Spring Arts Preview 2015

45 things to experience, see, and read before summer.

arts preview

boston spring arts preview 2015

Rendering courtesy of Janet Echelman

Boston Shawling

Can this Brookline artist’s work knit the city back together?

For years, the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway has linked the waterfront and the Financial District with public art. Beginning in May, Brookline artist Janet Echelman will tie the two districts together with her Greenway Project. Suspended over the park, her 390-foot-high woven sculpture will be tethered to three skyscrapers and span the length of two football fields. Inspired by the Colonial-era sea wall she saw in the basement of 125 High Street, the sculpture’s abstract forms reflect both the distant and recent pasts of this site: Three voids in the sculpture represent the peaks of the Trimountain (or “Tremont”) that was razed for the waterfront’s landfill, while its six bands of color represent the traffic lanes of the demolished Central Artery.

For Echelman, 48, such grand ambitions date to 1997, when she was working in India and discovered that local fishermen’s nets could be reworked and born aloft as billowing, kinetic sculptures. Since then, she has created vast, kaleidoscopic meshes hovering over Sydney, Singapore, Denver, Seattle, and the Vancouver Olympics. Last year she earned the Smithsonian’s Ingenuity Award, and her 2011 TED talk has garnered more than 1.3 million views. In short, she’s gone global, and yet Boston hasn’t experienced her airspace extravaganzas until now. “This is the first time I can share my work with my friends and my family,” she says, “and my kids can see it with their friends from school.”

When speaking about her project and the current state of the city, Echelman sounds like a cross between a fiber artist and a new urbanist. “The Greenway is returning the public space to the people on the ground,” she says. “This sculpture is a physical rejoining of the city, lacing it back together with its waterfront within the urban fabric of Boston.” After all, she says, this spot is where residents threw tea overboard, and two centuries later where the automobile era literally overshadowed them. Now they’ll be able to just lie on the grass and look up in wonder. —Matthew Reed Baker

On display May through early October, Rose F. Kennedy Greenway.

11 Must-See Displays for Art Lovers This Spring

Conny Gölz Schmitt, Michèle Fandel Bonner, Ann Wessmann
April 3–25, Kingston Gallery

Whether assembling “shrines” from antique books, tapestries from clothing labels, or abstract swirls from mussel shells, these three local artists fashion everyday found objects into stunningly evocative abstractions.

April 5–August 9, Museum of Fine Arts
“In the Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11”
April 5–July 12, Museum of Fine Arts

The MFA offers a stunning pair of Japanese exhibits: one a retrospective of 18th– and 19th-century painter Hokusai, the country’s first internationally known artist, and the other a collection by 17 photographers documenting the 2011 earthquake that led to the devastating tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster.

“Joan Jonas: Selected Films and Videos 1972–2005”
April 7–July 5, MIT List Visual Arts Center

After studying at Mount Holyoke and the SMFA, Jonas spent the 1960s and 1970s becoming one of the country’s most important contemporary artists and a pioneer of performance and video art. Now 78, she’s been named the U.S. representative to the 2015 Venice Biennale, and while MIT’s List Visual Arts Center is co-curating her new work for that event, it’s also screening seven of her most important works here.

“Leonardo da Vinci and the Idea of Beauty”
April 15June 14, Museum of Fine Arts

Thanks to unusual loans from legendary Italian museums like the Uffizi, this da Vinci exhibit features 29 drawings by the master and a rare showing of his Codex on Flight. As if this crucial convergence wasn’t enough, the Casa Buonarroti has loaned eight drawings by Michelangelo as well.

2015 James and Audrey Foster Prize
April 21August 9, Institute of Contemporary Art

For the first time, the Fosters, the ICA’s local-artist awards, are highlighting performance and collaborative work, by winners Ricardo De Lima, Kijidome, Vela Phelan, and Sandrine Schaefer.

All-American Youth Chinese Brush Painting and Calligraphy Competition
April 25–May 5, Chinese Cultural Center

This sublime annual contest returns, judged by a top panel that includes professional painters, art collectors, and art professors from BU and Brandeis. Arranged in four age groups ranging from nine and under to 18 to 22, the winning scripts will be on display in the main hall at the Chinese Culture Center in Newton Highlands.

“Michael Mazur: Drawings 1959–2009”
May 2—June 6, Barbara Krakow Gallery

When Mazur died in Cambridge in 2009, the Boston arts scene lost one of its titans, and a most versatile one at that, excelling at paintings, collages, and detailed, expressionist drawings. Though this exhibit covers a half century of his work, it zeroes in on one facet of his career, namely his portraits of flowers in charcoal and graphite.

“Walking Sculpture, 1967–2015”
May 9–September 13, DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum

This international exhibit looks at how the simple act of walking can be subversive in a world of barriers and accelerated time. Featuring sculpture, film, and performance art, this survey showcases major contemporary names like Francis Alÿs, Bruce Nauman, Michelangelo Pistoletto, and William Pope.L.

“Clifford Ross: Landscape Seen and Imagined”
May 23–March 2016, Mass MoCA

Spread across two buildings, six galleries, and a courtyard, this midcareer survey highlights Ross’s massive photography, with several gloriously hyper-detailed images of mountainscapes and hurricane waves reaching as much as 24 feet high. On June 26, the second phase of the exhibit opens, featuring an outdoor video installation to get lost in.

“American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood”
June 6–September 7, Peabody Essex Museum

Much like Norman Rockwell and Grant Wood, Benton has always been popular for his paintings that helped shape the American visual legend. Surprisingly, this is the first major survey of his work in more than 25 years, and it focuses on how his broad canvases of frontiers, workers, and bustling city life were influenced by his years working in the silent-film industry.