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Landscape Abstracted

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Through July 30, 2017

David Hockney’s Garrowby Hill (1998), left, and Jason Middlebrook’s mural Tread Lightly (2014), right. Photos: Sandy Litchfield Assoc. AIA


Reflection and transparency are repeating themes throughout this exhibition. The artists featured here expand the definition of landscape by highlighting the experiential features of the natural word as it is filtered through and reflected against an architectural geometry. To complement acquisitions from its collection, the museum commissioned several site-specific pieces for the show. Anne Lindber’s pivot green blue and Jason Middlebrook’s colossal mural, Tread Lightly, respond directly to the airy, voluminous space of the museum’s West Wing, designed by I. M. Pei. Lindber’s delicately hued strings stretched between walls hover just below the skylights like atmospheric mist, while Middlebrook’s bold lines accentuate the grand scale of the corridor.

Many artists use transparent materials to suggest the ephemeral qualities of landscape. Nicole Chesney paints layers of lavender, blue, and gray on mirrored glass, while Sarah Braman creates a human-scaled container with purple tinted glass. Justen Ladda, Teresita Fernández, and Spencer Finch conspicuously employ light, pigment, and mirrors to express the transient shifts of environmental elements.

The one landscape painting — David Hockney’s Garrowby Hill from 1998 — acts as a historic cornerstone to the show. Although it has been widely reproduced, the thick impasto surface can be experienced only in person. A vibrant and bold depiction of Californian topography, it’s also now covered in glass, giving it yet another layer of surface appearance — one that is glossy, slick, protective, and reflective. As a painter, I can’t help but notice these surficial qualities. I also notice that, at a certain angle, Middlebrook’s mural is inadvertently superimposed on Hockney’s painting, offering a fresh look at the two works as they overlap. Both concerned with the color, spatial geometry, and perspective of California’s landscape, these two painted images seem to collapse time and space into one transparent and reflective point of view — like looking out a window at a landscape as it simultaneously reflects the architectural interior of the space we inhabit.