MFA#039;s disappointing quot;War and Discontentquot;

by Beacon Staff • April 18, 2007

For an exhibit with such an intense name, one would hope to feel an impact upon entering it.,The Museum of Fine Arts couldn't have picked a more appropriate time to host a new exhibit about "War and Discontent," running now until August 5, but it could have picked a more impressive collection of works.

For an exhibit with such an intense name, one would hope to feel an impact upon entering it. The initial image seen when entering the glass doors is called "Black Gold II" by Nigerian painter Yinka Shonibare and looks more like a pretty design that could be in Gucci's fall line rather than in an exhibit about war.

Though the presentation in the MFA's Foster gallery proved lackluster, it demands respect. The gallery conveys the individual artists' responses to wars they witnessed. Such creative responses are always a great contribution to society.

Most of the works from the MFA's collection are by 20th-century American artists, though there are a few by European artists as well. An interesting feature in the gallery was that next to every wall label was another by the Teen Arts Council (TAC), a group of Massachusetts teenagers in a year-long apprenticeship whose goal is to help the museum better connect with Boston teenagers and families.

The TAC's wall labels have the member's individual responses to each painting. For example, next to artist Peter Halley's untitled picture of a stacked rock wall, one member of the TAC wrote how it reminded her of the rock wall she puts up in her mind when her parents talk about her brother's involvement in the Iraq war.

Upon viewing the gallery's mediocre attempts at expressing war (with few exceptions), one becomes distracted by loud and booming '80s dance music pulsating from the other end of the gallery.

The music is coming from a dark room. Projected onto two large screens, teens dance awkwardly to the pop tunes. The description on the wall declares Phil Collins the creator of this two-channel video installation, called "They Shoot Horses."

In 2004, Collins was in Jerusalem for an artist's residency, and he set up a dance party in Ramallah, in a PLO-occupied section of the West Bank.

This video presentation is supposed to show how teens trying to have a good time were often interrupted by power cuts, calls to prayer and curfew. However, it contains eight hours of footage and, chances are, one will not see these happenings unless they hang around for an hour.

Within the five minutes many of the viewers walked in and out, they simply witnessed the teens dancing badly to even worse dance music. It was well intended, but to the average observer, the message does not come across.

The most extraordinary and powerful piece in the gallery is "Airplanes," by American artist Suara Welitoff. This installation is in a small blinding white room, away from the nefarious noise of the dance music.

The only sound in here is the deafening, all-encompassing and extremely unsettling sound of World War II airplanes dropping boxes and whirring loudly as they slowly float on two identical projections on one wall.

Another interesting piece featured in the gallery is by American artist Andy Warhol. This painting, "Statue of Liberty," features a close up of the statue's head and an arm bearing a torch, with a pattern wash of bright, signature Warhol shades of blue, yellow, purple and green camouflage over it.

Other than Warhol's work along with the disturbing "Rape of the Sabine Women," by Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, and a series of uncomforting sketches called "Etchings," by the English conceptal artist brother duo Jake and Dinos Chapman, the gallery walls are filled with a couple of the expected pictures of tortured men and many more displaying harsh colors and an obvious message.

The attempt was well made, but the outcome was not.

Admission to "War and Discontent" at the MFA is free with an Emerson student identification card.