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Exhibits pushed barriers in ’15

by Ellis Widner | January 3, 2016 at 2:55 a.m.
Jamie Wyeth stands in front of his 1969 self-portrait during the opening of “Jamie Wyeth” at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

The "will it or won't it leave Little Rock?" drama swirling around the Arkansas Arts Center grabbed headlines, but now that things seem to have settled down, we can refocus on the fact that the museum stepped up its game in 2015 with two thought-provoking exhibitions: "30 Americans" and "Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art."

Photo by John Sykes Jr.
The poster Que Viva La Paz, 1976, by Jose Cervantes, hangs at the exhibition “Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art” at the Arkansas Arts Center.
Photo by Courtesy of Boswell Mourot Fine Art
Delita Pinchback Martin’s mixed media on paper work Beyond Layers: Portrait #1 was part of her exhibition at the Argenta Branch of the William F. Laman Public Library System in North Little Rock.
Photo by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Sea Turtle is an acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas created by Andy Warhol in 1985. It was part of the exhibition “Warhol’s Nature” at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
Photo by Courtesy of Boswell Mourot Fine Art
Grace Mikell Ramsey’s Mother & Child, an oil on canvas, was part of her exhibit “In Rose-Papered Rooms.”

"30 Americans" was a superb survey of art by the most influential black artists of the last four decades. The men and women of the now-closed "30 Americans" created powerful and beautiful art with themes and messages that are often created to confront, provoke thought, illuminate and challenge the viewer. It did all that and more. The Smithsonian American Art Museum-organized "Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art," which hangs through Jan. 17, presents some of the same issues addressed by the artists of "30 Americans" -- their place in American culture, identity, gender, social justice.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art's year was highlighted by the three W's -- Jamie Wyeth, Andy Warhol and Frank Lloyd Wright.

"Warhol's Nature," organized by the Bentonville museum, and "Jamie Wyeth" fascinated on the strength of the art and two men's friendship. The Warhol show focused on his nature themes, while the Wyeth exhibit was a career retrospective organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The shows closed Oct. 5.

On Nov. 11, the museum opened the Bachman-Wilson House, one of about 120 Usonian houses designed by Wright. Crystal Bridges bought the house in 2013, moved it from New Jersey and reassembled it on the museum's grounds.

Crystal Bridges also made big news with its acquisition of Georgia O'Keeffe's masterpiece Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1. The 1932 oil on canvas reportedly cost $44.4 million, making it the most expensive work of art ever painted by a woman and one of the most expensive works of American Art.

The museum also was the subject of no small amount of good-natured ribbing with the $7.6 million purchase of Felix Gonzalez-Torres' Untitled" (L.A.) -- small, green candies wrapped in cellophane that are spread across the floor. People may touch, take, and consume the work, which can be endlessly replenished.

Other high points from 2015:

• Delita Pinchback Martin's "Beyond Layers," presented in January by Boswell Mourot Fine Art at the William F. Laman Public Library System's Argenta Branch in North Little Rock, was her last show as an Arkansas resident. Martin, who now lives in the Houston area, creates powerful mixed media works grounded in her upbringing. Her work continues to be snapped up by collectors, including the Arkansas Arts Center.

• Greg Thompson Fine Art in North Little Rock had a number of thoughtfully curated exhibits, including this fall's "Southern Abstraction" and the impressive "Magic Realism." In the latter, Sheila Cotton's oils rippled with mystery. It was especially thrilling to see three Carroll Cloar works and the photosurrealism of Kendall Stallings.

• The wonderful "National Silverpoint Invitational Exhibit" was jointly shown by Hearne Fine Art in Little Rock and Greg Thompson Fine Art in June. Among the works was Marjorie Williams-Smith's exquisite Illumination.

• "A Little Poetry: The Art of Alonzo Ford" was very poetic. The Southland artist's drawings of the life and culture of the Arkansas Delta are distinguished by graceful lines and informative details. The exhibit, at the Arkansas Arts Center, was part of September's Acansa Arts Festival. As Garbo Hearne of Hearne Fine Art said: "He's very serious about his work and telling his story. He's very focused on every piece being a masterpiece." Ford is represented by Hearne.

• An intimate showing at the home of artist V.L. Cox brought together the pieces of her "End Hate" series, including the seven doors painted with segregation-era words such as "Whites Only" and "Colored Only." The doors were displayed on the stage at Tales from the South performances and on the steps of The Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

The series confronts viewers about hate and fear, which emerge as racism, homophobia, sexism and more. The mostly large-scale works, integrating sculpture and painting, beg for a larger venue. The works' power may have been more intense because of the small space. There was no room to give the eye and spirit a break, forcing one to deal with these works (and the emotions they arouse) as a singular and collective experience. That's not a bad thing.

Especially powerful: White Bread, one of Cox's screen door creations showing a child in a Ku Klux Klan robe, a teddy bear in one hand. It tears at the heart as it reminds us, as Oscar Hammerstein II wrote in his song "Carefully Taught" -- "you've got to be carefully taught to hate. ..." Cox read about an Arkansas KKK camp for children, which inspired the work. See the series online at

• Grace Mikell Ramsey's "In Rose-Papered Rooms" at Boswell Mourot Fine Art in Little Rock was astonishing. The meticulously crafted surrealist paintings tapped fears from across the psychic/psychological landscape that were at turns bleak, stark and heartbreaking ... and breathtakingly beautiful.

Also at Boswell Mourot, a show with Elizabeth Weber, Jason McCann and Michael Warrick in October was especially strong. Warrick's sculptures, McCann's photorealistic urban landscapes and Weber's new works on paper made for a well curated show.

• Artists and raconteurs David Bailin, Warren Criswell and Sammy Peters -- supremely talented friends -- reunited for "Redux: Bailin, Criswell, Peters" at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in Little Rock. At the opening, they zinged each other and offered thoughtful commentary.

• Stephen Cefalo's "Recent Musings" at Little Rock's Gallery 26 in July was luminous. His Old World/contemporary style pays homage to the greats of European art while carving out a distinctive path all his own. Cefalo now lives in New York. The gallery continues to show his work.

In addition, Gallery 26 owner Renee Williams used the occasion of the gallery's 20th anniversary to exhibit her lovely canvases of magic realism/folkloric portraits in October.

• Virmarie DePoyster took a major step forward last month with "Revelation," a show of new work at Argenta Gallery in North Little Rock that debuted last summer at the American Embassy in Rome. The multimedia artist dug deeply into her own psyche to explore themes of family, faith, identity and how it feels to be seen as an outsider in your own country.

• The paintings of R.F. Walker and photography of Brian Fender made the Fall Group Show at Little Rock's M2 Gallery especially interesting. Walker's oil and acrylic works include retro-imbued landscapes and a little magical realism. Fender's March, a series of 10 photographs of a woman walking down the street, was a knockout.

• Delta painter Norwood Creech had two notable shows -- "Delta Landscapes by Norwood Creech" in February at the South Arkansas Arts Center in El Dorado and "The Flatlander" at the new Heights gallery, Drawl.

• Neal Harrington, a two-time Delta Award winner at the Arkansas Arts Center's Delta Exhibition, presented a potent show of woodcuts at Historic Arkansas Museum. The Arkansas Tech University art teacher taps into Southern folklore and evokes greats Thomas Hart Benton and Charles Banks Wilson in his vibrant creations.

Democrat-Gazette colleagues John Deering and John Sykes Jr. created strong work. Deering's "In Arkansas Territory: New Paintings by John Deering" at Cantrell Gallery focused on his historical side. (The gallery's show of Daniel Coston's work was also memorable.) Sykes' photographs at Mugs Cafe in North Little Rock presented a ballet rehearsal, showing the range of emotions, stresses and concentration that the demands of disciplined movement bring forth.

• Goodbye, Amy. The talented and delightful Amy Edgington's last show of her quirky and often absurdist collages closed March 14 at Gallery 26. She passed away Nov. 19; she will be missed.


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