg Art Museum

Jan. 15-June 5

YoAhn Han, "In Search of Floral Bodies," 2021. (Courtesy the artist and Chase Young Gallery)
YoAhn Han, "In Search of Floral Bodies," 2021. (Courtesy the artist and Chase Young Gallery)

Boston-based Korean artist YoAhn Han creates arresting and vivid works centered around one of the most arresting and vivid forms nature offers: the flower. His work, he says on his website, is a “visual dialogue between suppression and desire,” which he says speaks to his experience of “cerebral arteriovenous malformation” and his “bifurcated cultural identity.”

For this show, Han combines dyed synthetic papers that he traces, cuts and pastes into rich watercolor and gouache paintings finished with a coat of gloss varnish. The result is lush botanical forms that, while still abstract, recall the flowers Han remembers from his childhood in South Korea. The ethereal shapes and seductive colors suggest beauty, death, desire, transgression and being. They are also the perfect antidote to frozen and white winter days, consoling us with the thought that months full of color lie ahead.


'Melissa Stern: The Talking Cure'
Fuller Craft Museum

Jan. 29-May 15

Sigmund Freud described psychoanalysis as “the talking cure.” Melissa Stern’s show takes its name from Freud’s famous phrase, inspired by New York neuroses and psychobabble. Using clay, Stern creates an imaginary cast of characters that are animated by a soundtrack depicting an inner monologue that could be happening within. Each monologue was written by 12 different writers and performed by 12 different actors. Stern herself is a journalist who is a contributing writer for the Brooklyn-based online arts magazine Hyperallergic, so it makes sense that her work is formed not of the material, but of the conceptual. Including the written, visual and spoken word, Stern’s exhibit is uniquely interactive, allowing viewers to hear other voices in their heads, besides just their own.


'Martin Parr: Time and Place'
McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College

Jan. 31-June 5

Photographer Martin Parr has traveled the world examining themes around leisure, consumption and communication in work that is both artistic and anthropological. His photographs often juxtapose specific images with universal ones in a way that makes us ponder our globalized world and the distinct cultural and national characteristics that give us a connection to a particular time or place.

In this exhibit of more than 135 works and an extensive selection of photobooks, Parr, a native of the U.K., presents photographs of Ireland. We see a rapidly changing country, glimpse changes in consumer habits, social class and even humor. The brightly saturated photographs are often heavily influenced by both commercial and documentary photography. The exhibit includes photos from several bodies of work created in Europe, North America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, offering cultural critiques that are sometimes affectionate, sometimes ironic, sometimes bitter, and sometimes all these things at once.

Martin Parr, "Glenbeigh Races, County Kerry (A Fair Day)," 1983. (Courtesy McMullen Museum of Art)
Martin Parr, "Glenbeigh Races, County Kerry (A Fair Day)," 1983. (Courtesy McMullen Museum of Art)

'Amy Genser: Shifting'
Fuller Craft Museum

Feb. 5-Dec. 4, 2023

Amy Genser creates the kinds of shapes and colors you glimpse in a drop of plankton under a microscope. Working with paper, paint, metal and wood, the Connecticut-based artist says she is fascinated by the flow of water, the shape of beehives and the natural, organic forms seen in plants, rocks, moss, lichen and seaweed. In this installation, created especially for Fuller Craft, Genser allows her biomorphic, cellular forms to extend off the wall into 3D constructions invoking the beauty of each season as well those transitional periods between them, hence the title of the show.


'Frida: Immersive Dream'
Lighthouse ArtSpace at The Castle

Feb. 10-May 8

Surely, you’ve heard of at least one of the two immersive Van Gogh exhibits that swept the country last year. Reviled by some and adored by others, both exhibits offered viewers a 360-degree immersion into Van Gogh’s paintings, projected on walls and floors. Well, the Frida exhibit is the same idea, giving visitors a taste of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s best-known works, all set to a rousing musical score. For an entry fee ranging from $40 to $70, depending on what hour you reserve, you can immerse yourself not only in the artist’s work but in her life story. It’s sort of like IMAX meets art for those who find museums boring or inaccessible.

“Frida Kahlo’s work is uniquely suited to be explored in an immersive environment,” show producer Svetlana Dvoretsky said in a statement. “Kahlo lived her life as one giant journey of exploration, and her art mirrored that journey. Our goal is to give our viewers more than an examination of her work; we also hope they will leave with a richer understanding of the complex woman who created these timeless masterpieces.”

An installation view of "Frida: Immersive Dream." (Courtesy Lighthouse Immersive)
An installation view of "Frida: Immersive Dream." (Courtesy Lighthouse Immersive)

"My Mechanical Sketchbook" — Barkley L. Hendricks & Photography
Rose Art Museum

Feb. 10-July 24

Barkley L. Hendricks became famous over his long career for august and vibrantly painted portraits of people of color, modeled after the regal court portraits kings and popes once commissioned. His work has long stood out in what was once a lily-white art world. That is still the case, even when we talk about another aspect of Hendricks’ career: photography, or specifically the photos he used as models for his oil paintings. In this show, the Rose Art Museum presents these shots as works of art in their own right. On display are photographs, paintings and works on paper. We get to see Hendricks’ working process, offering a rare glimpse into the process of a luminary artist.

Barkley L. Hendricks, "Self-Portrait with a Black Hat," 1989-2013. (Courtesy the artist's estate and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York)
Barkley L. Hendricks, "Self-Portrait with a Black Hat," 1989-2013. (Courtesy the artist's estate and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York)

'American Roadsides: Frank Armstrong's Photographic Legacy'
Fitchburg Art Museum

Feb. 12-June 5

Fruit and vegetable stands, crumbling shacks, tanks painted with the American flag – these are all the sorts of things you might glimpse on a cross-country road trip. In “American Roadsides,” we see these structures once more, in all their grandeur and banality. Frank Armstrong teaches at Clark University in Worcester. His work focuses on the American material culture as seen in architecture, consumer products and advertising – elements that are reflected in the work of his students who have also become successful fine arts photographers. This exhibit includes some of their work as well.

Frank Armstrong, "Coshocton, OH," 2019. (Courtesy of the artist)
Frank Armstrong, "Coshocton, OH," 2019. (Courtesy of the artist)

Napoleon Jones-Henderson
ICA Boston

Feb. 17-July 24

Napoleon Jones-Henderson, “TCB, 1970. (Courtesy the artist)
Napoleon Jones-Henderson, “TCB, 1970. (Courtesy the artist)

Napoleon Jones-Henderson creates electric Kool-Aid graphic tapestries, tile works, sculptures and works on paper. Based in Roxbury since the 1970s, he is one of the founding members of the artists’ collective AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists) founded in Chicago in 1968 with the idea of using an accessible, graphic, colorful style (some people would call it a “Black aesthetic”) celebrating the lived experience of people within the African diaspora. Works coming out of this movement were affirming and optimistic, although they acknowledged a difficult past. In this survey of Jones-Henderson’s career, a sampling of works from various years and media are on display, with an emphasis on his woven textiles. The ICA bills this as one of the artist’s most comprehensive solo exhibitions in Boston. Since Jones-Henderson is a prominent local artist and educator, it’s about time.


'List Projects 24: Sharona Franklin'
MIT List Center for the Visual Arts

March 10-June 5

As a child, Sharona Franklin grappled with Still’s disease, which causes severe, painful inflammation of the joints and internal organs. Later, she developed endometriosis and two blood disorders. In her artistic practice, which began at the age of 4, Franklin has made illness and disability a major theme, attempting to challenge conventional notions of what it means to live with chronic illness. Using sculpture and textiles, her oeuvre has been dedicated to probing the psychic, social and biomedical realities of living with a degenerative disease. Franklin creates gelatinous collage-like molds, embedding medicinal plants, flowers, syringes, food items, hardware, prescription pills and autobiographical ephemera. Much of her work combines the ideas of domesticity with technology/science. In a recent series, she created printed textiles and ceramic plates documenting what she refers to as her “bioshrines” — arrangements of materials she uses for self-administering antibody treatments. In this exhibit, Franklin presents a new installation combining the themes of chronic illness with bioethics, environmental harm and holistic approaches to healthcare.


'Marilyn Pappas: A Retrospective'
Fuller Craft Museum

March 12-Aug. 28

Textiles are also featured in the Marilyn Pappas retrospective at the Fuller Craft Museum. Pappas is a Somerville artist who has been creating work for 60 years. This exhibit takes in everything from her garment-based work with a social perspective created in the 1960s to her large textiles developed from sculptures of ancient goddesses. Her work takes us through the stages of a lifetime, acting as a powerful statement of the courage, brio and resilience of women.


'Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca: Swinguerra'
ICA Boston

March 31-Sept. 5

“Swinguerra” is a fast-paced, sexy, athletic video centered on transgender and nonbinary dancers in Recife, Brazil. Dance in Brazil has traditionally functioned as a form of discreet organization against oppressive regimes. We get an exhilarating glimpse of this resistance in this work created by Bárbara Wagner, a native of Brazil, and Benjamin de Burca, a native of Germany. Since 2013, the two have created works in video, photography and installation that focus on underground dance and musical genres. Much of their work, which they refer to as “documentary musicals,” has been made in collaboration with cinematographer Pedro Sotero and focuses on urban subcultures of the South Atlantic diaspora. “Swinguerra” allows ICA visitors a mesmerizing look into these subcultures.

Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca, "Swinguerra," 2019. (Courtesy the artists and Fortes D’aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro)
Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca, "Swinguerra," 2019. (Courtesy the artists and Fortes D’aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro)

'A Place for Me: Figurative Painting Now'
ICA Boston

March 31-Sept. 5

Exploring ideas of intimacy, community and the power to represent oneself in painting, this collective show offers up a new generation of artists at the forefront of contemporary painting. Including work by David Antonio Cruz, Louis Fratino, Doron Langberg, Aubrey Levinthal, Gisela McDaniel, Arcmanoro Niles, Celeste Rapone and Ambera Wellmann, the show is dedicated to showing how figurative painting is not only experiencing a revival, reveling in unique approaches to painting the human figure with love and care, but how it’s kind of cool, too.

Louis Fratino, "My Meal," 2019. (Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York)
Louis Fratino, "My Meal," 2019. (Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York)

Related:

Pamela Reynolds Twitter Visual Arts Writer
Pamela Reynolds is a writer and a visual artist.

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