Art in Lincoln in 2016 was highlighted by the best multi-artist contemporary art exhibition to be held in the city in years and the most important series of work to come from a Nebraska-based artist in decades.
It also saw the city’s galleries, museums and pop-up show venues filled with a couple of dozen excellent shows, evidence that Lincoln’s art scene continues to thrive, producing work and exhibitions well above what would be expected from a city of its size.
It took some effort to narrow those shows down to a top 10. But here it is -- my best of art in Lincoln for 2016:
1a. “Uncommon Likeness,” Sheldon Museum of Art. “Uncommon Likeness: Identity in Flux” uses 18 works to explore questions of what is identity and how is it represented in art. The show doesn’t answer those questions. But it provides some guidance, looking at ethnicity, the assumption of multiple identities and roles and observations from history in multiple media, incorporating three-dimensional objects along with paintings and photographs. The objects, which include Nick Cave’s “Soundsuit,” a Santeria-influenced abstract painting, a creepy Cindy Sherman photographic “self portrait” and a Francisco de Goya etching, don’t fit together in any formal manner. But each has a powerful impact and, taken as a whole, make up a fine show of contemporary art that looks at “portraiture” and identity in unforgettable fashion. “Uncommon Likeness” is on view through Dec. 31.
1b. “A Memory in Peril,” Francisco Souto, Kiechel Fine Art. In Sept. 2015, Francisco Souto began a series of drawings about his native land, Venezuela, and the impact of the current economic and political upheaval on its people. The result was three large, panoramic drawings and 20 smaller pieces, with drawings set inside circles. It was the most powerful and important series of work to come out of Nebraska in decades. A master with a pencil, Souto’s highly detailed drawings are technically impressive and emotionally resonant with their images of protesters confronting the military and hungry children sharing bread. Full disclosure -- I collaborated with Souto throughout the year as he worked on the drawings, visiting his studio to discuss the work in progress.
3. “It Was Never Linear,” Sheldon Museum of Art. The most significant contemporary painting exhibition in Nebraska in more than a decade, “It Was Never Linear” wasn’t a showcase of art stars. Rather, it exhibited the work of a dozen artists who are now becoming prominent, some figurative, some abstract and some operating in the space between. Several of the paintings from the exhibition were purchased for Sheldon’s collection.
4. “Timeshare,” Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, Fiendish Plots. Molly Zuckerman-Hartung’s show of paintings on cloth demanded examination and thought and rewarded both as she presented something of a language using dye and bleach to create abstraction and paint for figurative elements. The Brooklyn artist’s works hinted at everything from the opening of a Hitchcock movie and a film strip to a punk take on Robert Rauschenberg’s silk screens.
5. “Cell and World: A Renegade Exhibition.” At 5 p.m. May 27, an old house at 22nd and R streets became, for a few hours, an art gallery, the site of a guerilla installation by nine artists who filled the rooms with ceramic figures climbing on ropes, abstract floor and wall pieces, and a giant pipe that ran out of a second floor window. When darkness fell, “Cell and World!: A Renegade Exhibition” closed -- for good.
6. “Vox Stellarum,” Elin Noble, Hillestad Gallery. Nearly two dozen black-and-white printed silk organza panels hung floor to ceiling in the Hillestad Gallery in “Vox Stellarum," moving in the breeze from passers by and the air conditioning, triggering the moire effect -- a wavy, watery appearance of lines in the fabric, creating a psychedelic op art feel up close. A video by Michael Burton of the Massachusetts artist Noble’s work, shot very close up, was projected on the gallery wall. The panels and video created an enveloping, hard-to-leave installation.
7. "They Gave Us Directions," Lux Center for the Arts and “There’s Always an Apex Predator,” Tugboat Gallery, Jay Kreimer and Wendy Weiss. With “They Gave Us Directions,” Kreimer and Weiss created a chaotic, never overwhelming installation in response to and drawn from spending much of the last two years working in India. The installation included wall pieces, paintings and photographs that captured Indian street life and architecture, some rolling sculptures, a loom and a vendor cart that played Indian street music in the gallery.
With “There’s Always a Apex Predator,” the duo looked at World War II German prisoner of war camps through sobering imagery and a small sculpture derived from Kreimer’s father’s experience as a POW, along with pointed, funny appropriations from comic books, magazines and “Hogan’s Heroes,” and graphic wall pieces.
8. “Postmark Shenanigans, ” Frank Hansen, and “The Last American Hitchhiker,” Mark Kneeskern, Iron Tail Gallery. Des Moines, Iowa, artist Frank Hansen and Texas-based Mark Kneeskern were friends and collaborators through Kneeskern’s death in 2014. Hansen’s June exhibition of surreal, paintings on old pieces of wood covered with imagined figures with large heads and distended arms, layers of paint and scrawled text was dedicated to Kneeskern.
Hansen’s show was followed by an exhibition of Kneeskern’s work. “The Last American Hitchhiker was drawn from Kneeskern’s archives and Hansen’s collection of his work along with the book recounting his hitchhiking adventure that gave the show its title.
A representative sampling of Kneeskern’s work, the show included wild, cartoonish paintings, explorations of skulls in paint and pencil, black-and-white sketches, found wood sculptures and boxes filled with bones, photographs and pill bottles. The connections between the work of Hansen and Kneeskern are obvious and illuminating and the shows together served as a fine memorial for Kneeskern.
9. “Cast Study: BiMolar,” Bri Murphy, Tugboat Gallery. Lux gallery director Murphy was Lincoln’s 2016 art star, having curated a strong series of Lux shows, several of which could have made this list; participating in “Cell and World,” a drawing show at Nebraska Wesleyan University’s Elder Gallery; and creating this bravely provocative exhibition at Tugboat. Recording her own behavior for a year on a long scroll to document her life with bipolar disorder, Murphy combined videos of her taking prescriptions, pill bottles, porcelain casts of her wisdom teeth and a curiosity box into a very powerful, personal show.
10. “Quiltscapes,” Pauline Burbidge, International Quilt Study Center & Museum. The first U.S. solo exhibition of the 2000s from Burbidge, the U.K.’s top quilt artist, is comprised of a series of quilts covered with leaves, grasses and horizon lines sketched from journeys through the Scottish landscape in layers of black, greys and blues in the large pieces that hang like giant paintings in the gallery space. Connected to the North Country Quilting tradition of 19th and early 20th centuries, “Quiltscapes” is visually arresting, contemporary quiltmaking at its finest. It is on view through March 25.