The Myth of Normal

A Celebration of Authentic Expression Past

October 5, 2023–May 19, 2024

The Myth of Normal: A Celebration of Authentic Expression looks at societal norms that have been codified over our collective past. Focusing on the achievements of MassArt’s alumni, this exhibition is guest-curated by Mari Spirito ’92, Executive Director of Protocinema, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

Gabor Maté’s 2022 book, The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture, written with Daniel Maté, examines beliefs and behaviors that are generally considered normal even though they are in fact making us emotionally and physically sick. Because of unhealthy norms, such as overworking, human beings are contorting themselves in order to survive day to day life. The Matés emphasize authentic expression as a means to work towards becoming whole. Building on the Matés’ writing, Spirito proposes that art, as a form of self-expression, plays a pivotal role in overall wellness.

The Myth of Normal: A Celebration of Authentic Expression takes over the museum: moving from the exterior to the lobby, foyer, and into both galleries.

Three thematic, interrelated groupings guide the visitor. The first zone holds artworks that address architecture as an extension of the body; the continuum of consciousness; breaking containment; and violence and violation. This section includes artworks by: Kate Finneran ’92; Chandra Méndez-Ortiz M’05; Shannon Palmer ’92; Heather Rowe ’93; and Zhidong Zhang M’20.

Deeper into the Bakalar Gallery untold and unheard histories, due to systemic and structural racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism, are revealed and personal stories interwoven, with Rashin Fahandej ’06; Tony Millionaire ’81; Loretta Park M’16; Luther Price ’87; Erin M. Riley ’07; Corinne Spencer ’10; Richard Streitmatter-Trần ’03; and Ezra Wube ’04.

Within the Matés’ complex research are findings that human emotional systems and immune systems are one and the same. This analysis is important, because it reveals that when we push down our emotions, we also push down our immune system. We do this when we are not expressing our honest feelings. We are forced to not be ourselves in order to survive in what has become a toxic modern society. This conformity makes us sick and gives us life-threatening diseases. Ascending to the Paine Gallery, we see a full expression, the museum roof has been digitally blown off, we encounter works by: Paul S. Briggs M’16; Nancy Callan ’96; Stephen Hamilton ’09; Maya Hayuk ’91; Gail Hendricks-Hill ’75; Christian Marclay ’80; Felipe Ortiz ’09; Jack Pierson ’86; Mark Skwarek ’01 and Joseph Hocking; Mimi Smith ’63; Tabboo! ’81; Kathleen White ’86; Jackie Winsor ’65; and Bahar Yürükoğlu M’11.

On the museum’s façade are newly commissioned public artworks by Cedric “Vise1” Douglas ’11; Steve Locke ’97, M'01, H’22; and in the foyer by Freedom Baird M’16. One way to counter this maladjustment is to share our real feelings with people we trust. Another way is to express our authentic ideas and emotions through art. Say what needs to be said, honestly and openly. Each of these artists have put authentic expression into action encouraging mutual re-learning, and well-being.

Explore 3D Tour

Free and open to the public. Always.

This exhibition was curated by Mari Spirito ’92. 

Mari Spirito is Executive Director and Curator of Protocinema, a cross-cultural art organization in Istanbul and New York, which she founded in 2011. In 2023 Protocinema produced Art, Ancestors, Ghosts, & the Dead, convening on attitudes towards death across cultures, with ICI (Independent Curators International) at The Clemente Center, New York. In 2022 Spirito launched Protodispatch, a monthly digital publication with Laura Raicovich. From 2013 to 2018 she programmed the Conversations program for both Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach, and was Director of 303 Gallery New York from 2000 to 2012. She is on the Board of Participant Inc, New York, and holds a BFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston.

With gratitude to all galleries, artist estates, family, friends, MAAM team, and MassArt students who collaborated with us: 

Friedman Benda, NY | Gallery Kayafas, Boston | Gordon Robichaux, NY | Habatat Galleries, MI | Ed Halter | KARMA Gallery, NY | Laisun Keane, Boston | Light Industry | Lisson Gallery, NY | Martos Gallery, NY | Microscope Gallery, NY | Jeremy Palmer and Family | Paula Cooper Gallery, NY | P•P•O•W., NY | Schantz Galleries | Trần Thị Thu Trang | Estate of Kathleen White with Rafael Sánchez | Patrick Brennan | Emily Canales | Wendy Díaz | Lexie Dowgiert | Reid Drum | Emily Elliott | Joy Feasley | Ethan Flematti | Erin Gallagher | Arielle Gordon | Nell Gould | Matthew Hinçman | Brian Hone | Elodie Hornedo | Gabby Kay | Aleks Laffey | Harry Liao | Jenn Lima | Janna Longacre | Kylie Marden | MassArt Compass Program | MassArt Print Lab | Jonise McCalla | Jennifer Nguyen | Dylan Reid | Shan Ross | Faeryn Seddon | Michelle Stevens | Paul Swenbeck | Aryn Tedstone | Willow Trodden | Lisa Tung | Chloé Zaug

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