December brings with it the obligation of every critic to put forth in list form an unfair reductionist look-back on the year that was. Being a responsible art blogger, I won’t beg off.
Now, I realize the ‘top-10’ list is generally the accepted format for these types of articles. Tampa Bay, however, is not New York City – a top ten list here is nearly large enough to be called a ‘bottom ten list written in reverse order’. For this reason I opted for the ‘Best in Category of 2012’ format. Take heart if you or your exhibit is not mentioned here: if it makes you feel better you can assume that you would have come in second or third on my top ten list. First we’ll tackle the year’s best museum exhibit. That said, on with the judgements!
Best Museum Exhibit
Contemporary Prints by American Women: A Selection from the Gift of Martha and Jim Sweeny – Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg
Perhaps this decision is easier to understand when I emphasize that it isn’t the artist(s) under scrutiny in this category, but rather the exhibit itself. (Although, I should mention a lot of the work was simply amazing; prints from Louise Nevelson, Vija Celmins, and Pat Steir (excuse the academic jargon) blew my mind)
There is only one aspect of the Contemporary Prints exhibit that ended up on the wrong side of my pro/con list: it was small. The MFA’s upstairs gallery that housed the exhibit is about the size of a typical commercial gallery. This wasn’t entirely surprising, though – the exhibit is effectively a preview of a collection in progress. A larger exhibit is expected to be hung when that collection is complete.
This exhibition set itself apart as this year’s best by effectively accomplishing two things. The first is its excellent presentation of the medium. The exhibit offered the prints as a medium unto itself rather than simply a means of replication. The medium carries a tendency to be culturally undervalued, seen merely as reproductions of originals. Contemporary Prints underscored the nuances of individual prints, the craftsmanship involved, and even the fact that some original artwork was intended to exist only as prints.
The second is highlighting women artists in the post-war period. Women are still terribly underrepresented in museums nationwide and Bay Area institutions seemed to sadly make peace with the situation. Thus, an exhibit that exclusively highlights the talent of contemporary women is especially welcome. Further, the exhibit was tastefully curated emphasizing each artist’s work rather than their gender – not qualifying the art by sex in a misguided attempt to be politically correct.
In short, the exhibit was based on a thoughtful concept rather than shallow novelty, highlighting an underrepresented and often undervalued medium and artists.
John Cage 33 1/3 – Performed By Audience, Tampa Museum of Art
John Cage 33 1/13 – Performed by Audience was by far the most fun museum art exhibit this year. Although I may have annoyed a few museum guest, I happily sat on the couch listening to the cacophony of the four turntable I set into motion. The exhibit is a musical score of sorts ‘written’ by John Cage. Cage stipulates that about twelve record players be arranged in a gallery along with two to three hundred records. Visitors are then encouraged to participate by playing the records as they see fit.
Perhaps Tampa Bay’s best curator, Jade Dellenger, organized the TMoA exhibit (as well as a corresponding show at Tempus Projects that ran concurrently) as part of the centenary celebration of John Cage’s birth.