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The Year in Art

Uli Loskot

Top Ten 2006

The Year in News Republican rule was supposed to be good for Maryland, tightening up the fiscal scene and challenging... | By Van Smith

The Year in Quotes 1 "We dress up funny, run around in the woods, and hit each other with sticks. There's something ...

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The Year in Art The year's past first Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays have been ridiculously event-packed. How to ...

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Posted 12/13/2006

The year's past first Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays have been ridiculously event-packed. How to make it to all the openings, happenings, readings, performances, whathaveyous? And it was during just one such failed attempt to bop around town to four or 11 different openings that the thought flashed through the brain: Just when did Baltimore get so effing jam-packed with visual-arts events?

It didn't happen overnight, that's for sure. For what feels like forever under-the-radar DIY was the only vital thing going on around town. Recent years have witnessed a flowering of upstart galleries and spaces, our fair burg finally starting to gain the wall-space real estate commensurate with its artist population. We still have a ways to go--we need more galleries working with and for both clients and artists to bulk up Baltimore's middle ground between pants-seat guerrilla show and big-ticket museum show--but it feels that seeds for such are being sown.

More importantly, everybody--artists, curators, museums, gallery owners--are stepping their games up. Kudos to the American Visionary Art Museum's, Baltimore Museum of Art's, and Walters Arts Museum's continued strong, creative exhibitions--and much love for the BMA's Darsie Alexander, who is not only bringing strong work to the BMA but also adding a much needed sense of play to local contemporary art. The BMA's outdoor works during October's Free Fall Baltimore were a welcome visual feast, and anybody who welcomes the Lexie Mountain Boys to build human pyramids in the sculpture garden is A-OK by our books.

That eye on quality continued down to the smaller galleries and spaces. God bless Area 405, Current Gallery, Load of Fun Studios, Sub-Basement Artists Studios, and all that sail with them. Congrats, Jackie Milad, on taking over Goucher College's Rosenberg Gallery and continuing its fine exhibition runs. Cheers, city of Baltimore, for awarding $25,000 to the much deserving Laure Drogoul with the inaugural Janet and Walter Sondheim Prize at this past year's Artscape--now, please let us know that such a needed, juried artist's funding source is going to continue in some fashion annually. And to the late Peter Zahorecz, thanks for everything.

The most memorable show of the year, though, was also the most unusual show of the year. The Contemporary Museum's Headquarters marked a high-water mark for the quasi-political shows that have coursed through Baltimore over the past two years, and which continues with Re:location at the Contemporary right now. Whether or not these shows will yield vital art or politics remains to be seen; that they're sincerely trying to bridge the many gaps between local art and local activism is without doubt. Salud. (Bret McCabe)

1
Headquarters: Investigating the Creation of the Ghetto and the Prison Industrial Complex, Contemporary Museum Bold, elaborate, amorphous, sprawling, smart, alive--former curator Cira Pascual Marquina massaged the Contemporary Museum into putting its gallery space where its political mouth is by turning the institution's resources over to a loose organization of local grass-roots social-justice organizations and a handful of local, national, and international activism-minded artists and collectives. And what they hatched was less art or activist product than steppingstone, that first push to make something happen. Was it effective? It's way too early to tell, but the fact that it did spawn a local activism network is a tall order for any public event, visual arts-related or otherwise. (BM)

2
Dan Steinhilber, Baltimore Museum of Art Russell Baker once stated, "The goal of all inanimate objects is to resist man and utterly defeat him." That's why I'm smitten with Dan Steinhilber's work in general, and most especially with his absolutely brilliant, riotous installation at the BMA. Steinhilber's roomfuls of Styrofoam peanuts reveal them as insidious foes. They might pose as a useful ally when additional insulation is called for but, ultimately, they demonstrate a form of nearly impossible anarchy. The tiny, plump white terrorists that Steinhilber battles--with his arsenal of every conceivable heavy-duty household appliance--merely scatter further in defiance. It's full-scale war in those rooms, and yet it is so absurdly mesmerizing, wickedly subversive, and very funny. (Deborah Macleod)

3
Transmodern Age How did Baltimore get so lucky to receive an arts festival like Transmodern Age? Is its annual visitation payback for decades of unselfish dedication to our small yet percolating community? Whatever the karmic reasons, show me one culture vulture in Soho or Austin or San Francisco whose head wouldn't be turned by this blow-your-mind-and-rock-the-house creative convergence. This year (is it possible?) was even better than the last, with four, count 'em, four days of site-specific installations, music, performance, and, for the first time, film. And just to frost the cake, half of the events were free to the public. Transmodern Age, will you marry me? (Violet Glaze)

4
Material Matters, Maryland Art Place Maryland Art Place, not typically known for controversial or political statements, really outdid itself with "Material Matters"--an exhibit showcasing work by 10 artists who subvert imagery from consumer culture to provide visual commentary on American capitalism and politics. Curated by Jason Hughes of Gallery Four fame, the show's highlights included fiber artist Liz Ensz's Middle East-inspired gas pump/SUV patterned fabrics; Simón Vega's "Shanty Mall," a doll-sized version of a shopping plaza sculpted out of cardboard, discarded fast-food packaging, and other examples of urban detritus/Third World shantytown building materials; and Cliff Evans' 15-minute moving-image projection, "The Road to Mount Weather," a collage of iconic political and religious images nicked from the internet. Thought-provoking, skillful, and witty all around. (J. Bowers)

5
Louise Bourgeois: Femme and Louise Bourgeois: Prints and Unique Works on Paper, Walters Art Museum, Contemporary Museum and Goya Contemporary Sure, Louise Bourgeois is one of the most provocative and important contemporary sculptors working today, but her freakishly feminine spiders and mutilated dress forms were, surprisingly, not the main reason why this three-museum Bourgeois-a-go-go worked so fabulously well. It's fairly common for the Walters and BMA to team up for joint exhibitions, but the Walters, the Contemporary, and often-overlooked Hampden gem Goya Contemporary? Each gallery offered a wholly unique, yet complementary experience--you could learn about Bourgeois at the Contemporary, wander over to the Walters to see some of the sculptor's most celebrated works mingle seamlessly with historic artifacts, then zip up the JFX to appreciate her lesser-known drawing talents. A rare treat for art aficionados, feminists, and students alike. (JB)

6
Raymond Loewy: Designs for a Consumer Culture, UMBC's Center for Art and Visual Culture The look of our culture's tangible products--lipsticks, radios, refrigerators, Air Force One and Coke bottles and the Lucky Strike logo--was first imagined by industrial designer Raymond Loewy. UMBC's Center for Art and Visual Culture hosted this traveling retrospective of the innovative designer's portfolio, lighting its gallery space like a showroom floor to play up the chrome, glass, and candy-red enamel on display. What's most startling is not how gorgeous, optimistic, or elegant Loewy's designs were, but how seamlessly his vision dissolved into the fabric of our century. His genius, this exhibit makes clear, is akin to how Flaubert declared an author should appear in his work: "present everywhere and visible nowhere." (VG)

7
Their Eyes Are Watching You, Goucher College's Rosenberg Gallery Their Eyes Are Watching You won my heart partly because it was a smart show about our current surveillance predicament--well-vetted, with psychological range and specimen-hood. And partly because it was so perfectly sited in a gallery that is somewhat vulnerably also a public space in a suburban campus, such that through the pilgrimage to the show you become partly fixed in the process of living its more clarified messages. And the peculiar magic of several of the works by clyde forth, Heather Boaz, and Rick Delaney supplied it with the desired dispensation that such pilgrimages are expected to impart. (DM)

8
Automation Constipation, Current Gallery Surely the eyes deceive. Is Adrian Lohmüller's "Fecal Commerce" project really related to finding places to poop? Did some people sarcastically really stage a "Pity Party"? Is that a mock Twin Towers tribute made out of cardboard boxes? Current Gallery's kitchen-sink exercise in pan-fried brain spooge was also one the year's most offhanded and sincere comments on the total crap that clutters our lives, a wily eye poke stained by the disdain of youth. Have we seen its likes before? Of course. Do we need such reminders? If you actually sought out online photos of Britney's vadge, by all means, yes. (BM)

9
Willie Birch: Exodus, Revelation, and Reality and Celebrating Freedom: The Art of Willie Birch, Maryland Institute College of Art MICA's two exhibitions of New Orleans native and alumnus Willie Birch offered a crystalline vision into the moving works of a man with a big brain and even bigger heart. The large-scale drawings and papier-mâché and mixed-media sculptures on view emotionally conjure a living, breathing city before and after Katrina, distilling the human creativity that defined New Orleans--and will power its rebirth--into candid street scenes and totemic forms as viscerally mind-infiltrating as Giacometti's. (BM)

10
Martin and Lewis, Whole Gallery Fun: There is no such thing as too much of it in the gallery world. Art in general is way, way, way too bourgeois, and anything willing to poke holes in its grim face is welcome. Local artist-turned-armchair curator Sarada Conaway's Martin and Lewis extrapolated a sincere appreciation for the comedy duo of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis into a straight man/funny man organizing theme, moving from arch conceptual teamwork to the mirthfully entertaining pairings of Sara Dierck and Michael Dodge. The show was fun and the work more than a mere joke--a win-win combination. (BM)

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The Year In Tracks (12/15/2009)
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The Year in News (12/9/2009)

The Year in Movies (12/9/2009)

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