Over the past decade, art museums and institutions around Boston have put more than $1 billion into renovations and expansions—from the Museum of Fine Arts’ Art of the Americas Wing to the new Institute of Contemporary Art building to the work ongoing at the Harvard Art Museums. Despite all this new infrastructure, it remains rare to find locally-made contemporary art in our local museums. For example, the MFA has perhaps three Boston area artists on view in its contemporary art wing, while the ICA seems to have just one local artist on view in the whole museum. But that doesn’t mean great art isn’t being produced here. Below is a sampler of the best art made in the Boston area in 2012:
Antoniadis and Stone “Rough Shape” Samson, Dec. 16, 2011, to Jan. 28, 2012. The Boston duo’s sculptural installations channel the essence of the crappy, generic architecture of strip malls and tired subway stations. Two concrete pillars toppled over, but remained neatly balanced on a third like an anti-triumphal arch. A pair of concrete stairs, turned upside-down and balanced foot-to-foot became an arch over a little paper bag crinkled in the shape of an absent beer bottle. It’s minimalist sculpture that evokes the monumental ruins of a dystopian future America.
Agata Michalowska “Dom” AS220 Project Space, Feb. 5 to 25, 2012. This rumination on home was so personal that many of the references were difficult to catch. But the Providence artist’s installation—including careful placement of cast-glass cups and table runners in a dining room-like installation—revealed a crisp sure vision.
Benjamin Benson Evans in “You Are Here!” at 17 Cox, April 25 to June 23, 2012. In his installation “TV Dinner,” the Boston artist created a walk-in story. He transformed the space into a cramped, down-at-the-heels living room right out of 1990 (down to the copy of “People” magazine with “Most Wanted Woman” Paula Abdul on the cover). The clip of “Casablanca” screening on the television, the portraits of a man and woman hung on the wall were clues adding up to a story of love and loss. The attention to detail was astonishing—and signs of Evans’s growing talent.
Megan and Murray McMillan “When We Didn’t Touch the Ground,” Brown University’s Granoff Center, April 27 to may 16, 2012. A mini-retrospective of the Pawtucket, Rhode Island, couple’s dreamy videos and installations. In one video, a couple folds sheets in a room spinning inside another larger, flooded room. In another, a couple rides a boat across a “sea” of shiny table tops. In a third, a box is craned across a room then a woman inside slides down a streamer to join a dinner party below. One wondrous, inexplicable thing happens after another.
Marsden Hartley “Soliloquy in Dogtown,” Cape Ann Museum, June 9 to Oct. 14, 2012. A historical show of paintings that the New York painter made while spending summers and autumns in Gloucester in the 1930s. Focusing on the boulder-strewn landscape of the peninsula’s interior, Hartley pioneered his late, raw, direct style.
Cristi Rinklin “Diluvial” Currier Museum of Art, June 9 to Sept. 9, 2012. Over the past few years, the Boston artist has been making some of the best paintings around by combining 19th century landscape styles with the look of 21st century digital graphics. She topped herself with a 20-foot-wide cartoon of taffy clouds, blue streams and stark mountains. Installed over the museum’s windows, it glowed like stained glass.
Anthony Montuori in “Start Over” at 17 Cox, Aug. 11 to Oct. 7, 2012. The Jamaica Plain artist programs pointedly funny retro 8-bit-style video games about failure. The boulder you roll to the top of the hill always crashes back down again in his “The Adventures of Sisyphus.” You always quickly fall to your death in “Ragz.” You struggle to pay off crushing student loan debt in “Debtris.” These art games channel the frustrations of Great Recession America.
Kristin Sollenberger “Precipitate” Craftland Oct. 11 to Nov. 10, 2012. The Wakefield, Rhode Island, artist cut up old umbrellas and stitched them back together as new patchwork abstractions. The compositions reinvigorated old Modernist designs with their handcraft and bright, water-resistant reds, blacks and whites.
David Curcio “I Wouldn’t Worry About It” at Laconia Gallery, Nov. 2, 2012, to Jan. 13. The Watertown artist combines drawing and embroidery to make images that look like 19th century samplers about 21st century heartbreak, anger, depression and desire. They are raw and delicate and endearing, like scratched out diaries of a heart laid bare.
Mo Willems. The central Massachusetts kids book author and illustrator had another incredibly prolific year with the publication in 2012 of “The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?,” “Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs,” and two new Elephant and Piggie books “Let’s Go for a Drive” and “Listen to My Trumpet.” His drawings are quick and simple, the better to serve his sweet, surprising feel for character. Mark your calendar for “Seriously Silly,” a survey of the Caldecott Honor winning artist’s work opening at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in June.
Disclosure: 17 Cox gallery is operated by a colleague at Montserrat College of Art, where I teach. And I showed a painting in an exhibit that opened at the gallery in November.