How to sum up a year in which art had so much to say? Culturally, socially, politically - artists retained their age-old role as documenters and commentators. Of course, there's also the age-old role of the artist as a maker, expresser and sharer.
Local artists both established and emerging shared beauty and passion. Galleries and museums provided breadth and depth, the benefits of knowledge, a keen eye and a commitment to art and the city.
All of this to say: If you want a "top" art of 2016 list, get your own list. Here, we offer a "representative" 12 exhibitions, highlighting the past year in the fine arts.
Dennison W. Griffith: Another World
Jan 8-April 1 at CCAD and Hammond Harkins Galleries
This fascinating collection of new work opened 10 days prior to Denny Griffith's passing. In one of his final interviews, the retired CCAD president assured, "These paintings are not about cancer." While scheduling the interview and photo shoot was affected by Griffith's day-to-day health, his death was still a bit of a shock, coming so soon after this triumphant "coming out as a new artist," as he described it.
Jan. 29-Feb. 19 at MINT
To celebrate rather than separate the contrasting traditions of artists from the CCAD and Ohio State University art programs was the focus of this Grace E. Bowen-curated exhibition. "I wanted to see how the work could communicate while still providing a survey of the skills and ideas involved from both schools," Bowen said.
"The Curiosity of Valerie Starr"
Feb. 12-28 at Wild Goose Creative
This was a retrospective of three projects on which Valerie Starr had worked prior to her summer 2015 death from cancer. Her husband, Talcott Starr, said, "Seeing her artistic legacy all in one place and knowing how excited she would be for people to see it and share it … it's an incredible cliché, but it feels like puttingher up on the wall in a very odd and good way."
"Perceptions: Reflections on Black Lives"
Feb. 5-Feb. 28 at Ohio Art League X Space
The David Butler-curated "Perceptions" dealt with the issue of race as perceived through the lens of current events. "In my opinion, the best artists react to the times they exist in," Butler said. "When you're engaged in a community, treating others and yourself as human, things happen and it affects you, and you express that through art, so you don't go crazy."
March 4-31 at Sherrie Gallerie
Central Ohio's Christian Faur is internationally known for his unique crayon pixel technique. But this exhibition's inclusion on this list speaks also to the eye of Sherrie Gallerie owner Sherrie Hawk, who marked 30 years in the Short North during 2016. She helped forge the district's reputation in the arts and maintains a forward-looking approach to presentation.
"Girls in Pantyhose"
May 26-July 9 at Angela Meleca Gallery
This collection of works by Danielle Julian Norton and Melissa Vogley Woods explored belief systems, feminism and authority. "If a white man makes a painting, he doesn't get asked what he's saying about whiteness or maleness," Woods said. "We are acknowledging and leveraging the idea of, 'What are you trying to say about being a woman?'"
"Land of Thunderbirds"
July 16-30 at 934 Gallery
Adam Hernandez's mythical "Land of Thunderbirds" fused imagery inspired by Aztec and Pacific Northwest Native-American culture and art with the bold and unrefined look of graffiti, borrowed from the Bronx streets on which the now-Columbus-based artist grew up. "Thinking about these common themes and stories from cultures all over the world got me to thinking, 'What's my myth?'" Hernandez said.
"It's Saturday Morning Somewhere, Too!"
Aug. 12-31 at 400 West Rich
A reprise of a summer 2015 Artist Wrestling League exhibit brought out new and more jubilant paeans to '70s and '80s youth. Artists making in a variety of styles and mediums touched on childhood cartoons, commercials and food. "Art can be serious, but not everything has to make a profound statement," AWL's Ralph Walters said. "I'm happy to get to do more cereal pieces," Brent Elam said.
"Leap Before You Look"
Sept. 16-Jan. 1 at Wexner Center for the Arts
The Wex hosted this touring exhibition of work by those associated with Black Mountain College, a progressive and, ultimately, transformative liberal arts school. The exhibit featured more than 200 works from 90 artists. The breadth of companion programming brought some of the Black Mountain ethic to modern-day campus.
"Dare to Be Heard"
Sept. 23-Nov. 5 at Cultural Arts Center
Columbus feminist artist Stephanie Rond curated this show, which she and the Cultural Arts Center viewed as the beginning of a conversation centering on issues of creativity and identity from the female perspective. "We wanted to work with women who were talking about their experience as women in the art world," Rond said.
September at Columbus Museum of Art and Hammond Harkins Galleries
This collection of work by the late Aminah Robinson was displayed for the first time this year at CMA and Hammond Harkins. The work was Robinson's response to the election of the nation's first African-American President. "I was so happy for her that she lived to see [Obama] elected," Marlana Hammond Keynes said. "When it happened, [Robinson] did what she always did. Her voice was her work."
"My Blessing My Curse"
Oct. 5-Nov. 18 at Fresh A.I.R. Gallery
Charles Wince lays his personal history bare both in his artist statement ("I have come to realize that my maladies are the key components in what make me who I am. They are my curse, but they are also my blessing," he writes) and in his art. A leading light on the Columbus art scene for better than a decade, this exhibition included work from throughout Wince's art-making career.