UnchARTed Territory

Writers predict less, hope best for Metro Art in uncertain 2017


After last Nov. 8, saying that 2017 will be as wildly unpredictable as the president-elect himself, no matter what the field of concern, may be the understatement of any year.

So, pardon us if any crystal-ball gazing or prognostication regarding the visual arts in the Metro next year sounds a bit anti-climactic; compared that is, to what Mr. Trump has in store for us judging by his recent cabinet nominations.

Nevertheless then, yours truly and six other Reader arts writers below, predict less and offer instead a few observations, a bit of wishful thinking and hoping for Metro arts, if for no other reason than to take our minds off what else is to come.

We are just scratching the surface of course as to what might improve conditions for individual artists in our community as well as for the cultural climate overall. You can be sure the Reader will continue to cover Metro arts events, exhibits and issues as before with your help. We are interested also in what you think as well and hope you will include your comments below online.

To begin with, it is hoped that all Metro arts venues begin their programming in 2017 with as much promise as the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, which reopens its doors to the public, Feb. 2 with not one, but three promising exhibits.

Cassils features the titular performance artist, bodybuilder, and personal trainer’s three-part exhibition, which addresses concerns of unseen violence and trauma against transgender bodies; Chimeras, an international group exhibition of women artists who explore how fixed categories of technology, animal, and human are increasingly challenged and blurred in contemporary society; and Paula Wilson: The Backward Glance mines the artist’s ongoing investigations of race, identity, and objectification of the female body by transporting viewers into a mythical creation story composed of painting, video, and prints on fabric.

Major contemporary art exhibitions and events in 2017 will also be forthcoming from Joslyn Art Museum and the Kaneko and will be announced and covered soon. The same is true of area galleries as their schedules become available.

Though dates may be tentative and change, Omaha’s The Moving Gallery has already scheduled exhibits of Watie White this Jan. 19—Mar. 19, Joe Broghammer then in March, an internationally curated group photo exhibit of cars opening in August, Berlin artist Brigitte Waldach also in August and Swiss artist couple Beat Klein and Kendrikje Kuhne in October. Other exhibits and dates are yet to be confirmed.

The Moving Gallery has a history of organizing international expositions, particularly those curated by the likes of Matthias Harder and Christian Rothman from Berlin and Humberto Chavez from Mexico City, often in multiple gallery spaces here in Omaha while involving area artists as well. The Car photo exhibition, curated by Harder, should prove to be as interesting.

The Metro would also benefit from a cooperative exposition of its own, one that might put Omaha in a Midwest spotlight, if not a national one. It would require the leadership and cooperation of our big three art centers and larger area galleries, and possibly the art departments of Creighton and UNO as well, not to mention private and public sponsorship.

But imagine what an art festival, expo, whatever, every two or three years, similar to the Biennial of the Americas in multiple venues in Denver or Lincoln’s own successful PhotoFest would add to Omaha’s reputation in the fine arts. The biennial or triennial could focus on an underserved genre, style or medium, a cultural theme or issue relevant to our times and location, or it could explore more socio-political themes, the purview of art since its beginnings.

Most of all, such a multi-venue expo would draw attention to Midwest artists, emerging and established, putting their art in the forefront. Given Nebraska’s continuing “brain drain,” the loss of its best and brightest, this would be a major draw for the state’s emerging creative class to stick around a bit longer.

Metro emerging artists continue to get educational support and guidance—though an MFA program locally would also be a big benefit and investment—from outside agencies such as the Omaha Creative Institute’s Artist Inc program and the Union for Contemporary Art, the latter of which is expanding its services and domain in its new digs in 2017 in the Blue Lion Building at the corner of 24th and Lake St.

But emerging and established artists alike would benefit from greater exposure and representation in the Metro. In short, the creative class needs to add collecting art to its priorities when it comes to spending its discretionary income. Two area programs work toward that end:  CSArt from OCI caters to donor artists and emerging private collectors and the independent Revolve Fine Art works to bring artist and business together in a mutually beneficial leasing program. CSI will host a special preview of its next offerings Feb. 3, from 5-7 p.m. in its Design Center, 1516 Cuming St.

The Kaneko will host a Revolve program for the public, April 28, from 7-9 p.m., called artrEVOLVEd. It should be well attended. So too, one would think, a similar seminar on the fine art of fine art collecting in general conducted by area gallery owners. The initial market is there, given the popularity of silent auctions and $100 art sales. But these methods, which do have their merit, are not sustainable for the individual artist.

Before the following writers add their two cents to the one percent rule for the arts, here are some random hopes for improving Metro arts infra and superstructure:

  • Omaha developers will add contemporary public art to its reno plans for the Missouri river waterfront that rivals that of Council Bluffs, especially the magisterial ‘Big Mo’ by internationally know sculptor Mark di Suvero.
  • The developing Capitol District in downtown Omaha will include an art gallery or two.
  • Kaneko will break ground on its new magnificent collections building on the corner of 11th and Leavenworth now that it’s done, and we are down with its imposing “front door.”
  • And the Bemis Center will reopen its unique Underground to the public on behalf of its initial mission to benefit area emerging artists.

From Alex Priest: I would like to see organizations and exhibitions support artists exploring urgent socio-political topics including gender, sexuality, phobias, race; along with relevant environmental concerns such as Standing Rock, and big ag. 

Janet Farber: In covering the unveiling of the latest public art project, the Omaha World-Herald will consistently recognize the artist who translated the intent of the commission into reality.

Kent Behrens: In 2017, Omaha’s art “scene” would benefit from more two-person and three-person exhibits. It is sometimes prohibitively expensive for single artists to fill an entire gallery space.

David Thompson: Maybe I don’t frequent the right venues, but it strikes me that Omaha does not have much going on in terms of performance art.  This is odd given the diversity of our artistic community.  I remember going to see Omaha’s innovative Magic Theatre in the 1980s, but they don’t seem to be around anymore.

Adam Price: In 2017, I’d like to see a robust discussion about why public funds are being used to subsidize the purchase of art by the wealthiest collectors, and how we can direct public monies to support the creation of a more democratic art ecology. 

Melinda Kozel: I hope to see more venues for art appear where we don’t expect: artists and curators finding new opportunities to use their voices.


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