To honor a rich and diverse arts scene, some diverse and idiosyncratic awards.
1999 Critics Choice: Most Creative Use of Awards
Reviewing art exhibitions in Richmond for the past six months has been both an eye-opening and life-affirming experience. The rich and diverse nature of Richmond's visual arts scene speaks to the important, even crucial, role the arts play in our community and in our lives.
Altogether, 1999 has been an incredibly fruitful year of art in Richmond. The consistently high-quality output of local artists and the supportive network of galleries are certainly gratifying. In the rush and frenzy of the holidays, it is good to reflect on the arts of this city. With an ever-increasing presence of digital this and virtual that, it is refreshing to see the arts as distinctly real, palpable, and most of all, human.
To honor just a few of the many noteworthy artistic endeavors of 1999, below are six highly subjective and idiosyncratic "awards." While these awards make no effort to summarize the whole year in the arts, they do highlight and recognize some of the interesting exhibitions and artists that resonated for me personally.
The Most Hyped (and Deservedly So) Show of the Year Award: This award easily goes to "The Splendors of Ancient Egypt" exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. More than 250,000 people visited the show during its six months, making it one of the most successful and far-reaching exhibitions in the museum's history. Composed of more than 200 objects, including coffins, statues, jewelry, friezes, and, yes, even the quintessential mummy, the Virginia Museum helped Richmonders understand what it meant to live more than 5,000 years ago and had us all walking like Egyptians by year-end.
Artistic Matriarch of Richmond Award: No competition here, either. Theresa Pollak celebrated her 100th birthday on Aug. 13, and this momentous occasion brought forth an outpouring of retrospection, exhibitions, celebrations and even free posters of her work. A talented painter, Pollak devoted herself to teaching others, founding Virginia Commonwealth University's School of the Arts in 1928 and teaching there for 40 years. In honor of her lifelong dedication to art and teaching, the Marsh Gallery of the University of Richmond's Modlin Center (where she also taught art) offered a comprehensive centennial exhibition of her art Oct. 2-Dec. 11, while Reynolds Gallery showed her works on paper Oct. 15-Nov. 13.
The Show that Used the Most Electricity Award: "Innuendo Non Troppo: The Work of Gregory Barsamian" at VCU's Anderson Gallery was energetic in more ways than one. Barsamian's kinetic sculptures of crawling amoebae, swing-dancing couples, and cupid-cum-helicopters were all enacted through individual motors that spun their metal armatures and brought the figures into motion. Since these individual works were plugged in, I assumed that, in the nine weeks that the show was up, a significant amount of electricity was used. But Leon Roper, the gallery's manager, notes that while the works required electricity to run, all the lights were off so they saved hundreds of hours in light-bulb energy! Either way, the show was a hit. Dark, eerie, surreal this was one of the Anderson Gallery's most visited and popular shows. More than 10,000 people attended the nine-week show which is more people than visit the gallery in a typical year, Roper says.
Mos Tcrea Tiveus Eoft Ext Award: September's five-gallery retrospective of the late Richmond artist, Davi Det Hompson, spotlighted the artist's prolific corpus of books, paintings, drawings and sculpture, from the 1960s to 1990s. While his art evolved from strongly text-based works to more visceral sculptures of linguistic form, language and signs were a consistent impetus to Davi's approach. His art and name alike challenged the traditional ways of reading and seeing, transforming one's perceptions and understanding of our world's system of signs.
Best Use of Styrofoam Award: While Amie Oliver's art is much more than a depository for unused Styrofoam, that very material does mark her art as unique. Nicely displayed this past fall at Coincidence Gallery, Oliver's pieces initially tricked the eye. By painting and collaging on slabs of Styrofoam and mounting them vertically, she created the illusion of Greek temple friezes and other archaeological fragments. The modern, lightweight, throwaway quality of Styrofoam contrasted interestingly with the permanence and antiquity of ancient art. Whether from an archaeological dig or a poke in the local landfill, Oliver cleverly made use of a common material to reach greater artistic ends.
Most Local Richmonders in the Nude Award: Thomas Van Auken's portraits, displayed this fall at the Eric Schindler Gallery, were literally a nudist colony in paint. It was rather disconcerting to look from picture to picture and recognize former colleagues and current friends all in the buff. Van Auken employed painting and drawing to explore the human body and its fortitude, physicality and vulnerability. The artist and especially the subjects bared everything in the name of beauty and