Best of 2022: Colby Museum Staff’s Favorite Exhibitions & Art Books of the Year

At the end of 2022 the Colby Museum staff were asked to reflect on their favorite exhibitions they saw and the best art books that they read this past year. 

Megan Adams, Anne Lunder Leland Curatorial Fellow

Installation view of The (Stillness) Collective: Unfolding Place at Speedwell Contemporary, Portland, ME (May 21-July 2, 2022). Photo by Luke Myers.

The (Stillness) Collective: Unfolding Place (May 21-July 2, 2022) at Speedwell Contemporary in Portland, ME

In this exhibition video was projected from floor projectors onto four different walls and visitors were invited to experience the videos from swivel chairs located in the center of the gallery. Accompanying the videoworks were interwoven sound bites of words, memory, poetry, and historical facts. This story of the interaction between the participating artists and the natural world was fragmented yet cohesive, visitors experienced this immersive installation swiveling in their chairs, shifting their attention from screen to screen. As I moved my chair I connected with the movement of the performers as they interacted with the sun, the ocean, the sky, seals, migrating sea birds, wild cherries, deer, porcupine, coyote, and eagles. I felt a profound sense of stillness. I was so immersed in the work that I felt I had somehow found the quietest part of me. I have never walked away from an exhibition feeling so moved. I have carried this memory of my experience of stillness, of awe, of deep serenity with me all year. 

Betsy Damon, Water Talks: Empowering Communities to Know, Restore, and Preserve Their Waters (Portalbooks, 2022)

I completed my masters thesis this year on community-centric regenerative garden projects created by artists to address humanitarian and climate crises, and one of the gardens I covered was Betsy Damon’s Living Water Garden in Chengdu, China. I was fortunate to connect with Damon while conducting research on her project and learned about her book Water Talks that just came out this year. In this book Damon shares her knowledge of the importance of water gained from decades of experience studying, teaching, writing and creating art about water. This book is an invaluable resource for us all as we creatively pursue ways to understand and restore our water systems that are integral to sustaining life on earth.

Jessamine Batario, Linde Family Foundation Curator of Academic Engagement

Installation view of The Milk of Dreams at Padiglione Centrale, Giardini, Sara Enrico, Jacqueline Humphries, Carla Accardi. Photo by Ela Bialkowska OKNOstudio, courtesy La Biennale diVenezia.

Il Latte dei Sogni / The Milk of Dreams at the Venice Biennale

I don’t want to pick just one, so I’ll cheat and add two more: no existe un mundo poshuracán: Puerto Rican Art in the Wake of Hurricane Maria (Whitney Museum of American Art) and Meret Oppenheim: My Exhibition (The Menil Collection). Exposure: Native Art and Political Ecology 

Lorraine DeLaney, Registrar for Exhibitions and Loans

Installation view of Nick Cave: Forothermore at MCA Chicago (May 14-October 2, 2022). Photo by Nathan Keay.

Nick Cave: Forothermore at The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

Beth Finch, Head Curator

Installation view of Whitney Biennial 2022: Quiet as It’s Kept (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, April 6- September 5, 2022). Photograph by Ron Amstutz.

Whitney Biennial

This Whitney Biennial captivated me and here’s why: The installation used temporary walls and suggested that we could get away from the waste, and potentially the cost, of serial wall building. The gallery spaces could still be transformed – by art, and by the space. Secondly, on the day I visited, a Saturday as I recall, the museum was busy and the galleries felt vibrant. In the open areas, I could see people discovering the art — marveling at it — as I was doing the same. It was fun AND thought-provoking. And lastly, the art was a great, wondrous, complex mix — what a museum dedicated to American art should be. It also did a good job of remembering overlooked artists and putting them in dialogue with emerging figures. 

A tie — Alex Katz: Theater and Dance and Andrew Wyeth: Life and Death

There are many many great books to honor this year, among them Speaking with Light: Contemporary Indigenous Photography, Alex Katz: Gathering, and Just Above Midtown: Changing Space, but I’m going to focus close to home for this answer and want to celebrate and acknowledge two Colby Museum and DelMonico Books titles that made significant contributions to the field of American art. Our Andrew Wyeth book, which was edited by Tanya Sheehan, brings an artist often considered a world away from his peers back into dialogue with them. It shows an exciting way forward for Wyeth studies. And our Alex Katz book brings forward an extraordinary aspect of Katz’s practice that has been overlooked in plain sight. 

Sarah Humphreville, Lunder Curator of American Art

Installation view of Louise Bourgeois: Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY (April 12–August 7, 2022).

Louise Bourgeois: Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Louise Bourgeois was an artist I thought I knew well, through her sculptures and prints. This exhibition of paintings from the 1930s and 1940s, shed light on an aspect of her practice that I didn’t know previously and provided a true sense of discovery and joy.

Eva Hagberg’s When Eero Met His Match: Aline Louchheim Saarinen and the Making of an Architect

This intensely readable book is a mash up of architectural history, biography, personal narrative, and love story. It reveals the critical role that Alice Louchheim played in the career of Eero Saarinen and in contemporary architectural publicity.

Siera Hyte, Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Installation view of Reggie Burrows Hodges | Hawkeye at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (May 28-September 11, 2022).

Faith Ringgold at the New Museum; Jeffrey Gibson at SITE Santa Fe; Chadwick Rantanen at Bel Ami; Reggie Burrows Hodges at the CMCA; Yatika Starr Fields at Garth Greenan; performances by Spiderwoman Theater at La MaMa and Gabriel Chalfin-Piney at Speedwell Projects 

This is a selection of shows that I loved this past year–I can’t choose just one.

Rosemary Mayer: Ways of Attaching, edited by Eva Birkenstock, Laura McLean-Ferris, Robert Leckie, and Stephanie Weber; Grounded in Clay: The Spirit of Pueblo Pottery by Pueblo Pottery Collective, Elysia Poon, and Rick Kinsel

Jillian Impastato, Mirken Coordinator of Campus and Community Collaboration

Installation view of Simply Zurich, Landesmuseum Zurich. Jan Bitter/Holzer Kobler Architekturen.

Simply Zurich at the Landesmuseum Zurich

How does a national museum operate in a country with four different national languages and an English-centric tourism industry? The Swiss National Museum in Zurich utilized museum technology (while translating most things into five languages) in innovative and graceful ways. The “Simply Zurich” exhibition showcased sculptures and videos from Zurich-based artists, but the real centerpiece was a new-aged wunderkammer where quotidian objects important to Swiss identity were elevated physically and metaphorically in bright stacked boxes with supplementary information provided on screens.

Fair Play by Tove Jansson

A novella by a Finnish woman (and creator of the Moomins cartoons) that is a hundred page love letter to work and love. Loosely based on the author’s life, two aging women (assumed to be lovers, but never explicitly) live on a remote island making art and finding companionship in each other. As soon as I finished this I already wanted to re-read it. The characters find so much joy in their work and they take themselves so seriously. 

Marisa C. Sanchez, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow for Research and Scholarly Engagement

An installation view of Afro-Atlantic Histories at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Courtesy the National Gallery of Art.

Afro-Atlantic Histories at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC and Matisse: The Red Studio at MoMA 

At NGA: This remarkable and significant exhibition Afro-Atlantic Histories brought together historical and contemporary works of art from the Americas, Africa, and Europe that address the transatlantic slave trade and its legacies in the African diaspora.

At MoMA: This was a beautiful and multi-layered exhibition that explored the history of Henri Matisse’s much-adored painting, The Red Studio (1911) in which the artist boldly depicted his studio with its walls saturated in a field of red and, in this view, Matisse included several of his artworks then in his studio. The exhibition’s curators offered viewers the opportunity to study The Red Studio alongside those other works Matisse pictured in the painting. Another highlight of the exhibition was the thought-provoking film that documented several MoMA conservators discussing what they had learned from examining and x-raying Matisses’ The Red Studio.

Afro-Atlantic Histories, Edited with text by Adriano Pedrosa, Tomás Toledo. Text by Ayrson Heráclito, Deborah Willis, Hélio Menezes, Kanitra Fletcher, Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, Vivian Crockett (New York and São Paulo: DelMonico Books and Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand (MASP), 2021

Juliette Walker, Assistant Manager of Exhibitions and Publications

Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, Pollinator Pathmaker, Serpentine Edition Garden, 2022. Back to Earth exhibition at Serpentine North (22 June – 18 September). Installation view. © Courtesy Serpentine.

Back to Earth at the Serpentine Gallery (22 June—18 Sep 2022/ongoing, London, UK)

This exhibition facilitated not only space for artists to respond to the climate crisis, but also called the institution itself to respond, and for this reason the entire form of the traditional art exhibition seemed to be stretched and questioned. Outside of the multimedia works in the gallery (which included amazing olfactory, sound, and many other media artworks), artworks spread outside of the space/time of what is often understood to be a part of an exhibition, with works in being engaged with and consumed in their cafe and a longterm garden project in a nearby neighborhood. I particularly appreciated seeing and learning about Formafantsma’s work “How to think about curating and exhibiting contemporary art in the light of the climate crisis” (2022), which was a manifesto silk screened onto a gallery wall, and a perfect work to frame exhibition-making in the context of climate crisis.

Designing Motherhood: Things that Make and Break Our Births by Michelle Millar Fisher & Amber Winick, MIT Press, 2021

While I am not a mother, I learned about this book and project recently and am enamored with this book! This book is a component of a wider project that has also taken form as an exhibition at the Mütter Museum and Center for Architecture in Philadelphia. Millar Fisher and Winick look at motherhood and human reproduction through the lens of design and art, and consider the material culture and social and cultural conditions that shape the experiences of motherhood. Design surrounding motherhood and birth is design that is not often noticed or considered in design history, yet relates to every human being alive! I also love the book design and material choices of this publication–from the paper weights to color!

Andrew Witte, Mirken Family Postbaccalaureate Fellow in Museum Practice

Installation view of Pipilotti Rist: Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor, September 12, 2021–June 6, 2022 at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. Courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo by Zak Kelley.

Pipilotti Rist: Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Framed as a “neighborhood,” the retrospective for this Swiss artist known for her experimental video work was a study in how to immerse visitors in video installations. A video was projected on a white bed you could climb into; a set dinner table; inside the windows of houses fabricated in the exhibition space; under a wig or inside a woman’s swimsuit. Every room was a new surprise; for example, turning a corner to find a monumentally scaled-up sofa and lounge chair, where you were invited to flip through channels on a vintage TV set—using a similarly oversized remote—to view a video archive of Rist’s earliest films. 

The surreality of her video work, often achieved through editing and overlaid elements, manifested in the carefully designed physical spaces. I went to see this show on the same day I first met a new old friend—it perfectly encapsulated a sense of discovery and connection.