MASS MoCA: Studies from a Museum Commission

August 15 – Sept 17

The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) has commissioned Barbara Ernst Prey to paint a groundbreaking monumental watercolor for their new Building 6 that opened its doors to the public at the end of May 2017.

Study for Building 6 Portrait: Interior, 2015-2017

Study for Building 6 Portrait: Interior, 2015-2017

Barbara Prey’s massive interior portrait of MASS MoCA’s 120,000 square foot Building 6 depicts part of the historic mill in its raw, un-renovated state, just prior to the beginning of the construction work. Measuring 8 feet tall by 15 feet wide, the painting is monumental by any standard, but for a watercolor on paper—perhaps the most unforgiving combination of any painterly media—the undertaking is truly breathtaking as it stretches the medium in new and exciting ways. The monumental scale of Prey’s project broke boundaries and opened up new ideas and concepts within the artist’s own practice; the project was a technical tour de force, requiring specially made papers, mounts, frames as well as an extra large studio space to paint.

As an artist that  works mainly on site, Prey spent countless hours in the space at MASS MoCA, looking, distilling and thinking about the architecture; as the concept developed, she started working on preliminary drawings during her visits. The studies began small and in pencil to accurately capture the architecture and overall composition; Prey then moved to color and larger formats, working out the light and the complex colors.

The drawings displayed in this exhibition serve as references for the final painting and uniquely chronicle the development of Barbara Prey’s commission for MASS MoCA.

The finished painting installed at MASS MoCA's latest addition Building 6

The finished painting installed at MASS MoCA's latest addition Building 6


Inflection Points: 40 Years Painting Maine

Extended through Sept 17

Opening Reception on Monday, July 31 from 6-8pm

Barbara Prey Projects is proud to announce Inflection Points, the most recent works of internationally celebrated artist Barbara Ernst Prey, July 15 - September 4.  Taking the viewer from watercolors to oils, the White House to the Space Station, the architecture of Maine to the interior commission at MASS MoCA, this monumental and timely exhibit captures the Inflection Points of Barbara Ernst Prey’s place in American Art.

Blueberry Fields, Oil on panel, 11 x 14 inches, 2016-17

Blueberry Fields, Oil on panel, 11 x 14 inches, 2016-17

This exhibit considers Prey's distinct perspective as a 21st century female artist, revising the male dominated art-historical watercolor tradition, as she explores the depth of the American landscape and American identity.  Her work is part of a trajectory of American Art but built on abstract painting as well, with a conceptual underpinning of the composition and points of empathy around color, composition and subject. Her belief that color is the most powerful way to communicate drove Prey to develop groundbreaking, intricate layering techniques.  Beginning with marks on paper, and then built up through her evocative use of color and dozens of thin washes, often incorporating parts of her surrounds-  water, soil, crushed shells.

An American painter with an international reputation, Prey was appointed by the President of the United States to the National Council on the Arts, the advisory board of the National Endowment for the Arts. Members are chosen for their established record of distinguished service and achievement in the arts.  She has maintained a studio and painted in Maine for over 40 years. Inflection Points: 40 Years Painting Maine is a synthesis of her dialogue with her immediate environs in the Port Clyde, Mainewhich led to the Inflection Point of her MASS MoCA commission:

“Barbara’s painting will be monumental by any standard, but for a watercolor on paper – perhaps the most unforgiving combination of any painterly media — the undertaking is truly breathtaking.”

                                            — MASS MoCA on Barbara Prey’s commission for the Museum

Seavy Island, Oil on panel

Seavy Island, Oil on panel

The northeastern state has a long tradition in the history of American landscape painting, thinking of artists such as Hopper, Church, Homer, Wyeth—but few, if any, are women. And for Prey it is not only Maine’s history as a landscape subject that attracted generations of artists, there is a personal connection as she has family roots on the St. George Peninsula dating to the 1700s, when her mother’s ancestors lived in some of the same white houses that we now find in her paintings.

Fireweed II, Watercolor, 28 x 40 inches  

Fireweed II, Watercolor, 28 x 40 inches

 

About the artist

Prey is one of the key figures of 21st century painting. She was appointed by the President of the United States to the National Council on the Arts, the advisory board of the National Endowment for the Arts. Members are chosen for their established record of distinguished service and achievement in the arts. Previous members include noted artists Leonard Bernstein, John Steinbeck, and Helen Frankenthaler.

Prey graduated from Williams College where she studied with Lane Faison as part of the Williams College Art Mafia and holds a master’s from Harvard University where she was able to continue her art history studies. She was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and a Henry Luce Foundation grant that enabled her to travel, study and exhibit extensively in Europe and Asia. She is an art blogger for The Huffington Post, a frequent lecturer and an arts advocate as well as adjunct faculty at Williams College.

Prey’s paintings are included in some of the most important public and private collections around the world including The White House (one of two living female artists), The National Endowment for the Arts, The Brooklyn Museum, The Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Kennedy Space Center, the Farnsworth Art Museum, Williams College Museum of Art, Hood Museum of Art Dartmouth College, The Taiwan Museum of Art, New York Historical Society, the Henry Luce Foundation and the Bush Presidential Library and Center. She is commissioned by NASA to document space history.