There are two fantastic ways to look back at the year just concluded in the visual arts. One is to consult the A-List (https://thereader.com/visual-art/making-the-a-list) annually authored by contributing editor Mike Krainak for the January issue of the Reader, along with contributions by additional arts writers. The other is to visit the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards (OEAA) Winter Visual Arts Showcase, now on view at the Roberta and Bob Rogers Gallery through February 22.
To be fair, these two have as many differences as similarities. The A-List considers art from any artist shown in local venues in 2019. The OEAA showcase celebrates only Metro artists who were nominated in ten different categories for work on view from September 2018 through August 2019.
The 14th annual installment of this awards ceremony took place on February 16 at the Slowdown, and the showcase exhibition serves as a visual reminder of those noteworthy contributions. Categories of award are the following: Outstanding Visual Artist, Emerging Visual Artist, New Media Artist, 2-D Artist, 3-D Artist, Group Show, Solo Show, Two-Person Show, Public Art and Presentation in a Non-Traditional Format.
With a few omissions, most of the artists or venues provided artworks to represent their nominations. Not unexpectedly, then, the showcase is a most eclectic array. Organizers at RBR Gallery have done their best to provide informative groupings by putting together nominees in similar categories or from the same exhibition. Helpfully, the labels indicate the sometimes multiple categories in which an artist was recognized.
Awards this year were generous to Jave Yoshimoto, who collected the nod for Outstanding Visual Artist and for his excellent solo at the Union for Contemporary Arts, Tempestuous Microcosm. Yoshimoto, an art professor at UNO, is known for his works encompassing themes of disaster and humanitarian crises filtered through such aesthetic and contextual lenses as consumer culture, cell phone journalism and Japanese woodcuts.
Yoshimoto’s entry in the showcase, “What is your emergency?”, is an example of his very on-the-nose critique of the ways in which people tend to dismiss crises not at their doorstep. The work is a hand-painted laser cut relief in the shape of a cell phone depicting a scene in Aleppo, Syria, in the aftermath of yet another bombing, with its populous left to wonder whether help will come. Fragments of an orange refugee life jacket drip like flames from the bottom of the sculpture. Depicted as a kind of Facetime call, users have the choice to Answer or Ignore. Yoshimoto asks, which will you do?
Another artist who had exceptional recognition this year was Barber, who received honors for Outstanding Emerging Visual Artist, 2-D Artist and for his contribution to Reggie LeFlore’s mural “The Ancestor, The Identity and the Seed,” which won in the Public Art category, and for his inclusion in the 2018 Union for Contemporary Art Fellowship Exhibition, OEAA’s best group show (along with fellow showcase participant Pamela Conyers-Hinson).
On view here is an excellent example of the work that has earned Barber such accolades. “Mary” is a colorful mixed media painting on paper that is largely collage, including found bits of tissue, tape, plastic, grocery ads and metallic papers. Within this layering of elements, the view of a gathering of people within a waterfront setting comes into focus.
The relationship between humans and nature, as well as issues pertaining to race, prejudice and neglect, are frequent motifs in Barber’s thoughtful art, and his somewhat folk-art inspired narrative process lends to a sincerity and hopefulness in his work.
Once again, Bart Vargas’ colorful and, at times, outrageous serio-comic work captured the imagination of OEAA voters, snagging the Outstanding 3-D artist prize. A tireless artist, educator and social media influencer, Vargas usually shows in any number of venues during a given year.
His recent turn to creating ceramic sculpture action hero mashups has gained momentum. “A Mighty Love” is a wry valentine from his Erotics series—a heart is the head on an amply bosomed, hulking wrestler body.
Rounding out the category of individual achievement was the award in the most elusive OEAA category—New Media. It’s an area reserved for the least definable work in terms of medium, leaving room for invention and innovation on the part of artists.
This year, Reagan Pufall claimed the merit for his work often combining aspects of 3-D printing, photography and installation. On view is his tribute to the subject of his artistic obsession—the praying mantis—for which he has constructed of black and clear acrylic “Tomb,” an elegant, miniature Egyptian-style mausoleum.
If one is good, two is better, and the award for best two-person show went to Katie B. Temple and Todd McCollister for their Fred Simon Gallery exhibition. Temple’s acrylic streetscapes such as “45th Street View,” awash in non-naturalistic color and an certain degree of nostalgia, have become her signature style of community portraiture. Their geometric strength is also a great analog for the sculptural craftsmanship of McCollister in making functional wooden objects such as his “Bow Legged Sofa Table” that celebrate the beauty of form and material.
Though not represented in the showcase, Taylor Keen in collaboration with Warren Distribution, No More Empty Pots, the Nature Conservancy, Bemis Center, Kaneko, Kinghorn Gardens, MVL Design and Mayflower Mobile were recognized for their Sacred Seed Pop-Up at 13th and Leavenworth as an Outstanding Presentation in a Non-Traditional Format.
Also well worth noting, Jun and Ree Kaneko were bestowed much-deserved Lifetime Achievement honors at the OEAA ceremony. You’d have to have been hiding under a rock to not be aware of the impact of their wide-ranging efforts on behalf of the Omaha artistic community.
Lastly, a shout-out to a couple of additional exhibiting artists who were singled out for the totality of their annual achievement. In sculpture, it goes to Sora Kimberlain and David Helm. Kimberlain’s abstract stone sculptures shown at Modern Arts Midtown amounted to a career survey, underscoring her ability to transform her cold, hard medium into something elegant and evocative of flesh and bone.
Longtime UNO professor Helm doesn’t have solo exhibits often in the Metro, but his show at MCC and contribution to this year’s Human Condition at Kaneko display his continued development of complex ideas surrounding history, philosophy and technology, often at the edge of science fiction.
“Reflection of Power,” Patty Talbert’s strong entry to the showcase, is a great reminder of the reasons she was nominated for outstanding 2-D work. Her colorful self-portrait resonates as a positive image of beauty and strength, as the batik-inflected patterning associated with her work permeates every portion of the canvas, layering it with cultural as well as decorative content.
In the area of emerging art, additional kudos to Emma Krenzer and Shawnequa Linder. Krenzer’s work, which gained some international buzz for limning the impact of sexual assault and issues of consent, continues to explore the physical and psychological burdens of women in such works as “No Stairway to Heaven.” Linder’s textural, monochromatic portraiture, as in the small but impactful “Rumination,” displays her distinctively expressionistic world-weariness.
So congrats to all in the spotlight of the Omaha visual arts scene! And a reminder that the qualifying year for the 15th annual OEAAs is already half over—keep viewing and voting, so we can celebrate again next winter.
The OEAA Winter Visual Arts Showcase is now on view through February 22, 2020, at the Roberta and Bob Rogers Gallery, 1806 Vinton Street. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Saturday from 10am-6pm. For further information, please visit www.gallery72.com or call 402/496-4797.