2009: The year in art

Saints, sinners, paint
By GREG COOK  |  December 30, 2009

The year started off with a kick in the teeth when, in January, Brandeis University announced plans to shutter its Rose Art Museum and sell off its masterpieces. Leaders of the Waltham school pled "historic economic recession" and then kinda, sorta retreated over the ensuing months as the entire art world declared they had shit for brains. Numerous administrators — among them President Jehuda Reinharz and financial chief Peter French — subsequently announced they were leaving, but the threat has not been outright rescinded. Stay tuned.

Three major local painters passed away: Henry Schwartz, Michael Mazur, and Hyman Bloom. And after 10 galleries closed last year, two more shut down in 2009: eight-year-old OH+T Gallery and Nielsen Gallery, which was founded in 1963. But several local artists had break-out years, and new energy came with the opening of Fourth Wall Project and Gallery Benoit in Boston, Meme Gallery and Gallery 263 (technically at the end of 2008) in Cambridge, and Hallway Gallery in Jamaica Plain. Which leads me to our annual rundown of the best art of the year.

The marvel of the Museum of Fine Arts' "Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice" was 1) the amazing loans the MFA secured (rumored to be Italy's thanks for the MFA's return of Italian antiquities) and 2) curator Frederick Ilchman's crackerjack organization of the canvases. Telling face-offs of the 16th-century titans depicting the same Greek deities or Catholic saints made it plain to experts as well as average Joes how the three artists developed in relation and competition with one another. But there was nothing plain about the glorious art, devoted as it was to the sensual pleasures of red velvet, gold, and rosy naked flesh.

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