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Inside squash: art and sport confined

By Cate McQuaid
Globe Correspondent / April 29, 2009
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The game of squash has come a long way since early players whacked balls at a debtors' prison in London in the early 19th century. From there it traveled to English boarding schools, into the realm of the upper class, where it has an avid following today.

Carlin Wing, a photographer and video artist, played squash at Harvard and was a professional player before going to California Institute of the Arts for her master's degree. Her well-timed show at anthony greaney cleverly examines squash, class, and the spectacle of a sport underwritten by corporate financiers such as JP Morgan Chase & Co. and the now bygone Bear Stearns Companies Inc.

The main event is two gorgeous large-scale photographs of squash tournaments played in translucent cubes inside Grand Central Station. Chandeliers pour warm light over the elegant, Beaux Arts-style hall, while colder white lights illuminate the modern cube below. High-paying customers sit on the sidelines.

Wing took long exposures; the fast-moving players fade to traces, achieving transcendence. Even so, the box they play in suggests they're trapped, not unlike prisoners. Wing also draws parallels to the white-cube art gallery: The glittering, high-end commodification of art and that of sport meld here into one.

Also on view, Web grabs of squash exhibitions played in the Field Museum in Chicago, at the foot of the Egyptian Pyramids, at Boston Symphony Hall, and elsewhere. In each of these tiny, blurred shots, the bright court is the size of an actual squash ball, giving the installation a purposefully bouncy quality. They reveal the entitled culture of high-end exhibition squash. I, for one, had no idea there were squash tourneys at Symphony Hall.

Finally, Wing includes an elegantly shot video that follows her as she plays squash on the street (including against the mirrored walls of the John Hancock Building), humanizing the game. She sprinkles the video with odd trivia, such as "the British Empire considered sports as civilizing," pulling together all her themes with understated wit. She's found provocative content in her game, and she presents it with a sterling attention to form.

In focus
Photographer Bill Jacobson used to make images that were wildly out of focus. Because they were hard but not impossible to read, they sparked longing and nostalgia. Lately, as his show at Robert Klein demonstrates (which includes a handful of older shots), everything is in focus.

In "A Series of Human Decisions," he examines architectural spaces such as therapists' offices and artists' studios. Jacobson attends to the forms of these rooms, and how they guide the eye. "A Series of Human Deci sions (1941)" shows a small black metal desk and chair set at a diagonal to walls of cherry cabinets and bookcases. There's a precision to the angles and planes of this scene. They feel empty, calculated.

Then he set out for the desert to study the horizon line. The astonishing second group, "Some Planes," features bleached tones and grand expanses; they're almost abstract, and recall the meditative clarity and horizontality of paintings by Agnes Martin .

Some, such as "Some Planes (204)" are almost without texture, just a curtain of pale, pale blue over a sea of beige. Then there's "Some Planes (436)," in which the eternal white sky looms over a field lumpy with hummocks striated in blue-gray and mauve. These are gorgeous works, crisp and unearthly.

The art of data
"PARSE: Visualizing Data That Makes Us Human" features work by artists who take raw data and turn it into art. Some are more successful than others. The show, at Axiom Center for New and Experimental Media, is presented as part of the Boston Cyberarts Festival, and curated by Axiom's founding director, Heidi Kayser.

"Syntenograph," by Ben Fry and Eugene Kuo, makes drawings based on patterns found among the genetic codes of several creatures. They spring from the viewer spinning a dial that moves the codes around. A random drawing is a random drawing; it lacks human intention. Jennifer Hall gives physical form to patterns of brain waves generated during REM sleep, but here we see an artist's sensibility at work: One of her pieces is made of sterling silver, and looks like a crown made of dribbling mercury.

It's hard to resist "Fleshmap," by Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg. It features beautiful images of a man and a woman over which they have charted information gathered over the Internet about what body parts people like to touch, and to have touched. It is fun and yummy, if not eye-opening.

Finally, Jason Salavon finds scores of an iconographic image - such as a child in Santa's lap, or a bride and groom - and digitally mushes them all together. The results are like an early Bill Jacobson photo - all fuzz, but with just enough information that you know exactly what you're looking at - as if the essence of Santa has no detail, but is just something you sense.

CARLIN WING: Hitting Walls (v.vii) At: anthony greaney, 460 Harrison Ave., through May 16. 617-482-0055,

www.anthonygreaney.com

BILL JACOBSON: Some Planes At: Robert Klein Gallery,

38 Newbury St., through May 9. 617-267-7997,

www.robertkleingallery.com

PARSE: Visualizing Data That Makes Us Human At: Axiom Center for New and Experimental Media,

141 Green St., Jamaica Plain, through May 10. 617-676-5904, www.axiomart.org