Images that echo through time and spaces
By Cate McQuaid
| GLOBE CORRESPONDENT
Curator Elizabeth Devlin has made a savvy choice of theme with her new exhibition at the New Art Center, “Pedigree.” The title pointedly suggests class, that pressure-point topic in American life. But it’s also broad: The show looks at pedigree in art, in the animal world, and in what we hold dear from the past. All of which carry emotional freight.
“Pedigree” sets art rooted in Old World (and old New England) aesthetics side by side with art inspired by less haughty sources: the street, engineering, sign-painting.
Here’s one cluster: Shelley Reed’s painting “Cat Fight (after Snyders)” depicts, in velvety shades of gray, a ferocious encounter between domestic cats borrowed from a painting by 17th-century Flemish artist Frans Snyders. Elizabeth Alexander’s extravagant cut-paper installation “Keeping Up Appearances” re-creates a Victorian dining room, with paper feathering off the walls and a chandelier crashed on the floor. Liz Shepherd’s “I Don’t Know the Details” spookily chops up an antique dining set, fracturing table, chairs, and plates, which jarringly remain upright and in place.
Each pins its vision on the past, but insinuates the center can’t hold. Old structures are breaking down. These pieces circle a fresh, kinetic sculpture that makes no reference to our vaunt- ed past — Chris Fitch’s “Spring,” a large, mechanical version of a fiddlehead fern. A foot pedal sets the piece unfurling. It takes time, but you won’t want to walk away until it’s done.
The curator sets up one area of the gallery like a Victorian parlor. Caleb Cole’s “The Widows” hangs above the divan, featuring 19th-century cartes de visite depicting older women, mounted on vintage hankies. Cole has applied liquid eyeliner and collected tears to each, making the stern visages weepy, breaking down societal propriety with emotional expressiveness. Nearby, Thomas Buildmore uses spray paint, a graffiti artist’s medium, to paint a gorgeous and gaudy floral still life.
Devlin herself is not pedigreed, in that she doesn’t hold a master’s degree. Her blog, FLUX. Boston, follows art in these parts, and she put together a breezy, less substantial group show, “Elsewhere,” last fall at the Distillery Gallery. She has a light touch. She’s attuned to, but not bogged down by, art-world paradigms. Her delight in the work, and her sense of fun, makes “Pedigree” shine.
New Art Center, 61 Washington Park,Newtonville 617-964-3424.http://www.newartcenter.org