Arts, Seen: Cara Ober Picks the Best Visual Arts Exhibits of the Year.

My Top Pick for 2011: MICA’s Open City

On a recent wintry day, I struck up a conversation with a stranger in my local coffee shop. He asked me what I did for a living, and, when I explained that I write a weekly column on arts and culture for the Urbanite, he scratched his head and asked, “Is it difficult to find new art events to write about every single week? It must be a struggle to find enough art to write about.”

Despite his impression, nothing could be further from the truth. Baltimore’s cultural landscape is a frenetic hotbed of visual art, performance, and music, and, now more than ever before, the creative communities here are kicking it into high gear. Obviously, this person has a busy life, but he expressed interest in the arts and a desire to know more about the local arts scene. The solution: I encouraged him to sign up for the weekly Arts and Culture E-Zine to gain a sense of the many offerings that Baltimore’s cultural community produces on a weekly basis.

In the past year, I have been incredibly busy—attending exhibits, plays, performances, and concerts. More often than not, the projects I cover leave me impressed, surprised, and inspired. Looking back, I have more than a few favorites. This list is an opportunity to revisit the best visual arts exhibits of 2011, covered in the Urbanite Arts and Culture E-Zine. If you are not yet a subscriber, ’tis the season to sign up [www.urbanitebaltimore.com] for this free, weekly publication and get in tune with the exciting range of opportunities this city’s cultural communities provide.

Now, on to the accolades.

1. Open City Baltimore was produced by MICA students and explored the city of Baltimore from social, economic, and historical perspectives, focusing especially on issues of geographical separation. Not only was it incredibly informational, this exhibit was also inspired, beautiful, outrageous, and humorous.

2. Material Girls at The Reginald F. Lewis Museum got loads of press this year, including an Art in America review. I would like to respectfully point out that Urbanite sang the praises of this terrific exhibit of eight contemporary African American female artists way before the bandwagon even existed.

3. Print by Print: Series from Dürer to Lichtenstein at the Baltimore Museum of Art is an energetic, elegant exhibit featuring half a millennia of printmaking. It includes huge names, as well as upcoming contemporary artists, and the serial aspect of the exhibit allows for a rich and unique viewing experience.

4. Gallery 4 had a number of excellent shows this year, including Andy Holtin’s collaborative solo show titled Hypotheses. His quasi-scientific sculptures were beautifully constructed and his video works were an engaging mix of artificiality and authenticity.

5. This year’s Sondheim Exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art had much to offer the local arts community, as well as general public visitors to the BMA. Filmmaker Matthew Porterfield took away the top honors and $25,000 check, but all the participants in the exhibit were worth a second, and a third, look.

6. Although he is new to Baltimore’s art scene, (he is a current graduate student in MICA’s Mt. Royal program) John Latiano’s Points of Contention, a site-specific installation at School 33, possessed such a powerful rawness, as well as incredible craftsmanship. It is one of the most memorable exhibits I encountered all year.

7. Possibly because of its last minute deadline, The Baltimore Liste series of three exhibits at the Contemporary Museum created an amazing buzz in the artist community. Within just a few weeks, Baltimore’s youngest artists and newest galleries were able to pull together some of the most provocative and ambitious exhibits of the year.

8. The Book: A Contemporary View exhibition at Towson University was a rare opportunity to peruse a national collection of the top practitioners of artist books. Curated by J. Susan Isaacs, the exhibit and its accompanying catalogue was extensive, thoroughly researched, and impressive.

9. Goya Contemporary exhibits nationally-known, mid-career artists and puts together consistently strong exhibits. Two concurrent solo shows by South African Paul Emmanuel and Baltimorean Lynn Silverman explored powerful contrasts between dark and light, both metaphorically and visually.

10. Loring Cornish is Baltimore’s most prolific artist. He has covered numerous buildings, walls, and pieces of furniture with his characteristic mirrored mosaic style. His most ambitious project to date, In Each Other’s Shoes at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, explored shared histories of African Americans and Jews.