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By Matthew Nash

I have little doubt that, when we look back on the year 2008, it will be remembered for one thing above all others: change. Some of this change was for the better, some for ill, and much of it a bit of both. Only time will tell if soon-to-be-President Obama is really the change we need in that leadership role. Time, too, will tell if this economic downturn can result in a broad and positive impact in the long run.

For arts institutions here in the Boston area, 2008 has been a very turbulent year. While the larger institutions saw some impressive growth, the commercial gallery sector of Boston changed dramatically. By my count, at least twenty-two galleries made significant changes in 2008.

Large institutions, like the Museum of Fine Arts and Mass MoCA, each used 2008 to expand their programming and audience. In June, as part of their huge and ongoing expansion, the MFA re-opened their beautiful Fenway entrance to the public, and installedDay and Night, a two-part sculpture by Antonio Lopez Garcia. In North Adams, the newly-opened Building #7 at Mass MoCA will be home to "Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective" for the next twenty-five years.

There were some changes in leadership as well. The DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park hired a new director, Dennis Kois, while the recently renamed Harvard Art Museum has hired José Ortiz as director, starting in March. The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis announced in December that, due to the current state of the economy, they would freeze their search to fill the curator position vacated by Raphaela Platow in June of 2007. Axiom Gallery co-director Phaedra Shanbaum departed for merry-old-England, encouraging remaining director Heidi Kayser to bring in a new and diverse group of collaborators to expand the Axiom vision. Of course, there's the always-innovative Berwick Research Institute, who created a Director-in-Residence position, and asked Leon Johnson to fill the role.

Change came in many forms in 2008. One of the most significant, for many artists and institutions, was the announcement by the LEF Foundation that 2008 would be their last year funding the visual arts. Starting in 2009, LEF will exclusively fund moving image projects, a decision which has many smaller organizations looking around for new funding sources. Equally significant, the DeDordova announced recently that their Annual exhibition of New England artists would become a biennial exhibition, curated by a single person and not a group. While the Annual often draws fire, it has always been a reliable indicator of the state of the arts in New England, so this change may be an indicator of a new kind of focus for the DeCordova.

Some change made a lot of sense. When AICA announced that their 2007 Awards would be the last event hosted by that prestigious group, journalist and blogger Greg Cook took up the challenge and recently announced his own 2008 Boston Art Awards, with a public nomination and selection process.

Of course, no article about the changes in 2008 would be complete without addressing the dramatic shift in the landscape of Boston's commercial and alternative galleries. This past summer, it seemed that not a day went by without some new rumor of a gallery closing, or moving, or changing leadership. Here is my attempted summary of this giant game of musical chairs.

On Newbury Street, Judy Ann Goldman Gallery, Beth Urdang Gallery and Pepper Gallery all closed up shop, while Ellen Miller moved Miller Block Gallery into the space vacated by Pepper Gallery (and may change the name to Ellen Miller Gallery soon).LaMontagne Gallery moved from Fort Point to South Boston, near The Distillery, while Howard Yezerski Gallery and Soprafina Gallery both took up new residences in the South End, in the 450 Harrison Street complex.

At 450 Harrison, long-established Allston Skirt Gallery and MPG Contemporary announced their closures, and newcomers Gallery XIV and Julie Chae Gallery both shut their doors. Gallery Kayafas and Steven Zevitas Gallery (formerly OSP Gallery) both expanded, with Kayafas taking over the former Gallery XIV space, and Zevitas moving into the former Julie Chae Gallery. Bernard Toale Gallery split in two, with Toale keeping a small consulting business and his former partner, Joe Carroll, opening Carroll and Sons Gallery in the main gallery of Toale's space. Diamond-Newman Fine Arts occupied the former Allston Skirt space, while Stephanie Walker opened Walker Contemporary in the space vacated by Gallery Kayafas. Up the street, Rhys Gallery departed for the left coast, leaving their large space on the corner of Harrison and East Berkeley Street empty. Also nearby, Space Other closed their doors to focus on curatorial projects abroad, while the folks at the Weekly Dig opened Space 242.

In Fort Point, the new FP3 Gallery opened in the FP3 condo complex, while out in Malden the beloved Artspace@16 closed during the summer. And in a glimmer of hope for Boston's dying alternative scene, the Berwick's Nova Benway opened her apartment in Jamaica Plain for exhibitions.

Ultimately, what does all this change mean? What results will be see from all this moving, growing, shrinking, coming and going? If 2009 is anything like this past year, we can expect a lot more changes in the landscape of the arts in New England. It has been over a decade since Boston experienced this kind of uprooting in the galleries, which led to a revival of the artistic culture and a renewed interest among collectors, curators and artists. There is no reason not to expect the same of this turnover, as fascinating and scary as it has been to watch these past many months. If history is any guide, 2008 will be the year we all look back on as a time of great and exciting change.

Update: Beth Urdang Gallery to re-open

MFA image via the Museum of Fine Arts website.
Kois image courtesy of the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park.
SoWA image from the Big RED & Shiny archives.

About Author

Matthew Nash is the founder of Big Red & Shiny. He is Associate Professor of Photography and New Media at the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University and was the 2011-12 Chair of the University Faculty Assembly. Nash is half of the artist collaborative Harvey Loves Harvey, who are currently represented by Gallery Kayafas in Boston and have exhibited in numerous venues since 1992.

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