Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S10 E13 | FULL EPISODE

American Quilt Stories, Gail Samuel, and more

"Fabric of a Nation: American Quilt Stories" exhibit at the MFA, The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s new President & CEO, Gail Samuel, Another look at artist Yayoi Kusama’s, "Love is Calling" exhibit at the ICA, and editorial cartoonist and artist, Jeff Stahler.

AIRED: October 15, 2021 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

>> Everybody's like contributing to it.

It feels like there's, like, a community behind me

because I couldn't do it without my mom, without my family,

without all these people

that make these amazing fabrics that I use.

>> BOWEN: I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio--

at the Museum of Fine Arts, it's a quilting sea.

Then one-on-one with the Boston Symphony Orchestra's

new president and C.E.O., Gail Samuel.

>> I think the question for us

is how do we come out of this pandemic focused on

what we uniquely need to be focused on

and not assuming that everything that we have been

and everything that we have done continues.

>> BOWEN: Plus the I.C.A. opens a KusamaInfinity Mirror Room

of its own.

>> It's almost like a garden of color and forms, tentacles.

>> BOWEN: And confessions of a cartoonist.

>> Editorial cartoon is a cartoon with a point of view,

trying to find a little bit of humor in it.

It might not be funny, but many times, you know,

I'm hoping that it is.

>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: We begin the show at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.

That's where you'll find a patchwork of American stories

assembled one quilt at a time.

Of the nation's art forms,

it's among the most deeply embedded.

Quilts.

Not that we, or even some of the most acclaimed quilters

have always recognized that.

>> Looking around the house, we always had quilts.

Either maybe on the couch or on the wall,

which is crazy to me, because I never looked at them

as like art objects.

>> BOWEN: But after leaving a career as a college basketball

player behind and realizing another career

in photojournalism was not for him,

a year and a half ago,

artist Michael C. Thorpe began quilting,

something he'd always watched his mother Susan Richards do.

>> She got a quilting machine, and I started

playing around with it, and then started to understand

that I could use that as like painting.

And that's when it just exploded

because she showed me everything,

and then I just like took it from there.

>> BOWEN: And it's landed him here,

in the Museum of Fine Arts, as one of the artists featured

in the exhibition

Fabric of a Nation: American Quilt Stories.

Thorpe's quilts are normally colorful and joyous.

But he made this piece the day after George Floyd's murder.

>> Basically, I kept coming back to like,

what do people think of like Black men?

And a lot of this came from putting the burden

on like the audience, you know, because everyone was talking

about like Black people are always burdened with

telling people about the situation,

living through the situation.

And I was just like

I want to relieve myself of that and give it to the audience.

>> I think if we can agree on anything,

it's the story of our nation is a complicated one,

and we're... we're living that now.

>> BOWEN: Jennifer Swope curated this show

and traces how the history of America

has been woven together in quilts spanning centuries.

>> There's always the incredible story of the

American Quilting Bee where

early suffragists came together and plotted

(laughing): to... to expand the franchise of voting

or to promote the ideas of abolitionism.

And that's deeply baked into

the idea of the American quilt.

>> BOWEN: Quilts told the story of cotton

and corduroy landscapes,

of rural family life,

and of trauma.

>> We have Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi's work

Strange Fruit II,

which is about the song that was popularized by Billie Holiday,

which is graphically gut-wrenching.

>> ♪ Southern trees ♪

♪ Bears strange fruit ♪

>> It shows lynched bodies on a tree.

It shows Ku Klux Klan figures.

And that will give people pause and rightly so.

>> BOWEN: But artist Bisa Butler's quilt is halting

for its shimmering portraits of Atlanta's Morris Brown College

baseball team from 1899.

How masterful is this piece?

It's so layered.

It's layered in theme, it's layered in practice.

>> I think layered is the perfect word to use.

What I think she really wants people to do

is to look carefully at each of these figures

and recognize their individual humanity.

And she does that

really by creating these portraits in color and cloth.

>> BOWEN: Here we also find one gallery transformed into

a virtual temple.

It features the only known surviving quilts

by Harriet Powers, side-by-side, for the first time.

>> She's an icon.

What she was able to achieve is astounding.

>> BOWEN: A former enslaved woman,

Powers is considered the mother of African American quilting.

She renders life lessons in this pictorial quilt

from the late 1890s.

But it was herBible Quilt, sewn a decade earlier,

that made Powers a sensation after it was exhibited

in an Atlanta fair visited by nearly a million people,

including then President Grover Cleveland.

>> These were the offsprings of her brain as she described them.

And they were precious to her.

And she brought such deep thinking.

Like her whole cosmology is part of those works of art.

There is nothing unplanned,

not deliberate about these two pieces.

>> BOWEN: As a strong tradition of quilting bees reminds us,

quilts are commonly communal efforts.

Gee's Bend is an Alabama community that's taken on

nearly mythical proportions

for a quilting tradition that has passed from generation

to generation since the 19th century.

>> Aesthetically,

the quilts of Gee's Bend are incredibly special.

People have described the quilts of Gee's Bend as the product of

what we might think of as a school of art in a sense

that it was a tight community.

>> BOWEN: Community prevails in these works--

even for artists like Thorpe, who work independently.

>> It takes a village to, like, make anything.

And literally every piece of fabric I get may come from

my aunt's quilt shop,

may come from just like a local fabric store.

But it takes all these people.

Everybody's like contributing to it.

It feels like there's like a community behind me.

Because I couldn't do it without my mom, without my family,

without all these people that make these amazing fabrics

that I use.

>> BOWEN: Allowing for stitches that in time

render the fabric of a nation.

♪ ♪

At long last the Boston Symphony Orchestra is back.

♪ ♪

That was from the BSO's recent free concert

welcoming live audiences back to Symphony Hall.

And for the first time in more than 20 years,

the BSO is also welcoming a new leader.

She is Gail Samuel,

the orchestra's new president and C.E.O.

She arrives from Los Angeles where she had longtime

leadership roles at both the L.A. Philharmonic

and the Hollywood Bowl.

Gail Samuel, thank you so much for being here.

>> Thank you. It's a pleasure.

>> BOWEN: Well, you are just getting started.

You've only been here a few months.

I won't truly grill-grill you, (Gail laughing)

but tell us how you see

the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

You come from Los Angeles. >> Mm-hmm.

>> BOWEN: We know all the things it is.

It's a great orchestra, it's internationally renowned.

But as you come in, how do you see it?

>> To understand the place the Boston Symphony Orchestra has

in the arts community in Boston and the community at large

has been really interesting.

It fills a big space in that community.

And what I'm thinking about is how it how it can refocus

and be a bigger part of the broader community in Boston.

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: Well what does that mean to you?

I know when leaders come in they take some time

before implementing change.

And what does being more mindful of the community mean?

>> Yeah, I mean for me,

so I think about the broad communities of Boston.

So... so whether that is students,

whether it is sort of the established

New England communities or, you know, communities of color

in, in our city and thinking about how we can engage deeply

across the, the breadth of those communities.

>> BOWEN: Well, this is something I know is kind of

standard out in Los Angeles.

Everybody plays well in the sandbox.

That doesn't always happen here in Boston.

Do you feel that?

Do you feel that responsibility as one of the largest

arts organization in the area?

>> Sure, I do.

And I think for me, you know, words that I'm focused on also

are collaboration and partnership.

You know, you're right, I think... I think in L.A.

there's-there's a very...

there's kind of a different... just a different perspective.

Or as... I liked the way you put that,

playing together in the sandbox.

And I don't quite

think I understand yet what that,

what that looks like here.

But certainly hope to be seen as sort of reaching out

and opening doors.

>> BOWEN: Well, this is probably also a good moment to talk about

the whiteness at the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

There's been a lot of conversation,

especially over the last couple of years,

about how Euro-centric the programing is,

how, how white the audience is.

And you don't see a lot of diversity necessarily

within the Hall.

How do you begin to change that?

>> Yeah, there's a lot of-of... a lot of parts to that,

and I think that we have to think about it...

think about diversity on all...

in all levels of our organization.

I think for me, coming in as the first woman leader of the BSO

in its, you know, in its history is, is one piece of that.

But it certainly can't stop there.

I think we need to think about, you know, our staffing.

I think we need to think about the artists on stage

and, and we need to think about

how we are welcoming to, to everybody.

Everybody doesn't have to want to engage with us,

but everyone should feel welcome to.

♪ ♪

You know, the Boston Symphony

is this amazing, wonderful ensemble.

And in order to be welcoming, people need to see themselves

reflected on our stages.

So whether that means women on the podium,

whether that means more artists of color

broadening our commissions

and, and the work with different composers,

which I think we have been... we have been making...

making strides in that area,

certainly in our programing at Tanglewood over the summer.

You know, we call it equity, diversity, and inclusion work.

And it's... and it's work. (laughs)

And, you know, it doesn't just happen.

>> BOWEN: Coming out of the pandemic,

how is the health of the organization?

We know that, like many organizations,

it had to undergo layoffs,

more than $50 million in losses.

What do people come back to find?

>> Yeah, you know, I think

we're seeing the same thing that, that so many industries

and businesses are seeing right now, right?

I think the question for us is, how do we come out of this

pandemic focused on

what we uniquely need to be focused on?

And not assuming that everything that we have been

and everything that we have done continues

or, or, you know, needs to take exactly the same path.

>> BOWEN: And we've all changed in this.

We've changed as individuals.

We've changed as organizations.

The show has changed.

(laughing): I'm sitting so far away from you right now.

>> (laughing): Hello. >> BOWEN (laughing): Exactly.

I'll send paper airplane questions if you can't hear me.

But you wonder, does music change after the pandemic?

We know that people will be reluctant to go back

into big spaces.

We don't know how long we'll be wearing masks.

And, thankfully, you are requiring vaccines

in order to attend.

But is it a different thing now?

>> Yeah, you know, I will say--

and I know Tanglewood is maybe a different experience

because it is outdoors and it just all feels very outdoors.

I was surprised at the pace at which people seemed to get

comfortable and delighted by it.

I hope that when people start coming into the Hall,

the experience feels a bit different.

You know, the the orchestra will still be sitting on stage,

and making incredible music,

and with Andris,

and with our wonderful soloists.

And I, I do have a hope that, you know,

once people start coming, there, there will be

increased interest in coming back.

And we are certainly seeing that

from, from data across the country.

>> BOWEN: We've mentioned L.A. a couple of times,

but you have a history here.

You have a history with Tanglewood and the BSO.

You were a student here.

So what's it like to be back?

>> My first few days walking around the grounds

at Tanglewood, things were kind of quiet.

We hadn't had a live audience yet.

And just walking across the lawn,

kind of in that quiet space,

and looking... you know, looking at a building

I'd seen decades ago and knowing my office was in that building,

it was... it was like very familiar

and kind of really surreal also.

>> BOWEN: And finally, we know what your job is,

we know what the role is, but how do you,

as you settle in now,

how do you see yourself in this role?

>> I'm so fascinated to begin to understand Boston better.

And I think that that is actually a big part

of my responsibility.

I think coming to an organization like the BSO,

and a city like Boston with, with an outsider's eyes,

it leaves me a lot to learn.

And that's where I think there's great joy

starting to get to know

my colleagues who lead other arts organizations,

to understand, you know, where my kids go to school

and what, what everything feels like.

That feels like a big part of my responsibility,

because it's by doing that

that I can help figure out, I mean,

determine where the BSO fits into that,

where the BSO can best fit into that in a way to be,

to be a resource to the community.

So I think it's that piece of understanding,

is, I think, what feels like the big task in front of me,

to, in order to chart that path forward.

>> BOWEN: Thank you so much for being with us.

>> It's my pleasure, thank you so much for having me.

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: Shaker spirit takes hold at the Fruitlands Museum,

one of many events to top your calendar in Arts This Week.

♪ ♪

Visit the Cape Cod Museum of Art Sunday

forVisions 2021: Found, Formed, Fused,

featuring works crafted from media

ranging from rubber to recycled plastic bags.

The filmWest Side Story was released 60 years ago Monday.

Showcasing the timeless music of Leonard Bernstein,

the film won ten Academy Awards, the most ever by a musical.

Tuesday, the Fruitlands Museum presents

Unseen Hours: Space Clearing for Spirit Work,

a multimedia exhibition derived

from Shaker artifacts and history.

Join the Borromeo String Quartet Thursday

for a performance of two Beethoven quartets

and a pre-concert discussion

about the composer's manuscripts.

Saturday, Boston Baroque presents

its season premiere program available

to both in-person audiences and virtual ones.

It features works by Handel and Ravel.

Next, it's not often that museums experience

theme-park-sized lines and attendance.

But that does happen wherever there's an Infinity Mirror Room

by Yayoi Kusama.

The I.C.A. has acquired her largest

and it reopens this weekend.

So we make room for this piece we first brought you in 2019.

>> (speaking Japanese)

>> BOWEN: The grave, gravelly voice of artist Yayoi Kusama

fills this Infinity Mirror Room.

Inside, inflatable sculptures sway.

It's populated by polka dots,

and its matrix of mirrors

make it feel cavernous at its smallest

and a portal to another universe at its largest.

>> It's almost like a garden of color and...

And forms, tentacles, right?

This underwater or celestial garden.

>> BOWEN: Jill Medvedow is the director

of the Institute of Contemporary Art,

which recently acquired this room, Kusama's largest,

titledLove Is Calling.

But it's love and death which fill this room,

in the poem the Japanese artist wrote and is heard reciting.

>> Life, loss, death, love are, you know, the big themes

that drive so, so much art, and so much of us, right?

In our joys and in our fears.

And Kusama gets that.

And she doesn't shy away from it.

It's, she's a vulnerable artist.

>> BOWEN: Much has been made of the artist's vulnerability.

Now 90 years old,

Kusama has willingly lived in a psychiatric hospital

since the 1970s.

There, she has been as prolific as her polka dots,

which tie directly to a childhood of abuse

and the hallucinations she's experienced throughout her life.

The dots and the sense of infinity

are Kusama's way of what she describes

as obliterating herself.

>> She's opening up a path to another consciousness.

You know, her notion of the self-obliteration

and her use of the polka dots

are completely related.

The polka dot, she refers to it as herself

connected to all of the other dots,

all of the other cosmos,

into, you know, a real sense of oneness.

>> BOWEN: Whether museum visitors go deep

or just stay on the surface taking selfies,

Kusama's Infinity Mirror Rooms have become major attractions

over the last decade.

Patrons make pilgrimages.

The Kusama retrospective at the Hirshhorn in Washington

broke the museum's all-time attendance records,

even though visitors are limited

to minutes-- sometimes even seconds-- inside.

That, by the way, is directed by Kusama herself.

>> The Infinity Room arrived with a 150-page manual.

And that is exceedingly specific.

That comes from her studio.

But she has a say even in the placement of the dots

on the graphics when you walk in.

She cares deeply about the control of her art

and her image.

And her legacy, I believe.

>> She's so much more than just an Instagram phenomenon.

>> BOWEN: Eva Respini is the chief curator at the I.C.A.,

which first showed a Kusama Infinity Mirror Room in 1966.

>> Kusama is, I think, in short,

the most important and influential artist

of our time.

She has influenced virtually every art movement

of the 20th century:

pop art, minimalism, performance art,

feminist art.

She's an artist that presages everything that we see today.

>> BOWEN: Kusama first came to the United States in the 1950s

after boldly writing to Georgia O'Keeffe,

asking how to launch her career.

O'Keeffe advised Kusama to come to the U.S.

She did, quickly befriending artists like Donald Judd,

Joseph Cornell, and Eva Hesse.

>> She gets involved with happenings, with protests,

she makes sort of immersive, performative kinds of works

in addition to painting, sculpture.

She's in social circles with Andy Warhol.

>> BOWEN: Respini charts Kusama's early career

in this companion exhibition.

Kusama's 1965Blue Coat could be woven

into what artists Tara Donovan

or Nick Cave and his famed Soundsuits

would do decades later.

Her rooms make way for the work of artist Josiah McElheny.

Kusama wasn't just ahead of her time,

she was infinitely ahead of it.

>> The first Infinity Mirror Room that she made, 1965.

We're now in the experience economy,

we know about immersive environments,

we know about large-scale sculpture.

This is something we know, but '65,

that's a really radical idea.

>> BOWEN: The blueprint for it all could be here,

in a very early Kusama work from 1953.

How exciting is it to see the beginning here?

>> I think very exciting, and in a way, you could imagine,

if you were able to kind of step into this drawing,

maybe it would be like what it's like

to step intoLove Is Calling.

You know, a lot of those elements are there.

Not to say this is an origin drawing,

but I do think there are many points within this drawing

that kind of lead us to where she is now.

>> BOWEN: Which is an artist who's always given herself

the room to evolve.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: We end now with the funny pages.

Jeff Stahler is an editorial cartoonist

whose syndicated comic, Moderately Confused,

is seen in newspapers all over the country.

But when he's not poking fun at the foibles of daily life,

he can often be found capturing it in watercolor.

♪ ♪

>> Watercolor is the toughest medium.

You can't back up, once you've started

you cannot put another color on top of it,

it makes mud, so you have to work very fast.

A plein air is the artist that

will work in the environment, they're outdoors, typically.

Plein air is a French word, it means outdoor painter,

and I started doing it only about four or five years ago.

Schiller Park is a beautiful park.

It's a 22-acre park that sits in German Village.

It's a park that attracts a lot of dogs, a lot of people,

a lot of walkers, a lot of runners.

♪ ♪

It's so nice to plein air paint because you get outside,

you get away from it all, it's very relaxing, it's...

not that the cartooning is,

it's just a whole different animal.

♪ ♪

I am a graduate of the Columbus College of Art and Design.

I graduated in advertising with an illustration minor.

I worked for several years in advertising.

But I always wanted to cartoon.

I did some cartooning for a magazine,

actually a weekly newspaper in Columbus, Ohio.

I was able to open another door

and it opened for me in Cincinnati, Ohio.

And I was a cartoonist for them,

theCincinnati Post, for 22 years.

Editorial cartoon is a cartoon

with a point of view,

trying to find a little bit of humor in it.

But typically, it's going to fall on an opinion page

so it wants to have, an editor wants to have opinion with,

associated with the cartoon.

It might not be funny, but many times it, you know,

I'm hoping that it is.

♪ ♪

When I got into editorial cartooning,

back in the early '80s,

I think I was right at the beginning

of the Reagan administration.

So I've worked through all the presidents since him.

And they're all a challenge,

and some of them are easier than others.

I started as a one-panel cartoonist

doing editorial cartoons.

And so I got that science of that type of gag down.

I felt very comfortable then moving on

to doingModerately Confused,

which is social commentary on a different level,

but appearing on comic pages.

I'm contracted to do three to four editorial cartoons

every week, and I do six daily panels

forModerately Confused,

so it's a total of nine cartoons that I ...

nine to ten cartoons I do every week.

I work four weeks in advance onModerately Confused,

whereas an editorial cartoon, I do it,

I put it out the next day.

♪ ♪

You have to have thick skin

in this business but, you know,

it's so rewarding, it's so much fun.

And people always ask, you know,

"So what's your favorite cartoon?"

And it's the one I did today. (chuckles)

♪ ♪

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

Next week we visit the sculptures

lighting up the night sky in Gloucester.

>> You're walking through a field,

and there are fireflies all around you twinkling,

it's like walking through a starfield.

>> BOWEN: Then a visit with unlikely duo

Tony winner Alan Cumming and NPR's Ari Shapiro.

>> It was showtunes night at a D.C. gay bar called J.R.'s.

And Alan stood on the interior balcony

and flung napkins down on the crowd

during "Don't Cry For Me Argentina."

>> BOWEN: Until then, I'm Jared Bowen.

Thanks for joining us.

And as always, you can visit us online

at GBH.org/OpenStudio.

And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter

@OpenStudioGBH.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

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