Thinking Big at the MFA
by Suzanne Volmer
Al Miner, assistant curator of contemporary art at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and Laura Weinstein, Ananda Coomaraswamy curator of South Asian and Islamic art, have co-curated “Megacities Asia” by selecting 11 artists whose works explore the idea of critical mass with vocabularies that hinge on interpreting or actualizing an understanding of many. Miner says: “These artists are observing their cities and seeing the landscapes shift before their eyes. They’re feeling a city grow around them, and that’s really the impetus for them to create the works as they do. They want to truly understand … perspectives of their homes — why those places are changing and the results … those changes might bring.”
The tactile plethora of materiality engaged by installations in this exhibition at the MFA has a humanizing effect, which brings near limitless scale into close magnification. The exhibit, which runs through July 17, shows how the peopled abundance of cities in China, India and Korea have been shaped over the past 50 years by globalization and fit the descriptor of mega as a phenomenon. (Census data now exceeds 10 million inhabitants each in Beijing, Shanghai, Mumbai, Delhi and Seoul).
Megacities themselves draw people from the periphery to an epicenter, so this exhibition is formatted to move in that style. Ai Weiwei’s “Snake Ceiling” commands attention overhead in The Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art near the bookstore, while the Shapiro Family Courtyard hosts his “Forever” arrangement of bicycles.
Choi Jeong Hwa’s “Alchemy” interacts with the Rotunda’s architecture and his “Chaosmos Mandala” is in a gallery abutting the Art of Asia, Oceana and Africa Wing as a masterpiece inviting selfies. Choi’s giant “Breathing Flower,” on the museum’s lawn at Huntington Avenue, occupies the public realm. Ditto his “Fruit Tree” at Faneuil Hall. By the way, one need only present a picture of oneself taken with “Fruit Tree” to enter the MFA for free — a nice perk to the scavenger hunt.
The Ann and Graham Gund Gallery is the show’s epicenter with nine installations. Delhi artist Subodh Gupta’s “Take off Your Shoes and Wash Your Hands” is a gleaming metal installation of shelves with lots of organized pots, pans and utensils commonly used in Indian households. The artist has systematized these items in a manner reminiscent of Donald Judd’s minimalism. Gupta has identified with meals as ritual; it’s his constant theme among a field of variables..