South Coast Artists


From Sunrise to Skyscraper: New England on Paper

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8611 Blue Forest
Daryl V. Storrs, Blue Forest, 2009. Printed 2013. Linocut. Boston Athenæum. Purchase, Frances Hovey Howe Print Fund, 2014 All images courtesy the Boston Athenaeum.

By Olivia J. Kiers

On the surface, the Boston Athenaeum’s current exhibition, New England on Paper: Contemporary Art in the Boston Athenaeum’s Prints & Photographs Collections, sounds like a basic sampling from a contemporary art collection. Yet there is more to the story—and to the entire experience of this exhibition. All the works on display were obtained by the Athenaeum with the help of the Frances Hovey Howe Print Fund, which supports regional artists while creating a collection that documents the built, natural and cultural environments of New England. With materials gathered under this directive, the Athenaeum’s curator of prints and photographs, Catharina Slautterback, was able to create an engaging album of New England land- and cityscapes.

New England on Paper fills the two-room gallery on the Athenaeum’s first floor. Jeffrey P. Heyne’s centrally placed, fiery triptych of digitally manipulated photographs, Storm Cloud over Boston Harbor, is a strong example of the exhibition’s focus on artistic interpretations of regional landscape. Another impressive photographic distortion, Bob Hesse’s Unquiet City XXa, demonstrates New England on Paper’s other focus on the man-made environment.

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Bob Hesse, Unquiet City XXa, 2011. Printed 2016. Inkjet print. Boston Athenæum. Purchase, Frances Hovey Howe Print Fund, 2016

New England is all here, with rocky coasts, rolling hills, mill towns, Boston skyline and unpredictable weather. New Englanders, on the other hand, are largely absent, creating a sense of loneliness throughout the show. Repeated motifs like the full moon, empty streets, winding rivers, snowy fields and façades of blank windows contribute to this overall melancholy, which is at odds with some of the exhibition design choices, like the vivid wall colors.

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Neil Brigham, View from Sugarloaf, 2006. Printed 2013. Linocut. Boston Athenæum. Purchase, Frances Hovey Howe Print Fund, 2013

There are some quirky moments that lighten the mood. Skirting the top of the walls in the first room, A Charles River Alphabet—a linocut collaboration by 26 artists coordinated by Leslie Evans and Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, MA—connects letters of the alphabet to familiar scenes along the Charles River with a dose of humor. More playfulness—and a nod to culture—is found in Annie Silverman’s Honk Band images, originally created as entries in a T-shirt design competition for Somerville, MA’s Honk music festival. Silverman’s work, alongside a pair of highly detailed Boston harbor and café scenes by Alex Gerasev, are the only images that include figures.

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Annie Silverman, Honk Band, 2012. Collage with acrylic, watercolor and ink. Boston Athenæum. Purchase, Frances Hovey Howe Print Fund, 2016

New England on Paper might have benefitted from a larger exhibition space, perhaps allowing the theme of “culture” to expand. It’s also unfortunate that A Charles River Alphabet sits too far above eye-level for viewers to truly enjoy its details. Nevertheless, the exhibition is successful as an intimate, beautifully curated series of regional vistas. Like a good road trip, New England on Paper transports the viewer—from street corners, along train tracks, into the forest, across the water—with plenty of moments to pause and see the world from a new perspective.

New England on Paper is on view at the Boston Athenaeum through September 3.


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