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A single list can’t possibly account for all the gallery exhibits that mattered in 2015. There are shows that narrowly missed this list. There are other shows that this critic narrowly missed. Consider this an invitation to revisit several of the strongest gallery presentations of the year. It includes achievements by longstanding mid-career artists as well as first forays by newcomers. There are a handful of artworks that stood head-and-shoulders above everything else hanging around them. A few of those are listed here, too.
In no particular order, a dozen shows and artworks that shined in 2015:
“Renée Stout: Wild World,” Hemphill Fine Arts
Stout’s fifth solo show at Hemphill was less laser-focused than some of her past presentations, in which she has adopted an entire persona to present her work. With a looser framework, Stout explored some new themes, tapping a fantasy or sci-fi vein, without devoting herself to a full-on world-building exercise. The casual approach works for her.
Michael’s well of inspiration seems to be bottomless. Clarice Lispector, the Brazilian novelist, was just one of a number of sources she tapped for paintings in this show. Michael’s shows typically find her drilling down into some new mode of abstraction or reviving something from the past; this exhibit falls into that latter category.
“Larry Cook: Stockholm Syndrome,” Hamiltonian Gallery
By focusing on race and implicit bias in his photography and media work, Cook is working with the themes that are on everyone’s minds. Yet his work never looks ripped from the headlines. Cook appears to be looking backward at older modernist strategies for making photos and film. This show saw him dipping a toe into a deep pool.
“Tilling Phase,” curated by Amy Hughes Braden
“Tilling Phase” was the rawest show D.C. has seen in a long time. It wasn’t merely the unfinished pop-up spot in Hyattsville that gave the show so much texture. Plenty of the artworks and even some of the artists seemed unrefined; a handful of very poised pieces made for excellent contrast. “Tilling Phase” brought together one of the broadest assemblages of D.C. artists any show has seen in years—one of the most diverse, too. As a curator, Hughes Braden is a one-woman Washington Project for the Arts.
“Jeff Spaulding: Vintage,” Curator’s Office
Circumstances conspired to give Andrea Pollan (Curator’s Office) an empty gallery space and Jeff Spaulding a reason to hang an older work. So Pollan did what any curator would do: She built an elegant show of works by Spaulding from the 1980s and early 1990s. For an impromptu presentation, it’s one of the best sculpture exhibitions in recent years, one that gives a fresh look at Spaulding through the lens of work he hasn’t shown in decades.
“Champneys Taylor: Resident A.D.,” Civilian Art Projects
Taylor’s brand of postmodernism involves taking a simple pattern from the world and making it the basis of his abstraction. Some of his paintings look like confetti or Easter egg candy; some of his paintings look like the cratered surface of the moon. What sounds simple is anything but: Taylor’s paintings are rich and savvy, but also a little cocky and seemingly effortless. No mean feat.
“Naoko Wowsugi + Whoop Dee Doo,” Hamiltonian Gallery
Naoko Wowsugi’s birthday-themed exhibition was the most joyous art gallery show D.C. has seen in 15 years. More incredible still, it was clever: Wowosugi asked students to make the work for her show (as a present to herself). A performance party by Whoop Dee Doo was icing on the cake.
“Anthony Cervino: Ejecta,” Flashpoint Gallery
Cervino put it all on the table: doubt, insecurity, second-guessing, hidden trauma. Shannon Egan, a curator and Cervino’s wife, collaborated on the sculptor’s show—the best in Flashpoint’s history as a gallery—and it might not have hit home without her. See above: “Folie a Deux,” a sculpture comprising the desk of Cervino’s estranged father and the desk of Egan’s departed mother. (Full disclosure: I wrote a catalog essay about Anthony Cervino’s work for a 2014 group exhibition at Dickinson College; the school paid me for my work.)
“Condo Suit” (2015) by Graham Boyle and Ryan Florig (from “Hipster Facism” at The Fridge)
“Tête a Tête” (2014) by Brandon Morse (from “Resolutions 2015” at Civilian Art Projects)
Morse makes his iterative video works in Cinder, a C++ programming library, which is just one thing that distinguishes his art. (I know because I asked him.) Beyond technique, no one comes close to Morse in creating forms that are as unsettling as they are mesmerizing.
“The Field Goal Challenge” (2014) by Annette Isham and Zac Willis (from “Play: Tinker, Tech, and Toy” at Arlington Arts Center)
The bromance between Isham and Willis reads in every play of the fiercely athletic competition they staged together last year. Both of them play it like they’re angling to be the next star to grace a box of Wheaties. It’s a pure romp.
“Sky Stack” (2015) by Dan Perkins (from “Alone in the Woods” at Hamiltonian Gallery)
Perkins’s paintings are easy on the eyes. So much so that it’s tempting to second-guess his strategies as comfortable. His quasi-surreal landscapes are balanced and poised. Pretty is a fine foundation for what comes next.