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What’s Going on at the MFA?

January 14, 2010

I’ll admit it, the MFA has been a victim of my New Yorker-at-heart smug sense of superiority, but I’ll head over there if there’s an intriguing exhibit to see. Well, there are actually three exhibits currently on display that are worth the trip that pretty much run the gamut of art history that I strongly suggest you check out.

We start off in ancient times (specifically 2000 BC) with Secrets of Tomb 10A, a wonderful Egyptian exhibit about the tomb of a governor named Djehutynakht. In 1915, a team of MFA archeologists excavated the tomb, which had been left in such complete chaos after a robbery that it has taken nearly a century to piece things together again in order to make them presentable. Part of what’s great about this exhibit is that, along with the artifacts and educational components, there is also information about the resurrection and conservation process over the years, which proved very interesting. The exhibit is divided between three rooms. The first shows what was buried with him, including a fleet of 58 wooden boats meant to accompany them to the afterlife (it’s the largest collection that has ever been discovered in a tomb). Also on display are models of people working in graneries and bakeries, bricklayers, scribes and shepherds. The amount of detail in these models is incredible, and serves as extraordinary documentation of how Egyptians lived their lives in those days. It’s quite amazing to remember these were made so long ago when they look as if children would be happy to have these things in their playrooms today (especially the little model foods which I couldn’t help but think were cute). In the next room were the pieces of the coffins, which boasted incredible hyroglyphics that showed a mastery understanding of painting by using highlighting and shadowing techniques to create more of an illusion of depth than your average Egyptian paintings. This part was extremely eery especially since – oh yeah –  they displayed the head of the mummy. (Or, as I so eloquently put it in my notes: “the FUCKING HEAD is on display!!!!!!!”) I couldn’t stop staring at it but damn it gave me the creeps. The last room used items from the museums collections to imagine what could’ve been stolen during the robberies, which was mostly jewelry and makeup jars. All of it was very interesting, and the exhibit is simply a must-see for anyone who flocks to the Egyptian wings.

Next we travel through time and across the way to late nineteenth century France for Cafe and Cabaret: Toulouse Latrec’s Paris. This exhibit of the man who revolutionized the art of the poster was what brought me to the museum today, but it ended up being the most disappointing. What they did have on display was great, but unfortunately the exhibit spanned merely a hallway connecting two other galleries. But, even though the visit was brief it was still fun. Those familiar with Latrec (or chitzy artsy souvenirs) will be excited to see his famous Chat Noir poster, as well as the Divan Japonais. Sadly, there aren’t any Can Can dancers here but what I did find interesting that I wasn’t expecting was that among the handful of posters and oil paintings  of Latrec’s are a number of pieces by his contemporaries with obvious Latrec influence – including one by Picasso which was a bit surprising. Another interesting touch is that there are a few pieces showing the progression from sketch to poster, including test runs for color separation. This exhibit had great potential for capturing the joie de vivre of the Bohemian atmosphere of Montmarte during this time, fully fleshing out the influences and modes of expression, but fell a little flat due to lack of space. It serves more as a teaser trailer for a greater showing down the road, but what is there does entertain nonetheless.

Thankfully, entertainment abounds at the contemporary exhibit, Seeing Songs. Music and visual arts have been intertwined forever, and this exhibit brings together a number of artists and mediums exploring that tight-knit relationship. The pieces shown here interpret the theme in a variety of ways. Music and art fans alike will love being greeted by Avedon’s portraits of The Beatles, but give the lesser-known works a chance. While the gallery may fall victim to being overwhelmed by the noise of the video installations, which make it a bit difficult to concentrate on what’s in front of you, it contains a handful of really great pieces of art. There are a few that take the route of manipulating and collaging sheet music, which is still an interesting route if not an obvious one. A few standout pieces are a series of canvases inspired by the folds of a conductor’s tuxedo jacket and a cyantope created with the pulled tape of cassettes, as well as a few abstract works remniscent of that segment of Fantasia that’s just colored light. Yet my simple side found myself being most drawn to Candice Breitz’ The Queen. It was the piece whose sound took over the entire gallery after all, which made me hate it until I finally went to look at it. The grid of 30 TV sets shows a collection of randomly selected Madonna fans singing along to her entire Immaculate Collection album. Is it respectable highbrow art? Not really but – dare I say it? – it was the most fun I’ve ever had at an art museum. I couldn’t get enough of watching these ordinary people singing and dancing along to something they love. All of the other more arty pieces were attempting to portray the human experience but what could be more accurate than actually watching people just be? Watching the other people watching it too wasn’t half-bad either.

You don’t have much longer to catch that one; it ends February 16th. But Secrets will be on through May and Cafe until August, so brave the cold to visit the MFA and see these great exhibits while you still can.

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