Finding Stillness and Reflection with New Exhibitions at the MFA
Chamonix, Joan Mitchell, about 1962
A few new exhibitions at the MFA reach across cultures and time to bring together a collection of works that inspire reflection and contemplation. Natalie and I were able to preview the exhibitions at the MFA this week, and they are perfect viewing for a thoughtful museum visit.
Seeking Stillness gathers works around three themes: ‘physical space as a catalyst for transcendence, artistic process as a meditative act, and natural forms as a pathway to contemplation.’ All three rooms offered lots to think about. In the first, I was particularly struck by the paintings from Indian painter and poet Gulam Rasool Santosh, whose abstract images were inspired by his experience inside a sacred cave.
The following room focuses on process, where three Korean works were especially interesting. One was created by pushing paint through the back of the coarse burlap support, while another involves painting, chipping and stripping the surface, and painting again. The final room in the exhibition includes examples of the Chinese “fake rocks.” Extending back more than 1,000 years, Chinese thinkers believed that the mountains were the best places to meditate and improve oneself. Because so many scholars were based in the cities, large rocks were often placed in gardens or even homes to call to mind the mountains and inspire meditation. Artists began creating “rocks” out of wood or metal, based on this ancient tradition. Photographer Edward Weston’s depictions of the rocky landscape of the American Southwest approach abstraction in some cases, and find the patterns in natural landscapes.
Connecting is Reflections, an exhibition of 11 works by Mark Rothko. How exciting to walk into a room at the MFA and be surrounded by Rothko on all sides! Rothko said “a painting is not a picture of an experience; it is an experience.” In this exhibition, the viewer can really experience his work, which he hoped would evoke emotional responses in the viewer. We were most struck by the “black paintings” — made late in his life, these at first glance appear to be solid black, but upon longer viewing, other colors appear, shapes rise and float to the surface, and differences in texture become apparent.
These and all works in these two exhibitions are wonderful pieces to examine more closely, and try “slow looking.” We so often move past artworks too quickly to see the minutiae or detail that a longer looking would provide, or too quickly to allow the work to envelop us and impact us with a mood or feeling. These exhibitions invite us to stay awhile and find some stillness.
Two of the “black paintings,” Mark Rothko, 1960s
Reflections (members can enjoy a preview) and Seeking Stillness will be open to the public from September 24- July 1.
Also at the MFA:
October 9 — Fall Open House with free admission for all
October 13 — MFA Late Nite (8pm-2am) with sneak peek at Takashi Murakami exhibition
through December 10 — Showdown! Kuniyoshi vs. Kunisada, a comparison of two rival 19th century Japanese woodblock printmakers