Artists are a shifty bunch. They are never quite tied to one identity or to one space they occupy. They prowl, they are marauders. When a place they’ve created is no longer habitable, they leave it behind and create another.
In a curious way, this is the season of temporary shelters. Room-size installations are the name of the game. Mobile homes in state of decadence or construction stir the artists’ imagination, allowing them to look at migration and dislocation. Martin Boyce, the Scottish artist showing now at the RISD Museum, built a classic Eames bookshelf that is not homey at all – rather, like his other grid-like modernist spaces, it looks suspiciously inhumane.
Francesco Clemente, the Italian artist, folds his own sense of instability and resource into “Encampment” – six full-size hand-painted tents at Mass MoCA. I wouldn’t mind hanging out under one of Clemente’s sensual, quasi-mythic renderings, where dreams, gods, icons of art and multiplicity of experience mingle.
The most famous temporary encampment of the season is the manger. Jesus, as the story goes, was born in uncertain circumstances and placed in a manger, a trough or crib where cattle fodder was placed. Whether the family was in a cave in Bethlehem or in a tent, the manger remains basic – and little models of it pop up all over the world. The peripatetic life, the search for a place as intersection of vertical and horizontal poles, of spirit and body, isn’t such a bad model, as all artists know. Empathy is a personal hearth that can be carried with you, no matter where.