Montserrat Galleries Update: Wish You Were There? Reviewed in The Boston Globe

October 23, 2013

Abigail Newbold’s installation “Dwelling Structure, Hope Chest, Porch Time” at Monserrat College of Art Gallery.

A critical view of utopia by Cate McQuaid, The Boston Globe

At Montserrat College of Art Gallery, “Wish You Were There?,” organized by gallery director and curator Leonie Bradbury, takes a critical view of utopia. That is, implicit in every vision of a perfect world, there’s awareness of all that’s wrong with the one we have.

But not enough works take on that complexity: The show often veers wildly from utopia to dystopia. Alex Lukas’s gorgeous mixed-media paintings of nature overtaking crumbling concrete structures look post-apocalyptic. With no signs of human habitation, they’re worse than dystopic.

In contrast, Amy Wilson’s winsome painting “A Utopian Vision (After Bosch)” takes her experiences during Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park two years ago and translates them into a Neverland for girls. They wander through the grass, swim, and congregate in domes, amid bits of text such as “the absence of corners would bring us together.” But if girls ran the world, would it truly be a better place?

Gregory Euclide’s landscape paintings sprout with actual plant life and move seamlessly from picture to reality. While they portray idyllic settings, they more deeply engage thematically with painting than with society.

The sharpest blend of hopes for the future and a gritty understanding of what can go wrong comes from Abigail Newbold. Her installation “Dwelling Structure, Hope Chest, Porch Time” reiterates her “Crafting Settlement” installation up earlier this year at the Currier Museum of Art. It features a puckish and eclectic group of tools and clothing and a small cabin. Like Lukas’s paintings, Newbold’s piece takes place sometime after disaster, but this time humans have survived, and begun to construct a new life.

Mary Anne Davis’s installation “Through the Mirror: Utopia Reconsidered” would work well in “About, With & For” at the BCA. Davis has set up a table and benches, surrounded by her mixed-media works promoting optimism. When I was there, she was serving tea to Montserrat students, discussing utopianism and what they might contribute to a better society.

Another feel-good artist: Merritt Kirkpatrick, who has covered a bench, a child’s bicycle, and a sled in colorful knitting, and put bright cozies on trees and railings around outside. Like Wilson, Kirkpatrick seems to cling to childhood. Her work is truly sweet, but if innocence is an equivalent to utopia — and maybe it is! — it won’t last for any of us.

Wish You Were There?

At: Montserrat College of Art Gallery, 23 Essex St., Beverly, through Dec. 14. 978-921-4242,