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In a strangely surreal year, the visual arts were no exception. 

The Art of Controversy

The year 2000 began with a sigh of relief. Not only had we miraculously escaped the Apocalypse, but even more importantly, our bank accounts and credit card records remained intact after the Y2K scare. From Elian Gonzalez to pregnant chads, this year has been momentous and strangely surreal. The visual arts in Richmond were no exception. Whether triumphant and trenchant or traumatic and troublesome, the local galleries, museums, schools and artists, by turns, proved that Richmond does indeed have art. As a tribute to the visual arts scene, the following are my second annual idiosyncratic and highly subjective art awards. The David Lynch Photographer of the Year Award
Thomas Daniel's "Into My Eyes" at Virginia Commonwealth University's Anderson Gallery in February revealed the artist's incredibly rich oeuvre of black-and-white photographs and attested to his technical finesse, documental objectivity and uncanny ability to be at the right place at the right time. Daniel's subjects — largely the "freaks and geeks" of the modern world (circus performers, religious zealots, Nazis, etc.) — were at once hard to look at and hard to turn away from. His predilection for shooting images of those people on the periphery had a disconcerting yet powerful ability to de-center the normative and rethink the "odd" and the "other." The "You're So Vain, You Probably Think This Award is About You" Award
"Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity." Based on this biblical quote, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' "Vanitas: Meditations on Life and Death in Contemporary Art" was a glorious presentation of current art with a timeless, traditional theme. Vanitas — referring to the fleeting and temporary nature of life — has been a theme in art since the Renaissance. John Ravenal, VMFA's curator of Art After 1900, organized a contemporary twist on this theme. Internationally renowned artists such as Mona Hatoum, Robert Gober, and Rachel Whiteread exhibited works that related to the transitory quality of life and the impending awareness of death. Coordinated with the reconfiguration of the Sydney and Francis Lewis modern galleries, this show, through skulls, oranges, silk flowers and ants, made the viewer acutely aware that the sweetness of art and life itself is nothing but a speck in the great scheme of time. The Sleeper Gallery Space of the Year Award
Quietly nestled out on Mountain Road in Henrico County, the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen has, with little hoopla or fanfare, steadily been presenting beautiful art. A converted elementary school, the center is dedicated to providing visual and performing arts as well as educational programs and classes to the community. The gallery space dedicated to visual arts has been filled with shows reflecting East and West interactions, traditional folk art and the interplay of ancient and modern crafts and techniques. These shows have been curated by Deborah McLeod, my fellow Style arts reviewer, and I cannot express sufficiently how talented and capable she is not only in organizing exhibitions, but also in observing and lucidly writing about art. To see a work, think about it, and successfully tease out meaning is what Deborah excels at, and it is an honor to be her colleague. The Creating Controversy that Succeeds the Bounds of Richmond Award
News of the Virginia photographer Sally Mann's slide presentation at the VMFA made national headlines. Mann has been beleaguered by controversy since the 1970s due to the subjects of her black-and-white photographs. The artist typically focuses on her children, sometimes nude, and their Lexington, Va., rural setting. Mann made waves in May during her lecture at the state-owned museum for what some called a sexually graphic slide of herself and her two daughters urinating. Regardless of this controversy, I offer kudos to both the VMFA and the Reynolds Gallery (which featured Mann's work in May) for presenting the community with challenging, avant-garde art that would otherwise involve a visit to New York to see. From the museum's Fast/Forward series to the Reynolds Gallery "Wild Life" show, both venues understood that contemporary art can often be enigmatic, difficult and nonconformist, and both have presented this art in an intelligent and sophisticated manner. While I only had space to name a few artistic endeavors and highlights of this past year, I wish to convey my admiration and gratification to all the artists, galleries, museums and schools of our city for providing Richmond with a vibrant and prolific community of
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