A Year of Inspiration: 2016 Edition

19 Dec 2016

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Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Studio), 2014, acrylic on PVC panels 83 5/16X119 1/4 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation Gift, Acquisitions Fund and The Metropolitan Museum of Art Multicultural Audience Development Initiative Gift, 2015 © Kerry James Marshall.

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Kerry James Marshall, Past Times, 1997, acrylic and collage on canvas 9 ft. 6 in.X13 ft., Metropolitan Pier and Exhibition Authority, McCormick Place Art Collection, Chicago © Kerry James Marshall Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.  

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Prince. Photo by Associated Press.

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Ping Chong + Company, Beyond Sacred: Voices of Muslim Identity. Photo by Adam Nadel.

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Stephen Vitiello: All Those Vanished Engines. Photo courtesy of MASS MoCA.

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Bassam Abou Diab, Under the Flesh, 2016. Photo courtesy of Simon Dove.

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St. EOM’s Pasaquan. Photo by Daniel Fuller.

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The Mountaintop at People’s Light. Photo by Mark Garvin.

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Doomocracy, a Creative Time Production. Photo by Will Star, courtesy of Creative Time.

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Michelle Handelman, still from Irma Vep, the last breath, 2013/15, © Michelle Handelman.

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Kerry James Marshall, Souvenir 1, 1997, acrylic, collage, silkscreen, and glitter on canvas 9X13 ft. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Bernice and Kenneth Newberger Fund, 1997.73 © Kerry James Marshall Photo: Joe Ziolkowski, © MCA Chicago.

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Jeannie Simms, Sindikit, installation view. Photo courtesy Jeannie Simms.

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Danspace, “Platform 2016: Lost and Found,” photo by Ian Douglas.

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Zora Neale Hurston. Photo courtesy Reggie Wilson.

 

As 2016 draws to a close, we take a moment to reflect on the year in art and the cultural experiences that left a lasting impression. We asked Center colleagues, interlocutors, grantees, and staff: “What inspired you this year?” In their responses, you’ll find an array of artistic works that transport, surprise, challenge, and inspire.

Bill Adair

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

The Crucible on Broadway with Ben Whishaw and Saoirse Ronan. Arthur Miller’s 1953 play about the Salem Witch Trials has never had more resonance and relevance than in 2016 America. Virtuosic acting and chilling directing reinforce the spookiness of a “post-fact” seventeenth century and the all-too-human characters that inhabit it.

 

Bill Bissell

Director, Performance, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage

George Frideric Handel’s Ariodante from 1735 presented by the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto was a co-production with several opera companies in Europe. Directed impeccably by Richard Jones and designed by ULTZ, it was a contemporary realization of a baroque opera as incisive music theater. Ariodante was realized in such complete detail that this production sets a standard for me. Led by the thrilling and intelligent voice of Alice Coote in the title role, I left the theater feeling I had seen and heard perfection. Gratefully, finally, this was an extremely rare opera performance that actually understood choreography as movement and staging, and not as steps. Ariodante was a performance that bled tears from us with the act-ending scenarios of puppets emerging as doppelgangers—illuminating the dramatic narrative as they shadowed the key characters on stage. Mute and tender, their manipulated bodies let Handel’s music pour into our opened hearts.

 

Joy Bivins

Director of Curatorial Affairs, Chicago History Museum

Kerry James Marshall: Mastry at the MCA Chicago really focused the beauty and storytelling nature of his work in an accessible manner. Marshall’s commitment to and insistence on representing the diversity of African Americans was clearly and breathtakingly on view—truly inspirational.

 

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Kerry James Marshall, Past Times, 1997, acrylic and collage on canvas 9 ft. 6 in.X13 ft., Metropolitan Pier and Exhibition Authority, McCormick Place Art Collection, Chicago © Kerry James Marshall Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.  

 

Philip Bither

McGuire Director and Senior Curator, Performing Arts, Walker Art Center

The death of Prince. The outpouring that overtook Minneapolis was profound. On the street fronting Prince’s old club “First Avenue,” thousands of us spent the night together in gratitude and grief—his music blasting everywhere in a spontaneous homage to our fiercely idiosyncratic musical genius. An inimitable gender, fashion, and funk/pop pioneer, his life proved radical artistry need not preclude vast influence and global adoration.


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Prince. Photo by Associated Press.

 

Gonzalo Casals

Vice President of Programs, Friends of the High Line

I have been a fan of Ping Chong + Company's “Undesirable Elements” series for quite a while. This year I had the pleasure to see their latest production Beyond Sacred: Voices of Muslim Identity. This interview-based theater performance explores the diverse experiences of young Muslim New Yorkers. The five participants in Beyond Sacred vary in many ways, but share the common experience of coming of age in a post-9/11 New York City, at a time of increasing Islamophobia. Participants come from a range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds and include men and women that reflect a wide range of Muslim identities, including those who have converted to Islam, those who were raised Muslim, but have since left the faith, those who identify as “secular” or “culturally” Muslim, and those who are observant on a daily basis. The goal of Beyond Sacred is to illuminate daily experiences of Muslim New Yorkers, and work towards greater communication and understanding among Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

 

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Ping Chong + Company, Beyond Sacred: Voices of Muslim Identity. Photo by Adam Nadel.

 

Andrea Clearfield
Composer and Pew Fellow

All Those Vanished Engines, a sound installation by Stephen Vitiello in the MASS MoCA Boiler House was a multisensory, evocative experience. A marriage of memory, space and future, the cacophonous sounds of re-mixed metal pipes, ambient electronic textures, and haunting fragments of narrative (with text by Paul Park) brought the old industrial structure to life in a new way.


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Stephen Vitiello: All Those Vanished Engines. Photo courtesy of MASS MoCA.

 

Christopher Colucci

Sound designer, Composer, and Pew Fellow

I’ve been immersed in the music of Miles Davis, specifically the recordings he made between 1964-68 with his Second Great Quintet; collaborative artists exploring structure and freedom concurrently resulting in group improvisation at the highest level. I’ve been thoughtful about the implications for my sound design and composition work.

 

Simon Dove

Executive and Artistic Director, Dancing in the Streets, and Co-Curator, Crossing the Line Festival

How does the experience of growing up in a war zone impact your humanity? At Moultaqa Leymoun - the Arab Dance Platform – in Beirut, I was deeply affected by the young Lebanese artist Bassam Abou Diab and his autobiographical performance work “Under the Flesh,” based on his experience of growing up in a city repeatedly under siege. He brilliantly and powerfully uses humor and irony, pitting his deep humanity against the inhuman strategy of repeated aerial bombardment.


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Bassam Abou Diab, Under the Flesh, 2016. Photo courtesy of Simon Dove.

 

Ruth Estevez           
Director and Curator, Gallery at REDCAT

This year I had the opportunity of attending a musical performance by artist and musician Tarek Atoui (Lebanon, 1980), created for the Bergen Assembly in Norway. WITHIN / Infinite Ear was a project exploring hearing diversities and how deafness can influence the way we understand sound performance, its space, and instrumentation. The location for this project was an abandoned swimming pool, where Atoui hosted an ensemble of nine new musical instruments developed by speaker designers and musicians. The instruments were activated by performers with different hearing disabilities, challenging our understanding of hearing and our perception of sound.

 

Melissa Franklin

Director, Pew Fellowships, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage

In August, I made my first visit to Philip Johnson’s Glass House, the iconic landmark of 20th-century modernism. It was incredibly moving and inspiring to experience this deeply personal and idiosyncratic estate that is filled with a collection of structures designed by Johnson—the lifework of a man of keen intelligence and ravenous curiosity.

 

Daniel Fuller

Curator, Atlanta Contemporary

Eddie Owens Martin, or St. EOM’s Pasaquan is a psychedelic kaleidoscope of pre-Columbian, American Indian, and African colors and motifs in Buena Vista, GA. St. EOM passed away in 1986, and one of the most complete folk art environments in the United States could have been lost. This fall, Pasaquan was preserved and re-opened to visitors. Off a red dirt road, it is the height of art for art’s sake. A step back in time into a futuristic dream.


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St. EOM’s Pasaquan. Photo by Daniel Fuller.

 

Emma Gibson

Artistic Director, Tiny Dynamite

The Mountaintop by Katori Hall at People’s Light was an extraordinary production magically realized at an important time in our own history. For once, all the elements came together—design, performance, script. The moment when Camae (Patrese D. McClain) laid her hand on Bowman Wright’s shoulder (as MLK) and called ‘time’ at the end of the play will be a piece of theatrical magic that will stay with me for years.


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The Mountaintop at People’s Light. Photo by Mark Garvin.

 

Andrea Grover

Executive Director, Guild Hall of East Hampton

Pedro Reyes’ Doomocracy, a Creative Time production, has not left me since I visited the installation in November 2016. With its familiar and campy vignettes of American culture—from the corporate board room to a “direct-selling” gathering of housewives—the experience was one of having been unwittingly cast in a dark comedy about the end of capitalism. Participants were assigned roles as they passed through various scenes (patients at a doctor’s office, wait staff at an upscale catered event, voters at the polls on Election Day, and so forth). Doomocracy lived up to its name; it was a brilliant and unsettling work that has woven its way into my post-election psyche.


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Doomocracy, a Creative Time Production. Photo by Will Star, courtesy of Creative Time.

 

Kelsey Halliday Johnson

Curator and Artist

International House Philadelphia's evening with Michelle Handelman for the Les Vampires Centennial was equally a fresh programmatic mode to revisit cinematic history through an urgent contemporary gaze and a sophisticated historical contextualization of a major recent work. Handelman's reinterpretation and scholarship of the 1915/16 character Irma Vep, and the life of its star Musidora has birthed a seductive masterwork that mines the marginalization of criminal and queer anxieties, the tragic amnesia of art overshadowing the artist, and the tangled pitfalls and glamour of power.

 

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Michelle Handelman, still from Irma Vep, the last breath, 2013/15, © Michelle Handelman.

 

Lynne Ireland

Deputy Director, Nebraska State Historical Society

Lost & Found Again, assemblages by Michael Farrell [at Lux Center for the Arts in Lincoln, Nebraska]. Objects tell stories on their own, but juxtaposed in these works they create surprising narratives and strong statements about form, shape, and the effects of time. See a review here.

 

Jennifer Kalter

Director of Education, Please Touch Museum  

Kerry James Marshall: Mastry at the Met Breuer is a powerful and beautiful retrospective. His work references and comments on the Western canon, as well as contemporary society, and asserts the place and power of the black figure. The show inspires important conversations that continue beyond the gallery walls.


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Kerry James Marshall, Souvenir 1, 1997, acrylic, collage, silkscreen, and glitter on canvas 9X13 ft. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Bernice and Kenneth Newberger Fund, 1997.73 © Kerry James Marshall Photo: Joe Ziolkowski, © MCA Chicago.

 

David Ludwig

Composer

In December, I saw Kaija Saariaho's opera L'amour de Loin at the Met and it was an entirely transformative experience. The music was indescribably beautiful, but the composer’s ability to suspend time altogether is what made such an impression and is so relevant to me personally for my Center-funded project The Anchoress.

 

Paula Marincola

Executive Director, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage

In 2016, I finally got to visit Denmark’s legendary Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. As might be predicted, I was completely captivated, not just by the museum’s comprehensive approach to exhibitions, but by how the relatively unassuming modernist building is so intimately and successfully integrated with its surrounding grounds and landscape. It’s very special. What was unexpected—and totally pleasurable—was to also have been so blown away by the fierce Daniel Richter painting show on view there at the time.

 

Donald Nally

Conductor, The Crossing

When Philip Levine died in February 2015, he left the poems of The Last Shift as a kind of elegy—to his art, to him, to us. Transcendent and reflective, I find the language moving and inspiring; his ability to capture the past while moving forward in time reminds us of just how creative and unique he was.

I knew

these tiny glazed pictures—a car hood,

my own speedometer, the steering wheel,

the windshield fogging over—were the last

I'd ever see. These places where I had lived

all the days of my life were giving up

their hold on me and not a moment too soon.

The Last Shift

 

Susan Poulton

Chief Digital Officer, The Franklin Institute

The Doctors Without Borders “Forced from Home” interactive installation on Independence Mall immersed the public in the refugee experience. Guides took visitors through a camp and used iPads and virtual reality to tell individual’s stories, from Tanzania to Lebanon. So powerful and showed the true impact of immersive experiences to generate empathy. The closer we can come, even virtually, to human experiences other than our own, the more we can connect and relate.


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Jeannie Simms, Sindikit, installation view. Photo courtesy Jeannie Simms.

 

Amy Sadao

Daniel W. Dietrich, II Director, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania

Jeannie Simms, Sindikit. I’m taking off, it means I’m leaving now: a startlingly inventive operatic video shot in Greece. Castoffs collected from where asylum seekers cross (over 856,000 arrivals in 2015) imprint four Lesbos Cyanotypes. Also, Tim Doud and Zoe Charlton’s commitment to politics and art dinner discussions. Baltimore. Local artist spaces.

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Jeannie Simms, Sindikit. I’m taking off, it means I’m leaving now.

 

Heidi Saman

Filmmaker and Pew Fellow                                     

This year's BlackStar Film Festival was something special. From the opening night party, to the filmmaker panel sessions, Haile Gerima's talk about Black Aesthetics, and the fantastic curation of films, this four-day festival puts Philadelphia on the map as an important place for independent cinema of the African diaspora.

 

Lisa Sonneborn

Director, Media Arts and Culture, Institute on Disabilities, Temple University

I was inspired by work that evoked the elements, real and imagined. I loved feeling the wind move through Pier 9, lifting the circles of fabric in Ann Hamilton’s habitus. I was transported by the feeling of ‘rain’ and ‘wind’ in my face while watching When the Rain Stops Falling at The Wilma Theater. Pure magic!

 

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Ann Hamilton, habitus, 2016. Installation at Municipal Pier 9, made in collaboration with The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia. Photo by Thibault Jeanson.

 

Lumi Tan

Curator, The Kitchen

Danspace’s Platform 2016: Lost and Found was sprawling, messy, ecstatic, revelatory—the ideal series to surround the election and the stages of grief it still inspires. The accompanying catalogue stands on its own as a treasure of archival and contemporary responses; I inhaled it in a day.

 

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Danspace, “Platform 2016: Lost and Found,” photo by Ian Douglas.


 

Hank Willis Thomas

Artist

I found myself in a Black Lives Matter panel at the “Summit at Sea” conference recently. Rather than the traditional discussion I expected, one of the founders of the movement, Patrisse Cullors, led the audience of over 100 people in a series of exercises based on Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed. The level of empathy and intimacy this experience created between strangers had a profound and lasting effect.

 

lê thi diem thúy

Poet

I saw Moonlight the Saturday before our recent presidential election, and then again the Sunday after. The first time I saw the film, I was struck by how full of sound and light and heat it was, how unabashed the main character Chiron's yearning was, and how nearly wordless. I loved this wordlessness, which felt open and tender, like a slow blossoming before my eyes of something delicate floating above the heavy bass of the streets, the hood, the heartbeat, waves crashing. A young boy lives to become a young man, and there is a quality of song surrounding it all. When I saw the film again, my initial impressions—open, tender, unabashed, brave, so brave—felt edged with a new vulnerability. I felt something in me lean forward, as if to cup the flame of this film so that it might burn even brighter.

 

Richard Torchia

Gallery Director, Arcadia University Art Gallery

My surprise encounter with Zoe Leonard's I want a president (1992) on the High Line the day after the final debate of the 2016 election rewired my thinking about political and public art. I read Leonard's 288-word typescript with my heart pounding. That afternoon its prescient relevance felt uncanny. Today I regard it as a call to arms.

 

Royce Vavrek

Librettist

Trey Edward Shults’ film “Krisha” is the work that moved and surprised me most this year. The central performance by Krisha Fairchild, the filmmaker’s aunt, is a tour de force that knocked the wind out of me. The score, composed by Brian McOmber, is magnificent. It’s an indie American masterpiece.

 

Reggie Wilson

Executive and Artistic Director, Fist and Heel Performance Group

The 27th Annual ZORA!™ Festival. Always wanted to attend; got there and had an amazing time geeking out with other Zora [Neale Hurston] aficionados. I recommend this read: Choreographing the Folk: The Dance Stagings of Zora Neale Hurston by Anthea Kraut. It opened my eyes to the impact and work of Zora Neale Hurston on the moving body in African Diasporic culture.


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Zora Neale Hurston. Photo courtesy Reggie Wilson.