Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S9 E8 | FULL EPISODE

"After Spiritualism," Artist Keith Morris Washington, & more

Museums are re-opening. This week, interpretations of life and death in the exhibit After Spiritualism at the Fitchburg Art museum, Artist Keith Morris Washington on Black Lives, plus Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere at the Concord Museum and music and art coming together in Music of Monet at the Denver Art Museum.

AIRED: August 21, 2020 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome toOpen Studio,

WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture

from around the region and the nation.

I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio,

an artist travels the country

finding beauty in the hearts of darkness.

>> I take photographs and then leave,

because they are, many of them are not safe spaces

for people that look like me to hang around.

>> BOWEN: Then Paul Revere:

the founding father as founding artist.

>> It's the poet, not the historian,

who summarizes the entire event in one line:

"One if by land, two if by sea."

>> BOWEN: And music and Monet.

>> When nowadays we visit exhibitions,

we are seeing paintings

that were not intended to be shown

together in an exhibition space.

And so we are mindful of creating some sort of context.

>> BOWEN: It's all now on Open Studio.

First up, the Fitchburg Art Museum recently reopened,

and on view now is an exhibition tailor-made for this moment.

It examines the connections between life and death,

and the desire of the living to connect with the dead.

Nick Capasso, director of the Fitchburg Art Museum,

thanks so much for being with us.

>> Thanks, Jared.

>> BOWEN: Well, this is such interesting timing.

After Spiritualism had opened, had just opened at your museum,

when the pandemic happened.

But I, it sounds, with a title likeAfter Spiritualism,

that it's a show probably more appropriate for right now.

>> Yeah, so the title sounds a little esoteric,

and it's, it's really not.

So spiritualism was a practice developed in the 19th century

by people who really believed

that the living could communicate with the dead.

And, and there are a few artists in the show who believe that,

and who are active spiritualists.

But more important than that is, it's a metaphor.

It's a metaphor for connecting

all the connecting points between life and death,

and the people who are here now

and the people who have come before us.

It's 15 artists.

Almost all of them are

contemporary New England artists,

they're all living artists.

And the scope ranges, uh, paintings, prints, video.

Video installations, interactive exhibitions, sculpture.

So there-- many media.

It's not constrained by media at all.

>> BOWEN: We're going to speak

with one of the artists featured in the exhibition,

Keith Morris Washington, in just a moment.

Uh, but what did you see in his work?

How did he come to be in the show?

>> I've, I've known Keith and his work for a long time.

And when our curator... I did not organize the show,

this was organized by Lisa Crossman.

And when Lisa came to me with this idea, I said,

"You need to talk to Keith."

Um, because I remembered this body of work that he had made

of paintings of historical sites of lynchings in America.

And they're so... they're just staggeringly beautiful.

And he uses this kind of old artist's trick

of creating something very beautiful, very colorful,

very energized, very inviting,

to draw the, the viewer in,

become immersed by this place that he's creating.

And then the viewer reads the label or the little description

and it... whammo.

You know, the, the horror of it all

is delivered when the viewer's defenses are down.

This body of work is so moving, because, um,

it's, it's just, it's the perfect metaphor

for what's going on in America right now, you know?

America is beautiful.

There's so much beauty here.

And at the same time, embedded in the landscape,

there's so much terror and horror.

>> BOWEN: As I mentioned, we'll, we'll explore that

with him in just a moment.

But before I let you go, I have to ask you,

the Fitchburg Art Museum

is open again.

>> Yes. >> BOWEN: You've, you've been

able to watch patrons come in.

Is it different?

>> They seem to be spending more time in the museum than on,

you know, a regular visit, if you can call it that.

And I think some of it is that

the show just happens to be so timely that

it's connecting on many levels with a lot of things

that everybody is thinking about and feeling right now.

>> BOWEN: Well, Nick Capasso, you know

I always love talking to you,

you do such great work out there.

I appreciate it. >> Thank you, Jared.

>> BOWEN: As we just mentioned,

one artist featured in the After Spiritualism show

is Keith Morris Washington.

His examinations of this country's lynchings

are featured at the Fitchburg Art Museum,

and his series of portraits titledBlack Lives

is on view now at the Concord Center for the Visual Arts.

He recently joined me to discuss both projects.

Keith Morris Washington,

we really appreciate your making time for us today.

>> Thank you so much for having me.

>> BOWEN: Let's start off with your work

in the Fitchburg Art Museum show,

which is such a striking juxtaposition

in yourWithin Our Gates series,

where all is not as it seems.

To, to somebody who doesn't know

the full details about your work,

tell me about it.

>> Well, the three paintings

in theAfter Spiritualism show

at the Fitchburg Art Museum are three paintings

from a series of paintings that I've been working on.

The title of that series is calledWithin Our Gates.

And actually, that title is in honor of Oscar Micheaux,

who was an early filmmaker in this country,

African American filmmaker,

and he made a film of that same name,

which was his response

toBirth of a Nation.

And in the film itself, it culminates in a lynching scene.

So the three paintings and the paintings in the series

are all based on lynching scenes in this country.

And they are slightly, they're, they're large paintings,

not quite monumental in scale,

but they are memorials to the victims of lynching,

as well as historical markers.

>> BOWEN: And when I say there's a juxtaposition,

I mean that because they're beautiful.

They're beautiful landscapes.

>> Yes, I've been very influenced in my, in my painting

just by my love of, particularly,

the Hudson River School painters.

So I perceive myself in that tradition of American landscape

painters and paintings that have just

a slightly different message.

>> BOWEN: Did you visit these sites yourself?

>> I absolutely go to these places myself.

I feel like part of, part of my process is to go and witness.

>> BOWEN: And what kind of,

what kind of time do you spend there?

What do you do there?

>> Well, in terms of the lynching landscapes,

not a whole lot of time.

Generally, I just arrive, sort of figure out where

the location is gonna be, 'cause my information is not,

is generally not exact.

In a few cases, it has been.

And I take photographs and then leave, because they are,

many of them are not safe spaces

for people that look like me to hang around.

>> BOWEN: Even here in 2020.

>> Oh, absolutely.

I would say it's even worse now than it was when I did--

my first trip was in either '97 or '98.

But in my opinion, the climate of danger in this country has,

has increased significantly.

>> BOWEN: You began this work,

as you said, quite some time ago.

And this is a conversation which is so amplified right now.

How do you look back at,

at what you have been documenting for so long

as so many other eyes are, you know, quite frankly,

only now turning to it?

>> My vision for those pieces is ultimately to end up in museums

as part of their permanent collection, right?

Because those are spaces

that are mostly occupied by white folks.

>> BOWEN: Have museums been collecting your work?

>> (laughs): They have not as of yet.

>> BOWEN: Well, I mean, why is that?

You can just see behind you how great your work is.

We're showing your work as you're talking about it.

Do they just, do they just never visit?

Do they just not want to be aware?

>> You would have to ask the curators

and whoever makes the purchases, the collectors, those questions.

Ask them at the Museum of Fine Arts, at the Metropolitan,

"Why isn't this in your collection?"

>> BOWEN: Well, we did recently do that

with the Museum of Fine Arts, and I know

they are taking a very serious re-examination

of their lack of collecting

artists of color, especially in this area.

But this will remind them. (both laughing)

To talk about your Black Lives series,

which people can see at the Concord Center for Visual Arts,

who do we find there?

>> So that series is, is most recent,

inspired, motivated by the Black Lives Matter

and Say Her Name movements

that we are currently witnessing and in the thralls of.

>> BOWEN: Black Lives Matter, of course,

was drawn out of such horrific violence in this country

and the murders of African Americans.

But forBlack Lives, your series,

you're rendering people who are very much alive.

But that was a conscious choice of yours,

as I understand it.

>> Exactly, for this project,

I did not want to continue to place African Americans

in the role of victim.

I chose to do drawings of people who are living and surviving

in these places where unarmed people have been killed

by police, essentially state- sanctioned murder,

who continue to live and survive in these places.

>> BOWEN: That must be fascinating.

As you travel across the country

and see how different this country is

from region to region, city to city,

what has struck you about your,

that, that disparity?

>> So I'll try to briefly describe

three different aspects of that question.

So for Sandra Bland,

who was headed towards Prairie View A&M University.

When I got off the highway and made a left turn

to approach the university,

which is right where she got pulled over--

she got pulled over after making a left turn.

The university was well within eyesight,

and I realized just how close she was to safety.

I expect if she had made it to campus,

she would be alive today.

So that was just kind of emotionally gut-wrenching.

Right? And that was relatively early,

'cause we're talking Texas,

and I still had to, you know, get through the Midwest, right?

When I got to Ferguson,

what struck me there is how many police cars

I saw just zipping around.

I took a lunch break and just parked in the parking lot

of a, like, a strip mall kind of place.

And there must have been at least a half a dozen police cars

just buzzing around.

So I got the sense that Ferguson

was somewhat like an open-air prison.

There was just so much police presence.

And then, um...

My last stop, and at this point, I was emotionally drained,

was Cleveland, Ohio.

And I was devastated by this.

The disrepair of the infrastructure in that city.

The traffic lights were so full of soot

that they were barely visible.

And the, the level of neglect

that has happened, really over the many decades,

probably since the '80s, was, was just quite painful.

>> BOWEN: And how about being cognizant of your safety

for this latest trip that you took?

>> In terms of travel now, you know,

road travel between larger cities and metropolitan areas

on interstates, I assume, is still relatively safe.

You know,Within Our Gates required going

to lots of, of small country roads

in the Deep South in many instances.

But back to that one, when I documented

the site that's on Cape Cod,

there was still crime tape up.

So, you know, again, you know...

(knocks) I suppose safety is, is relative.

>> BOWEN: What do you want people to ultimately look back

and see, who, who do take the time to study your work

and study this time?

>> I'm hoping to do things to help us to change

the narrative that we have about this country,

and to be more honest about who we were,

so that we can realize who we are

and that we can create a future that really values everybody.

>> BOWEN: Well, hopefully,

they'll be able to see those in museums, too.

We will make sure

that they are aware.

Thank you so much for being with us today.

Again, can't thank you enough.

>> Thank you so much for having me.

>> BOWEN: Among the museums now open once again

is the Concord Museum.

Collaborating with the Worcester Art Museum,

it's taking a look at Paul Revere,

the man, the myth, the artist.

Paul Revere has had a pretty good ride.

A banner for beer.

A darling of Disney.

Heroic enough to sport a cape in this enduring image

by N.C. Wyeth.

But what becomes a legend most?

In this case, it's poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

>> "Listen my children and you shall hear."

Now, I was meant to memorize this when I was young.

Everybody did.

>> BOWEN: Those few words regaling readers

with "the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five,"

elevated one of American history's memorable,

if not bit players, into a monumental one.

How much does Paul Revere owe Longfellow?

>> A lot.

Uh, the, it's interesting, the, the, um...

It's incalculable, in a way.

It's the poet, not the historian,

who summarizes the entire event in one line.

"One if by land, two if by sea."

>> BOWEN: David Wood is curator of the Concord Museum,

which, along with the Worcester Art Museum,

is one of two Massachusetts institutions presenting

Beyond Midnight,

an exhibition looking at the man behind the myth--

something even Longfellow struggled with.

>> There's a, a marginal note here,

where he's working on a fairly critical line,

only here it says, "One for the land, two for the sea,"

So that didn't quite make it.

He obviously, uh, modified that and he nailed it next time.

>> BOWEN: In his day, Paul Revere was known,

in Boston circles, anyway,

for his role as one of three riders

dispatched to warn colonists about a British invasion.

But it wasn't until the publication of Longfellow's poem

on the eve of the Civil War 86 years later

when everyone knew.

>> He saw this as a way to suggest,

"Look, we need to look back to our past.

"Look, we need to stay united.

This is our, part of our history."

>> BOWEN: Nan Wolverton is one of the show's curators,

pointing out that Revere was much more than a horseman.

He was an artisan first.

>> He's engraving

on the silver after it's made.

This is very neoclassical design.

>> BOWEN: A silversmith who also worked in gold, copper,

and, later, iron, Revere was the self-made son of an immigrant.

The silver spoon with which founding fathers

like John Hancock were born

Revere had to make.

>> The well-known portrait by Copley

shows him as a craftsman with his sleeves rolled up.

But he really aspired to, to more than that.

He wanted to be a gentleman.

>> BOWEN: Revere was also a printmaker.

His most famous work is this rendering

of the Boston Massacre,

produced in the immediate aftermath.

But it copied a print by fellow engraver Henry Pelham.

>> Pelham was just livid about this, because he said, "Ah,

"this is, like, highway robbery.

How can you do this, how could you?" But Revere...

>> BOWEN: But it was legal at the time.

>> It was legal, it wasn't, it was not illegal.

I mean, they, the.. There was no...

There were no real copyright laws, but he

completely scooped Pelham,

and got it onto the market before Pelham could.

>> BOWEN: The print sales were lucrative,

but also affirmed Revere's role as a patriot--

one with a propensity for propaganda

or, less charitably, fake news.

>> People like Revere and the, and Hancock, they wanted

the colonists to look as if

they were completely innocent bystanders

and that the British are just, you know, shooting

for, for no reason, and,

and attacking, and, um, they were the innocents.

>> BOWEN: And that wasn't really how it happened.

>> And that was not how it happened.

We, and we know that now.

>> BOWEN: The exhibition teems with historic artifacts.

The Old North Church's lantern,

tea preserved from the Boston Tea Party revolt,

and this, Paul Revere's handwritten account of the ride,

including a mid-ride mishap.

>> He got arrested.

Uh, he talked his way out of it, more or less.

Told, he had a gun to his head, was told, "We will...

If you lie to me, I'll blow your brains out."

Then he lied to the guy, so... (laughs)

It's... He's kind of amazing.

>> BOWEN: How does he write about this account?

Is it cinematic, or matter of fact?

>> Uh, it's, it's matter of fact,

but he's got this way of writing.

You could film this.

It's amazing, and, and I've been thinking about it,

the guy who should play Revere: Julian Edelman.

>> BOWEN: (laughs) >> You know?

The, and Revere is just unbelievable...

>> BOWEN: Patriots player, for people who don't know.

>> (laughing)

Uh, Revere, his commitment is, is complete.

>> BOWEN: In other words, an historic touchdown.

There's more to see at the Concord Museum,

like the trappings of the literati.

We have all that and Warhol in Arts this Week.

Visit the Concord Museum's newly renovated galleries Sunday.

See Louisa May Alcott's tea kettle

and the chair Ralph Waldo Emerson sat in to writeNature.

Monday, tune in to SpeakEasy Stage Company's new podcast

to hear playwright MJ Halberstadt's play

The Usual Unusual,

about efforts to save Boston's last gay bookstore.

Go online Tuesday as RISD Museum celebrates the 50th anniversary

of its groundbreaking exhibition Raid the Icebox--

curated by Andy Warhol then and contemporary artists today.

Experience the artwork Justin P. Douglas made

during his incarceration.

It's at the Umbrella Arts Center website Wednesday.

>> She's a princess, she's beautiful,

and, confidentially, she's a pixie.

>> BOWEN: Thursday marks the day Roman Holiday premiered

in 1953.

It was Audrey Hepburn's first major on-screen role

and landed her an Oscar for Best Actress.

We move to Colorado now, where the Denver Art Museum

recently composed a new way into Monet.

>> You know, the arts at the time sort of,

they had cross-pollination.

Same time when the Impressionist movement were happening,

there were Impressionistic tendency

in poetry, and so in music.

So artists at the time were not in a vacuum.

And the music, because it, it responds

to the same sort of stylistic tendency,

we do believe that it helps our visitors

immerse more in a time and go back in time.

My name is Angelica Daneo.

I am chief curator and curator of European Art before 1900

at the Denver Art Museum.

As we often do in exhibition,

we actually include music throughout our galleries,

and we did the same this time

with our Claude Monet exhibition.

We listen to music of the time

and try to find the right rhythm for certain paintings.

(Ravel's "Bolero" playing)

You may have something that

is very slow and sort of with a slower cadence,

which doesn't go well with the scenes of Bordighera,

which are an explosion of colors

and an explosion of brilliance.

So we do look at the paintings and we do listen to the music,

and like any visitors, really,

try to look with, "Does this help me

when I look at this painting?"

>> My name is Lawrence Golan,

and I'm a symphony orchestra conductor

and I'm the music director

of the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra.

We have this wonderful partnership

with the Denver Art Museum.

The partnership revolves around the Monet exhibit.

Obviously, they'll be having

many wonderful paintings by the great

French Impressionistic painter Claude Monet.

And we will be playing this

French Impressionistic concert.

The Impressionistic movement in music took place

primarily in France around the turn of the last century,

so around 1900.

One thing the Impressionistic composers

were very concerned with was,

what is the emotion that the listener will feel?

(playing "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" by Debussy)

Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" is perhaps

the quintessential Impressionistic piece.

It starts out with just flute solo by itself

with no accompaniment,

and even the notes that Debussy chose

for that opening solo are very chromatic,

meaning it doesn't establish a key.

It doesn't establish any one note as being more prominent.

It just sort of meanders around through,

through different notes.

(orchestra playing)

That is emblematic of Impressionism both in music

and in art, where we're not exactly sure

what we're looking at or what we're listening to.

It sounds very nice, but what exactly is that?

With the French Impressionistic painters, similarly,

they weren't trying to be very

realistic with them, they were,

it was more like alluding to an image.

>> The painting behind my back isBoulevard des Capucines,

by Monet, painted around 1873,

and it has all the qualities of this particular movement,

and Monet does it with great effects of giving really

the impression of a busy street.

It doesn't define every single top hat,

it doesn't define every single gown and, and petticoat.

So this was the criticism from

the intellectuals that were favoring the Academy--

the critic Louis Leroy, who was the one that gave the term,

the derogatory term "Impressionism,"

who really criticized these black figures.

In fact, he called them black tongue-lickings.

This was, looked unfinished.

It looked too sketchy.

But this was not the point of the Impressionists.

They wanted to give the impression,

the feeling of that scene in that moment.

>> That has translated into the music

in a similar way.

You get the impression

of a certain structure or of a certain harmony,

but it's not crystal-clear.

>> When nowadays we visit exhibitions,

we are seeing paintings that were not intended to be shown

together in an exhibition space,

and so we are mindful of

creating some sort of context.

We try to allow, discreetly, ourselves to immerse

into a different era that had different perspectives

and different experiences.

So that will give a glimpse for a visitor into the time,

into what have been the Paris

that Monet in particular would have known.

>> In Paris at this time,

the musicians would read the poems of the poets,

and they would go to the art exhibits of, of the painters,

and, and vice versa.

So they were very much integrated.

There's connection between art at the museum,

between music at the hall, and in our entire community.

We're all connected in many ways, and in this case,

specifically through the arts.

(piece ends)

>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

We are off for the next couple of weeks.

But as always, you can catch my latest art news and reviews

on the radio every Thursday

onMorning Edition With Joe Mathieu.

That's on 89.7 WGBH, Boston's local NPR.

We'll be back in September.

Until then, I'm Jared Bowen.

Thanks for joining us.

And as always, you can visit us online at wgbh.org/OpenStudio.

And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,

@OpenStudioWGBH.

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