Savannah played host to so many amazing exhibitions in 2015 it almost seems criminal to put out a top 10 list – but we’re doing it anyway. Here’s our list of the most remarkable, beautiful, challenging and inspiring shows of the year:
1. Maggie O’Hara’s Gestures of Persistence at Non-Fiction Gallery
Staff Pick – Michelle Guash, Assistant Editor
O’Hara’s ultra tense (and expertly crafted) installation show made a huge impression on us. In a video art desert, Gestures of Persistence‘s lo-fi presentations of endurance performances and visual metaphors finally quenched our thirst. Michelle says: “Maggie’s work was effective in the sense that it showed how sometimes anxiety, sexual tension and, perhaps, depression force your body to react in different/aggressive ways. [She] made us feel something that doesn’t have to do with beauty but with the physicality of emotional disorder.” Check out our review of the show here.
2. Come As You Are: Art of the 1990s at Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center for the Arts
Come As You Are felt like the risk we’ve been waiting for the Jepson Center to take ever since the PULSE Art + Technology festival proved Savannah had an audience for cerebral conceptual art. Highlights included the opportunity to interact with a Felix Gonzalez-Torres installation, sculptures by Janine Antoni, video art by Alex Bag and the chance to view Andrea Fraser’s amazing “Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk” in person. With this and our other Jepson Center pick, we’re excited to see the Telfair institution challenge its typical audience and hope that trend continues through 2016.
3. Haley Varacallo’s The Modernized Housewife at Ampersand
Staff Pick – Ella Ward, Staff Writer
Hidden off the beaten path at Ampersand Bar, Varacallo’s photo series dealing with gender identity characterized (either inadvertently or intentionally) a very real cultural shift in Savannah. With Hangfire’s Candyland nights featuring members of the ever-fluid House of Gunt and the ubiquitousness of Sweet Tease Burlesque’s body-positive/queer-friendly branding, the downtown entertainment scene is changing. The inclusion of Varacallo’s work at a Congress Street bar like Ampersand is more proof of that. Ella says, “The bright contrast of color, wardrobe and perspective – women’s past role in society – and [the composition] was very visually stimulating.” Read her Q&A with Haley here.
4. Dick Bjornseth & Porter Stromberg’s Welcome to the Jungle Gym at Gallery Espresso
Staff Pick – Rachael Flora, Staff Writer
This collaboration between a SCAD professor and an eight-year-old made for one of the most endearing, honest forays into surrealism we saw all year. The works were innocent and fun, replacing self-criticism with a stylistic confidence that was uncomplicated and joyful. Rachael says, “Art can be frustrating when taken too seriously. It’s easy to lose inspiration and be overly self-critical. Sometimes, the reinstatement of childlike wonder is just what an artist needs to fall in love with art again.” Click here to read Rachael’s review of the show.
5. Axelle Kieffer & Jordan Fitch Mooney’s A Stye in the Devil’s Eye at Sulfur Studios
A show composed of such dissimilar work could’ve gone so, so wrong, but the marriage of Kieffer’s anatomically-obsessed collages and Mooney’s meticulous printmaking techniques was damn near close to perfect. Where Kieffer didn’t shy away from the grotesque, Mooney was right there to pick up the thread and veer off into challenging territory with intensely detailed religious symbology. Sulfur was no stranger to group and juried shows this year but this dual exhibition was remarkable for its seamlessness – a great reminder of the power artistic partnerships have to elevate the work of both parties.
6. Andrew Lyman’s dream boy at Non-Fiction Gallery
Staff Pick – Clinton Edminster, Executive Director of Art Rise Savannah (SAI’s parent organization)
dream boy was intimate, sexy and unafraid of dealing with questions of identity and sexuality through the lens that made the most sense in 2015: the internet. From its voyeuristic portraits to its tongue-in-cheek installations, Lyman’s solo exhibition was somehow able to embrace the (real and imagined) profundity of youth without becoming myopic. Click here to read Lauren Flotte’s in-depth review of the show.
7. Becca Cook’s Chains at Sulfur Studios (during Emergent Savannah’s Voting Block exhibition)
(We’re counting Chains as its own exhibition due to its scale and stand-alone message.) Making a statement about the unconscionable rate of incarceration in America, Becca Cook installed 2.2 million white crochet chain-links in Sulfur Studios’ entryway – one link for each person currently imprisoned in the U.S. When it was finished, Cook’s installation was a silent monument to a moment of shame and sadness that is currently ongoing. Both beautiful and oppressive, we think it was one of the most successful installations of the year. Click here to read our article about it.
8. Local Color’s Project Liminal at Indigo Sky Community Gallery
Editor’s Pick – Kayla Goggin, Editor
This group exhibition put together by SCAD’s painting club, Local Color, was our editor’s favorite show of the year. Featuring performances like Collin Richard’s “Cellphone Concerto” (Richard conducted a symphony of electronic sound by texting participants’ cell phones) and Allie Sherman’s “The Better Way to Catch A Snake” (an endurance piece in which Sherman explored aggression and vulnerability by blindly beating a punching bag), Project Liminal was totally unafraid to demand from and challenge its audience. A performance during which Flora Kang and Alexa Holland stood behind a screen and touched audience members’ hands and faces through the softly backlit paper was one of the most beautiful and moving pieces of 2015.
9. Tobia Makover’s Myself A Memory at 201 E. Charlton St.
This sprawling installation of encaustic works by Tobia Makover took us completely by surprise. Makover’s work was haunting and romantic as ever, but it was Marcus Kenney’s remarkable curation that pushed this show onto our top 10 list. Taking place in a historic home supplied by Judge Realty, Makover’s pieces were stacked, hung, laid and sculpturally arranged with such creativity as to be inspiring twice over. Gallery managers and museum coordinators take note.
10. Mickalene Thomas’ At Giverny at Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center for the Arts
Unlike our other picks, there’s still time to see this show and you really, really should. In At Giverny, Thomas replaces Monet, Manet and Courbet’s classic European nude figures with the figures of black women – gay black women. The show is worth seeing simply for its conceptual importance and its powerful questions about conventional beauty and traditional art historical narrative. If that’s not your bag go see the show anyway because Thomas’ monumental (96 x 120 inches) Marie: Femme noire nue couchée is the best painting exhibited in Savannah in 2015.
Ali Murtaza’s Perceptive Objects at 13Bricks
Though Murtaza’s technology wasn’t quite up to speed with his concepts, this interactive show was ambitious and smart. We especially enjoyed the paintbrush which translated paint color to sound. Check out Murtaza’s work here.
Dylan Wilson’s Missing Voices: Field Notes and Photography from Sapelo Island at Oglethorpe Gallery
This comprehensive exhibit examining the history of Sapelo Island’s plantations was engaging and well-presented, though it felt more like historic preservation than an art show at times. Congratulations to Wilson for breaking ground as the first person to include a 3D print in a SCAD photo exhibition. You can read about the project here.
The Light Inside the Bell Jar at Sulfur Studios
Our favorite group show of 2015, despite its slight uneven-ness. Click here to check out the exhibition catalogue and keep an eye on some of the incredible woman artists who were featured.