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Boston Art Awards and Beyond

Boston Art Awards and Beyond
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Almost one year ago, in my March 6, 2008 posting, I called your attention to Greg Cook and his indispensable website, New England Journal of Aesthetic Research. NEJAR is probably the best regional art site in the country, so I was flattered when Cook invited me to submit nominations and to vote on the just-released first annual Boston Art Awards. The awards might better have been called the New England Art Awards, however, as 60 people nominated 180 exhibitions from all over the region.

Greg Cook did all the heavy lifting, sorting the 180 shows into 20 categories. He then invited a group of art critics to vote on the best and, being a populist, also invited the general public to vote on People’s Choice awards. Some 600 people actually voted.

I restricted my nominations and votes to shows I had actually seen or written about. I am pleased to say that three shows featured on Just Looking were selected for awards. John Bisbee’s sculpture retrospective Bright Common Spikes at Portland Museum of Art (my very first posting, March 3, 2008) was the critics’ pick for Solo Show By A Local Artist. Drawn to Detail, the radical drawing exhibition at the DeCordova Museum (October 3, 2008 posting), was the critics’ choice as Prettiest Show. And the critics named To the Ends of the Earth, the wonderful polar landscape show at the Peabody Essex Museum (October 22, 2008 posting), the winner the best Locally-Curated Historical Show.

You can see the complete list of Boston Art Award winners on the NEJAR website. I was particularly happy to see that Dave Cole: All American, a crafty conceptual installation at the Judi Rotenberg Gallery in Boston won in two categories – the critics’ pick for Sculpture and the People’s Choice for Current Events (Art Most Reflecting Our Times). Dave Cole, a Providence artist, creates politically-loaded and socially-conscious art of the most entertaining and thought-provoking sort. The Rotenberg show featured, for instance, a bronze wall hanging Cole knitted using a pair of loaded shotguns as knitting needles, an American flag made of recovered bullets, and baby clothes made of Kevlar.

Back in the September, 2002, issue of Yankee I profiled Dave Cole as one of the hot young artists in New England to watch. He has not disappointed. Nor has Greg Cook.

Cook’s latest kick is promoting what he calls “Yokelism,” a reaction against the New York-centric nature of the art world. Being a creature of the Worldwide Web, he refers to the New York art world and its ancillary art fairs and biennials as the “closed Circuit of Away.” “But with the money that is the lifeblood of this Circuit evaporating,” he writes, “perhaps now is the time for the art world to have a webby decentralized moment too. It’s the moment for folks like us in the provinces – the yokels.”

I believe that Greg Cook is correct when he suggests that our current economic hard times are perfect for nurturing local art. Cook notes that 10 prominent Boston galleries closed last year, and I recall a similar art market collapse in Maine back in 1989 when the stock market took a dive. When the market is bad and the money is gone, the pressure is off and artists can make art for all the right reasons – to discover what’s meaningful to them,to express what it means to be human.

The Boston Art Awards are a step in the right direction, calling attention, as they do, to the rich and widely dispersed nature of the art spirit in New England. See local. Be Yokel.

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Updated Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

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