A curated art collection inspired by Barr’s mission to invest in human, natural, and creative potential.

Contemporary Art at the Barr Foundation

In Barr’s office space at Two Atlantic Avenue and in the historic Pilot House, we are privileged to showcase the work of living, contemporary artists. The artists represented in this curated collection have socially-engaged practices. They share the distinct ability to generate rigorous discourse using the lightest touch and delivered through the most beautiful vehicles—their works of art.

The work in this collection looks to the world around us, often using the most everyday materials to transformative ends. Some of the pieces engage with the history of 20th-century art and focuses on the creative process itself. Others focus on our natural environment and seek to propel a greater awareness of our impact on that environment as communities and humans. Many of the artists are also teachers, and much of the work explores the transfer of knowledge or cultural heritage.

The following details the specifics of each of the works in the collection and provides an introduction to each artist and his or her artistic practice.

El Anatsui

Flimsy Excuse

Flimsy Excuse

El Anatsui was born in Ghana and now splits his time between Ghana and Nigeria. For much of his career, he taught sculpture in Nigeria. Anatsui transforms everyday aluminum bottle tops, acquired from a local alcohol recycling center, into luminous and complex assemblages. He threads the flattened aluminum with copper wire, constructing wall sculptures that evoke tapestry, mosaic, fragility—but also the protectiveness of chain mail—and the natural environment. His focus on the destruction and reconstruction of materials indicates his interest in transformation, consumption, and the environment, but also serves as a metaphor for life and changes in Africa. Anatsui’s artistic language is rooted in his region and is capable of engaging with such weighty topics as the history of colonialism. At the same time, his assemblages transcend the limitations of place by their sheer beauty and evocation of a variety of materials and sensations. In 2015, Anatsui was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, the Venice Biennale’s highest honor.

Material: Aluminum and copper wire
Year: 2016
Size: 96 x 108 inches

View El Anatsui's Online Portfolio

Peter Downsbrough

T/HERE

Downsbrough

American artist Peter Downsbrough now lives and works in Brussels, Belgium. Since the 1970s, he has developed a radically reduced visual vocabulary that he uses to investigate the given space in a very precise way. His vocabulary consists of letters and lines that he applies to walls, ceilings, and floors. The letters form conjunctions, pronouns, verbs, and nouns. The lines emphasize an architectural detail or accentuate a space. Areas defined by lines, such as the square in T/HERE​, sometimes also play a role and reveal a new interior space. Downsbrough’s work has a sly humor and demands interaction with the viewer, despite such minimal means. The physical definition of space by the metal bars is complemented by the metaphorical directions prompted in the viewer’s mind by the words. When installed in a given interior, T/HERE articulates the architecture of a room. “Here” is contained within a defined area. “There” is outside of the box yet does not exist without “Here.”

Material: Painted metal
Year: 2016
Size: 40 x 42 inches

Olafur Eliasson

Melting ice on Gunnar’s land

Melting ice on Gunnar's land

Olafur Eliasson is an Icelandic/Danish artist interested in movement, light, and atmosphere, and in the viewer’s perception and experience of those. His work is socially motivated and he strives to make art that is relevant to society at large. In this series of photographs, as in much of his work, he focuses on environmental issues and humans’ impact on the environment, but with a light and deft touch. The photographs simply show a large block of ice melting in an Icelandic landscape. As viewers’ eyes move through the sequence of images, they might ask how this large piece of ice came to rest in this field, should it be there, should it be melting; and because the title tells us that it is on Gunnar’s land, we understand that humans have had an impact on this landscape. The straight documentary style of the photographs do all the work of engaging viewers and generating a greater sense of awareness of how our actions impact our environment.

Material: 12 c-prints
Year: 2008
Size each: 9.5 x 14 inches (24 x 35.5 cm) framed
Size overall: 32.25 x 60.5 inches (82 x 164 cm)

View Olafur Eliasson's Online Portfolio

Mike Glier

Along a Long Line

American artist Mike Glier lives in Hoosick Falls, New York, and is a professor of Art at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. For the past 15 years, he has pursued a global, plein air painting project. Between 2007 and 2008, he followed the 70th longitude, beginning at the Arctic Circle and ending at the Equator. The project, Along a Long Line, resulted in a set of paintings (and one book) from each of four stops: the Inuit village Pangnirtung on a fjord very near the Arctic Circle; the ecological preserve Jatun Sacha Reserve near San Cudo, Ecuador; the Virgin Islands National Park, which has been designated by the United Nations as a part of the biosphere reserve network; and New York City. In each location, Glier painted his panels outdoors in the tradition of plein air ​Impressionism but driven by a very contemporary social and environmental activism. Glier states: “Marking a point, drawing an arc, and implying a diameter, [this project] visualize[s] the earth as a shared space, sectioned by scientific measure rather than political boundaries.” Along a Long Line prompts us to connect the dots between these diverse ecosystems​ and literally trace the connection between them.

Giler

December 3, 2007: Equatorial Rainforest, San Cudo, Ecuador, 90ºF

Material: Oil on aluminum panel
Year: 2007
Size: 24 x 30 inches

January 23, 2008: Afternoon at Haulover Bay, St. John, Virgin Islands, 83ºF

Material: Oil on aluminum panel
Year: 2008
Size: 24 x 30 inches

April 2, 2008: Avenue C, New York, New York, 50ºF

Material: Oil on aluminum panel Year: 2008
Size: 24 x 30 inches

July 9, 2007: Pink Granite, Pangnirtung, Canada, 45ºF

Material: Oil on aluminum panel
Year: 2007
Size: 24 x 30 inches

View Mike Glier's Online Portfolio

Michelle Grabner

Untitled

Untitled

American artist Michelle Grabner’s artistic engagement includes a studio practice, curation, writing, and education. Her role as an educator is, in her mind, equal to her work in drawing, painting, video, and sculpture. She has been the chair of the Painting and Drawing Department at The Art Institute of Chicago since 2009, and she is also a senior critic at the Yale University Art Gallery. She began developing her pattern paintings 20 years ago when her young son brought a construction paper weaving home from school. This work is fundamentally process-based, her motivations resting in a desire to identify and subsequently reproduce patterns. The larger-than-life scale of Untitled invites viewers to stand close and envelope their range of vision with the pattern. Grabner’s masterful paint handling and patience in reproducing the mundane pattern then also becomes clear. On the other hand, the patterns she chooses signify a commonplace, even domestic, sphere—the weaves most recognizable as table cloths, cloth napkins, or bed linens. Artist and colleague Molly Zuckerman-Hartung admires Grabner’s “commitment to producing a body of work minimal enough to allow projection and profound enough to invite immersion.”

Material: Oil and gesso on burlap and panel
Year: 2016
Size: 90 x 120 in. (228.6 x 304.8 cm)

Bronlyn Jones

Untitled

Jones Untitled

American artist Bronlyn Jones has lived and worked in New England for most of her career. Her artistic origins are in photography, and the use of positive and negative space continues to drive her practice since moving into drawing and painting in the 1990s. In her paintings, Jones chooses particular sections of grains of wood from larger sheets. She carefully adheres paper to the panels, which she has sparingly and precisely painted with gesso. The proportions of paper to panel, frame depth, and spacing between parts is all specifically chosen. Jones’ work rewards time spent viewing and experiencing. Despite the precision of the relationships between materials, occasional uneven painted edges on the artist’s frame or paper remind us of the human hand that created the object. Her work is a meditation on choice, control, and chance.

Material: Black and white gesso on paper mounted on a ¾” birch panel in artist’s frame in two parts
Year: 2016
Size: Panel size 8 ½ x 7 inches each; Frames size 11 x 9 ½ x 2 inches each

Jennie C. Jones

Red Recording Gray (for Elvin Jones)

Red Recording Gray

American artist Jennie C. Jones attends to sound alongside sight in her “acoustic paintings.” The paintings are constructed from industrial sound absorbing panels and acrylic paint on board. Her choice of material literally denotes noise or the muffling of noise. In addition, she uses red as an activation color in the same manner that the “Record” button on recording equipment or “On Air” light in DJ booths indicate sound is being produced. The muted grey tones in contrast to the red seem to visually suggest silence in contrast to the more vibrant indication of noise. Conceptually Jones draws from visual traditions of abstraction and minimalism and from a musical jazz tradition. She frequently uses iconic phrasing from experimental jazz compositions and solos, often deconstructed, as an aural element to her installations. Even without the literal sound, Jones’s paintings suggest an expectation of it—they become a visual representation of silence and noise.

Material: Acoustic absorber panel and acrylic paint
Year: 2016
Size: 48 x 48 inches (121.9 x 121.9 cm)

View Jennie C. Jones' Online Portfolio

Jaclyn Kain

Water Surface

Boston-based artist Jaclyn Kain intertwines subject matter with medium in her photographs of Boston Harbor. Cyanotype is a contact-printed photographic process that involves painting a light-sensitive medium on any absorbent surface, such as paper. The print is exposed in the sun and requires only sunlight and water to develop. The process produces a cyan-blue print. Kain closely crops her images of Boston Harbor, emphasizing the play of light on the water’s surface. Without a visible horizon line or identifying cityscape, the image becomes highly abstracted, a surface patterning of light and dark rather than volume or place. Kain’s photographs capture the elusive shifts of sunlight on moving water. In the cyanotype, these same elements of sunlight and water in turn develop the fixed image on the paper.

Water Surface #2

Water Surface #2

Material: Cyanotype
Year: 2016
Edition: 2 of 3
Size: 18.5 x 28 inches

Water Surface #27

Surface Water #27

Material: Cyanotype
Year: 2016
Edition: 1 of 3
Size: 18.5 x 28 inches

View Jaclyn Kain's Online Portfolio

Masako Kamiya

Highland

Highland

Born and raised in Japan, Masako Kamiya studied art at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston and at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, Massachusetts, where she is now an assistant professor. Her method of painting is unique, as well as time- and labor-intensive. She constructs tiny towers of pigment on paper, one dot of gouache (an opaque watercolor paint) at a time. As each daub of paint dries, she applies another, slowly building her three-dimensional surface. By the time a painting is finished, she will have repeated this process some 10,000 times. The slow build-up of pigment allows Kamiya to create subtle shifts of color both across the picture plane and projecting out from it. The images are abstract, but her process and colors can suggest topography and her titles allude to places or natural phenomenon.

Material: Gouache on paper
Year: 2016
Size: 19 x 15 inches

View Masako Kamiya's Online Portfolio

Angel Otero

Shadows Dangled

office art puerto rican 3

Puerto Rican-born, New York- and Chicago-based Angel Otero’s paintings initially appear to be direct descents of the Abstract Expressionist tradition. However, a close look at Shadows Dangled reveals a flat and slick surface of pigment and fabric laid onto the canvas frame, at times even overhanging the stretched canvas edges. These material anomalies lead viewers to consider Otero’s process of creation. He considers his unique painting process a form of narrative in itself. Otero begins by layering oil painting and fabric strips on a large glass pane. Once the pigment has dried, he scrapes and peels it off the glass, recomposing the “skins” on canvas. A central seam runs down the middle of this and most of his paintings, perhaps as a subtle nod to the unusual process behind the more traditional gestural mark-making. Otero is mining the history of 20th-century art, but his work is a constant negotiation between this history and the individual within and working after it.

Material: Oil paint and fabric collaged on canvas
Year: 2016 (signed and dated on verso)
Size: 84 x 60 x 2 inches (213.4 x 152.4 x 5.1 cm)

View Angel Otero's Online Portfolio

Tim Rollins and K.O.S.

Invisible Man (after Ralph Ellison)

Invisible Man

Activist and artist Tim Rollins began teaching art to students deemed either academically or emotionally “at risk” in the South Bronx in 1981, with the idea of incorporating lessons in literature and writing. With his students he developed a process they call “jammin,” in which Rollins or a student would read aloud from classic literary texts while the others drew on those same pages, thereby recording their own responses and relating the text to their personal experience. They would cut out pages of text, laying the pages on one large canvas prior to beginning the process. The collective creation of the work is crucial and the students—who named themselves Kids Of Survival (K.O.S.)—have now moved through multiple generations. Rollins and K.O.S. long ago outgrew the classroom. Rollins opened an Art and Knowledge Workshop, an after-school program in a community center, and iterations of the workshop now exist in several cities across the United States. Invisible Man (after Ralph Ellison) is an example of Rollins’ and K.O.S.’s pioneering process, in which a socially engaged practice manifests in a beautiful and intellectually rigorous object.

Material: India ink and pencil on book page
Year: 2012
Size: 12 x 12 inches (30.5 x 30.5 cm)

Evelyn Rydz

Boston-based artist Evelyn Rydz creates masterful drawings based on her photographs of detritus that wash up on beaches. She is particularly fascinated by plastic, highly valued in modern society for its durability but useless and equally permanent when it enters an ocean ecosystem. Rydz identifies the narratives of these displaced plastics, tracing their movement in ocean currents, their softening and whittling forms that eventually appear tossed up on the shore.

Natives

Natives

In Natives​, Rydz’s story continues and literally foregrounds the environment’s attempts to reclaim the multi-colored grains with new plant growth. She has worked with drawing, photography, video, and sound to explore this theme. She is prominent in the Boston community, having led community art projects at the Museum of Fine Arts and the Institute of Contemporary Art, as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami.

Untitled, Evelyn Rydz

Material: Pencil and color pencil on Duralar
Year: 2017
Size: 20 x 42 inches

Untitled

In 2012, Rydz received the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s prestigious Traveling Scholars Fellowship, allowing her to expand her research beyond the Atlantic. She traveled to Kamilo Beach, Hawaii, known for its accumulation of plastic marine debris from the currents creating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. She says, “I walked for days through massive amounts of debris and plastic sands feeling like an archaeologist excavating the residues of contemporary history.” She terms the small drawings she completed based on her photographs from this excavation “postcards.” They have the feel of archeological specimens from a strange land or unknown time. The project was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 2014.

Bits and Pieces

Material: Pencil and color pencil on drafting film
Year: 2014
Size: 9.5 x 6.5 inches

Bits and Pieces

Material: Pencil and color pencil on drafting film
Year: 2014
Size: 6 x 9 inches

Fishbites

Fishbites

Material: Pencil and color pencil on drafting film
Year: 2014
Size: 6 x 9 inches

Plank with Driftwood

Plank with Driftwood

Material: Pencil and color pencil on drafting film
Year: 2014
Size: 6 x 9 inches

Rusted Fridge

Material: Pencil and color pencil on drafting film
Year: 2014
Size: 6 x 9 inches

Rusted Fridge

View Evelyn Rydz's Online Portfolio

Nari Ward

mass action

Mass Action

Jamaican-born, Harlem-based Nari Ward creates art using found urban material that invites a dialogue about race and immigration, poverty and power, and economics and consumer culture. In 2011, Ward created a first textile installation composed of nearly 1,000 shoelaces spelling out “We the People.” That installation was recreated earlier this year using community-donated shoelaces and will hang permanently in the New York Historical Society. Like mass action, it is a broad call for engagement at a moment of deep social and political divide in the United States. Shoelaces have become a common material for Ward. They are available to and knowable by all. Formally the laces act as a line, facilitating the artist’s interest in drawing and mark-making. In these installations, Ward attends to details such as font, color, and scale to provoke both an intimate conversation with a single viewer and a broader discourse. In the Barr Foundation’s context, mass action signals both the Foundation’s commitment to supporting an inclusive community and its roots and dedication to the concerns of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Material: shoelaces
Year: 2016
Size: 84 x 130 x 2 inches (213.4 x 330.2x 5.1 cm)

View Nari Ward's Online Portfolio