‘Massed Media’ at the MFA Celebrates the Interconnectedness of Art

Beautiful jewelry, bottle caps, and porcelain butterflies come together in a new contemporary art exhibit.

Black River El Anatsui (Ghanaian, born in 1944, active in Nigeria) 2009 Aluminum, bottle caps and copper wire * Towles Fund for Contemporary Art, Robert L. Beal, Enid L. Beal 
and Bruce A. Beal Acquisition Fund, Henry and Lois Foster 
Contemporary Purchase Fund, Frank B. Bemis Fund, and funds 
donated by the Vance Wall Foundation Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY. * Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

“Black River” by El Anatsui, Provided by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Usually, intricate jewelry, bottle caps, and industrial metal don’t mesh too well, but they will all cohabit the Edward H. Linde Gallery of the Museum of Fine Arts starting on Saturday, November 19. The upcoming exhibit, “Massed Media,” brings together an array of diverse materials, artists, and conversations to form a cohesive display.

Many of the pieces for “Massed Media” have been on display at the Museum of Fine Arts or had been stored in the museum’s collected works. They will be repurposed and given a new context alongside sculptures and jewelry that museum patrons haven’t seen before. The idea is to mix artwork from different places and artists to create a new conversation about interconnectedness and materiality.

These massed pieces aren’t important just on their own. The exhibit provides a new context by creating conversations between the various pieces on display. Glass and fiber from the Israeli artist Ayala Serfaty and a copper brooch from John Iversen, a German-born artist, tell a much different story together than they would separately.

Provided by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

“Brooch” by John Iversen, Provided by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Emily Zilber, the museum’s Ronal C. and Anita L. Wornick Curator of Contemporary Decorative Arts, was digging in to these stories with an eye toward the current cultural context and the “questions that are being asked in our other galleries.”

“I knew that this instillation would be coming up when The Clock was on view and that is all about the massing of film clips in different kinds of configurations. So, [the show] is part of a larger conversation that is happening throughout the entire contemporary wing,” she explained.

The current political context will also inform the conversations about unity and cohesion as guests look at Prosperity from Catherine Cheng or Black River from El Anatsui. “In Chinese both ‘prosperity’ and the word for ‘clothing’ are pronounced the same way and [Cheng] is deliberately playing with this homonym to connect the abundance of the ceramic garment to the life in contemporary China,” said Zilber. Black River is made out of aluminum, liquor wrappers, and bottle caps, commenting about natural resources and mimicking traditional Ghanaian kente cloth.

Provided by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

“Prosperity” by Caroline Cheng, Provided by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

“The title is not just a play on the phrase ‘mass media’ and the idea of massing, but it’s also a play on the idea of media,” noted Zilber. The texture and character of the specific types of media are important.

“We’re looking at ceramics, we’re looking at jewelry, we’re looking at textiles—and here textiles made of bottle caps and plastic—, we’re looking at sculpture…and the idea is to show how this is a strategy, this idea of massing and building a holistic artwork from a diversity of component parts,” she said.

The exhibit will feature some interactive pieces of art, including a “sound sculpture” from Harry Bertoia and a small reproduction of a metallic sculpture provided by the Bertoia Foundation that viewers can both listen to and touch. The focus is not just on sight, but on allowing viewers to immerse themselves in the exhibit through their other senses.

Zilber implemented her own strategy when she began planning the exhibit several months ago. She explained, “One of the great pleasures that we have as curators to that collection [is] finding a new theme, a new way of organizing objects, and really remixing them together so that they can have a different conversation with our viewers.” The exhibit features a diversity of parts, but comes together so that it “is greater than the sum of its parts.”

$25, on view November 19, 2016-April 9, 2017 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 465 Huntington Ave., mfa.org.