James and Audrey Foster Prize, ICA, Boston
Amie Siegel, still from Black Moon (2010), Via ICA
The James and Audrey Foster Prize at the ICA, which showcases the work of Boston area artists, always proves its necessity. I’ve seen it three times, three years in a row, and never recognize the names or the work of the artists in the show. And they’re supposedly Boston’s best, proving the city’s cultural vibrancy. One is alerted instead to the fact that the city doesn’t exhibit its own enough to generate familiarity or a sense of active community. Additionally, the show is always pedestrian. It’s easy to say that Boston is conservative, that it doesn’t support or foster productive artistic activity. This is completely true. More interesting though, is that Boston area contemporary art consistently has a very similar aesthetic, one which is generally limp wristed and caught in a vacuum several years behind the interests of the rest of the culturally informed world. This slow speed has its benefits and produces its own artistic parameters. The art time in Boston runs in an alternate plane to the rest of the recognized art world, at times parallel and simply recognizably behind. At other moments however, Boston time is hard to place in established cultural chronology and instead, has its own set of values. There are never completely disgusting, hugely over funded spectacles (which generally make or should make viewers feel guilty-for a multitude of reasons) like Jennifer Rubell’s meat party at the Brooklyn Museum, which the New York Times rightly classifies as a low of 2010. In Boston this would never happen. However it seems better to risk the audacious. Even when a big, famous artist shows (like Mark Bradford), the sense of largeness and drama is sucked out in this city.
The Foster prize faithfully, flavorlessly, covers all areas of contemporary artistic production. There are photographs, 16mm films transferred to digital, installations and drawings. Most have this creeping flat quality and a sense of being impossibly unaware. One work by Eirik Johnson is a large light box installation, Jeff Wall style, of photographs he took in the Peruvian Amazon. Complete with sound “taken from the site.” The work doesn’t go beyond Johnson’s experience and the fundamentally derivative qualities of the project. Part of the problem with Boston seems to be the lack of critical intervention into the work of its own artists. The Greater New York shows at PS1, which function similarly to the Foster prize are reviewed extensively by most major publications in New York, arts oriented and not. The Foster prize is a quiet affair, with inconsequential works like Johnson’s left to the forgiving eyes of Massachusetts area museum goers, who are mostly it seems, enjoying the ICA’s new waterfront building.
Eirik Johnson Early Morning Rain Breaks in Palm Grove, Blanquillo, 13.20 minutes exposure (2008-2009) Via ICA
Most of the works I won’t mention, as they fall under the same category as Johnson’s. There are black and white photographs of prisons and not particularly well-rendered drawings of washed up objects. I don’t think these works shouldn’t be exhibited, but I think I have seen photographs of prisons every year at the Foster prize. I wonder where this lackluster consistency comes from.
The winner this year was Amie Siegel, whose transcontinental credentials (New York, Boston and Berlin) set her apart from the group. Her work has been shown in the Whitney and Berlin Biennials, meaning she also operates in standard international art time. She has been recognized as current. Her work however, suffered the same fate of the rest of the show. In being the most trendy furthermore, Siegel exemplifies the Boston time vacuum-the selling points of her work seem particularly dated. Her short, Black Moon, a Ballardian, apocalypse tale set in abandoned planned communities in the desert, turns out to be a lesson about military fetishism in fashion. This concept, or concern I’m not sure which, is peripheral at this point in time. The Vogue spread depicting war, which caused such uproar at its release in 2007, has lost its taboo energy. There are now oil spill and blackface themed photoshoots to harp on. The real point of the film is that Miranda July and Daniela Sea (of the L word) are both actors. At the end, Sea, with her endlessly confused facial expressions, finds a magazine with pictures of July and herself spread out in fashion pose in the military fatigues they have been wearing throughout the film, complete with automatic weapons. It’s a puzzling end to a narrative film that shouldn’t have been-Seigel’s images are partially worthwhile and seem the actual focal point of work, the narrative prancing idly around them. While predictable, Seigel’s use of the abandoned (or never finished, this was the most compelling part of Black Moon) housing development afforded some irresistible images. Her stills, of the empty swimming pools and desolate front yards, are the direct product of a 1990s large format photography aesthetic, that faux documentary perspective, like Thomas Demand, as one example.
Rebecca Meyers, still from night side (2008) Via ICA
The warped time of the exhibition suited the work of Rebecca Meyers, the filmmaker in the show. Her piece embodied a simplicity that bypassed the dated qualities of the rest of the exhibition and while not groundbreaking, refreshing. Meyer’s use of film throughout her practice (from creation to exhibition using a projector) while potentially an excessive analogue fetishization instead reads as the most direct route of realizing the work, its slower speed an important component. The speed emphasizes the importance of the material of film in Meyer’s work via the real time requirements of celluloid. The film was a slow montage of found images of nature, sometimes abstract (light bouncing off water for example) with a recording of a mid 1950s New Years Eve show. So nostalgic, it was a surprisingly poetic rumination on the passing of time and our relationship to the separate, parallel time of the natural world. This film showcases what Boston could offer to the art world: a slower sense of time and quietly impressive works.