When reflecting on the best art shows and exhibitions I’d seen this year, I found that it wasn’t so much individual art shows that moved me (although there were many), but rather the forces and feelings behind those shows. They say that some of the best art is created in times of upheaval. If this otherwise dismal year proved anything, it’s that this sentiment just might be true.
10. Sweet Spot
I’ve written at length about some of the stellar programming that’s happening at the San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park, but it was the Sweet Gongs Rising group exhibition in March that stood out the most. Curator Amanda Cachia has made a name for herself by focusing on, as she puts it, the “intersection of disability, phenomenology and contemporary art” and this show brilliantly touched on this intersection by showcasing artists where the visual aspect of visual art took a backseat to sound, smell and touch.
All Hands on Deck
9. MCASD gets edgy again
This year saw some Museum of Contemporary Art exhibitions that were both politically topical and culturally relevant. DeLIMITations: A Survey of the 1821 United States-Mexico Border saw local Marcos Ramírez ERRE and David Taylor crisscrossing the country to place metal markers on the original border. Still, it was Damon Davis’ All Hands on Deck—a photographic collection of the outstretched hands of citizens of Ferguson, Missouri—that left me feeling both inspired and sad at the state of race relations.
8. Border art
Tijuana artist Pablo Llana appeared on CityBeat’s cover back and his first solo exhibition in the U.S. this year couldn’t have better executed. That show, EAT, opened at CM Curatorial back in October and showcased Llana’s impressive, semi-sculptural work that’s made from the wrappers of discarded junk food. Equally impressive was up-and-coming illustrator and sculptor Toni Larios’ Espejos, a solo show at the Tijuana art space Out Here. Larios’ depictions of Tijuana life were equal parts moving and disturbing, and I’m excited to see his work evolve from here.
Photo by Duncan Moore
7. Dawn of the doodle
I admit to rolling my eyes when I hear about the popularity of adult coloring books, but it was truly impressive to see just how many people came out to Sketch Party, a weekly Tuesday night gathering where anyone and everyone could come down and just draw, well, anything they wanted. Sure, it was kind of hokey, but it gave me hope when I saw artists meeting other artists in a city that doesn’t always go out of its way to support them.
Image courtesy of the artist
"The Razor's Edge" by Stefani Byrd
6. Rookie of the year
This will likely be the umpteenth time I mention the name Stefani Byrd in these pages, and I imagine I’ll mention her again in the new year. Her installation work—which incorporates video, new media and interactive technologies—seemed to be everywhere this year from pieces at SDAI and MCASD to being chosen as the LaunchPad artist at this year’s Art San Diego fair. The Atlanta native is finishing up her MFA at UCSD, and I truly hope she sticks around. stefanibyrd.com
Image courtesy of New Americans Museum
Vandalism at New Americans Museum
5. “Too much immigration!”
Along with the Women’s Museum of California, the New Americans Museum in the arts district at Liberty Station is a gem that deserves much more attention than it gets. Unfortunately, it received some unwanted attention this year in the form of anti-immigration graffiti that said things like, “Too much immigration! Go back to your country.” Rather than dwell on the hate crime, the NAM staff used the incident to open up a dialogue with the community and patrons. Watching a crowd gather in support of the museum during a Friday Night Liberty opening was truly heartwarming and proof that love always wins.
4. Light and space
Michael James Armstrong further cemented his place as my favorite local artist with his unbelievable “4:2” installation piece at the new Quint Projects space in Bay Ho. The work was his second site-conditioned piece that used thread to create an illusory, geometric sculpture that seems to change depending on how much natural light exists within the room. Armstrong isn’t sure if he’ll do a third piece. I hope he does.
3. Curator of the year
If I had simply done a list of my favorite art shows of the year, the name Dave Hampton would be all over it. The local curator and writer was responsible for three(!) expertly selected and installed exhibitions: The Erik Gronborg Experience at the Mingei International Museum (up through March 12), and the Portraits of Pomeroy and Print Culture exhibitions at the Central Library Gallery (the latter is up through Feb. 26). It’s not often that curators get some love, but Hampton has proven himself to be both a prolific and professional force in the local scene.
2. The occupation of the UCSD Art Gallery
When Collective Magpie (the artist duo of Tae Hwang and MR Barnadas) learned in May about UC San Diego’s plan to shutter the 50-year-old campus art gallery and repurpose it as classrooms, they could have easily thrown up their hands and said, “oh, well.” Instead the duo, with help from other artists and faculty, staged a multi-day occupation of the gallery that included them constructing an elaborate installation piece made out of scrap paper. And it worked. The dean’s office changed their mind and the gallery is safe. For now.
Image courtesy of Teddeady/Flickr
1. The resilience of Barrio Logan
Even with controversial redevelopment, a horrible tragedy at Chicano Park and the death of Chunky Sanchez, Barrio Logan remained a bright beacon of culture in 2016. Voice of San Diego’s Kinsee Morlan brought some much-needed attention to these issues in her excellent CultureCast podcast and while the spectre of gentrification still looms, it thankfully won’t be due to a Chargers stadium. While a Chicano Park museum now seems imminent, the recent crackdown on three art spaces by the San Diego fire marshal is certainly discouraging. Still, I have no doubt that the community will come together, just as they always have, and continue to fight the power.