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'Golden Arm' detail
At MassArt, Beverly Somme's "Golden Arm" is part of "Crafty," spotlighting artists who use methods associated with craft.

Academic inspiration

Universities offer a wealth of fine exhibits

How has technology changed the way we experience our own senses, our own bodies? What value does society put on childhood? Who are some of the best young photographers in the world? These are some of the questions that exhibitions at local colleges and universities will explore this fall. The Boston area boasts many outstanding learning institutions, and most of them have galleries or museums that mount shows every bit as bracing as the coursework.

Start at the art colleges, where the curricula and art are intertwined. Massachusetts College of Art has a track record of splashy, innovative exhibitions. This September, ``Crafty" spotlights contemporary artists who deploy methods and materials traditionally associated with craft. This isn't your grandmother's quilt show: Look for installation art, video, sculpture, and public art.

``Lois Mailou Jones: The Early Works" is a departure for the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, which usually shows rigorous contemporary art. The show takes you back to the Jazz Age and the Great Depression via the works of an African-American woman (and SMFA grad) who became a prolific and admired artist. The show focuses on textile designs (talk about crafty!) and studies she made from 1927 to 1937.

The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University often hosts small but notable traveling shows, and first on the docket this fall is ``reGeneration: 50 Photographers of Tomorrow." It's an international exhibit from the Musée de l'Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland, of work by students at some of the world's top photography schools.

Boston University isn't an art school, but it has one -- the College of Fine Arts. The BU Art Gallery, lodged on CFA's first floor, covers a variety of bases ; next month, it's ``Offspring: Representations of Children in Contemporary Visual Culture." The show examines how children are visualized, perceived, and packaged in 21st-century American popular culture.

The Tufts University Art Gallery leans toward the cutting edge. ``Gunther Selichar : Media Machines" will feature large-scale digital photographs that take an up-close look at the equipment we rely on for information. Also at Tufts will be ``Baghdad and Beyond: Drawings by Steve Mumford ." Mumford got into Baghdad with press credentials and started documenting what he saw in watercolor. He renews a tradition of combat art that has lapsed since the rise of photojournalism.

The most conceptual, theory-rich, heady shows appear at the MIT List Visual Arts Center. It initiates a meaty yearlong project, ``Sensorium: Embodied Experience, Technology and Contemporary Art," with one exhibition this fall and a follow-up show in the spring. What sort of impact has technology had on the five senses? An international roster of artists and curators, including Christian Jankowski and Bruce Nauman , tangles with the issue .

This year marks the 400th anniversary of Rembrandt's birth, and the Harvard University art museums celebrate with ``Rembrandt and the Aesthetics of Technique," featuring drawings, prints, and one painting by the great master, as well as several works by his proteges, at the Busch-Reisinger Museum. The Harvard art museums have deep collections (rivaled locally only by the Museum of Fine Arts) and scholarly exhibits that typically match that depth.

Harvard's Fogg Art Museum will offer a morsel of American history: `` `A Public Patriotic Museum' -- Artworks and Artifacts From the Artemas Ward House." Ward commanded the American forces besieging the British in Boston in April 1775, before George Washington took over. The show juxtaposes Ward's belongings with those of his more anonymous female descendants, who worked to preserve his place in history, and questions the role of gender in writing history.

Also at the Fogg, ``DISSENT!" will examine political, religious, and social resistance in the context of printmaking, from Francisco Goya 's criticizing ideological suppression in Spain two centuries ago to Richard Serra 's protesting the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Boston College's McMullen Museum, which has a track record of strong scholarly shows that span art history, has scored a coup with ``Cosmophilia: Islamic Art From the David Collection, Copenhagen." The David is one of the most comprehensive Western collections of Islamic art. The show focuses on Islam's emphasis on ornamentation, with works dating to the seventh century.

The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis, which focuses on contemporary art, offers two fall shows. Likely to be both dark and playful, ``Balance and Power: Performance and Surveillance in Video Art" ranges from the early days of video art to the present and looks at how we play to the camera. Also at the Rose, ``Clare Rojas: Hope Spring Is Eternal" will feature crisp gouache-on-canvas paintings that refer to and conjure folklore, fairy tales, and fables. Rojas is both an artist and a musician; her guitar and banjo music will be an intrinsic part of this exhibition.

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