Meanwhile, "Grand Scale: Monumental Prints in the Age of Dürer and Titian" at Wellesley's Davis Museum recalibrated our sense of history with rarely exhibited large-scale Renaissance prints that showed artists pushing the medium to its boundaries.
Cooler than cool
Organized by California's Orange County Museum of Art, the Addison Gallery's "Birth of the Cool" was a thrilling survey of LA mid-century Modernism, and once again we got to dream that dashing streamlined design and painting and jazz album covers could spawn a glamorous space-age utopia.
Heart of darkness
Brit Ana Maria Pacheco's Dark Night of the Soul at the Danforth Museum filled a dark gallery with rough-hewn, life-size wood figures — bystanders warily eyeing the sinister men who surrounded a naked man tied to a post. He was kneeling, and there was a black bag over his head, and he'd been shot full of arrows: St. Sebastian as the victim of torture. Made in 1999, Pacheco's installation touched on crimes of the military dictatorships in her native Brazil. But walking among the figures during the last year of the Bush administration, it was hard not to mourn, and equally hard not to feel implicated in our government's dark deeds.
A sense of where you are
For more than seven years, Ernest Morin (another friend) has been photographing the gritty streets of Gloucester. This summer, when the mayor proposed to rezone an iconic neighborhood of docks, fish factories, and tenements to make way for condos and a Marriott hotel, Morin went into overdrive to document the neighborhood before it disappeared. In July, a few hundred persons filled Gloucester City Hall to watch a slide show of crisp black-and-white shots that dig to the bittersweet marrow of the place. Morin followed that up by organizing resident and business opposition to the changes.
"New England Survey" at the Photographic Resource Center offered ravishing photos of this region's landscape that reminded us why we return again and again to our outdoors to find our roots, to find solace, to find awe.
The Peabody Essex Museum followed its breakout 2007 Joseph Cornell retrospective with "Samuel McIntire: Carving an American Style," a fetching survey of the Federalist-era Salem architect and wood carver. Like the Cornell show, it was a definitive study of the man's work, animated by stellar museum stagecraft. Subsequent exhibits — "Wedded Bliss," which showcased treasures created to celebrate getting hitched, and "To the Ends of the Earth," a revel in rapturous polar landscapes (it's up through March 1) — confirmed PEM's place as one of New England's most exciting institutions.
All year, anonymous artists turned flotsam and jetsam into cunningly balanced junk sculptures — part Inuit inuksuk, part early David Smith — on the ocean's edge at Dorchester's Victory Park. Each visit offered fresh discoveries as new assemblages were erected after previous ones had collapsed or been washed away. Runners-up: LA's Shepard Fairey postered Cambridge and Boston, and New Jersey's Ron English plastered his Barack Obama–Abraham Lincoln mash-up mural on construction walls along Harrison Avenue.
Harvard Med School assistant professor Arun Shanbhag happened to be in Mumbai in November visiting his parents when terrorists attacked. He posted seat-of-the-pants photos and notes to his blog that were riveting and heartbreaking: blood on a street where a waiter was gunned down, the Taj Hotel ablaze, commandos rappelling from a helicopter onto the roof of a besieged Jewish center.
The Institute for Infinitely Small Things' e-mail announcing the conclusion of its project to rename public places in Cambridge: "Useless Map — Only $5."
Read Greg Cook's blog at gregcookland.com/journal