The visual arts awards nominees comprised seven different categories on Sunday night. Awards were given out for Best Visual Artist, Best Emerging Visual Artist, Best 2-D Visual Artist, Best 3-D Visual Artist, Best New Media Visual Artist, Best Group Visual Art Show and Best Solo Visual Art Show.

Artist Vera Mercer earned half the awards with wins in three categories: Best Visual Artist, Best 2-D Visual Artist and Best Solo Visual Show. The crowd offered enthusiastic applause as her name was announced in each category.

Mercer was recognized for her Still Lifes exhibit at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. The exhibition was her first solo show in the U.S. Curator Hesse McGraw said the exhibition featured 11 large-scale photographic works by Omaha-based photographer Mercer. McGraw said the works were incredibly complex but also quite direct and reflected an omnivore’s sense of food.

McGraw said, “Some of the images may appear to be grotesque but they are also quite alluring. They may appear decadent but there’s also kind of a comical nature to the works. They are extremely compelling and I think they draw you in and make you ask pretty large questions about both the nature of photography and what your relationship with food is.”

Artist Ying Zhu snagged two awards, one in each category she was nominated for: Best New Media Visual Artist and Best Emerging Visual Artist. Zhu is currently the Assistant Gallery Director, Eisentrager-Howard Gallery at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. As an artist-in-residence at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Zhu focused on conceptual sculpture and installation work. Zhu had solo and group exhibitions on view from the Bemis Center in Omaha to the Tugboat Gallery in Lincoln.

While accepting her award, Zhu thanked, “everyone I know and everyone I am going to know.”

Not too many in the audience were surprised when Jun Kaneko nabbed the Best 3-D Visual Artist award. Kaneko has Dangos appearing all over town, from the Hilton Omaha to the Holland Center to the Joslyn Art Museum and has been a part of the Omaha arts scene for more than 20 years. In 2006, Kaneko designed sets and costumes for Opera Omaha’s production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

The award for Best Group Visual Art Show was given to the bemisUNDERGROUND’s Extraordinary Rendition. The exhibit was a collaboration between artists Tim Guthrie and Doug Hayko, both of who were nominated in other categories for their outstanding work individually as well.

From the Bemis’ website, “The installation included a performance (Interrogation Room with performers throughout the exhibit), a wall of surveillance monitors showing various videos along with a large video projection (Surveillance Room) juxtaposed with a group of traditional portraits rendered simply in graphite on paper (Gallery Room).”

Tim Guthrie seemed genuinely surprised to have won. As he accepted his award, he thanked the 27 different performers who participated in the show.

OEAA Board President Vic Richards said, “The Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award show is an opportunity to celebrate the creativity in our community.”

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