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Seeking stillness

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
​Through September 3, 2018

Mark Rothko: Reflection, a display of 11 paintings. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

What is stillness? A word describing the absence of physical movement is also evocative of mental peace. Is stillness permanent or ethereal? It’s a sought-after human experience, yet so many struggle with how to find it. Whether we meditate, read, or take long walks, strategies for revealing a sense of internal peace involve a sustained personal effort. With yoga, historically defined as the stilling of the whirling mind, “stilling” is a verb. One is actively involved in removing the fidgets of mind and body to reveal the quiet calm of stillness.

In Seeking Stillness, the Museum of Fine Arts juxtaposes sculpture of three dimensions with expressions of formlessness. The serene and mundane subject matter point out the true beauty and potential banality of finding and experiencing stillness. At face value, the work conveys meaning. With a bit more effort, engaged viewers will practice their own “stilling.”

Mostly contemporary, with a notable exception, the art is organized into three categories over as many galleries. The “process” gallery showcases the art making itself and the meditative practice that absorbs and engages creator and viewer. Free of recognizable subject matter, the art encourages us to evaluate, have an opinion, and look again. The “nature” room celebrates sprawling landscapes and magnifies detailed geology. Immersed in the power and abstraction of nature from different scales and vantage points, one can begin to recognize one’s own encompassing and interwoven nature revealed in stillness. The “spaces” gallery showcases sculpture, diagrammatic abstractions, and evocative photographs where conveyed meaning extends beyond the boundaries of the captured subject matter. With a greater sense of context, more meaning is revealed.

Set aside in its own alcove, Rosso Fiorentino’s Dead Christ with Angels depicts the exact moment of resurrection. Like the instant when what goes up changes direction to come back down, the stillness here depicts the shift from mortality to divinity, from death to everlasting life.

A worthwhile exhibition, Seeking Stillness culls diverse artistic voices, each offering specific insight to inform the seeker’s independent process and style of exploration.

The Dead Christ with Angels, by Rosso Fiorentino, about 1524–27. Oil on panel, 52.5 × 41 inches. Charles Potter Kling Fund. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston