Founded in 1798, Milton Academy, based in Milton, Massachusetts, has graduated, and educated, an impressive student body — with too many big-name alumni to count. The artists in 2021’s final and only shows are no exception.
On a yearly basis, Milton typically holds six or seven professional shows in the Nesto Gallery — the primary audience consisting of its visual arts students as well as being open to the public for visitation. But, with the COVID-19 pandemic, only two exhibitions were held for the academic year, and unfortunately, they are closed to outside visitors.
Ian Torney, Chair of the Visual Arts Department, executive director of the Nesto Gallery, artist, educator and a Milton alumnus himself (Class of 1982), made the call to feature two alumni artists for the shows, strengthening the internal community of Milton Academy during these difficult times.
Sculptor Murray “Mac” Dewart (Class of 1966) had a prolific career in the arts — exhibiting all over the world on four continents and co-founding Boston Sculptor’s Gallery — and brings a sense of wisdom and 50 years of experience to the academy. He has no doubt influenced the world of sculpture — especially in New England and Massachusetts — encouraging outdoor exhibitions and sculpture in places where the public frequents and deserves open access to art.
There’s no denying that sculpture adds to the environment of any given park or city; the lack of viewing opportunities — something Dewart has been striving for throughout his career — became more apparent over the past year as gallery spaces and campuses were forced to close due to the epidemic and many people were begging for more ways to access art as spaces stayed closed.
Five of Dewart’s sculptures varying in age and materials line the outside of Milton Academy’s Arts and Media Center, adding pops of color and scenery to the school. “Red Letter Day,” 1970, and “Blue Pulse,” 2018, add elements of transition and passing of time despite standing still, showing students and alumni alike how much can stay the same, and yet, how much can change during the course of a lifetime.
Reflecting on his own experience at the academy, Dewart stated that it was wonderful — filled with wonderful art teachers, storytellers and intellectuals — shaping his years as an artist. The addition of his own work only adds to the impressive history the academy harbors.
Inside the Nesto Gallery, Mikel Glass (Milton Academy Class of 1982) displays his portraits in “Parity.” His work is dispersed throughout the gallery in all corners and crevices. The portraits span over nearly 30 years, and as an organizing principle, Glass borrowed back on the intricate similarities all individuals have resulting in a collection of single, full-size portraits, resulting a comforting feel of equality despite differences in privilege, status, ability, gender, race, fiction and reality.
While the exhibition is considered stand alone. Glass stated, “Stand alone feels so stark to me,” posing that perhaps nothing, or nobody, is meant to stand alone. Thus furthering community despite isolation and displacement caused by oppressive force, whether created by societal cruelties or even through the virus, haunting us all.
Glass spoke on the art world needing reinvention and his “Parity” exhibition proposes a way in which that can be achieved. “Painting is a great equalizer,” he said. “Many different spectrums of people on the social ladder become closer together.”
In the show, all bodies are represented as well as imaginative manifestations of humanity. In “Iwannabeaballerina,” a plus-size Black woman folds gracefully in a deep-blue leotard, beige leggings and a bright pink tutu — she is a ballerina. But the title implying something not had; it is a want, bluntly reminding us of the notoriously exclusive nature of the ballet which rarely displays diversity regardless of poise and skill level.
Upon entering the restroom of the gallery, one is greeted with, or even “jump-scared” by, “Spam Guy,” an equally life-size portrait of a naked man on his back made entirely out of spam slices, except for his face that appears to be screaming directly at the viewer. He leaves the restroom goer torn between getting out of there as soon as possible or staying in there for longer than expected, unable to look away from the man frying on the canvas. Is the “Spam Guy” hiding in the restroom, or is he in there to — in a strange and taboo way — bring us all together?
The public can view the work online as well as familiarize themselves with the artists via their websites (dewartsculpture.com and mikelglass.com) and on their respective social media pages. There are video tours provided by the artists and the Nesto Gallery on Vimeo. This upcoming Friday, May 21, Torney and Glass will be connecting via Zoom with students, who themselves will also fall into the category of alumni one day.
The Nesto Gallery at Milton Academy and the arts community of alumni and students alike exemplifies a successful way in which to connect during COVID-times. As Glass said, talking about his exhibition, that it’s up to the viewers to determine “where they find community,” beyond art. And, it’s up to us to find community and how we will re-immerse ourselves into our community, as Massachusetts fully reopens up on May 29.
(For a visual tour of the “Mikel Glass: Parity” exhibition, visit https://vimeo.com/531779496/3166360572.)