The year started ominously. Stairwell Gallery shut down in late 2009, followed by Jesse Smith closing his 5 Traverse gallery in February, leaving a big gap for local spaces addressing where art is going next. But 5T co-director Maya Allison landed at Brown University's Bell Gallery. And the year turned into a celebration of longevity as Bert Gallery turned 25, Dirt Palace turned 10, and the Steel Yard hosted its fifth annual Halloween Iron Pour. Most significantly, AS220 marked its 25th year of fostering unfettered expression in Rhode Island. With their inspiration in mind, here's our rundown of the best art of '10.
The strange wanderings of post-1960s abstraction were the focus of two major shows at the RISD Museum. Last spring's PAT STEIR drawing retrospective, organized in part by RISD's Jan Howard, traced Steir's steps leading up to her rapturous waterfall paintings and drawings of the '80s. This fall's LYNDA BENGLIS survey, organized in part by RISD's Judith Tannenbaum, showcased Benglis's groundbreaking poured paintings and lumpy drip sculptures of the 1960s and '70s, plus her still notorious naked self-promotional broadsides. Both artists were feminist activists in the '70s, pushing for greater roles for women in art and life. These well-deserved retrospectives honor that legacy.
DIRTY PRETTY THINGS
ALISON OWEN stood out among the talented crowd in the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts' sharp "2010 Fellowship Exhibit" at Imago with her installation of picture frames and walls decorated with fleur de lis patterns. The lovely rococo designs were charged by the fact that Owen made them with dirty mop water and lint collected from cleaning the gallery. Which prompted pointed questions about beauty and femininity in art and life.
Sculptor JON LAUSTSEN of Woonsocket had a breakout performance with his lobby-filling installation — his largest yet — in the group show "Voice Over" at Bell Gallery. Construction in redeveloping Providence has been a major theme in local art in recent years. Laustsen channels the look and language of building with installations that resemble construction sites — alternating between actual sized and model scale — that have taken on mutant lives of their own.
HIGH WIRE ACT
C.W. ROELLE of Providence, who was also on my best of '09 list, continued to wow by spinning out his singular, marvelous wire sculptures that tease the line between 2D and 3D. At Craftland's gallery, they looked like drawings of, say, a birdcage overrun by koalas that had wandered off pages and into the air.
MAGNIFICENT Salvatore Mancini's Granite Dells.
SALVATORE MANCINI's photographs of sacred sites and Arizona granite dells at Gallery Z demonstrated once again the Cranston master's striking, sensual command of black and white as he seeks awe-inspiring metaphysical connections with the ancient, the sacred, the eternal.
NICK HOLLIBAUGH's wooden sculptures of miniature barns, oil tanks, and farm fields at Cade Tompkins Projects mulled the vernacular architecture of farming to ask open-ended questions about what rural life means to America. But what stuck with you was the Massachusetts artist's spare, precise woodcraft.