Through Layers and Leaves (Closer and Closer)

Martin Boyce


David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT (Building 76) Lobby

Martin Boyce’s works allude to the ideals of modernist design and architecture, a legacy inhabited by the dream of a better world. Drawing clues from the visual language and fabrication of iconic modernist designs, Boyce’s work investigates how modernism’s utopian promises have vanished while leaving behind a style of forms. At the same time his work gestures towards an alternative life these forms might lead if separated from their modernist context.

Boyce’s installations often stage the outdoors within the gallery space, evoking an entire landscape through a few carefully chosen details such as neon lights, wire fencing, and ventilation grills. The installation Through Layers and Leaves (Closer and Closer) continues Martin Boyce’s sculptural investigations of modernist design history, its visual language, and imagined alternative narratives. A photograph of four concrete trees found in a book on French Modernist gardens has emerged as a particularly important reference for Boyce. These concrete trees created by cubist sculptors Jan and Joël Martel were commissioned for the 1925 Exposition des arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. From the shape of these trees Boyce has constructed a pattern of quadrilateral forms captured in a galvanized stainless steel wall frame. The steel frame is installed on the wall as if it were emerging from the original structure of the building. A number of perforated, painted steel panels set at angles in the frame serve as leaf-like forms.

The color palette for the panels is elicited from the distinctive colors in Art Deco designs. Boyce deploys colors in the palette into two hues, one brighter and the other paler, thereby bringing a specific moment of the modernist past into the present. The quadrilateral forms of the wall frame are repeated on three brass wall grills placed low near the floor that contain text that reads “closer” “and” “closer.” 

The entire work spans the wall of the lobby of the David S. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT and operates in the interstices between art, architecture, and design, between the space of a public sculpture, and the privacy of a domestic realm. Boyce relates the new work specifically to the research practice of the building, as he has spoken of it in relation to the significance of recognizing patterns and relative scale in research.

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Galvanized mild steel, epoxy paint, and acid etched brass


117.6 in. x 1186.2 in. (298.7 cm x 3012.95 cm)


Commissioned with MIT Percent-for-Art Funds and a generous gift from the Robert D. Sanders (‘64) and
Sara-Ann Sanders Family