Boston

Mona Hatoum at ICA Boston

Mona Hatoum’s solo exhibition, currently on view at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, is made entirely of newly gifted works from philanthropist and political activist Barbara Lee. The Barbara Lee Family Foundation is focused on advancing female representation in politics. Lee is a major supporter of Hilary Clinton, in addition to being a collector who has shifted her focus exclusively to female artists. At the end of 2014, she donated forty-three works by twenty-five female artists from eight different countries to the ICA, including Tara Donovan, Marlene Dumas, and Amy Sillman, all of whom had their first major U.S. exhibitions at the museum. The gift, valued around $10 million, is the largest in the institution’s history and a “game changer.”[1]

Mona Hatoum. Natura morta (Edwardian vitrine), 2010; Murano glass and cabinet; 54 ½ x 24 x 11 ¾ inches. The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Gift of Barbara Lee, The Barbara Lee Collection of Art by Women. Courtesy of Alexander and Bonin. Photo: Joerg Lohse.

Mona Hatoum. Natura Morta (Edwardian Vitrine), 2010; Murano glass and cabinet; 54 ½ x 24 x 11 ¾ in. The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Gift of Barbara Lee, The Barbara Lee Collection of Art by Women. Courtesy of Alexander and Bonin. Photo: Joerg Lohse.

Without a doubt, a gift this generous, focused, and conscious of the gender inequities that plague so many museum collections plants fertile roots for the ICA’s future curatorial innovations and potential loan relationships. Also currently on view is Transcending Material, a selection of the museum’s collection that mixes much of Lee’s recent donation with previously acquired works. It is clear the ICA was nimble in adjusting its programming to showcase these newly expanded offerings. By having all three concurrent solo exhibitions by women (Arlene Schechet in the main gallery; Hatoum and Erin Shirreff in the smaller galleries), the ICA is a stirring inspiration, if only for its outright rarity.

Mona Hatoum was born in Lebanon to Palestinian parents, who had to renew their residency annually.[2] Hatoum’s father worked at the British embassy, which entitled the family to British citizenship. When the artist first visited London in 1975 in her early 20s, civil war broke out in Lebanon and she was unable to return home. It was nearly a decade until she saw her parents again. These early experiences of displacement and familial separation set off a nomadic trajectory for Hatoum, who currently splits her time between London and Berlin while not traveling internationally to a variety of exclusive artist residencies. “I think best on the move,” she has said, feeling both “at home and alien at any place.”[3] This unease with stable definitions of home is a theme running throughout the artist’s practice.

Mona Hatoum. T42, 1993-1998; stoneware; 2 1/4 x 9 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches. The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Gift of Barbara Lee, The Barbara Lee Collection of Art by Women. Courtesy of Alexander and Bonin. Photo: Iain Dickens.

Mona Hatoum. T42, 1993-1998; stoneware; 2 1/4 x 9 1/2 x 5 1/2 in. The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Gift of Barbara Lee, The Barbara Lee Collection of Art by Women. Courtesy of Alexander and Bonin. Photo: Iain Dickens.

The ICA’s presentation features sculptural pieces that Hatoum has become well known for: exquisitely fabricated objects aimed to play with a viewer’s sense of the uncanny, integrating a kind of visceral violence within domestic symbols. The gallery walls are painted a deep red, uniting the works in a pseudo-interior home space. Rubber Mat (1996) is the scale and size of a typical welcome mat, only made out of transparent silicon forms molded to look like intestines. Dormeuse (1998) is a chaise lounge, in its classically feminine, elegant form, only made from riveted steel. Natura Morta (Edwardian Vitrine) (2010) is a cabinet filled with Murano glass forms that resemble both colored fruits and hand grenades. Performance Still (1985/95) is the only two-dimensional work in the show, a documentation of a performance, which feels somewhat out of place in the room.

Mona Hatoum. Performance Still, 1985/95; gelatin silver print mounted on aluminum; 30 x 42 ½ inches. The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Gift of Barbara Lee, The Barbara Lee Collection of Art by Women. Courtesy of Alexander and Bonin.   Photo: Stephen White.

Mona Hatoum. Performance Still, 1985/95; gelatin silver print mounted on aluminum; 30 x 42 ½ in. The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Gift of Barbara Lee, The Barbara Lee Collection of Art by Women. Courtesy of Alexander and Bonin. Photo: Stephen White.

All of the sculptural pieces operate successfully, drawing in viewers quickly and imparting some uncomfortable and loaded conceptual reverberations. There is, however, a sense of missed opportunity in the curation to apply new connections to allusions as rich as Hatoum’s. All of the works on display have been previously shown in similar combinations in a variety of fairs and exhibitions, most of which were well documented and contributed to the artist’s high regard. Though Mona Hatoum is absent of creative intervention from the ICA, it is well worth a visit, if only to see the holdings, which will no doubt inform the museum’s future direction.

[1] http://www.artery.wbur.org/2014/12/19/ica-gift-women-artists

[2] www.artnews.com/2015/08/21/making-the-ordinary-anything-but-mona-hatoum-on-her-unnerving-sculptures-in-2005/

[3] www.artnews.com/2015/08/21/making-the-ordinary-anything-but-mona-hatoum-on-her-unnerving-sculptures-in-2005/

Mona Hatoum is on view at the ICA Boston through November 29, 2015.

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