Museum of New Art’s ‘Broken Open’ Exhibit

Aly Avakova, Contributing Writer

Portsmouth, NH- The Museum of New Art in Portsmouth (MONA) said goodbye on Sept. 25 to its most recent exhibition, ‘Broken Open.’

The show was free to the public as MONA is a non-profit and operates on donations. The exhibit featured works from a variety of predominantly female and non-binary artists, including Joy Curtis, Jennie Jieun Lee, Brie Ruais, Aparna Sarkar and Bianca Beck. It successfully unified the different works in painting, sculpture and ceramics, to tell the story of what it means to break open the body and the human experience in relation to gender identity and sexuality.

Sculpture by Bianca Beck. (Aly Avakova)

 Sarah Brewster, a museum guide who has been with MONA since its opening, perfectly explains the show’s essence. “I think it seeks to embody the body, and breaking out of the conformity of what the preconceived notion of what that would be.”

Sarah Brewster poses in front of art. (Aly Avakova)

 Shannon Hunter Bowser, interim executive director of MONA, who was present at closing night, also gave useful insight into understanding ‘Broken Open’. 

Hunter Bowser said the inspiration for the exhibit was conceived when Hillary Schaffner was reading the book “Ninth Street Women,” about post-war America. 

“There’s this kind of dialogue that says women can’t possibly make any art of merit because they are too preoccupied with their body and self-image,” said Bowser, referring to the ideas that Shaffner read about. From there, Shaffner decided to create the exhibit as a way to explore the  body as a resource. 

Shannon Hunter Bowser, interim executive director of MONA poses for a photo. (Aly Avakova)

Beck’s work featured in the exhibition consisted of giant vibrantly painted paper-mâché abstracted figures which were impossible to miss.

Sculpture by Bianca Beck. (Aly Avakova)

“She found these five artists who feel the body is a resource for them in one way or another, whether it is their physical way they create their art, or it’s exploring an internal landscape,” said Hunter Bowser.

 These ideas are especially evident in the work of Bianca Beck, one of the featured artists who was also present on closing night. 

“This work is very much about the power of the individual in relation to the collective, so others in community, or through protest or other ways that we come together; so, the way we become sort of bigger than we are just on our own,” said Beck.

Beck continued, “the way that I work with these pieces is very like… almost like a dance, where I’m responding to the form and the shape and that really happens in the process where I am painting them.” 

Artist, Bianca Beck poses for a photo. (Aly Avakova)

The concepts that ‘Broken Open’ invites the public to consider are in no way new, and they are pertinent to our society. Still, every story within the exhibit was unique.

“I think it’s important to come see a show like this because I think traditional media has failed us and this is an incredible opportunity to explore issues and ideas that are happening in our world right now through the lens of some of our most creative people; the artists. It’s a very intimate experience with content so you have this chance to kind of take it in, digest it and process it on your own without being really led, ” said Hunter Bowser.  “I think that’s where contemporary art kind of plays a role in a community like this right now.”