TAGSS tour of galleries in Boston exposes students to variety of contemporary art

A collection of old and new juxtaposed photos from Kabinett. (Courtesy Ellie McIntosh)

When wading through the multitude of commercial contemporary art galleries in Boston, even knowing which area of the city to go to can be difficult. Thankfully, the Tufts Art Gallery Student Society (TAGSS) provided the solution to this problem on Friday by offering students the opportunity to tour the best commercial galleries in Boston. From the long-renowned powerhouse Krakow Witkin Gallery to relative newcomer Matter & Light Fine Art, TAGSS has opened the door to exploring contemporary art. The TAGSS tour explored two vastly different yet equally significant art districts in Boston. The tour, lead by Director and Chief Curator of  Tufts University Art Galleries Dina Deitsch and Curatorial Associate Mallory Ruymann, visited five galleries, two on Newbury Street and three in SoWa Art and Design District, all unique in their own way.

Krakow-Witkin

Barbara Krakow has been a major player in the Boston art scene for over 50 years, but even today she makes a point of being a welcoming part of her gallery. To this end, her office is purposely located right next to the entrance to the gallery, so she can greet visitors right as they enter. The fifth-floor gallery does not have window space on Newbury Street. The subsequent low overhead costs of the space have allowed the gallery to stay open since 1983, an unprecedented length of time. The space is small, allowing for three separate exhibits showcasing the gallery’s tremendous caliber of artists. The work of Jenny Holzer, whose work has been featured in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, among others, is currently on display in the “One Wall, One Work” exhibition.

None of the pieces have descriptive labels. According to Andrew Witkin, who was leading the walk through the gallery, labels distract from the experience the viewer has with a piece of art and forces an opinion on the viewer’s perspective. Labels put the work of art into a box, perfectly ready to be consumed and understood (which is never the intention of art). This shift could be seen in several of the galleries on the tour, as gallerists move away from labels that tell the viewer how to look at the piece and instead allow for individual experience and discovery.

NAGA

On the other end of the spectrum is Gallery NAGA. The gallery is currently celebrating its 40th anniversary with a showcase of the gallery’s artists in alphabetical installments. ‘M’ through ‘V’ are on display from Feb. 2 to Feb. 24. Despite the unusually large number of artists, the gallery acts as a home for the community of artists with which it works. Director Meg White explained how the artists have become like family. The gallery does more than just display art; it creates a serving and loving community.

Matter and Light

The SoWa district of Boston is the latest artistic community that strives to protect and foster brick-and-mortar galleries. Matter and Light Fine Art, founded in 2016, is relatively new to the scene. Their current show, Bryan Christie’s “Every Angel is Terror,” is open from Feb. 2 to March 31. The artist exhibits multi-layered silk screen masterpieces that put the human form into a new perspective. Christie’s background in medical illustration lends the exhibition a touch that imbues life and uncertainty into familiar forms.

Kabinett

Kabinett held its inaugural exhibition in January at SoWa, having relocated to the arts district. Run by Tufts alumnus Gabriel Boyers, this eclectic gallery is a mix of old and new, placing prehistoric Chinese artifacts next to contemporary pieces. Boyers’ current exhibition is “Killers and Thrillers” which focuses on works that marry the macabre with the beautiful. To the right of the door, one sees a small and unassuming cabinet full of makeshift knives. Boyers explained that they are shanks recovered from California’s Folsom Prison in the 1950s. On the other side of the wall is a collection of photos centered around the deaths of artists, both modern and old. A sketch of Van Gogh on his deathbed is juxtaposed with a picture of Elvis in his open casket.

Gallery Kayafas

If Krakow-Witkin represents the known and the accepted, Gallery Kayafas looks for the new, the young and the up-and-coming. According to Gallery Kayafas’ director, the gallery has been in its current space on Harrison Avenue for eight years and is known for its connection to new artists. The latest exhibition, a collection of works by local artist Frank Egloff, examines pop culture and its relation to the pressing current issues. The work “re #angelababy” depicts “Instagram famous” Chinese blogger Angela Yueng WingBlurring out Wing’s face, Egloff asks us to question how we see such superficial celebrity as it faces the reality of police brutality and political conflict in the triptych across the gallery (“Rituals of Intimidation,” “Structural Composition” and “a room in Argentina”).

The close relationship between Deitsch and the gallery owners allowed students to learn about working in the commercial art world and get advice from those who have worked in it for decades. TAGSS has opened the door and provided the opportunity for everyone at Tufts to take a closer look at contemporary art in our very own hometown of Boston.


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