My “Best Art(s) of 2011″ List

El Anatsui, Plot A Plan III, 2007. Aluminum and copper wire, 73 x 97 in. Photo courtesy: Jack Shainman Gallery.

El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa, Davis Museum and Cultural Center at Wellesley College. March 30 – June 26, 2011.

Organized by the Museum for African Art, New York, but premiered at the Davis Museum, this exhibition was my introduction to the work of El Anatsui, whose wall pieces exist somewhere in the realm of textile, sculpture and fashion. Everything I saw was inspiring.

SpiNN, Shazhia Sikander, Digital Animation. Courtesy of the Artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co. New York.

Shazhia Sikander: The Exploding Company Man and Other Abstractions, Sandra and David Bakalar Gallery, Massachusetts College of Art and Design. September 19 – November 26, 2011.

Sikander explores many contemporary issues through an aesthetics that draws primarily from Indo-Persian miniature paintings. The title video work is a feast for the senses, resulting in an explosion of imagery, colors and textures that kept me returning week after week to see this exhibition.

Tristram Lansdowne, Hamburg Palimpsest 35 x 47 Watercolour on paper. Image Courtesy of the Artist.

Contained, curated by John Pyper, Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts, March 18 – April 24, 2011.

There were many interesting works in this show that still resonate with me today. Matthew Woodward’s jaw dropping graphite on paper drawings of decorative iron gates and Matthew Best’s diary-like “Suburban Foraging Project” sketches of edible plants he encounters throughout his travels, were phenomenal in this show.

River Street Tower Still #16, Daniel Phillips, 2010

River Street, Daniel Phillips. Public Art Installation, Boston Cyberarts Festival, April 30, 2011.

A site specific installation in Hyde Park and installed on the former site of a paper mill, River Street is an exploration of “place memory.” Moments that vanish before our eyes were captured through the use of approximately 900 photographs a minute, creating a time lapse moving image of the crumbling paper mill and the flora and fauna that live in the heavily polluted Neponset River.

Raul Gonzalez, Wake up Call (On My Last Nerve), 2011 | Ink and Bic pen, 45 by 65 inches acrylic. Courtesy the artist and Carroll & Sons Gallery, Boston.

Close Distance, curated by Liz Munsell, Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts. July 15 – August 28, 2011.

The works of six emerging Boston area Latino artists were richly presented in this exhibition that was as culturally diverse, and distinct as were the artistic practices of the artists in it. The works were engaging and provoking and Munsell’s juxtaposition of Daniela Rivera and Raul Gonzalez allowed for a riveting experience.

Still Life with Glasses and Tobacco, 1633 Willem Claesz. Heda (1594-1680), Oil on panel, 20 x 29 ¾ inches (50.8 x 75.6 cm), The Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection, Image courtesy Peabody Essex Museum.

Golden: Dutch and Flemish Masterworks from the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection, Peabody Essex Museum. February 26 – June 19, 2011.

One of the most breathtaking and refreshing exhibitions of 2011. It was thrilling to see so many masterworks by the leading Dutch and Flemish artists of the 1600s including Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Jan van der Heyden among many others. The best part of the show was drooling over the details in the paintings using a magnifying glass provided by the museum.

Dance Hall Girl, Jennifer Steinkamp. 2004-11. Image courtesy of the artist.

Astatic, Sandra and David Bakalar Gallery, Massachusetts College of Art and Design. February 1 – March 5, 2011.

One of the sweetest surprises of 2011 was this exhibition at MassArt exploring the role of animation in contemporary art practice. Jennifer Steinkamp’s “Dance Hall Girl” had me smiling for days. Click on Dance Hall Girl to watch a short animation. Once you’ve finished watching the clip, you can hit “next” to view the additional works under “Dance Hall Girl.”

Prints and the Pursuit of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe, Harvard Art Museums. September 6 – December 10, 2011.

A mammoth of a show examining the scientific investigations of the 16th century through prints created by Northern Renaissance artists. An exhibition rich in scholarship, walking through it felt like a journey through time and space. Gorgeous.

Beg For Your Life, 2006, Laurel Nakadate

Laurel Nakadate: Say You Love Me, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University. November 17 – December 22, 2011.

I love Laurel Nakadate. This eight video installation at the Carpenter Center hit all the right spots (no pun intended) with work that explores and pushes the boundaries of voyeurism, exhibitionism, and vulnerability. Most of the works were difficult to watch, but they all touched you in ways you never thought possible. Nakadate’s videos were moving, empathetic and funny.

Images of “For You I Feel Lucky” by Mark Sarver, Courtesy of Jessica Gath.

For You I Feel Lucky, Jessica Gath. The Hallway Gallery, Jamaica Plain. November 8, 2011.

A wonderful performance that lingered on until this very day. Click on the title for my review and be sure to check out Jessica at the DeCordova Biennial in 2012.

BONUS BEST OF 2011:

Lillian Bassman, The V-Back Evenings, Dress by Pauline Trigère, Model Suzy Parker, Harper's Bazaar, New York, July 1955. Courtesy of the artist.

Cocktail Culture: Ritual and Invention in American Fashion, 1920-1980, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. April 15 – July 31, 2011.

What’s not to love about an exhibition on the culture of cocktails and their role in American fashion? This dazzling show featured fashion, jewelry, furniture, barware, textiles, photography and film. If you missed it, you missed a great show! Or you can catch it at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach.

Review: Close Distance

Raul Gonzalez, Wake up Call (On My Last Nerve), 2011 | Ink and Bic pen, 45 by 65 inches acrylic. Courtesy the artist and Carroll & Sons Gallery, Boston.

I may be too young to remember when was the last time Boston experienced an exhibition that featured the work of Latino artists living in this city or its surrounding towns. I may also be too young to remember Grupo Ñ, an experimental but now dissolved Latino art collective from the 1980′s that became an instrumental force in Boston’s underground art scene.

“Close Distance,” at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Mills Gallery is the first exhibition in nearly thirty years featuring the works of six emerging Boston area Latino artists “practicing across diverse media and national borders.” Curated by Liz Munsell, a local curator with DiscordiaFilms and a Curatorial Research Associate at the Museum of Fine Arts, “Close Distance” is engaging, provoking and riveting.

The exhibition is as culturally diverse and distinct as are the artistic vocabularies presented. From the site specific work of Daniela Rivera, a 2010 Foster Prize finalist to Raul Gonzalez III and others; religion, identity, pop culture, politics, and institutional oppression are all explored, commented upon and richly juxtaposed throughout the gallery and within individual works.

Vela Phelan, Witch Doctor Wrestlers, 2011. Courtesy of the artist.

Vela Phelan’s site specific performance-installation Deviant Idols in the Black Divine, a work  modeled after a temple and composed of “spiritual idols for a modern world” struck a chord with me. A performance artist, Mr. Phelan’s installation opened up a world of memories growing up in the Dominican Republic. Having experienced the mysticism and the commodization of Santeria and Voodoo practices on a personal level, this installation moved me in ways only the pulsating beats of African drums at a palo ceremony have.

Because of the spiritual relationship that evolves between the viewer and the artist, Mr. Phelan has decided to carry out a 5-part performance that will take place almost every Thursday at Mills Gallery. “What will happen is a bit unknown to me (and to him),” says curator Liz Munsell “but it will be a journey that takes us outside the gallery walls – physically and metaphysically.”

Referencing minimalism and the literal collapse of institutional spaces, Daniela Rivera’s Fatiga material allows for an exhilirating experience as juxtaposed with the dexterous, signature “self-taught” style drawings of Raul Gonzalez.

Anabel Vazquez Rodriguez, Visión Doble, Super 8. 2011. Film. Courtesy of the artist.

In the film Visión Doble (Double Vision), multimedia artist Anabel Vazquez Rodriguez juxtaposes paradise-like images of Puerto Rico with political demonstrations held in and around Boston’s Copley Square. The film is an autobiographical journey that transcends borders and cultural boundaries.

While Boston may not have a tightly knit Latino arts collective like New York, Los Angeles and Miami do, “Close Distance” gathers together local Boston artists who for the most part had known each other prior to this exhibition at Mills Gallery. “Because these artists are all floating in the same “alternative” spaces or artist institutions as other Bostonians,” says Ms. Munsell, “I would say that they have much common, including language and culture, that brings them together.”

With “Close Distance, I hoped to bring them together a bit more” says Ms. Munsell, whose approach to curating is not solely interesting on a formal or aesthetic level – but has social context or a theoretical framework as its backdrop. “I can already see that has happened in a major way, but the show has just begun!” she added. “Close Distance” is rich in talent and abundant in excellent work.

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Artist and Curator Talk Wednesday, August 3 | 6 – 9pm
Performance with Artists Yassy Goldie and Bru Jø Wednesday, August 17 | 6 – 8pm
These artists’ work touches on the construction of cultural identity. Their guerrilla tactics have been known to simultaneously intrigue and disorient audiences.

Vela Phelan explores the duality “ego/spirituality” through objects and actions found in his performance-installation Deviant Idols of The Black Devine. In his words “a Quest to expand the Shadow my EGO CASTS,” this five-part performance will take place at Mills Gallery Thursdays July 21 & 28, August 11 & 25 at 7pm, and as part of the Artist/Curator talk on Wednesday, Aug 3rd.