Toy Stories
In the galleries, artists keep their distance
By GREG COOK | May 28, 2008


The Boston Center for the Arts’ Mills Gallery (539 Tremont Street) has up through June 15 “ARTADIA BOSTON 2007,” with the work of nine Boston-area artists or collectives who won the inaugural round of Boston art grants from the New York–based Artadia foundation. It’s a good mix of conceptual and visual art, though the show has more potential than payoff. Among the best stuff are Hannah Barrett’s paintings, which mix-and-match Civil War–era photo portraits to make witty weird male-female hybrids. The paintings mull gender and sexuality, but mostly they intrigue as freak-show personalities.

There’s also a pair of conceptual projects among the highlights, but they’re left underexplained. John Osorio-Buck’s U7K55: Sustainable Kiosk System looks like a coffee stand (with attached greenhouse) for the Apocalypse. It’s as if Joseph Beuys weren’t just trying to heal our psychic wounds but were aiming to provide actual disaster relief.

The National Bitter Melon Council (Hiroko Kikuchi, Jeremy Chi-Ming Liu, Misa Saburi, and Andi Sutton), meanwhile, poses as a product advocacy group while attempting to build community by sharing bitter melon, a common food among the city’s Asian-Americans. These folks transform the gallery office into their, uh, corporate headquarters and invite visitors to take a melon from a pile and leave something of equal value in exchange. People have left money, a pencil sharpener, shopping coupons, business cards, train passes, and a napkin with a phone number scribbled on it. A theme vaguely emerges of artists pursuing new social engagements, new sexualities, new ways to save the world at a moment when everything from our wars to the economy has gone to shit and it seems we have to help one another because our leaders have let us down.