OEAA Visual Arts Review: Ladies Night

Led by Leslie Iwai, female artists dominate Visual Arts categories

Women artists dominated the Visual Arts categories in Sunday night’s show. In fact, they won every category but two. Omaha artist Leslie Iwai took home the biggest award of the night — Best Visual Artist — and got a second nod in the Best New Media Artist category. Iwai bested formidable male artists like Tim Guthrie, Jamie Burmeister, Larry Ferguson, Bart Vargas and Josh Powell, among others. Iwai said after the show the two awards were a fine way to leave Omaha behind — she’s moving to Madison, Wisc., to be with her fiancée. Omaha will surely miss Iwai, who dabbles in performance art, sculpture, fashion design and installation simultaneously and with incredible grace. Over the years, she’s created such memorable shows as 2005’s “Chambers: Gleaning in Cracks of Light” at the Bemis Center, which included a light installation, confessions written on rose petals, seven hundred dove sculptures and a performance piece on the Bemis roof. Her public sculpture “Sounding Stones,” now installed near UNO, is a serene, conceptual sculptural piece that, after some controversy, seemed as though it had never been anywhere but Elmwood Park. Her most recent installation “Holding my Horses” at the Florence Mill garnered rave reviews. The awards she took home Sunday are well deserved. She promises to keep us posted as to what she does next. Rebecca Herskovitz took home the award for Best Emerging Artist. Herskovitz’s “The Things I Cannot Say” in the Bemis Underground was provocative and engaging at once. She showed slightly retro silhouettes of nude women set against grain of wood and divided in some cases by thick color bars of paint. The re-contextualized erotic images played with ideas of loneliness and isolation; there are things we all want to say but can’t and Herskovitz touched a chord with the show. Her career is one to watch. Another of the city’s most engaging — and steadiest rising — women artists took home the Best 2-D artist. Claudia Alvarez won for her show at the RNG Gallery, “Corn Eaters.” Her paintings — engaging, challenging and beautiful are words that come to mind — were as much a focus at the RNG show as her sculpture installation. The images of children eating corn was about more than food — they dove into culture, notions of childhood, indulgence and other emotions. Mary Day took the prize for best 3-D artist. She was recognized for her show “Scaffolding” at the Fred Simon Gallery, though her citywide contributions include a large-scale banner for the Emerging Terrain Project. Therman Statom took home the award for his show featuring New Work at the RNG Gallery. His memorable, colorful glasswork is a favorite of many and deserving of an OEAA nod. The award for Best Group Show went to Out of the Woods at the Hot Shops Nicholas Street Gallery. Focusing on artists who work with wood — an oft under-recognized medium — the artists in this group proved to the city that sculptures made from this seemingly ho-hum media can be anything but. Omaha art collector and philanthropist Phil Schrager, who died after a battle with cancer last June, was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in the Visual Arts. The Hot Shops’ Leslie Bruning and Bemis Board member Todd Simon presented the award, and a video tribute marked the occasion. Schrager’s mark on the Omaha art scene won’t. As he said in the tribute video, art in Omaha didn’t exist the way it does now when he arrived in the 1970s. “Omaha’s art scene was once barren,” he said. Phil Schrager’s brother, Harley Schrager, said in the tribute that his brother only had a few passions: his family, his business, art and philanthropy. “He liked art that moved his senses,” Harley Schrager said. Phil Schrager’s family accepted the award on his behalf.

posted at 07:30 pm
on Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

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