The Top 10 Vermont Art Exhibitions of 2023 | Art Review | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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The Top 10 Vermont Art Exhibitions of 2023 

Published December 27, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.

click to enlarge "Starburst MassQ" by Daniel Callahan - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • "Starburst MassQ" by Daniel Callahan

Compiling annual top-10 lists is a treat, because it allows us to recall the myriad art shows we enjoyed throughout the year. On the other hand, it's achingly difficult to whittle the options to 10. Every month, our calendar is packed with exhibitions to visit all around the state. Shout-out to the artists, curators, venues and supporters that make this possible. You rock.

Maintaining an art gallery is itself as much art form as business. In 2023 we welcomed four new ones: Hexum Gallery in Montpelier, Conant Square Gallery in Brandon, the Phoenix in Waterbury and Bryan Fine Art Gallery in Stowe. Sadly, we bid farewell to Northern Daughters in Vergennes, where for seven-plus years Justine Jackson and Sophie Pickens mounted excellent, eclectic exhibitions.

We were also saddened by the misfortune that literally rained down on several Vermont art institutions in July. Flooding damaged the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, the Vermont Arts Council and Supreme Court buildings in Montpelier, and Studio Place Arts in Barre, among others. Kudos to all who have helped with recovery.

Our list of favorite art shows comes with two caveats: The selected exhibitions had to appear in a Vermont gallery and receive a full review in this paper. Here they are, in chronological order, with a brief description and quote from the review.

"Cameron Davis: Poetic Ecologies", Vermont Supreme Court Gallery, Montpelier

click to enlarge "Encounter" by Cameron Davis - COURTESY
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  • "Encounter" by Cameron Davis

This was a gorgeous solo exhibit of mixed-media paintings that are loosely tethered to botany and in which Davis explores the web of life with spiritual curiosity and extraordinary skill. Her relationships to both Earth and art are empathic; many of her dense compositions have an ethereal inner glow, beckoning like a secret or a portal.

What we said: "Her artistic process creates multiple spaces — perhaps multiple realities — within a single painting."

"Daniel Callahan: En-MassQ", Brattleboro Museum & Art Center

The Boston multimedia artist presented large, close-up photos of somber faces — many of them his own — hand-painted in a variety of unique patterns he calls MassQs. Inspired by face-adorning rituals from many cultures, Callahan seeks not to conceal but to uncover the person's identity and state of being in the moment. To observers, his subjects acquired a fierce authenticity.

What we said: "The results are arresting and often quite beautiful."

Kate Burnim, "Liminal Arc", Vermont Supreme Court Gallery, Montpelier

click to enlarge "Repair" by Kate Burnim - COURTESY
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  • "Repair" by Kate Burnim

The Montpelier artist's enigmatic figurative paintings reveal her fascination with in-between spaces — not just physical but temporal, psychological and emotional. She even shifts direction within a single painting, producing fragmented but profoundly expressive compositions. Though deeply immersed in the process of art making, Burnim also seems to focus on the storytelling potential of her works.

What we said: "The commonality of her paintings here — liminal space — invites viewers to envision their own."

"Susan Rothenberg", Hall Art Foundation, Reading

click to enlarge "The Master" by Susan Rothenberg - COURTESY
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  • "The Master" by Susan Rothenberg

This exhibition was originally scheduled for 2020 and postponed because of the pandemic. Sadly, in the interim, Rothenberg died at age 75. For Vermont gallerygoers, the survey of nearly 30 drawings and paintings — spanning her career from 1974 to 2012 — was a rare treat. Most of Rothenberg's paintings are immense and contain illusive figurative elements — human, equine or puppet — within a field of explosive brushwork. Her canvases are confounding in the best way.

What we said: "Rothenberg's compositions transcend the strictures of the rectangular canvas and viewers' expectations of perspective."

Denis Versweyveld, "Still Life", Axel's Frame Shop & Gallery, Waterbury

click to enlarge "Tin Can" by Denis Versweyveld - COURTESY
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  • "Tin Can" by Denis Versweyveld

Versweyveld's white sculptures and muted works on paper presented a master class in understatement, as well as a welcome calm. His carved or cast objects, which are coated with plaster, milk paint or limewash, are homey shapes: teapots, bottles, pears, eggs. Situated throughout Axel's light-filled quarters, they were both unobtrusive and very much present. His paintings and drawings, too — more pears, more receptacles — brilliantly and quietly give voice to the special in the ordinary.

What we said: "His work makes itself known with a whisper, never a shout."

"A Place of Memory", The Current, Stowe

click to enlarge "Eagle" by Nicholas Galanin - COURTESY
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  • "Eagle" by Nicholas Galanin

This provocative exhibition had a serious mission. Its artists reclaim their ancestral stories, rejecting white-dominated perspectives in favor of authentic cultural expressions. The artworks were aesthetically and conceptually engaging, particularly the wildly inventive assemblages of Nyugen E. Smith and vanessa german. Following the Tlingit tradition, Nicholas Galanin's photographs and mask are more austere and minimal. Though leavened with humor, this exhibit was a defiant celebration of Indigenous creativity.

What we said: "The Current presents visitors with ancestral legacies and cultural perspectives to take home and ponder."

Terry Ekasala, Rick Harlow, Craig Stockwell, "Nor'easter", Bundy Modern, Waitsfield

click to enlarge "Backyard" by Terry Ekasala - COURTESY
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  • "Backyard" by Terry Ekasala

These three established artists have paint, abstraction and geography in common but distinct aesthetic expressions. Their large-scale paintings suited the grandeur of the high-ceilinged gallery and magnetized viewers at eye level. Ekasala's canvases hint at representation, but more engaging is her intuitive handling of color and form. Harlow's vibratory paintings seem nearly monochromatic but dissolve into thousands of multicolored specks as the viewer draws nearer. Stockwell's installation references the real-life dangers of Mount Washington in figurative drawings and text, bookending these with colorful geometric abstractions. This exhibit was a stimulating meeting of the intuitive, the linear and the cosmic.

What we said: "Viewers could reap mind-bending rewards."

Aurora Robson, "Human Nature Walk", Brattleboro Museum & Art Center

click to enlarge Detail of "Human Nature Walk" installation by Aurora Robson - COURTESY OF ERIN JENKINS
  • Courtesy Of Erin Jenkins
  • Detail of "Human Nature Walk" installation by Aurora Robson

Driven by the millions of tons of plastic items produced each year, and that find their way to landfills, oceans and even human bloodstreams, Robson turns the stuff into inventive sculptures. Dozens of her freestanding, wall-hung or suspended sculptures transform the large front gallery (the exhibit is still on view). Cut, shredded, frilled and molded from a variety of erstwhile functional plastic items, they suggest exotic sea creatures, flowers, fungi or microorganisms. The artist invited the public to bring in plastic lids, which she organized by color and arranged in shallow, waterdrop-shaped bins around the room. Robson's installation is as motivational as it is fantastical.

What we said: "One wall piece, constructed of white packing straps, is like a weaving gone rogue."

"Tossed: Art From Discarded, Found and Repurposed Materials", Middlebury College Museum of Art

click to enlarge "No. 382 of the Poly S. Tyrene Memorial Maritime Museum" by Duke Riley, featured in "Tossed" - COURTESY
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  • "No. 382 of the Poly S. Tyrene Memorial Maritime Museum" by Duke Riley, featured in "Tossed"

The staggering amount of detritus in the world was also the impetus for this exhibition, which featured throwaway objects transformed by artists around the globe. Though not a new theme, it has admittedly generated ingenious and often spectacular artworks. One showstopper in "Tossed" was "Hovor," by renowned Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui. A tapestry constructed of crumpled liquor bottle caps and copper wire, it was draped along one wall and glimmered softly. Longtime exhibition designer Ken Pohlman took a turn as curator, and his expertise was evident. Other works included a gasoline container that mimics a Yoruba mask, jugs painted to resemble scrimshaw and an owl sculpture fashioned from rusted wire.

What we said: "Despite its delicacy, the drawing makes clear who is responsible for this single-use plastic item."

"Traces", Kents' Corner State Historic Site, Calais

click to enlarge Detail of "Listening, You See" by Bunny Harvey, featured in "Traces" - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Detail of "Listening, You See" by Bunny Harvey, featured in "Traces"

Visitors to the annual "Art at the Kent" show typically comment on the creative curation of Allyson Evans and Nel Emlen. And for good reason: After 16 years, they're deeply familiar with every wavy-paned window, unusual door, fireplace and wall texture. The women thoughtfully place works by Vermont artists not only throughout the 19th-century building but outdoors, too. This year's 23-artist iteration seemed particularly lively, with a simpatico proximity of colors, shapes, mediums and subject matter. The exhibit also offered interactive items that invited hands-on engagement. In the atmospheric Kent, history mingles companionably with contemporary art.

What we said: "Together, the two meticulously wrought objects form an exclamation point."

The original print version of this article was headlined "Art Counts | Our top-10 Vermont exhibitions of 2023"

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About The Author

Pamela Polston

Pamela Polston

Pamela Polston is a cofounder and the Art Editor of Seven Days. In 2015, she was inducted into the New England Newspaper Hall of Fame.


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