If you're local to the Boston area or, in fact, to New England at all, the Fitchburg (MA) Art Museum is experiencing a major resurgence. Nick Capasso is its director. Nick comes from being a senior curator at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, MA and brings a high level of experience, ability and perspective to his position. Transforming, contextualizing and updating a museum while paying homage to its history and respecting its own community is challenging given limited resources. FAM is a museum that sits in a small city that has seen some very tough times. But things are looking up for Fitchburg. The city is increasingly aware that it has a gem in its midst. With new shows, unusual ways of displaying art, new kinds of art being displayed, Nick and the staff at the museum are working hard to bring the museum into the 21st century.
Mona ©Neal Rantoul 2014
I am pleased to be playing a small part in this. My Monsters photographs will be on view at the museum from September 25, 2016-January 17, 2017. The opening reception is Sep. 25 from 1-3 pm and is part of a larger exhibition of works called "Plastic Imagination".
Although I live in the Boston area my Monsters photographs were not made there. I made them from a now-closed store right in Fitchburg called Halloween Costume World. So, in some sense my monsters are coming back home.
To pique your interest I quote from Alison Nordstrom's introduction to the work in the show's catalog (which will be for sale in the museum's store):
When an artist of a certain longevity, stature and tradition
makes what appears to be a radical departure from his earlier concerns, it
behooves us, as his audience, to consider the new work both in its own right
and as a thread in the complex trajectories of a creative life. Even when the
artist’s oeuvre has embraced genres as diverse as architecture, landscape and
still life in a lengthy and prolific photographic career, we may still be surprised
by the results of this artist’s curiosity. The exhibition and publication of
Neal Rantoul’s recent series “Monsters” offers the opportunity to experience
one artist’s way of seeing and to think with him about what it means to see and
And finally, from Nick Capasso's own introduction to the work for the show at the museum:
In Rantoul’s Monsters, order gives way to disorder and reality yields to illusion. Colors are garish, even grotesque. The images are confrontational, with close cropping and an overall shallow, claustrophobic space. The artist’s emotional palette shifts from the calm contemplation of a stable world to a riotous celebration of terror, humor, and anxiety.
You may have missed seeing this work at 555 Gallery last fall in boston. If so , now is your chance.
Museum hours are Wed-Fri 12-4 and Saturdays and Sundays 11-4 pm.
I hope to see you in Fitchburg Sep 25. A word of caution: the Museum will charge admission at the reception...$9 for non members.
The Museum's website is here.
The Wild Thing show at 555 Gallery in Boston is down. My work in the exhibit called Monsters is foam wrapped and back in my studio waiting for me to slide the framed prints back into the rack that will hold them. One of the truths to being an exhibiting artist is that the work goes out and most of it comes back.
For those of you that weren't able to see the show I have put the majority of it on the gallery page of this site here. Allison Nordstrom wrote the introduction to the work for the show's catalog. If you'd like to read it here in the blog let me know. You can contact me here. Below is the artist statement I wrote for the catalog, which is available through the books section of this site. In it I write about my growing understanding of the work I'd made. (BTW: The prevailing wisdom is that people do not really read blogs. I wonder if you do?)
As I write this in July 2015 I am heavily immersed in the
printing of the photographs for the show at 555 Gallery that has my pictures in
it called “Monsters” that opens in mid September. Printing for a show like this
is practically a single-minded effort that requires focus and blocking out
distractions as much as possible. While I made these pictures in 2014, this is
the first time they’ve been printed and shown.
Thanks to the wonderful essay by Alison Nordstrom in the
catalog we have the necessary perspective placed on the work and she has
contextualized it for us as well. I am thankful to her for providing that which
I can’t. But I can attempt in this statement to bring you into the work and
speak to motivation and intention. As far as success or the final result goes,
I will leave that up to you.
On a gray and cold day in early winter I drove to Fitchburg
MA to make a presentation of my work to the new head of the Fitchburg Art
Museum. We had a great time and looked at several portfolios. I left thinking
that that the meeting had gone well, and on the way out of town saw on my left
a sign on top of a long low building that said, “Halloween Costume World”. I
pulled over, parked and went in. Inside was quite dark and cold with aisle
after aisle of all sorts of things. Halloween costumes for children and adults
in plastic envelopes with pictures of models wearing what was contained within.
A mask wall with what looked to be hundreds of latex masks stuck on sticks from
floor to ceiling. A section of mannequins dressed in odd juxtapositions of
monsters and tableaus of scenes like three of the major characters in the
Wizard of Oz. And finally, in another huge room with no light and no heat at all,
an odd storage area that included rentable full size models of Beetlejuice and
a somewhat broken Frankenstein, assorted gory and macabre scenes of beheadings,
the green Wicked Witch of the West, torture and executions, a wig wall filled
with hundreds of all styles of inexpensive wigs placed on plastic head forms of
amazing variety and so on. I was the only customer in the store that day. I
walked right up to the man behind the desk and asked him if I could come back
to take pictures. He said, “Yes, of course”. While the visit to present my work
to the Fitchburg Museum turned out to be a complete waste of my time the visit
to Halloween Costume World did not. I had a new project.
Over the next several months I returned many times to the
store. The routine became familiar to me and to the staff in the store. I would
arrive, ask them if they’d mind turning the lights on, haul in tripod and photo
gear, set up and start to photograph.
Each time I’d think I was finished after a few hours but when looking at
the work made, realized I needed to go back to reshoot.
Working on a project like this, where the subject stays the
same, is as much a discovery for the artist as it is for the viewer of the
work. I learned this ten years ago when working on making pictures from the
Mutter Museum in Philadelphia. The specimens weren’t gong anywhere but it was
up to me to discover and apply my own imprint.
So, I worked, trying different approaches each time I went. By
five or six trips photographing in the store, about an hour from where I live, I
felt the work was getting redundant. So I stopped. By this time I understood that I had unearthed
something a little more substantial than the pictures just being shocking, atypical,
funny, or quirky. I found I was attributing personalities to these masks and
head forms and mannequins. This started to show itself in nicknames for some of
the characters. The three models shown side by side in the show are known as
“Neal’s Passion” as they are very lovely and make me think of my youth. The
large print of the vertical model with the surrounding dark hair is now “Mona”.
Then there is “Dorothy” in several parts and interpretations. The side-by-side
models with unbelievable lips are called “Pouty” and finally, the large print
of the smashed mask is simply called “Jack”.
What began as an experiment in new seeing had now become,
surprise surprise, meaningful. Little did I know. I thought when I started I had
a hold of something that would entertain, be colorful and maybe titillate. What
I found was that I had photographed something that, I believe, struck a more
primal note. That what our
genetics and our ancient brains do to these faces and the over-the-top
expressions molded into these odd things is to indentify with them, to seek to
form relationships with them, to, essentially, attribute personality to latex,
plastic and fiberglass. This, I predict, is a path for human civilization to
deal with if we survive, if we don’t blow ourselves up or contaminate where we
live. Movies like Chappy, Ex Machina and Her all wrestle with our future relationship with machines we make in
our image. Interesting times indeed.
In my own small way I too am moving ahead. My classmate and
colleague, Arno Minkkenin says that “Art
is risk made visible”, and, while perhaps an over simplification, it
certainly seems to apply here. As a career artist I have made a leap with this
work, taken some risk, to delve deeper into an area I have been wrestling with
for ten years. What do we know about us from preserved forensic specimens? Or
in the case of my Cabelas work, what do we learn from photographs of stuffed animals
posed in situ in a large sports outfitting store? And finally, what can we assimilate
about ourselves from the caricatures we make in our own image? These monsters
in all their cheap and gaudy representation of the human condition, in all
their gross exaggeration of much that is abhorrent about us as a race, can also
be strangely beautiful and unsettling. Dichotomies are fascinating. Enigmas
provoke and pose questions that hopefully go beyond $14.95 wigs and $29.95
latex Halloween masks.
Welcome to my world of Monsters.
It has not escaped my awareness that I am writing this practically on the eve of Halloween. Happy trick or treating and be safe out there.
Consider this your invitation to come to the opening reception of the show called "Three Amigos" which includes the photographs of John Rizzo, Fred Sway and myself December 14.
The show is at the Center on the Common in Harvard, MA about 45 minutes from Boston on Route 2.
The connection that brings the three of us together in one show is the New England School of Photography in Boston (NESOP). Fred Sway was the director of the school in the mid 70's and hired me to teach there. John Rizzo was a student. Although Fred and I have remained good friends, we lost John for many years as he worked out west as a lifestyle photographer and now lives in Italy much of the year. Now he's here in the Boston area part of the year and this has allowed us to get back together. Fred and I have John to thank for making this show happen.
The exhibition at the Cnter on the Common will highlight current work from each of us. All thee of us work in color and all digitally.
We hope you can join us.