Visual Art: My 5 Favorite Things of 2021

I will remember 2021 as a year of reopenings and looking back. On the former, not only have many museums and galleries reopened after closing for months during the pandemic, but one institution in Balboa Park has unveiled its large, redesigned space. We also lost a local legend just before the start of his very first solo exhibition in a museum. Yes, 2021 has had its ups and downs, but, as always, art has helped us get through it.

“Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist”, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego

It was one of the real honors of my career write about this exhibition, the very first personal exhibition dedicated to the life and work of López. Best known for the work she produced in the 70s and 80s while a graduate student and activist at UC San Diego, López sadly passed away a few months before the exhibit was scheduled to open. MCASD curators did an exceptional job of showcasing the iconic works, which included paintings, posters, drawings, collages and photos. Seeing her “¿A Dónde Vas, Chicana? Another highlight of my career that I will remember for years is the Getting through College series and in particular his painting “Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe” painted up close and in person. And good news if readers still haven’t seen the exhibition: it will continue until April 2022, and it’s free with reservations.

“Fantasia Morale”, Centro Cultural Tijuana

Artist Shinpei Takeda

(Courtesy of Yumi Watanabe)

Local artist Shinpei Takeda has gone rogue for this immersive and supernatural exhibition at CECUT, which opened in June. Working as a kind of mid-career retrospective, “Fantasia Moral” (“Moral Fantasy”) featured everything from experimental sound and documentary installations, to silkscreen prints and huge textile sculptures descending from ceilings. Postponed from 2020 and working on a limited post-COVID budget, Takeda took a DIY approach to the exhibit, literally knocking down the walls and installing most of the work itself. The result was one of the most engaging and, yes, fantastic art experiences of the year.

Reopening of the Mingei International Museum

After three years and a $55 million overhaul, the Mingei officially reopened in September to understandable fanfare. Jennifer Luce and the team at LUCE and studio have truly outdone themselves, creating a welcoming common area with an almost open-air feel and complemented by a cafe, bar and gift shop area. The unveiling was also accompanied by two excellent new exhibitions, “Global Spirit – Folk Art from the Ted Cohen Collection” and “Humble Spirit / Priceless Art”, both of which should be viewed before being wrapped in 2022.

“SD Practice”, Bread & Salt and San Diego Institute of Contemporary Art

Bhavna Mehta: "Mabel Bell La Jolla Pioneer," 2018, hand cut archival paper, embroidery

Bhavna Mehta: “Mabel Bell La Jolla Pioneer», 2018, hand cut archival paper, embroidery

(City of San Diego Civic Art Collection, purchase, courtesy of Thomas O. Rasmussen. © Bhavna Mehta)

For those who missed it large exhibition at two locations in July, it was perhaps the closest thing we got to a showcase of all the best, brightest and boldest local artists. Held in the newly ennobled ICA space of Balboa Park and the Barrio Logan Bread & Salt institution, nearly 89 works were exhibited salon-style by artists who had been hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis. 19 and whose work had been purchased by the San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture to add to the city’s civic art collection. For those who missed it, chances are they will soon see at least one of the rooms inside a government building or library.

“Seven Passages to a Flight” by Faith Ringgold, San Diego Museum of Art

Last month, I wrote about a restructuring of the galleries at the San Diego Museum of Art, which included rearranging some of the works by theme rather than chronological order, as well as adding some pieces that had not previously been shown inside the Balboa Park institution. This included pieces by artists with local ties such as surrealist painter Ethel Greene and fiber artist Faith Ringgold, who once worked at UCSD. The latter artist’s work, originally created in 1997, tells the story of her life through an acrylic painting framed in a quilt. The result is something truly talismanic that everyone should see before it’s wrapped up in February, not to be shown again for another five years.

Combs is a freelance writer.