This website was created with the intention of making finding art in Boston easier. No matter where you are in the city, world-class exhibitions and galleries are never more than a short subway ride away. Using the MBTA subway map as a guide, Boston Art Underground's goal is to familiarize its users with the art spaces in Boston, and to showcase local artists.
Text Written By Maria Napolitano
The UMass Boston Harbor Gallery is a small, two-room space currently shared by three artists. Their show, Really, is mainly composed of photographs, but has video and sculptural elements as well. Each of the three artists approaches relationships as a part of culture from a unique angle. Together, they put on a show that asks the visitor to examine what identity, especially as viewed by a stranger, really is and how the idea of what is “real” changes with the focus of the viewer and presence of mass media.
In the shared room, Jen Barrows and Justin Jankus’s photographs line the walls but two of Barrows’s works stand out. In the center of the room, “’til death do us part” drapes from the ceiling. Til Death Do Us Part is an American flag constructed from balloons. Barrows is also responsible for the video, “Come at me Bro,” looping continuously in the back corner of the room. While “till death do us part” immediately grabs your attention but then fades into the backdrop of the space, “Come at Me Bro” lurks in the back of the gallery. Repeatedly playing repetitive content, the durational video performance records two nearly identical men fighting and shouting the title phrase at each other. These thugs, tall, olive-skinned, scruffy, dressed alike in black tees and work boots, breathe heavily and tire of their sparring early into the 55-minute video. But they carry on and grow louder as the fighting continues and the gallery’s visitor notices its presence. And once it is heard and seen, it creeps into the experience of viewing the rest of the works around it. The unmistakable sounds of the altercation provide a backdrop to the gallery, a violent soundtrack that grows mundane as neither combatant wins, loses, or stops antagonizing his doppelganger.
Justin Jankus’s photographs examine the many facets of his relationship with his sister, who has cerebral palsy. While she is not visible in this series, Jankus captures her presence through her possessions – rumpled bed sheets, haphazardly stacked books, her name written on a chalkboard. The photographs fill their frames and yet only show isolated fragments of the life Justin shares with his sister. The viewer is acutely aware of her presence outside the borders of each image. In contrast, Barrows’s photographs are matted with ample space inside their frames, and have a documentary-like feel. While Jankus focuses his work on one intensely personal and specific relationship, Barrows takes on the collective of American interactions in her series. Her photographs are comfortable in their deliberate staging and careful perspective, unlike Jankus’s seemingly spontaneous composition, which seem as if they were taken while his sister is temporarily distracted. Both series examine a lack of people in their own way. Barrows photographs wide expanses of open, abandoned space and empty establishments that beg to be inhabited, while Jankus seizes and photographs fleeting moments when his sister’s spaces are emptied of their usual occupant.
In the Harbor Gallery’s second room, Brian Christopher Glaser approaches pop culture through appropriated media with his collages of familiar faces and images. He twists traditional ideas about “stars” by taking their bodies, the source and reason for their fame, and turning them into sloppily exhibited images. However, it’s unclear if his pieces are hung crookedly and inelegantly as a commentary on their content, or simply as an oversight in the construction of the exhibit. They lose some of their power in this ambiguity. Glaser’s dissection and warped reassembly of perfect pieces of pop culture strikes the viewer, as they must then diagnose the flaws and interact with the imperfections in each of his works. “Two-fer” shows two girls collaged together, conjoined at the eye, in an optical illusion that forces the viewer to delineate where a brunette girl ends and a blonde begins, before stepping back and acknowledging their fearful expressions. In Gun Show, a sculpture of many stacked, small cardboard bodybuilders, the perfection of the images drawn from the media becomes a grotesque fib in this context. A bodybuilder is “really” fit and may win prizes for his physique, and a model is “really” beautiful after her retouching is complete, but in Glaser’s work, they are out of their element and appear fake. Another sculpture, Talking and Smoking, Smoking and Talking, essentially appears to be a charred log with a cardboard arm holding a cigarette attached to its upper half. The surface of the wood is clearly a deliberate touch, but as with the placement of the photographs on the wall, the sculpture’s seemingly random position in the middle of the floor makes it seem more like an afterthought than a work that should command the attention of the gallery’s viewer. However, Glaser’s works do fill the gap between Barrows’s and Jankus’s opposing examinations of identity. He takes on pop culture with a critical eye, and aligns the viewer’s focus on personal and communal relationships with a reminder that finding the “real” can be difficult ,when what is “real” in the media falls out of touch with the “real” found at home or in a community’s wide expanse.
GET THERE: Red Line to JFK/Umass
SEE IT: On view through May 1.