If 2021 was marked by a Metro struggle to re-open, stay open and remain relevant under peaking COVID conditions, 2022 saw signs of optimism despite health, economic and political challenges of its own. The past year saw the promise of political renewal, Husker Rhule and urban redevelopment with rumors of real retail for those who call downtown home and not just a place to visit and partee.
The visual arts played its part optimistically as every year is marked by key significant art happenings and exhibits, some planned, some unexpected and 2022 was no exception. The Reader’s A-list below recognizes Metro arts contribution annually, beginning with three major events, each of which will impact culturally for years to come beginning with 2023.
After celebrating its 90th anniversary with a significant reappraisal of Karl Bodmer’s portraiture, Joslyn Art Museum made the bold decision to close its doors to the public in May due to the start of its extensive expansion and renovation project. Scheduled to reopen in 2024, it will be worth the wait to see the impressive Phillip Schrager Collection being added to its permanent display of contemporary art. joslyn.org/expansion
The newly revamped Gene Leahy Mall opened to great fanfare in July to complete the first phase of Omaha’s RiverFront reimagination. An open, active and family-friendly space, it’s also home again to sculpture, albeit a largely different selection than it housed previously. The new “sculpture garden”, includes one permanent installation—the festive “Wind Sculpture” by Yinka Shonibare—as well as works on extended loan by Bruce Beasley, John Clement, Linda Fleming, Richard Hunt and James Surls. theriverfrontomaha.com/visit-the-riverfront/gene-leahy-mall/
Omaha’s urban landscape continues to be transformed by a variety of mural projects. Since the Reader’s coverage of developments in the last two years https://thereader.com/2022/05/03/painting-the-town/, public works continue to be added at lightning speed. Aksarben Village and the New North Makerhood are particularly vibrant; this fall alone Millwork Commons joined forces with Omaha by Design to engage Dan Crane, Tyler Emery, Sarah Hummel Jones, Betni Kalk and Sarah Rowe to create 17 exterior murals at the new Hello Apartments, and Weston Thomson painted a mural at its neighborhood playground, all in the spirit of the area’s youthful, artsy vibe. https://www.facebook.com/artplusinfrastructure/.
What then were the most significant contemporary art exhibits of 2022 seen and written about by yours truly and Reader’s staff of arts writers including Kent Behrens, Janet Farber and Jonathan Orozco. The so-called A-list is composed of three levels, Best in Show, Runners-up and Honorable Mentions, all of it current work separated only by a degree of uniqueness, ambition and scope, professionalism and unity. It’s a large order and margins between tier placement are often small and subjective. Links to Reader previews and reviews to many of the exhibits are provided for your consideration.
The A-list is not the last word on the “best in art” in 2022. Nor do we claim to have seen or written about all art events and exhibits therein. But the majority were and have been considered via the criteria of most creative, unified and realized work based upon original intent. In addition, every attempt has been made to emphasize exhibits featuring local or regional artists and/or curators who organized such.
And always, if you disagree with the A-list or wish to add a choice of your own, please respond to thereader.com or at https://www.facebook.com/thereaderomaha/
The Best in Show in 2022 featured another overwhelming group show from Gallery 1516, its first Regional Photography Biennial, https://www.gallery1516.org/current-exhibition. No Metro venue has made a bigger commitment to Nebraska artists, and while quality of the work varies, a second visit after the popular opening, may find you agreeing with judge’s selections by comparison.
The best curated photo exhibit of 2022 belongs to Thomas Wharton’s “Windows and Keys” shown at the Garden of the Zodiac Gallery, https://thereader.com/2022/10/27/windows-and-keys/. Mixed media overall, critic Behrens emphasizes its photography with “Wharton’s work is challenging at first, but the reward is a short course in seeing. It is photography about photography, art about art, and it is a solid examination of an idea.”
Speaking of curation, no one in the Metro works harder at it then Baader-Meinhof’s Kyle Laidig, and his efforts resulted in two of the best exhibits seen in 2022, Joshua Abelow’s “Joshua Abelow: 1982-2022,” https://thereader.com/2022/04/21/its-personal/ and “If It Die,” by Henry Belden https://www.baader-meinhof.org/if-it-die. Laidig has put B-M on the Metro art map. Put his exhibits on your calendar, and you will find them all personal and provocative.
The Union for Contemporary Art made a big comeback in 2022, opening its doors to viewing that is, by bookending its gallery season with two fine tribute exhibits, both coincidentally with late significant printmakers, New Yorker Mavis Pusey, https://www.u-ca.org/exhibition/mavis-pusey and Omahan Wanda Ewing,
Pusey’s self-titled exhibit of “urban renewal” in bold geometric forms showcased this “leading abstractionist” of the 20th Century.
Fittingly, Pusey exhibited in the Wanda Ewing Gallery whose own show, “Growing up Black, Growing up Wanda” focuses on the nine image/text diptychs that comprised her 1997 thesis book from the San Francisco Art Institute.
https://www.u-ca.org/wanda-d-ewing-gallery. In this work, we clearly see the roots of not only her socio-political vision but her self-aware sense of humor and recognition.
The most impactful 3D exhibit was part of Kaneko’s exhibit umbrella, “Monumental”, a survey of Richard Hunt’s paradoxically fixed and flowing sculpture, one of which helped to anchor the Gene Leahy Mall’s sculpture garden, seen above. In “Monumental” Hunt explores the narrative of African culture—its historical origins and global movement—through large-scale, abstract public artworks, still on display in January.
Smaller venues also contributed at this level, including Project Project and the BFF Gallery in Benson. The former continues its underground, incubator status in the Metro, but its marvelously original installation of reflective color, pattern and texture, “Prism Cell,” by Hannah Demma was its most impressive. Likewise, BFF Gallery offered the most successful two-person exhibit of 2022, Jeff King’s provocative, expressionistic portraits with Josh Powell’s subtler but equally disturbing, futuristic narratives in “and After All of This.” https://thereader.com/2022/05/31/fateful-attraction/
Three exhibits in Best in Show are arguably the “best of the best” for their scope, vision and aesthetic: Gallery 1516’s visually stunning immersive video, “Nebraska: Flatwater.” The videography was done by a team including Adam Larsen, Scott Drickey, and Ahmad Jaffrey. https://www.gallery1516.org/nebraska-flatwater. Deserving of permanent installation, it surpassed the popular “Beyond Van Gogh Immersive Experience” seen in Council Bluffs last summer;
But an even more conceptual and partially immersive installation is the “Monumental” exhibit “Unseen” of Charles Kay, https://www.charleskayjr.com/UNSEEN-Installation-Kaneko-/1/thumbs. Like “Nebraska: Flatwater”, Kay’s ethereal video and photography is transcendent, but the experience of the latter is more interiorized, both seen and “Unseen;”
2022 climaxed with its Best Group Show, the aptly titled “Opulence,” at Bemis Center, curated by Jared Packard, Exhibitions Manager, https://www.bemiscenter.org/exhibitions/opulence . It’s subtitle and subtext, “Performative Wealth and the Failed American Dream,” continues Bemis’ preference for socio-political themed exhibits, but this one best lives up to its promise with a mix of multi-media art–from 2D to 3D, from video to fashion–as interesting as its premise. A truly rewarding exhibit that ironically makes opulence look good.
Runners-up to the Best in Show include these fine group exhibits from the following venues. Gallery 1516 offered two additional professional group shows: “Confluence”, https://www.gallery1516.org/confluence-artwork carefully curated by Kristae Peterson, united five Omaha artists into a Metro identity: Stephen Azevedo, Bill Hoover, Karen Linder, Meghan Stevens as well Peterson herself; and the venues annual emerging artist show, “I’ve Been Here Before”, https://www.gallery1516.org/emerging-artists-artwork. You may question whether Sophie Newell, Oria Simonini, Evan Stoler, Katie B Temple and Joseph Vavak are truly emerging artists, but not so the quality of their work.
The Metro art scene continues to prosper thanks to the efforts of local educationally-connected galleries including: Creighton University’s Lied Gallery which featured “emerging artist” Katie B.Temple, now “Building a Home,” https://thereader.com/2022/10/17/housewarming/ after a lustrous career of constructing fine conceptual houses; MCC’s fine art gallery offered the socially aware large paintings and vinyl installations of Margie Weir in “Bearing Witness” https://thereader.com/2022/09/12/bearing-witness/ ; and UNO excelled with “Resilience,” https://thereader.com/2022/10/05/resilience/ exhibiting Indigenous artists Anita Fields, Lydia Cheshewalla, Reyna Hernandez and Sarah Rowe. It also exhibited the very fine two-person “Insight”, https://thereader.com/2022/01/31/fresh-insight/ figurative paintings and portraiture by Shawnequa Linder of Omaha and Harold Smith of Kansas City;
But UNO’s most poignant and personal exhibition, “Memory Serves: Drawing Others Close” https://www.unomaha.edu/college-of-communication-fine-arts-and-media/news/2022/06/memory-serves-mark-gilbert-exhibition-duplicate.php featured the emotionally charged portraits by artist Dr. Mark Gilbert whose “healing power of art” has been seen here and abroad for nearly 20 years. This time his theme was confronting dementia including that of his dad, both subject and artist who created his own “Drawing to a Close.”
The Garden of the Zodiac presented two fine solo shows at this level: a tribute to one of the Old Market most significant supporters, Mark Mercer, whose own sculpture, masks and drawings were also a vital part of local culture; and the florid, floral paintings of Omahan, Jeff Sedrel https://thereader.com/2022/12/02/art-in-bloom/ that reference the expressionism of Berliner Christian Rothmann, a frequent exhibiter in the Zodiac.
More than a few shows in 2022 drew upon Black American culture past and present, none better in this tier than: “Ebb and Flow Between Us” https://www.paceartsiowa.org/exhibits at PACE gallery in Council Bluffs showcasing the art of Patty Talbert, Celeste Butler and Pamela Conyers-Hinson, collectively and individually; and as a sort of companion piece to the before mentioned U-CA Wanda Ewing exhibit, we have RBR G’s “Prints in Color” https://rbrg.org which included said prints by Ewing, L.A’s Alison Saar and our own Sarah Rowe. Though in color and of color, their strong individual vision and styles speak volumes about diversity as well as inclusion. This may well have been the best print exhibit of 2022 in a rather lean year in this medium.
In fact, the above’s competition also came from RBR G, the diverse, sophisticated “Lawrence Lithography Workshop: Mike Sims 42 Years of Printmaking” https://www.artscouncil.nebraska.gov/event/the-lawrence-lithography-workshop-mike-sims-42-years-of-printmaking/ which highlighted a solid group of international artists such as Susan Davidoff, Peregrine,
Tom Huck, Gesine Janzen, Luis Jimenez, Michael Krueger Zigmunds Priede, Roger Shimomura, among others. All in all, one of the more interesting big group shows of the year.
Amplify Arts’ Generator Space on Vinton Streets consistently offers the most challenging two-person exhibits locally, and the most successful one seen by yours truly was “Treader” https://thereader.com/2022/01/11/treader/ organized by Hannah Lee Hall and Annika Johnson. This creative, clever interactive exhibit saw and heard Hall’s colorful, assemblage-style paintings, found sound compositions by Johnson and a Zine by both artists, all of which documented the story of the Treader, “a groundskeeper of a toxic landscape.”
Lastly and easily the most outré exhibit of the year belonged to and at Petshop with its “BODIES: Art by Sally Brown & Friends” https://patch.com/nebraska/omaha/calendar/event/20220805/1911519/bodies-art-by-sally-brown-friends . Dominated by Brown’s own body prints which she administers au natural on paper, her audacious work is both figurative and organic, suggestive certainly and by way of verification the show featured photos of her in the very process. Over 30, mostly local, artists participated in this query: “What is Bodily Imaginary?” A complete list can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2286334798189081/
Before closing the book on 2022, the following exhibits, though just short of the top two tiers, deserve Honorable Mention, at least for their ambition and contribution, gratefully, to the return of the Metro’s full calendar year of art. Whether virtually or in person, exhibits on the A-list earned their support. In no particular order: Two worthy exhibits helped close the Michael Phipps Gallery in the recently demolished downtown library, “Power of the Story” and “Bear Witness” As mentioned before, it would be a damn shame if this fine gallery does not resurface in the library’s new digs at 14th and Jones;
Trisha Gurnett was in “Recovery” https://thereader.com/2022/12/02/in-recovery/ at BFF Gallery which focused on her journey from addiction; Atiim Jones was at a “Crossroads” https://thereader.com/2022/09/13/crossroads/ with his photography at Fred Simon Galley: Rachel Mindrup dealt with her “Scanxiety” at Hot Shops Art Center which also served up the group show, Heaven, Hell, and Everything In-Between; Christian Rothman brought his own group show,” Animals,” https://thereader.com/2022/08/04/animal-magnetism-3/ which featured interesting work by him, Vera Mercer and Paul Pretzer; Pace Gallery offered its first “New Masters” juried exhibition: and for its sheer audacity, Craig Roper had the last word with his “Fear of all of the Above” at Project Project https://thereader.com/2022/05/09/salute-to-fear/