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2012 deCordova Biennial to showcase ‘hybrid practices’

By Cate McQuaid
Globe Correspondent / October 7, 2011

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The deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum has announced its slate for The 2012 deCordova Biennial, and the list is full of conceptual and process-driven artists who juggle many media.

“This year, we wanted another vision, another voice,’’ said curator Dina Deitsch, who has partnered with guest curator Abigail Ross Goodman. For 10 years, Goodman ran the forward-thinking Judi Rotenberg Gallery. “Just as we were talking about it, Abi closed the gallery. . . . She’s in tune with the edgy and contemporary art landscape in Boston.’’

Featuring work by 23 artists and collaboratives, with installations and performances reaching outside the museum to the sculpture park and even into Boston, the show opens Jan. 22.

The deCordova Biennial, initiated after executive director Dennis Kois joined the museum in 2008, is a revamped version of the annual summer exhibit the museum staged for 20 years. Deitsch organized the first biennial show, in 2010, which featured the work of 17 artists and was met with critical acclaim.

For the 2012 exhibit, Deitsch and Goodman visited close to 100 artists’ studios, then worked with an advisory committee to pare down their list. The biennial has no ascribed theme, but Goodman said a common motif emerged: “hybrid practices.’’

Indeed. You could call most of the biennial participants “slash artists.’’ Their descriptions are full of slashes: installation/performance/photography/ just about anything else.

In Matt Saunders’s work, painting crosses over to painterly photography; Megan and Murray McMillan use set design, installation art, performance, photography, and video to make lush video installations that comment on art history.

“So much of the biennial highlights emergent practices, people doing things that are different or new,’’ says Deitsch.

There are many more ephemeral, off-site, or performance-based works than ever before. Deitsch says that 17 or 18 artists will actually be featured inside the museum; the rest will be in the sculpture park and beyond.

Conceptual and activist artist Steve Lambert has a big, gaudy sign asking viewers to vote true or false about the statement “Capitalism works for me.’’ The sign will travel from the museum around the Boston area. In February, Caitlin Berrigan, a performance artist who stages participatory actions, will set up camp in the Cyclorama at the Boston Center for the Arts. She’ll host a panel discussion about class, cultural production, and food, and she’ll incite a food fight based on class distinctions, using donated food that would otherwise be disposed of.

“At the end of the day, it becomes a giant action painting,’’ Deitsch says.

Another theme is third-wave craft. Artists trained in a particular craft technique, such as jewelry making or quilting, infuse it with conceptual or performance art. There’s Lauren Kalman, originally a jewelry maker, who creates jewelry that mimics skin disease, and, using herself as a model, photographs it. Glass artist Chris Taylor experiments with how glass can look like something else - say, a broken Styrofoam cup - and also works with glassmaking as performance art.

Most of the artists in the biennial are conceptual, but Goodman says that doesn’t get in the way of aesthetic beauty. “There’s a richness with these artists,’’ she says. ‘We hope to broaden people’s idea of beauty.’’

Only a handful of artists deal strictly in the basics, painting and sculpture. Taylor Davis is primarily a sculptor. Joe Wardwell blends history with imagery from rock and heavy metal in his paintings. Ann Pibal paints geometric abstractions. Despite this small number, Deitsch says, painting will be everywhere in this show, at least in spirit.

“Painting is something these artists are all thinking about,’’ says Deitsch. “It’s a jumping-off point, conceptually.’’

Now that the artists have been chosen, the curators are anxious about how the show will come together. Unlike thematic exhibits - or, even easier, solo shows - the biennial relies on equal parts chaos, luck, and a strong but flexible curatorial approach.

“When the artists all come together in the space, it’s always a surprise,’’ says Deitsch. “It’s terrifying and exciting.’’

Artists in the 2012 deCordova Biennial: Antoniadis & Stone, Caitlin Berrigan, Taylor Davis, Jo Dery, Kim Faler, Matthew Gamber, Jessica Gath, Jonathan Gitelson, Eric Gottesman, Corin Hewitt, Lauren Kalman, Steve Lambert, Mary Lum, Megan and Murray McMillan, Ann Pibal, Matt Saunders, South End Knitters, Chris Taylor, Ven Voisey, Anna von Mertens, Joe Wardwell, Cullen Washington Jr., Joe Zane. For more information, visit www.decordova.org.

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@globe.com.