On the surface, a list like this would seem to be better suited for the end of the year when nearly every arts publication posts those trite "Best" listicles. Don't worry, I'll still do one in December that's a bit more straightforward and includes notable names picking their favorite shows of the year. However, given the theme of this issue, I thought it suitable to offer a "Best Of" list that includes some of my favorite shows and artists from this year, as well as some more, well, novel and tongue-in-cheek approaches to the "Best" concept.
Best "Fight the Power" Moment: From local artist Susie Ghahremani calling out corporate copying by Francesca's, to Save Our Heritage's fight to save the downtown Caliente murals, there's been no shortage this year of artists and organizations standing up to the proverbial man. For me though, the best use of art-as-protest was Collective Magpie (Tae Hwang and MR Barnadas) and their Occupy-esque takeover of the UC San Diego University Art Gallery to protest the university's decision to close and repurpose the gallery. Their actions, from petition gathering to creating on-site art, managed to change minds and save the gallery (for now).
Best Embracement of SoCal Culture: Most local artists run away from incorporating what could be considered the more obvious and touristy aspects of SoCal culture (the beach, for example), but Morgan Mandalay's ongoing SPF15project manages to bring a sense of experimentalism to the more embarrassing and cliché aspects of beach life. With help from up-and-comers like Cody Tumblin and Audrey Hope, Mandalay has curated 10 site-specific beach installations that both embrace and ridicule beach life.
Best Female Power Moment: The Women's Museum of California's Shoulders to Stand On: Remembering the Chicana Activist Narrative was certainly a worthy and well-curated historical exhibition of female empowerment. But for me, it was the all-womenIUD: A Place You Think About series of shows at Helmuth Projects that truly left a mark on anyone who was lucky enough to have seen them. Curator Maria Nicola Mathioudakis organized four (one every week) shows in all, each of them featuring several female artists from San Diego, Mexico and beyond. The works ranged from site-specific experimentalism (Eva de Leon) to cartoonish pop-surrealism (Chulaface), and while the works and styles were often disorienting in their differences, the collective statements on feminism were read loud and clear.
Best Animal Fetishizing: Maybe I'm the only one that noticed, but there were a lot of shows devoted to our love of animals this year. I'd conveniently cite the centennial of the zoo as a possible reason for this trend, but between MOPA's Beauty and the Beast: The Animal in Photography, the San Diego Museum of Art's Ferocious Bronze and Sparks Gallery's upcoming Animalia group show, there's been no shortage of shows devoted to the animal kingdom. While these shows had a sense of seriousness, it was the San Diego Art Institute's more humorous Best in Show exhibition that did the best job at analyzing our obsession with animals, particularly cats and dogs.
Best Well-Intentioned Piece of Crap: Local art critic icon Robert L. Pincus recently published a not-so-subtle UT op-ed about the recent controversy over a statue of legendary local basketball player Bill Walton and, more specifically, the airport's refusal to install the statue. The controversy is rather convoluted, but long story short, the statue is genuinely awful, looks almost nothing like Walton and, if installed, would join an already long list of crappy public art in our city. The Airport Authority's refusal of the statue (it's at Petco Park, for now) is a step in the right direction and a statement that our city deserves quality public art, not cheesy garbage.
Best Clusterfuck that Was Otherwise Filled with Great Artists: I honestly don't know how to feel about the San Diego Art Prize anymore. The annual award and accompanying exhibitions have always been commendable for pairing an emerging talent with an established artist, but between the confusing nominating and pairing processes, to the janky website, it just seems like the concept needs yet another overhaul. The 2016 New Contemporaries exhibition at City Gallery, which showcased the nominees, was a great example of the convolution. The installation of the art seemed thrown together at the last minute and the computer where attendees could vote for their favorite artist often did not work at all (I visited the show on two different occasions and ultimately didn't get to vote). And while the art and the artists were fantastic (winners Shinpei Takeda and William Feeney are deserving of any accolade), I still can't help but feel that all of the artists deserved better.