Mary Kocol: The Garden Ephemeral
Henry Schwartz: Muse
September 5 – 30 at Gallery NAGA
In recent years, Mary Kocol’s work has shifted focus from the saturated, urban twilight shots that defined her photographs for so long to the fleeting existence of flowering plants.
In Kocol’s statement for the exhibition, she explains the work. “Time is marked by a garden as the seasons change; the fragility and ephemerality of blossoms are a metaphor for the brevity of life. A garden is a sensuous place. I look for passing moments of light, color, and weather coming together in a garden. It can be a place of respite, contemplation, wonder, a reminder of hope and revival. As the gardener tends it, the garden returns and revives. These photographs are tales from the sublime—places to seek beauty, fragrance, weather drama, peace, nourishment for the soul, and mystery.”
Mary Kocol uses the beauty of place to lure us into a narrative that is mysterious and strange. Kocol’s previous body of work focused on shimmering flower blossoms collected from Kocol’s own garden as well as the gardens of friends and family, then frozen in ice, and photographed as they thawed.
Her new work to be exhibited at NAGA begins exactly where her previous work left off. The ice has thawed and the blossoms lie muted and lifeless. Kocol calls this work her Ghost Garden Series, the thawed arrangements part of a larger plot where the scene is dream-like as if they are a mere memory of a place and time. Peacock Hiding, Parc-De-Bagatelle, Paris portrays a Parisian garden, teeming with blossoming flowers, while the tail of an elusive peacock, green and sparkling, emerges behind branches of a bush. Lilacs Before the Storm, Arnold Arboretum advances the sensation of mystery as flowering lilac bushes, in the height of bloom, stand juxtaposed before a darkening sky.
In the opinion of many, Henry Schwartz (1927-2009) is the most important and certainly the most unusual second-generation Boston expressionist, following Hyman Bloom, Jack Levine, and Karl Zerbe (Schwartz’s mentor), who defined contemporary art in post-World War II Boston. Admirers themselves of the German expressionists, their painting was dark in palette and in mood, and often caustic about human folly. Their work was in the mainstream at such institutions as Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art in the late 1940s and early 1950s, until abstract expressionism swept away it and all other schools, for reasons arguably as political as they were aesthetic.
Schwartz emerged in 1953 from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston as a wunderkind, shown before graduation by the eminent Boris Mirski Gallery and lauded in the Boston art press for the philosophical ambition and painterly panache of his work. A long career of Boston exhibition and teaching at the Museum School followed through the 1980s. Schwartz’s work ranged from the profoundly serious (The Objective Correlative: T. S. Eliot sitting pensively before a huge brain-like pile of Holocaust-suggesting corpses) to the giddily serious (The Birthpangs of Modern Music and the Stretch Marks of History: an Olympus of classical composers emerging from naked female bodies, who seem both generative muses and exhausted victims).
Plans to show Schwartz’s paintings were in the works when NAGA received word that City Winery, a new music, wine, and dining venue, was to open in September, 2017 run by Michael Dorf, a longtime collector, and admirer of Henry Schwartz. Wine for the opening reception will be provided by City Winery.
This exhibition was organized around Schwartz’s use of the female figure, a subject revisited again and again throughout his career. The figures, always portrayed as naked giantesses whose bodies range from voluptuous to emaciated, are familiar from other Schwartz paintings as the muses for and the victims of culture.
Included in this exhibition will be work from both a private and a public collection.
Mary Kocol: The Garden Ephemeral and Henry Schwartz: Muse are both on exhibition from September 5 through 30. A public reception for the exhibitions will be held at the gallery on Friday, September 8 from 6 to 8 pm.
Images of all work to be exhibited can be seen at gallerynaga.com.