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Fringe festival

Galleries off the beaten path
By GREG COOK  |  June 10, 2008
LUCY Lucy Beecher Nelson’s women are life-size, so they feel curiously present.

All the talk in Boston’s gallery scene over the past few months has been about the big upheaval. Nine galleries have announced plans to close or reduce operations: Allston Skirt, Bernard Toale, Space Other, Rhys, Judy Ann Goldman, Pepper, MPG Contemporary, artSPACE@16, and Julie Chae. Nine is a lot — and the list includes several of Boston’s most respected galleries.

All but one of these reside in the Newbury Street or Harrison Avenue gallery districts, both which are also seeing a musical chairs of location changes. But off the beaten path, the fringes of the scene are seeing new development, and even expansion. In these sort-of-out-of-the-spotlight corners, new ideas often arise. Last week I went to see some of what’s going on.

AXIOM GALLERY, which opened in Cambridge in 2006 and moved to Jamaica Plain in 2007, is offering one of most satisfying new-media shows I’ve seen around here in a while: “From the Electric Studio: Work by Artists from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design” (141 Green Street; through June 21). There’s a handful of standout new-media artists around Boston — Denise Marika and Brian Knep among them — but most new-media exhibitions are like May’s group show of the Collision Collective at Axiom: promising in their bubbling inventiveness, but always in such a state of becoming (or breaking down) that you wonder whether they’ll ever get somewhere. “From the Electric Studio,” on the other hand, offers works developed in MassArt’s “Electronic Projects for Artists” class, and it favors the type of new-media art I find most intriguing — crackpot-invention stuff.

Many the 11 artists combine intriguing gizmos with nods to larger subjects. Kristen Kyper’s stuffed blue lump of a doll slowly, jitteringly moves its head to focus on the people watching it. Kyper also presents a head harness with hooks for the corners of your mouth to force you to smile. Her To Feel What You Feel is a set of metal cuffs for two people to wear; the cuffs monitor the wearer’s pulse and tap it out on the other person’s wrist. The pieces are by turns endearing and creepy — they grope toward emotional connection, but they don’t mind if they get there by force. David Thacker’s His Long Illness is a table with a lamp and five pill bottles on top. The bottles glow and the table hums, and then the bottles dim and the table quiets as you get close. It’s an affecting — if rather simple — metaphor for illness and loss.

PET GRASS: Stroke Joey Tipton’s blades and
the box emits creepy chirps and giggles.
Joey Tipton presents two small wooden boxes of growing grass. Stroke the blades of one and it emits creepy chirps and giggles. (The grass in the other box just grows.) It’s a neat trick, but novelty takes you only so far; the piece could benefit from another complicating step.

Clint Baclawski offers a trio of freestanding photo light boxes. One shows a crowd gathered in a Salem park for a Halloween event; another pictures a crowd milling about a South Boston street for the St. Patrick’s Day parade. I’d seen Baclawski’s work at the “Exposure” show that’s now at the Photographic Resource Center. It felt competent but dull, too indebted to older deadpan-quotidian photographer Jeff Wall, indistinguishable from much other photography being done today. But the two cityscapes here are filled with alluring detail. My eyes wandered the crowd at the St. Pat’s parade, following the people down the street deep into the picture, and up across the Boston skyline in the distance.

“Figure It Out” at GASP in Brookline (362 Boylston Street; through June 21), the first show there to take advantage of its recently expanded exhibition space, riffs on figure painting and human relationships. Much of the work is so-so, but a couple of artists stand out. Lucy Beecher Nelson of Cambridge has a pair of realist oil paintings inspired by a photo album of her mother’s family trip to Austria in the ’60s. Renderings of apartment buildings in winter and a couple in what appears to be a hotel room are pared down and crisp, the colors subdued. Then there’s Lucy, a 13-foot-wide portrait of nine standing women who the artist says all share the name Lucy. The artist herself is at the far right. The women are life-size, so they feel curiously present in the room with you. And all but one stare out, meeting your gaze.

Anne-Margot Ramstein of Jamaica Plain has three precise doodly drawings depicting annotated landscapes and maps on top of brains sliced in half. Ramstein’s metaphor for thinking and communication is too literal, but her drawing and her strange merging of landscape and brains are catchy.

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