Tuan Andrew Nguyen (Vietnamese, b. 1976), The Boat People, 2020, single-channel video, 4k, Super 16mm transferred to digital, color, 5.1 surround sound, 20 mins. Co-produced by Bellas Artes 

(See The Reader’s Annual A-list, the most significant art events and exhibits in the Metro for 2020)

The late great film critic Robert Warshow once wrote: “A man watches a movie, and the critic must acknowledge that he is that man.” Critic Roger Ebert later said Warshow meant “that the critic has to set aside theory and ideology, theology and politics, and open himself to—well, the immediate experience,” which just happened to be the title of Warshow’s fine anthology of critical essays. 

Warshow’s shrewd assessment could, should, apply to criticism of all media unless one’s appreciation of art is elitist or measured only by peer review writing. The point is, what good is one’s understanding of the theory, culture and history of art if one fails to respond to it as a human being? Art is a moving experience as much as an intellectual one, and it’s okay, de rigueur even, to express that as well. It’s even okay to play favorites.

That’s what Reader’s visual arts writers below did as a supplement to the annual A-list posted elsewhere that honors the most significant Metro art events and exhibits seen and/or written about in 2020, a year especially difficult to distance one’s self, despite all the advice to the contrary, or remain neutral.  Here are a few of their favorite exhibits from 2020.

From Jonathan Orozco

Joslyn Art Museum thoroughly excels with its exhibitions at the Riley CAP gallery, and Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s show was no exception. Nguyen’s film The Boat People is a masterful piece not only meriting praise for its scenic and formal beauty, but it’s unfortunate universal post-war narrative. Though we can be captivated by the film’s music and spiritualism, we cannot ignore the reverberating effects of American Imperialism around the world. Going further, Karin Campbell (the exhibition’s curator), reminds us that monuments meant to glorify certain people and events are often tainted with a history of violence and oppression. We should remember the past, but not romantically. 

Dissolution, Acrylic on Canvas, 16×24 in, Shawnequa Linder

From Hugo Zamorano

Unfortunately, I did not make it to too many shows this year.  One that did stand out to me of the few was Motion Blur at the Michael Phipps Gallery showing the work of Shawnequa Linder, Dereck Courtney and Joe Pankowski.  This show used paint, ink, paper, and animation as a gateway to think about the transforming role that motion plays in creativity. It also successfully put together 3 local artists with different practices, methods, mediums, and points in their careers.  Personally, it allowed me to witness the continuous growth of artists, pointed out once again the importance of electronic technology, and reminded me of the healing powers of art.

Judith_Welk_50thAndUnderwood_Baum Drugstore

From Kent Behrens

Two bookends prop up a tumultuous year of social, political and viral events. Back in pre-pandemic January, a posthumous exhibit of Judith Welk’s paintings and prints went on display at Anderson O’brien Fine Art. Backyard View: Omaha Through the Eyes of Judith Welk, featured 30 or so of her works and was a dulcet sampling of a devoted artistic career. A long-time Dundee resident, her unassuming, Americana/Folk Art views featured mostly local and contemporary landscapes and cityscapes. Welk’s and husband Robert were self-taught printmakers, printing many of her paintings as silk-screen (serigraph) images.

Paired with the season finale at Modern Arts Midtown — a three-person show featuring the work of Catherine Ferguson, Barbara Kendrick and Chris Cassimatis. MAM scored with an imaginative mix of new work from three accomplished artists. The exhibit, entitled Joyous Occasion, ran September-October at MAM, and it mated artists of very contrasting styles, but retained the graphic connection between the three.

Catherine Ferguson – One Man Band No 10 – 30×24

Catherine Ferguson exhibited new, colorful, digital drawings and diptychs, that borrow much from line work inspired by her well-known wire and metal sculptures. Her Miro-ish drawings are often humorous and playful, and the boldly graphic, abstract diptychs invite comparisons.

 Barbara Kendrick – Dorothea Whippet – 22×18

Barbara Kendrick, former University of Illinois art instructor, who also works in digital medium, showed her elaborate and complex collages. Kendrick starts with found imagery and many of her own photographs, manipulating far beyond standard cut-and-paste, creating abstract personal journals. Several melt into bust-like portraits, and many bring you back to the work of the Bauhaus photographers and the Surrealists. 

Chris Cassimatis – The Buoyancy of Shapes – 48×36

The paintings from Chris Cassimatis, now of Chicago, fit quite well with these other two. Cassimatis, probably more well-known for his sculpture, shows a series of paintings on canvas and paper. Like Ferguson, his imagery is inspired by his sculptural forms. Cassimatis very precise works range from entirely non-objective overlapping shapes and lines to colorful abstractions of architectural form and mechanical process, and typography. A short video of the Joyous Occasion show is still available on MAM’s website at the time of this writing.

James Casabere, “Sea of Ice,” 2014, pigment print, 37 3/4 x 49 3/4 inches, edition of 5 with 2 Aps, © James Casebere. Courtesy the artist and Sean Kelly, New York

From Janet Farber

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that 2020 was an unbelievable year. Within its first three months, we went from business as usual to developing pandemic-speak, sheltering in place, and coping with the ways an upended economy hit home. Not content to endure one disaster, we added a raging climate, social upheaval over racial injustice, and bitterly divided politics fueled by the upcoming elections. Along with all the disruption widened an already large cultural fissure—the inability for people to agree what constitutes facts. 

So it seems apropos that Joslyn Art Museum would open its major exhibition of the year devoted to the proposition that seeing may not be believing. Fact and Fiction in Contemporary Photography, a self-organized show which opened February 8 and ran through October 18, (with a several month hiatus due to COVID closure), featured the impressive work of 16 international photographers who acknowledge and then play with their medium’s trusted ability to deliver an objective, truthful record.

The exhibition demonstrated how wide-ranging this approach can be, from landscapes and portraiture to abstraction, including found, staged and appropriated imagery. 

Some works attempt to amplify a faux sense of timelessness using this increasingly ephemeral medium, thanks to Insta-culture. Others weave together passages in time to create an immediate image of things difficult to observe, making thoughtful embedded statements about such weighty topics as climate change, the military-industrial complex and cultural identity. The best work doesn’t undermine the veracity of photography, but demonstrates its ability to make the viewer contemplate its deeper capacity to communicate more than just a fleeting moment in time.

Subscribe to The Reader Newsletter

Our awesome email newsletter briefing tells you everything you need to know about what’s going on in Omaha. Delivered to your inbox every day at 11:00am.

Become a Supporting Member

Subscribe to thereader.com and become a supporting member to keep locally owned news alive. We need to pay writers, so you can read even more. We won’t waste your time, our news will focus, as it always has, on the stories other media miss and a cultural community — from arts to foods to local independent business — that defines us. Please support your locally-owned news media by becoming a member today.

Leave a comment