You can have yourself a very leftist Christmas at the BCA Center’s “Reference for Radicals” show. It features work by a dozen local artists who have given visual expression to political terms included in a booklet on “movement building” that was compiled for this project.
Many of the terms — such as direct action, Occupy movement and empowerment — will be readily familiar to most viewers. Definitions are probably unnecessary, but the show’s organizers provide them anyway. They also present a lot of amateurish art. But a few professionally executed pieces make it worth visiting a show that runs through January 8.
The most artistically successful work in the exhibit is its least explicitly political. (That combination will not surprise aesthetes who regard “political art” as an oxymoron.) Carol MacDonald’s monoprint etching of a flock of birds encircling a piece of red fabric — or possibly a bloody gash — is correlated to the term “vigil,” though it’s not clear why. The birds appear to be about to pull and peck at the object; it’s not as though they’re bearing silent witness to whatever it is.
But the apparent disconnect between word and image won’t interfere with viewers’ appreciation of MacDonald’s skill.
Gregg Blasdel's wood-block print of the term “radical” (pictured above) also attracts attention. It’s rendered in red, of course, but the jazzy elegance of the lettering isn’t the styling one would expect for this term. The jumbled clump of shapes directly above the word may be seen as more in keeping with the accompanying definition, which says radicals call for “fundamental, often extreme, altering of political, economic and social structures and relationships.”
One problem with many shows of this sort is their unrelenting seriousness. So coming upon Andrea Swan’s “But I Don’t Look Mexican, Do I?” is akin to hearing a funny joke at a consciousness-raising session.
Swan has arranged three small boxes, their front sides open, along the mantel of an unused fireplace in the BCA Center’s second-floor Lorraine B. Good Room. Each contains Mexican skeleton figures like those displayed on the Day of the Dead. Swan’s figures aren’t lifeless, however; they’re busily performing household chores. Her assemblages are more mordant than maudlin.
Jerry Geier’s “Real People” is likewise the product of a lively artistic imagination. He presents a foldout book of the kind common in young children’s literature — only this one is ceramic, not paper or cardboard. Especially beguiling are the molded characters who pop up from the top of the book or protrude, smiling, from its pages.
Light-heartedness again produces aesthetic success, in contrast to the grim earnestness that makes many of the other pieces in “Reference for Radicals” more a duty than a pleasure to look at.