What Inspired in 2017? Our Network Responds

20 Dec 2017


We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85, installation view. Photo by Jonathan Dorado, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum.


Unseen Festival, 2017. Photo by Kasey Ferlic.


Blue Black, installation view, photo by Alise O'Brien Photography, courtesy of Pulitzer Arts Foundation.


Laraaji. Photo by Liam Ricketts.


Women's March protestors move down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. Photo by Bryan Woolston/Reuters.


Teresinha Soares, Cai×a de fazer amor (Lovemaking box), 1967. Photo courtesy of The Hammer Museum.


BANG! (Kamisha, 2017), image courtesy of Pens to Pictures and Wexner Center for the Arts.

As 2017 draws to a close, we asked Center colleagues, panelists, grantees, and staff to reflect on the year in art. Here, you’ll find an eclectic group of cultural experiences: groundbreaking exhibitions, eye-opening festivals, transcendent music and poetry, social movements, and even an experience involving sustainable sheepherding. We hope you’ll take inspiration from our network’s list and share some of your own with us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Bill Adair
Director, Exhibitions & Public Interpretation, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage

Three 2017 exhibitions that expanded my concept of the exhibition: (1) The Deana Lawson / Henry Taylor room at the Whitney Biennial; two very different artists working in different media presented in illuminating juxtaposition with each other. (2) Jeremy Deller at Sculpture Project Münster, Germany; ten years in the making (!), a collection of exquisitely constructed books documenting the life of a community garden. (3) The Boat is Leaking. The Captain Lied at Prada Foundation, Venice, Italy; a filmmaker, a set designer, and a photographer walk into a palazzo and create a series of magical, mysterious installations.


Jeremy Deller at Sculpture Project Münster. Photo courtesy of Bill Adair.

Timo Andres
Composer and pianist

In this year of unending anger and anxiety, I’ve been taking comfort (refuge?) in art that is quieter and slower. Lately I've been reading Open City by Teju Cole and have been enjoying it for those reasons, as well as its combination of thoughtfulness and plainspokenness. The structure of the book is so understated as to sometimes read like a series of disconnected experiences, but each of these episodes is wonderfully lucid and descriptive. The spirit of it reminds me of suites of short piano pieces by Janáček or Schumann, which add up to much more than the sum of their parts.

Robert Blackson
Director, Temple Contemporary at Tyler School of Art

The Women’s March of 2017 was, I believe, a global watershed moment of united force and voice that continues to echo throughout our political, cultural, and personal relationships. Women driving through Saudi Arabia, the growing #metoo movement—the march hasn’t stopped.


Women's March protestors move down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. Photo by Bryan Woolston/Reuters.

Bill Bissell
Director, Performance, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage

Obsession: artists and institutions who refuse shortcuts. Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Philadelphia Orchestra in Anton Bruckner’s 8th Symphony and Mahler’s 3rd; Philadelphia Assembled at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Sarah Michelson’s September2017; John Akomfrah’s The Unfinished Conversation; Ivo van Hove’s production of Salome; Suzanne Andrade and Barrie Kosky’s production of The Magic Flute; Andrew Watts in Hommage à Klaus Nomi; We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965–85 and The Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America at the Brooklyn Museum; tiny Sara Berman’s Closet at the large Met Museum.


The Magic Flute, 2017. Photo by Steven Pisano, courtesy of Opera Philadelphia.

Julia Bloch
Poet and Pew Fellow

I visited Richard Diebenkorn: Beginnings, 1942–1955 at the Crocker Art Museum during a research trip to Sacramento last October. I loved this deadpan quote from Diebenkorn’s wife, Phyllis, on a wall label: “Dick was not happy because of the landscape. There was nothing to look at. It was just flat.” I was taken with Diebenkorn’s Abstract Expressionist paintings from the 1950s and the way they suggest what Jack Spicer called California’s “empty acres of oak and manzanita”: the flatness of the Central Valley landscape, peered at more closely, yielding shape, color, and depth.

King Britt
Composer, performer, and Pew Fellow

For my birthday, I was fortunate enough to perform my Fhloston Paradigm project live at Utrecht's Le Guess Who? Festival. All of my close friends happened to be playing, as well as my heroes Pharoah Sanders & Linda Sharrock, among others. One of the most inspiring festivals I have ever been to!


King Britt in performance, courtesy of the artist.

Dan Byers
John R. and Barbara Robinson Family Director, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University

Drawn from the Whitney’s collection, the beautiful exhibition Where We Are tells American stories through artworks offering recuperative history, formal inventiveness, and representations alive with specificity and empathy. Small, editioned works hang next to large paintings. James Castle is beside Walker Evans. Charles Sheeler beside Beauford Delaney. Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939” opens the show, lines from which give each gallery its name and theme (“No One Exists Alone”). I can still see the Charles Burchfield watercolor next to the Minnie Evans drawing when I close my eyes.


Beauford Delaney, Untitled, 1948, oil on canvas, installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art, photo courtesy of Dan Byers.

Julie Carr
Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of English, University of Colorado Boulder

Day 2 of the Unseen Festival at Counterpath Gallery in Denver (two weeks of film, exploring the resistant, excluded, and unacknowledged): Amir George, “a practicing alchemist working as a motion picture artist,” screened 11 celebratory, funny, sad, probing, strange works. During “Mae’s Journey,” about black female astronaut Mae Jemison, Amir bursts through the door in an orange space suit: “Get up, get up! Put your hands in the air!” “We’re in space! We’re in space!,” we all shouted together. Revelation, possibility, dance.


Unseen Festival, 2017. Photo by Kasey Ferlic.

Mark Christman
Executive and Artistic Director, Ars Nova Workshop

This year I made a long-term commitment to the drone. It’s brought me some inner peace during these dark days. I gravitate nearly daily to the work of Philadelphia-born musical shaman Laraaji: amplified zither, hypnotic ragas, glacial gong waves, spiritual minimalism at its best.


Laraaji. Photo by Liam Ricketts.

Nels Cline
Composer and guitarist

To say that I am frequently inspired in my daily life would be a gross understatement. I am surrounded by amazing musicians/artists/craftsmen/thinkers/iconoclasts/punks/activists who challenge my lazy brain and who blow my (usually receptive) mind. I get to play music with so many musicians who are way better than me, some of whom are heroes of mine stretching back decades. Consequently, it's pretty hard to come up with one thing that inspired me this year! But since I have to pick one, I am going with my experience sitting in with the Tedeschi Trucks Band at The Beacon in New York City last October. There’s something about their music and their whole THING that really gets to me, and Derek Trucks' playing is not only breathtaking, but often brings tears to my eyes. And I mean OFTEN. What is happening here? I have stopped trying to analyze it; it just happens. I wasn't raised religiously (unless you count liberal humanism as a religion), but for me the Tedeschi Trucks Band is my church experience—communal, egalitarian, uplifting, and inspiring. Playing the three songs I got to play with them was pure Cloud Nine for me. The beautiful, inviting energy, the music, and being right next to Derek's amp while he was blasting off on amazing solo flights that he's so justifiably famous for. We even got in some quality hang time. I went back home to Brooklyn vibrating and filled with palpable, warm inspiration. What a gift!

Kyle deCamp
Cross-media performance artist

The oasis moments: working with my sincere, curious, cogent, mostly optimistic students, and all the one-to-one, persons-to-persons, in the flesh, unmedia-mediated, same space-time coordinate, fearless unpremeditated non-agenda driven don’t know where this is going CONVERSATIONS with fellow humans. Hope for a future and value of what we do.

Pablo de Ocampo
Exhibitions Curator, Western Front

While waiting for a friend on a bench outside of a coffee shop in Brooklyn on a sunny Saturday morning, I read a dozen or so pieces from Layli Long Soldier’s book WHEREAS. The last poem I read that morning, 38, recounts the story of the mass execution (by the US government on orders from Abraham Lincoln) of 38 Dakota men on the day after Christmas in 1862. I don’t have the command of language that can even begin to describe the brilliantly complex structure, piercingly beautiful craft, and raw power of this poem. What I can say is that I read that poem five times on that bench. Its words dug deeper into me with each read, swelling up more and more tears in my eyes until, on the final read, I was openly sobbing on this sunny bench outside of a coffee shop. I hadn’t realized a couple had sat down next to me, and upon seeing me look up from the page they asked, “Looks like that’s a pretty good book?” “Yeah, it’s pretty good.”

David Filipi
Director, Film/Video, Wexner Center for the Arts

Filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu’s Pens to Pictures project, presented at and with the support of the Wexner Center for the Arts. Chinonye worked with female prison inmates to write film scripts and then facilitated the production of the scripts outside the prison. The participants were unforgettable and inspiring.


BANG! (Kamisha, 2017), image courtesy of Pens to Pictures and Wexner Center for the Arts.

Trenton Doyle Hancock
Multidisciplinary artist/painter

In the first half of 2017, I was invited to be a fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. It was an incredible experience where I was able to create new work and commune with amazing scholars.

Martin Hartung
Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture, ETH Zurich

This year, I was particularly impressed by Israeli filmmaker Roee Rosen’s work The Dust Channel at documenta 14 in Kassel. By portraying the constant fear of dirt—and obsessions to remove it with a vacuum cleaner—Rosen’s film splendidly confronts pervasive xenophobia.

Jeffrey Inscho
Director, The Studio at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh

Earlier this year, I visited the Oakland Museum of California (OCMA) for the first time. Many people over the years have told me about the museum's progressive approach to both gallery experiences and community engagement, and I was very excited to have the opportunity to visit for myself. After spending a wonderful day at the museum, I left thoroughly inspired about the active roles museums can play in their communities.

Sean Kelley
Senior Vice President, Director of Interpretation, Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site

The End,” a month-long, interactive experience designed by Swim Pony, has been on my mind for months now. Sometime during their day, participants drew a card from a custom deck, and, while texting with a mysterious personality, completed a daily “mission” in the real world. Each day would bring a new adventure, always prompting reflection on the passage of time and mortality. More fun than it sounds!


Swim Pony, The End. Courtesy of Swim Pony.

Ellina Kevorkian
Independent Curator and MA candidate, Institute for Contemporary Practice in Performance, Wesleyan University

I’m looking at acts of counter-protest at Confederate monuments. Monuments and their very medium—all stone and permanence—seem contradictory to the very nature of shifting meanings at different moments. Maybe monumentality shifts from stone to performative acts, when an archive of interventions argues against the legacy and authority of white supremacy.

Andrew Lampert

I was astonished by the rhapsodic shorts, features, and live performances in the series Throw Away Your Books: The Films of Shūji Terayama at Anthology Film Archives. A Japanese legend who is barely known in America, Terayama’s cinema, theater, and writing is profound, inspiring, and deeply essential.


Shūji Terayama, Still from Pastoral Hide And Seek, 1974, Japanese with English subtitles. Courtesy of Andrew Lampert.

Bruce Lemon, Jr.
Storyteller and Artistic Director, Watts Village

The National Black Theater Festival in Winston-Salem, NC. I've spent much of my life in the arts as the only black person in the room, but that week in Winston-Salem, I was surrounded by people who looked like me. We created and performed for people who looked like us. Generations passed knowledge and inspiration back and forth. There were icons reading with students, monologues being worked at the airport, and love in abundance. There was a parade in the streets. I left so full.

Paula Marincola
Executive Director, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage

The summer of 2017 encompassed that once-in-a-decade juggernaut—Munster, Documenta, Venice—which, along with the rest of the year's other memorable exhibitions (just in New York alone: Oiticica at the Whitney, Rauschenberg at MoMA, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye at the New Museum, Rei Kawakubo at the Met, Florine Stettheimer at the Jewish Museum), performances (David Lang’s triumphant Symphony for a Broken Orchestra for Philadelphia’s Temple Contemporary), and books (George Saunders tour-de-force Lincoln in the Bardo), made for inspiration overload. There was a lot to experience, enjoy, and assimilate, and it's confounding me to zero in on just one experience. Something I didn't get to see, but wished that I had, was Glenn Ligon's Blue Black exhibition at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis. I love artist-curated shows, and this one's particular conflation of the political, the poetic, and the formal, as filtered through Ligon's sensibility, felt richly complex and compelling even at a distance. And an event I’m anticipating with excitement in 2018 is Ingrid Schaffner’s Carnegie International in Pittsburgh—not to be missed!


Blue Black, installation view, photo by Alise O'Brien Photography, courtesy of Pulitzer Arts Foundation.

Kimberli Meyer
Director, University Art Museum at California State University, Long Beach

The exhibition Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985, organized by the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, is a show that has been nothing less than a revelation. In it, I have discovered incredible artists I had never heard of, and had the chance to explore, in-depth, ones I have admired for years. The exhibition has prompted me to re-think the many facets of feminist thought, re-evaluate our US-centric view of the world, and renew my commitment to critical feminist thinking in art and art interpretation. It was part of the Getty Foundation’s latest iteration of its Pacific Standard Time initiative, this time focusing on Los Angeles and Latin America. The initiative was itself an inspiration, as it devoted significant resources to research as well as exhibition and publication, and created a wealth of new knowledge that will resonate for decades. It’s a great example of a major funder putting its money where its mouth is.


Teresinha Soares, Cai×a de fazer amor (Lovemaking box), 1967. Photo courtesy of The Hammer Museum.

Tracie Morris

David Barclay Moore’s The Stars Beneath My Feet, an engaging YA debut novel, took me back to my childhood in Brooklyn housing projects, being confronted with some of the same tough choices as his main protagonist, Lolly. The story takes surprising turns, is realistic, challenging, and yet hopeful. A metaphor for our times.

Neysa Page-Lieberman
Executive Director, Department of Exhibitions and Performance, Columbia College Chicago and Chief Curator, Wabash Arts Corridor

Pussyhat Project for the Women’s March: The Women’s March is often pictured as a sea of pink waves, which rippled around the world on January 21. Attending the DC March, I first saw the pink waves on my plane, then the subway, and finally crashing into the streets of the capitol. Later I heard co-founder Jayna Zweiman describe how she used her architectural training (using DC site plans as her canvas) and feminist social practice (each hat represents solidarity of marchers and makers) in what resulted in one of the largest and most influential public art projects.

Annie-B Parson

Louise Bourgeois at MOMA: I audibly gasped as I beheld the first wall of images: droops, bulges, swellings, sags—the shapes of women, shapes that no man has painted in the long history of painting shapes. The show unfolds to a sculpture of best friends, one a stick of wood, one a rounded wheel. Then the virtuosic spiral hair paintings on white handkerchiefs. The last images, made in her 90s, peak on the other side, with a telepathic eye. And no, let us not view her work through the lens of “emotion and psychology” as the critics always want to do with women, but instead as the finest master with the most acute telescope.


Installation view of Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, September 24, 2017–January 28, 2018. Photo by Martin Seck for the Museum of Modern Art © 2017 The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, NY.

Ernesto Pujol
Social Choreographer

I pursue culture, of which art is only an element. In 2017, research in humane agriculture led me to Kinderhook Farm, where I met Anna Hodson, a former museum curator of textiles who currently shepherds a flock of 300 Dorper sheep. I spent inspiring days interning with her about sustainable sheepherding.


A shepherd and her flock, 2017. Photo by Georgia Rainey, Ghent, NY, courtesy of Ernesto Pujol.

Julian Siggers
Williams Director, Penn Museum

The Penn Museum’s exhibition Cultures in the Crossfire sheds light on the ongoing destruction of cultural heritage in the Middle East, featuring ancient art and artifacts alongside the contemporary artwork of the Syrian artist Issam Kourbaj. On the opening day, it was very powerful to see Issam address a large audience of refugees in their own language, and to see how profoundly moved they were regarding the fate of their own culture, but also to see their relief that we cared and are prepared to help them fight the destruction of their heritage.


Cultures in the Crossfire, installation view of a set of first-and 2nd-century CE funerary portraits from Palmyra, courtesy of Penn Museum.

Lumi Tan
Curator, The Kitchen

We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85 at the Brooklyn Museum was an imperative, thrilling exhibition that I hope was only the start of museums turning their attention to the crucial roles that women of color—individually and collaboratively—have played in creating, critiquing, and redefining art history.


We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85, installation view. Photo by Jonathan Dorado, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum.