At the end of each year, I take a look back and put together a Top 10 list from my encounters in the art world in the preceding 12 months. By definition, such lists are personal and subjective. But they invariably show the variety and depth of the contemporary world, whether they’re compiled in Lincoln, Neb., or by the contributors to ARTForum from around the world.
That said, here’s my Top 10 list for 2005:
1. “Singular Expressions.” With its presentation of nine midcareer artists with solid national and international reputations, this invitational exhibition that closes Feb. 12 at the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery is the most important contemporary art show in Nebraska of 2005 and, arguably, the most important such show ever at Sheldon. Several pieces in the show will be purchased and become part of the museum’s permanent collection, helping it to fulfill its mission of collecting art of its time. But it also presents a rare Lincoln opportunity to see interesting, technically accomplished new pieces from a group of highly regarded artists in a near-commercial-gallerylike setting.
2. "Diane Marsh & Eddie Dominguez: Parallel Perceptions of Land, Form and the Natural Condition.” This summer show at the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney marked the first time that husband and wife/ceramicist and painter Eddie Dominguez and Diane Marsh had shown their work together. Through its insightful hanging and often-telling juxtapositions of her paintings that frequently contrast anguished portraits with landscapes and his ceramics, particularly a series of giant rosaries, the exhibition had great spiritual and emotional power and with the inclusion of works about their son, Anton, resonated with ideas of family as well.
3. “Dan Flavin: A Retrospective.” The best big museum show I saw this year was this retina-frying gathering of 50 works by the minimalist sculptor Dan Flavin, whose medium was the fluorescent light. From just a colored tube in a corner to room installations, the exhibition displayed the variety and subtlety of Flavin’s work that combines the sublime with the ordinary and forces thought about the nature of light and art. It was at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth when I saw it.
4. “Patrick Rowan.” This career retrospective of the work of retired University of Nebraska-Lincoln art professor Rowan didn’t have the usual fancy title, so I created one: "Ambition and Reflection." Smartly selected by the artist’s son, Patrick, the Eisentrager/Howard Gallery exhibition demonstrated the artist’s ambition, starting with photographs of then cutting-edge earthworks in the ’70s and moving from painting to mixed work, including wood to driftwood sculptures. Whether abstract or figurative, Rowan’s work is always intensely expressive and his later pieces, rooted in his Irish Catholic spirituality, almost force reflection on the part of the viewer.
5. “Petah Coyne: Above and Beneath the Skin.” One of the most intriguing contemporary sculptors, Coyne works with, among other materials, wax, human and horse hair, ribbons, pigment, spray paint, rubber, tree branches, chicken wire, silk flowers, bows, feathers, plywood, hat pins and tassels to create large, fascinating pieces that hit on four themes — feminism, mystery, wit and her Catholic background. Touching on the Gothic, associations of sex roles, thoughts of mortality and ideas of beauty and ugliness, her work in this show at Kansas City’s Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art went beyond the technical impressiveness of melding of nonart material into art to something more captivating, provocative and lasting.
6. Tugboat Gallery opens. For me, the biggest news on the Lincoln gallery scene this year was the May opening of the Tugboat Gallery. Gomez Art Supply owner Peggy Gomez, painter Jake Gillespie and silkscreen artist Joey Lynch fixed up the back of Gomez’s store at 1028 O St., and turned it into a much-needed alternative gallery space. Displaying work by both established artists and new talent in all media, the gallery has expanded the range of possibilities for local shows and embraced a burgeoning local art scene powered by younger artists and a new generation of art fans.
7. “Bring Your Bar Codes.” In the computer of Omaha artist Scott Blake, the ubiquitous bar code serves a far different purpose than simply being a tool for the retail industry; it becomes a symbol of our data-drenched existence and an element to be manipulated to create imagery and stimulate thought on topics from consumerism to religion and individual identity. Those images in Blake’s show at Omaha’s Bemis Center for Contemporary Art included giant portraits of icons from Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and Mao to Oprah and Bill Gates, “word paintings” and what he calls “datascapes,” landscapes created with the code markings.
8. The Guerrilla Girls. In 2005, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with a wide range of regional, national and international artists who came to Lincoln and Omaha for various reasons. But I had the most fun talking with “Frida Kahlo,” one of the two Guerrilla Girls who came here in February. Two decades after the group of female artists donned gorilla masks to maintain their anonymity in protesting the exclusion of women from a show at the Museum of Modern Art, the Guerrilla Girls are still making their feminist points with great humor and have taken their crusade beyond the art world to Hollywood and the culture in general.
9. “Dirk Skreber: Na(h)tnz 2.0.” A sense of uncertainty, the power of scale and Skreber's continuing exploration of technique, subject matter and style to create conflict and continuity made "Na(h)tnz 2.0," his exhibition at the Joslyn Art Museum, instantly eye-catching and continually captivating. The German artist’s quasinarrative, massive paintings of the aftermath of mysterious traffic accidents contrasted with his playful abstractions, contrasting beauty and destruction and confronting contemporary issues, including the war in Iraq. The Joslyn show was the first American museum show for the highly regarded young German artist.
10. “April Gornik: Paintings and Drawings.” Gornik’s paintings pull you into her world. They are landscapes that are simultaneously real and surreal. As if floating in a dream, the viewer hovers over flat water and between rows of trees, watches thunderstorms darken the land or stands in front of craggy waterfalls not quite like those seen in nature. Great banks of clouds roll across the picture plane and the realism of the painting begins to disappear. Her art is about mystery, about the tension between the familiar and the unknown, about man’s relationship with nature and with art and imagery. And those complexities are what made her Sheldon show this fall so compelling.
Reach L. Kent Wolgamott at 473-7244 or email@example.com.