Our Favorite Art Shows of 2021 and Why | Art review | Seven days

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  • Courtesy
  • Kate Gridley’s “Bittern”

In this journal, we usually make lists of seven, rather than the more typical 10. Admittedly, the smaller number makes it more difficult to sort out favorite shows from, in this case, a whole year of viewing art. Thus, some selections are based not only on the artwork itself, but on a compelling contextual aspect of the exhibition.

Additionally, we only considered artists from Vermont. (We apologize to the foreigners who have exhibited some great work here this year.) And, a caveat: These selections were taken from exhibits we were able to review in Seven days. There was so much more art to be seen in 2021 – a big thank you to the artists, gallery owners and financial backers who made this possible – and viewers surely had their own favorites. Here are seven of ours.

Matt Neckers, “Cataclysm: Familiar robots and their animal species, Red Mill Gallery, Vermont Studio Center in Johnson

Restrictions on social distancing led to a creative solution for art visualization: VSC’s visual arts program director Kristen Mills left the lights on at night so passers-by could view the exhibition by VSC. Neckers through the high gallery windows. Inside, its brightly-colored found metal structures looked kindergarten-worthy – until you noticed the silhouettes of tanks, missiles, and warships. The installation was reminiscent of children’s cartoons that incorporated darker themes for adults. (A truncated version appeared in “Bubblegum Pop” at the BCA Center in Burlington in the summer.)

Cataclysmic view of artist Matt Neckers at the Vermont Studio Center

Matt Neckers

Cataclysmic view of artist Matt Neckers at the Vermont Studio Center

By Pamela Polston

Visual art

Kevin Donegan, “your basket is empty, Flynndog Gallery in Burlington

Planned for South End Art Hop, Donegan’s exhibition was a testament to ingenuity and environmental caution. But the artist had a larger theme in mind. Using the spare iconography of shopping carts, recycling bins and garbage cans, as well as the “middle” of the trash, Donegan put together a reflective and provocative display. The metamorphosis of the materials found was ingenious. Donegan’s generative topic – what we acquire and what we throw away – also confronted viewers with the human cost of our waste.

Art review: Kevin Donegan, Flynndog Gallery

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Art review: Kevin Donegan, Flynndog Gallery

By Pamela Polston

Art journal

Fleming Reinvented: Confronting Institutional Racism and Historical Oppression, Fleming Museum of Art, University of Vermont, Burlington

This title did not refer to a single exhibition but to an overhaul of the museum’s acquisition and exhibition mission, as well as the use of its spaces. Fleming’s staff took advantage of a pandemic-induced shutdown to think deeply about how his practices reinforced notions of white supremacy – and how to move forward with more inclusiveness. They also created a strongly worded statement of values ​​titled “A Living Document of Museum Calculations and Transformations”. In addition to their glowing commitment to the necessary evolution of museums, the staff have organized captivating exhibitions of works from the permanent collection.

“The Fleming Reimagined” reflects the ongoing calculations of the UVM Museum

"Absence" in the European and American Gallery, Fleming Museum

“The Fleming Reimagined” reflects the ongoing calculations of the UVM Museum

By Pamela Polston

Visual art

William Ransom, “Hold on / hold on, “Brattleboro Museum and Art Center

Although modest in size, this exhibition of six sculptures was visually compelling and conceptually powerful. Painfully eloquently, the Norwich artist, who is biracial, approached the current national calculus with systemic racism. Three plays made specific reference to black men killed at the hands of the police. More abstract works made mostly from wooden slats were each held together with a workshop clamp. The tool became a metaphor for America’s ambitious motto, e pluribus unum – “among many, one” – and for the fragility of this pluralist ideal. The tense energy of Ransom’s pieces seemed to contain both the promise and the threat of what might be.

Art review: William Ransom’s sculptural installation talks about racial calculation, the search for balance and conservation

From left to right : "Our unfinished business," "88" and "Taser"

Art review: William Ransom’s sculptural installation talks about racial calculation, the search for balance and conservation

By Pamela Polston

Art journal

20/20 Retrospective, “collective exhibition at Kents’ Corner in Calais

For the 13th edition of this annual exhibition, co-curators Nel Emlen, Allyson Evans and David Schutz chose works that honored creators of yesteryear. Some 250 pieces by 20 Vermont artists filled the halls of the historic building, some representing or reusing ancient tools. From paintings of ancient mills and handmade hats to sculptures using boulders or contemporary technology, this indoor and outdoor spectacle invited one to consider human ingenuity, as well as admiration for the beautifully made things of the past. and the present.

Art review: “20/20 Retrospective”, Kents’ Corner

"Bittern" by Kate Gridley

Art review: “20/20 Retrospective”, Kents’ Corner

By Amy Lilly

Art journal

The Outdoor Gallery Ski & Snowshoe Trail“, group exhibition at the Highland Center for the Arts in Greensboro

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"Blue bonfire" by HCA Scene Shop - COURTESY OF AMY LILLY

  • Courtesy of Amy Lilly
  • “Blue Bonfire” by HCA Scene Shop

Adapting to the needs of the pandemic era for fresh air and social distancing, HCA has installed sculptures – including an installation of painted sheets by Peter Schumann of the Bread and Puppet Theater – around its grounds and fields neighbors for “an unmissable pandemic escape experience”. Art adventurers, traveling on snowshoes or cross-country skis, warmed around fireplaces with grilled cheese sandwiches and hot drinks.

Highland Center for the Arts adorns snow-capped trail in Greensboro

"Blue bonfire" by HCA Scene Shop

Highland Center for the Arts adorns snow-capped trail in Greensboro

By Amy Lilly

Visual art

“It’s smaller than I thought“, group exhibition at the Safe and Sound Gallery in Burlington

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"A woman with green hair" by Yoshi47 - COURTESY OF MARIN HORIKAWA

  • Courtesy of Marin Horikawa
  • “A woman with green hair” by Yoshi47

It is perhaps the much-vaunted reputation of “Mona Lisa” – arguably the most famous painting in the world – that leaves many visitors to the Louvre in Paris surprised by its relatively modest size. The flashing title of this show reveals its theme. The gallery owner Marin Horikawa invited 60 artists to riff on the portrait of Leonardo da Vinci in 1503; 15 of them responded, and the results could not have been more diverse. Artists naturally worked in their characteristic styles and mediums, including collage, oil, pastel, and print. Renaissance Lisa probably wouldn’t relate to most of their designs. The exhibition was not necessarily conceived as a response to the pandemic, but how could it not be? As one of the first local shows to open for in-person viewing, the collection was a satisfying dump of provocation, fun, and catharsis.

Art review: “It’s smaller than I thought”, Galerie Safe and Sound

Art review: “It’s smaller than I thought”, Galerie Safe and Sound

By Pamela Polston

Art journal