Lawren Harris exhibit curated by Steve Martin opens at MFA

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/03/15/lawren-harris-exhibit-curated-by-steve-martin-opens-at-mfa/

BOSTON – Members and guests of the Museum of Fine Arts enjoyed the landscape of a picture-perfect evening as Matthew Teitelbaum, the Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA, introduced Steve Martin, Adam Gopnik and Eric Fischl to a capacity audience that included U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren. The four featured speakers took center stage in the Shapiro Family Courtyard to explain a new exhibit, The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris.

With ceilings that soar 63 feet, the courtyard’s modern aesthetic was an ideal venue for the lecture marking Steve Martin’s guest-curatorial debut. Before the formal conversation began, a recorded piano composition by Canadian Glenn Gould, The Idea of North, (after which this exhibition is named) added melody to the majestic images projected on the expansive walls. The speakers’ dialogue amplified variations of the blue and white themes considered to be quintessential expressions of Canadian identity. Collectively, they agreed that Harris’s paintings of vaulting ice and snow are absent humanity, but manage to instill a powerful, plangent, emotional quiver in viewers through their intensity and intimacy.

Actor and comedian Steve Martin, who is guest curator of an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts devoted to Canadian modernist Lawren Harris, smiles, while seated in front of Harris's "North Shore" painting during a gathering at the museum in Boston, Friday, March 11, 2016. "The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris" runs through June 12. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Actor and comedian Steve Martin, who is guest curator of an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts devoted to Canadian modernist Lawren Harris, smiles, while seated in front of Harris’s “North Shore” painting during a gathering at the museum in Boston, Friday, March 11, 2016. “The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris” runs through June 12. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Martin, well known as an actor, playwright and musician, spent several years as a young comedian and magician at Disneyland. The multiple talents and interests of the 70-year-old were evident as he spoke, as he layered his scholarly analysis of Harris’s collection with amusing spontaneity.

Martin said the pieces assembled at the MFA represent complete thoughts of Harris. By design “the exhibit is not omnivorous, not comprehensive; it’s simply the best of his stuff. Whether the artist was depressed, or ecstatic, his high styles expressed his mood.” Seeing the 30 pieces together knocks Martin back with their incredible glowing presence. He says Harris’ work expands on the nature of man with a hyper-intense emotional form of communication like no other. For Martin, Lawren Harris was the Walt Disney of the North.

The panelists said these blunt abstracts are epic in nature and speak to a Canadian psychology of survival, much in the way paintings of the frontier speak to Americans. The eclectic ice and snow-scapes painted in the 20s and 30s are of a style pioneered by the Group of Seven, also known as the Algonquin School. Those men formed a group of artists credited with establishment of Canada’s first national art movement. Using mystical abstracts of energy, these works are not Cubism, but rather a modern “tubism” statement on reality. Viewers may feel these paintings are a masculine reaction to the sensual style of American artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

Gopnik, an art historian, and Fischl, an artist, opined on American’s limited awareness of works by this highly sought after Canadian painter. They presumed the literal “cool” factor of each piece spoke to the Canadian’s national pride. Unlike music or film that easily crossed the border into the United States, these paintings, they said, were such unique embodiments of the Canadian experience that they may not have initially translated as easily into American artistic sensibilities. Another factor limiting circulation of the painter’s work in the United States may have been that as his reputation north of the border grew, his work was quickly purchased by Canadians.

The evening framed by appreciation, humor, intellectualization and psychological exploration concluded as Director Teitelbaum said to those gathered, “This is your Museum; it’s a place filled with beautiful objects.” He encouraged attendees of The Idea of North installation to use art as a nexus of conversation.

The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris is the first solo exhibition of his work in the United States. It represents a collaboration with The Hammer Museum of Los Angeles, the Art Gallery of Ontario, in Toronto, as well as major public and private collections, including the National Gallery of Canada. The Idea of North debuted at the Hammer Museum, and will return to The Art Gallery of Ontario July 2, 2016, in time for the country’s 150th anniversary celebration in 2017.

Complementing the Harris exhibit, Martin has selected other works from the MFA’s collection to expand upon the dialogue of modernism. Tandem exhibits include work by Rockwell Kent, Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz and Joseph Stella, among others. An interpretation of Harris’s themes will use choreography to express his inspiration April 6-10 with a free seven-minute performance by a member of the National Ballet of Canada.

The exhibit will remain at the MFA until June 12.

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