An Artist + A Poet: A Review

About the Exhibition

The exhibition An Artist + A Poet runs in the Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery of the Boston Athenaeum from February 10, 2010 through April 10, 2010. This exhibition is open to the public.

The Boston Athenaeum, 10½ Beacon St., Boston, Massachusetts 02108.


I had never heard of George Nama nor Charles Simic before seeing an announcement for a joint exhibition of their works at the Boston Athenaeum. But after spending time in the exhibition, I am glad that I know them now. I wish that I had known about them sooner.

The opening reception was last night, one of the Boston Athenaeum’s event open to the public. I was not quite sure what to expect.

The Athenaeum puts on a lovely reception. The reception was an excellent opportunity to become acquainted with these two artists. A nice selection of cheeses; two nice wines — Trapiche Malbec and Ca Donini Pinot Grigio; and orange punch. A jazz trio played throughout the evening.

I liked the way the work was presented. About two dozen poems by Charles Simic were presented on the same page with etchings by George Nama. These were no ordinary pages, however. If I were to hold each page by its short edge, it would be about the width of my shoulders along the short edge and the distance from my shoulders to my knees along the long edge.

George Nama did versions of works as both etchings and paintings. Several paintings were on display. Many paintings hung near the page that included the etched version.

The presentation of Charles Simic’s poetry reminded me of the work The Malady of Death by Marguerite Duras. When you get close enough, the poem takes up your whole field of vision. I felt the world slip away, leaving nothing but me and the poem. Even the etchings faded away.

One poem, in particularly, called to me. It seemed to sit inside a larger world than some of the other poems.

The Vices of Evening

It’s the way the light and shadow
Pair off at the corner
While the night crowds to see
Behind our backs,

Perhaps catch us by surprise
With a single burnt matchstick
Left in someone’s hand,
Who forgot why he lit it

Unless it was for a lost dog
To find his way home
Through weedy lots
And past the painted women.

Charles Simic

There’s a good sampling of figuration and variations on figuration in George Nama’s work. I thought of the progressively more abstract sculpture series by Henri Matisse, The Back. In some of Nama’s works, you could see where he began with a human form and then created something abstract from it. I would hate to admit this to my art history professor, but I was more interested in Charles Simic’s work than I was in the abstracted figures of George Nama.

As I was leaving the lobby, I noticed a bas relief portrait of Dante that I hadn’t noticed before. I could not help thinking, “Abandon all hope, ye who exit here.”

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