When the heat is on, some of us go to the beach, others retreat to air-conditioned movie theatres, and a few smart souls seek out the cool quiet of a museum. After all, when temperatures rise, there’s no better place to get out of the summer heat — plus, there’s art!
And this summer, there are plenty of shows worth visiting, and for more than just the air conditioning. Whether it be an exhibit featuring the playful fashions of designer Patrick Kelly, welded steel sculptures inspired by ancient Nubian sites, or the final stop of the national tour of the Obama presidential portraits, you’ll find nothing if not variety.
Here's a look at the summer art lineup.
'Revival: Materials and Monumental Forms'
Through Sept. 5
As the ice melts and seas and temperatures rise, nothing could be more appropriate than visiting an exhibit built around recycling. In this show, reuse and reclamation is the basis for immersive installations by six internationally known artists: El Anatsui, Madeline Hollander, Ibrahim Mahama, Karyn Olivier, Ebony G. Patterson and Joe Wardwell. From Ghana-born Anatsui, who collects bottle caps and refuse to create glittering sculptures, to Trinidad and Tobago-born Olivier and Ghana-born Mahama, who collect, respectively, used clothing and crates to build monumental sculptures, we see how ingenious artists make use of discards to build magical works that make powerful points around labor and persistence. Perhaps a better tomorrow is within sight — if we only set our minds to it. [Read more about the exhibit here.]
'Designing Motherhood: Things That Make or Break Our Births'
MassArt Art Museum
Through Dec. 18
There’s a certain art to giving birth. Now, MAAM explores that art, looking at human reproduction specifically through the lens of design. Tracing breast pumps, forceps, maternity clothes, baby monitors and other accoutrements of motherhood from the 19th-century through the present day, the show features more than 200 pieces reflecting changing reproductive rights and societal norms. Everything about birth and motherhood has evolved in the last 150 years, including contraception, pregnancy, the actual experience of giving birth and postpartum life. This show provides an unusual opportunity to re-examine the material culture surrounding our most primal and essential human experience. It is also an opportunity to visit MAAM, which had suspended new exhibits during the pandemic. Welcome back, MAAM!
'Hypnagogia: Bridie Wolejko's Mixed Media Fantasies'
Fitchburg Art Museum
June 24-Sept. 4
Surreal, dream-like and psychedelic, the mixed-media collages of Lunenberg artist Bridie Wolejko take center stage in “Hypnagogia.” That term refers to that not-quite-asleep but not-quite-awake stage most of us have experienced, sometimes just before drifting off at night, and sometimes just as we wake in the morning. In Wolejko’s hypnagogic reverie, dancing figures morph and fuse, only to disintegrate again in collages recalling a Hieronymus Bosch painting. She says she’s inspired by fantasy, science-fiction, horror, the occult and nature, and sources the images used in her collage from vintage books, magazines and antique wallpaper. (She also paints.) Wolejko, who was the first prize winner in last summer’s 85th Regional Exhibition of Art & Craft at the museum, leans into the absurd, keeping things light-hearted while also touching on pressing issues of the day.
'Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love'
Peabody Essex Museum
June 25-Nov. 6
In the world of fashion, hot new designers come and go about as fast as the trendy fashions they create. But even in a world of rotating fashions and designers, there is one young designer who managed to create a legacy despite a sadly abbreviated career. Patrick Kelly (1954-1990) was a celebrated self-taught African American designer who took the fashion world by storm in the 1980s. His playful, colorful designs, influenced by time he spent both in New York and Paris, pushed boundaries by remaining firmly rooted in exuberant love and joy, even while pointedly subverting images found in racist memorabilia repurposed in some of his designs. The exhibition includes more than 75 runway ensembles created at the high point of Kelly’s career, along with footage from his fashion shows. Making its debut at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2014 before moving on to San Francisco, the show finally allows New Englanders a chance to appreciate Kelly’s high-energy vibe.
'List Projects 25: Azza El Siddique'
MIT List Visual Arts Center
June 30-Sept. 4
Azza El Siddique is a sculptor and mixed media artist known for her room-sized installations confronting difficult themes like entropy, impermanence and mortality. Interestingly, considering the ephemeral nature of her subject matter, El Siddique, a Sudanese-born artist who now works out of New Haven, has chosen very concrete materials for her investigations. That includes welded steel and ceramic vases, urns and fragmented figures made of glass. Her inspiration is the ancient forms seen at Nubian sacred sites, including ritual and funerary temples. El Siddique has added the element of impermanence by allowing water droplets to drip onto her pieces, slowly eroding the clay and rusting the steel. In some works, heat lamps allow the scent of sandalwood oil, (used to prepare bodies for Muslim burial), to waft about the room, evoking Islamic mortuary rituals. In this show, El Siddique’s first solo at an institution, viewers are invited to contemplate the transitory nature of everything.
Rose B. Simpson
Aug. 11-Jan. 29
Rose B. Simpson creates mesmerizing sculptures incorporating clay, metal, wood, leather, fabric and found objects. Her work is centered around complex psychological states including spirituality and women’s strength. Born in New Mexico, receiving her MFA in ceramics from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2011 and another MFA in creative non-fiction from the Institute of American Indian Arts in 2018, Simpson moves easily between genres, incorporating performance and writing into her work. Simpson writes in her artist statement, “My life-work is a seeking out of tools to use to heal the damages I have experienced as a human being of our postmodern and postcolonial era — objectification, stereotyping, and the disempowering detachment of our creative selves through the ease of modern technology.”
Aug. 11-Jan. 29
Embroidery is not what most of us think of when we think of fine art, yet Jordan Nassar defies those preconceptions by using traditional Palestinian craft techniques in complex works that examine home, land and memory. Nassar is the son of a Polish mother and a U.S.-Palestinian father. Although Nassar himself grew up in New York City, he feels tied to his familial home and turns to Palestinian embroiders and craftspeople to help create his embroidered geometric patterns and abstracted landscapes. His work speaks to beauty and hope while simultaneously exploring the relationship between craft and history.
'Sofía Córdova: Backed Up into Dawn'
Tufts University Art Galleries, Boston
Aug. 30-Oct. 23
“Climate capitalism” and “colonial erasure” are the subjects of this exhibit featuring the work of Puerto Rican-born, Oakland-based conceptual artist Sofía Córdova. She moves between performance, music, video, photography, sculpture and installation with ease, creating pieces that consider such diverse themes as science-fiction as an alternative history, the liberating nature of dance music, as well as the idea of revolution and its interplay with, gender, race and late capitalism. This solo exhibition includes a newly commissioned installation “GUILLOTINÆ WannaCry Act Green: Sauvage, Savage, Salvaje” and video works from Córdova’s series “SIN AGUA” and “dawn_chorus.”
'The Sun Rises in the West and Sets in the East'
Tufts University Art Galleries, Medford
Aug. 30-Dec. 11
Curated by writer and curator Sara Raza, this show is a collective featuring the work of 11 contemporary artists whose mixed-media installation, film, sculptures and performances touch on issues surrounding the changing landscape around science, philosophy, biology and economics. The show title was inspired by both a fable and medieval miniatures depicting the signs of the hour leading up to the Day of Judgment. According to its organizers, the show “captures the importance of art’s role in inspiring dialogue and reassessing political futures and structures.”
'The Obama Portraits Tour'
Sept. 3-Oct. 30
When the Obama portraits first made their debut in 2018, legions of Americans lined up at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., where a perpetual mob gyrated and stirred endlessly around the portraits throughout the day. People not only gawked at Kehinde Wiley’s stylized work of President Barack Obama but snapped pictures of themselves in front of Amy Sherald’s equally stylish portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama. After the original unveiling and time in D.C., the portraits traveled the country, finding as much acclaim as a touring rock band. Finally, the portraits arrive in Boston on their seventh and final stop of the national tour that began June 2021.
Both portraits are a dramatic departure from the usual official presidential portraits. Commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery, the works reflect a distinctive artistic vision that makes them uniquely appealing and approachable — much like their subjects.
'Daniel Jocz: Permission Granted'
Fuller Craft Museum
Sept. 17-May 14
In a literal jewel of a show, sculptor and metal worker Daniel Jocz presents a survey of his playful and irreverent jewelry designs incorporating aspects of sculpture, painting, architecture and the decorative arts. On view will be 50 jewelry works along with a selection of sculptural pieces. Jocz never took a formal class in metals and learned his skills through trial and error, which may account for his playful pop-art inspired “candy wear” and his freestyle improvisational approach to design.
“I do ask myself many times why I am doing jewelry,” Jocz once told the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Seeing his work pretty much answers that question.