RUEFULLY FUNNY Regier’s Dime Star & Stan Pede.
The fall brought bad news — R.K. Projects closed as founding duo Sam Keller and Tabitha Piseno decamped for new adventures in New York (though they've since announced plans to do additional projects here). In an art scene as small as Rhode Island's, any loss is a big blow, and to lose a venue as intriguing and trailblazing as RK is bruising. But the best art shows of the year exemplify how resilient the local art world is — as projects end, new venues like 186 Carpenter sprout.
"Dom," Providence artist Agata Michalowska's starchy installation at AS220's Project Space in February, was a meditation on her childhood in Poland and home in general. A miniature house, a pile of folded gray towels, and a table set with glasses and stained saucers created a meditative, sensual, cleansed, wistful mood.
• POWER COUPLE
Pawtucket couple Megan and Murray McMillan, whose video installations are among the biggest, most ambitious art being made in the region, got a mini-retrospective at Brown University's Granoff Center in May. It was one fantastic tableau after another: towers of lamps; a couple folding sheets in a dark, flooded room; a couple riding a boat over a sea of mirror-topped tables; a room flying over a dinner party so the woman on a hammock inside could rappel down a rope to join them.
Providence wife and husband team Kyla and James (Gunsho) Quigley offered his and hers psychedelic visions at Quigley's Magic Show at Buonaccorsi + Agniel in May. James's grossout drawings and prints offered melting faces and puking, while Kyla's fabric and terracotta sculptures envisioned mystical beasts and mandalas.
The National Museum of American Illustration is providing an up-close look at one of the masters of the field with "Maxfield Parrish: The Retrospective" The allure of his dazzling, escapist visions of dreamy women, stout knights, and funny giants explains how his imagery became ubiquitous at the start of the 20th century.
• TOY STORY
"Rolemodelplaytime," a group show put together by Ian Alden Russell at Brown's Bell Gallery last summer, was a serious look at role models and role-playing, cross-dressing and playing dress up. The standout was Randy Regier's traveling salesman's sample cases filled with invented space sheriff toys charged with the tension between their Buck Rogers dreams and the unseen Willy Loman selling them.
• SPACE ODDITY
Chinese artist Jin Shan meant his installation "My dad is Li Gang!," organized by curator Ian Alden Russell at Brown University's David Winton Bell Gallery this fall, to be a critique of Chinese leaders milking average folks for wealth and privilege. But to visitors not clued into his symbolism, his waxy tricycle that spun a mirrored spacecraft, seemingly crashed to the ground and oozing pus, was still an otherworldly spectacle.
• MADE IN THE USA
"America In View," a survey of landscape photography since the Civil War organized by Jan Howard for the RISD Museum (through January 13), is an enlightening revisionist history. It shows how 1970s "New Topographics" photographers developed their deadpan, conceptual style by looking back to the beginning of photography in their quest for greater authenticity, and how their concepts in turn have become the most pervasive and influential style of art photography today.