One of the most impressive shows we saw at the South End Open Studios in Boston was one that crept up on all of us. It was at Bernard Toale Gallery. Probably our friend Alison Owen said it first, while we were unknowingly standing the midst of the exhibition: something along the lines of I know this room is probably just being de-installed, but it’s my favorite thing we’ve seen all day.
Then the big reveal: it is exactly what we wanted it to be. In her witty and spatially sensitive show Provisional, Nancy Murphy Spicer emptied the contents of a gallery’s storage closet and arranged them with precision in a configuration that appears to be the haphazard work of an especially artful and OCD maintenance worker. Upon closer inspection, there’s some light paint work on one wall. A bad rush job covering up the plugged holes of an old exhibition? Nah. Even further examination shows that there’s some subtle refinishing on the floorboards too.
The dead giveaway, though, is the gridwork of nails jutting out on the opposite wall. A black loop of string rests on the nails in a graceful swoop. Should you be adventurous enough to explore your hunch that this is indeed a deliberate doing, you’ll find that deep within the emptied gallery closet is the key: a 5 minute video of the artist making “20 successive drawings” with the string on the nails. Bingo: hunch confirmed.
Yet, for me, the video was a bit of a disappointment of the kind you feel when someone spells out a joke, tells you why it’s funny. And seeing the artist there, animating the string into various shapes, was, to use an old writing critique, “too much telling.” Even so, the whole experience was a delight in a top-notch gallery not afraid to take risks. See it soon, because the show comes down this weekend.
Nancy Murphy Spicer, Provisional
Bernard Toale Gallery
August 28 – September 29, 2007
Additional bonus: if you ask, you might be invited back to the office to see one of my favorite photographs by Laura McPhee, Rocks from Sawtooth National Forest for Landscaping in Sun Valley, Pettit Lake Road, Blaine County, Idaho, 2003 from her show at the MFA last year.