Top 5 Local Art Stories of 2018
5. After living in Providence for over fifteen years, N.C. Wyeth’s massive mural Peace, Commerce and Prosperity was abruptly removed from One Financial Plaza in downtown Providence this spring. Eighteen feet wide and twenty-six feet tall, the mural, a map of the Americas, has moved on to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. One Financial Plaza, the building with the Santander and the Starbucks at the corner of Kennedy Plaza, has hosted the mural since the early 2000s, when the bank was still BankBoston. The atrium space, a sort of gand lobby to nothing, features rotating art curated by the Providence Art Club, though everything else looks pretty dinky in that cavernous space.
4. A dispute over a derelict North Providence building led to a New York Post-worthy mural. Building owner Anthony Farina, a doctor with a practice next door to the property, hired artist Paul Morse – one of GoLocalProv’s “16 Who Made A Difference in 2016” – to paint a mural featuring Mayor Charles Lombardi wearing a crown and sitting on a toilet. The mural went up at the corner of Mineral Spring Avenue and Smithfield Avenue in early July and remained there until November, when the building was demolished. Morse said he had nothing against the mayor but thought it was really funny. Mayor Lombardi even held a press conference in front of the mural.
3. It wasn’t picked up by local media, but the work of Bristol artist Tom Deininger was at the center of a Wisconsin freedom of speech lawsuit this year. Last spring, high school freshman Matthew Schoenecker showed up to school wearing a knockoff of Deininger’s 2006 t-shirt design, which spells the word LOVE using guns, a knife, and a grenade. The principal didn’t find it funny, and threatened to send the student into “the cubicle” (some sort of solitary confinement closet, apparently) if he wore one of his (several) gun-themed t-shirts again. “Guns are stupid,” Deininger later told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “They’re for cowards. Express yourself other ways than shooting stuff.” Unfortunately, the student missed Deininger’s point. In court documents Schoenecker is described as a “firearms enthusiast”, and he clarified his point by showing up to school in a different shirt that said that said “IF GUNS KILL PEOPLE, I GUESS PENCILS misspell words CARS drive drunk & SPOONS make people fat.” Represented by lawyers hired by the pro-gun group Wisconsin Carry, the student and his family won the first amendment case. Meanwhile, Deininger recently began selling a modified, less ambiguous version of the t-shirt, with 20% of all sales going to “efforts against gun violence.”
2. RISD firmly denied that a painting in their collection was looted by Nazis during World War II. The claim about Pablo Picasso’s Femme assise au livre (Seated Woman with a Book, c. 1910–12) was made by the Alphone Kann Association, representing the collection of a prominent Jewish art dealer in the early 20th century, but provenance expert Laurie Stein found no evidence that while the painting was owned by Kann at one point, there is no evidence that it was stolen by the Nazis before arriving at the Carstairs Gallery, where it sold to the museum for $1,600 in 1951.
1. 2017 ended with the very strange news that Rosa Parks’s house would be arriving in Providence (from Berlin, of all places), where it would be housed fully intact in the new WaterFire Arts Center. The story got progressively more complicated over the winter. It was actually Rosa Parks’s brother’s house, it turned out, though she did live in it for a while. (Even that claim was disputed.) Brown organized, then canceled, a whole symposium around the house, and the on-again off-again event made national headlines. It quietly opened for a select few to see – the newness of the center didn’t help get word out – but ultimately the house ended up sticking around way longer than anybody ever thought. Lost in all of this was the fact that the house – or the remains of it – was turned into a large installation by artist Ryan Mendoza, who lives in Berlin with his German wife. The piece looked pretty cool and sparked a lot of interesting conversations, though it failed to sell at auction this summer. On the bright side, the piece showcased the Center’s ability to host large installations that really don’t have any other place in Providence.
Top 10 Exhibits of 2018
1. The Shapes of Birds: Contemporary Art of the Middle East and North Africa (Newport Art Museum, through December 30)
2. Brandon Bellangée, Ti-tânes and Other Myths of the Anthropocene (Bannister Gallery, Rhode Island College)
3. “My Greatest Successes Have Come Through Her”: The Artistic Partnership of Edward and Christiana Bannister (Gilbert Stuart Birthplace & Museum)
4. Charmed (Yellow Peril Gallery)
5. Monica Shinn, We Wonder What Saved Us, What For? (Skye Gallery)
6. Classic Beauty: 21st-Century Artists on Ancient [Greek] Form (PC–Galleries)
7. Urban Wildlife: Learning to Co-Exist (RISD ISB Gallery / ArtProv)
8. Brian House, Fascists, Lovers, and Other Lonely Ghosts (Granoff Center, Brown University)
9. Bona Drag (RISD Museum, through March 3)
10. Sam Duket and Brad Fesmire, Untitled [still not titled yet] (Grimshaw-Gudewicz Gallery)
Runners-Up: Jane McNally Wright as AS220 Project Space (through December 29), May Babcock at Machines with Magnets, Stephen Brigidi at RI Center for Photographic Arts, Jason Smith and Jocelyn Foye at Hera Gallery, Keegancreatures at Trade Pop-Up, Peruko Ccopacatty in Kennedy Plaza
At the age of 90, designer Morris Nathanson had a retrospective at the Providence Art Club this past spring. Not to be outdone, 101-year old Providence painter Veronica Farrell had her own painting retrospective at the club in the fall. Meanwhile, Barrington textile designer Barbara Gibbs Barton, now retired, was featured in the Providence Journal on her 110th birthday in October.
The Norman Bird Sanctuary recently ran a pilot of its new artist residency program, which launches fully in 2019. It’s the first large-scale artist residency on Aquidneck Island in decades.
Let Us Never Speak of It Again
An upset mother’s social media posts nearly derailed Providence studio/gallery space The Wurks. Her son, an over-18-but-under-21 adult, drunkenly arrived with friends at a party held in the gallery space, whereupon he passed out. An ambulance was required, and the mother began posting about the venue that same night. The resulting internet kerfuffle escalated quickly, leading to two artists who were on the scene getting temporarily suspended from their day jobs at RISD.
Gripe of the Year
With the exception of RIC’s Bannister Gallery, every last one of the exhibition spaces in our state colleges and universities is profoundly lacking. In some cases – the glass gallery space in RIC’s Alex and Ani Hall, or the Main Gallery at URI – the facilities are fine but no one seems able to promote them to the general public, though someone is invested enough to organize several shows each semester. In others it’s a question of facilities. The gallery at CCRI Warwick is like a dark closet, while the Feinstein Gallery at URI’s Providence campus is literally a hallway adorned with cubicle dividers. Does that massive old department store building not have a single spare room for the art department to use?
After 2017 ended with the closings of GRIN and Periphery Space, the losses continued piling up with the shuttering of Tiverton’s Van Vessem Gallery, Harbor Fine Art in Newport, and apparently Yellow Peril Gallery in Providence. (They quietly stopped having shows after the summer, at least, though they never made any official announcement.) Coastal Contemporary Gallery opened in Newport, while the Artists Cooperative of Westerly moved into the newly reopened Westerly train station. Gallery 4 closed in February and reopened as Gallery at Four in June. The Providence Center for Photographic Arts Center also closed in February, reopening as the Rhode Island Photo Arts Center shortly after.