BURNAWAY’s Best of 2017: Cultural Experiences

Our contributors were moved by cultural experiences large and small, near and far, proving that you don’t have to travel far or spend a lot to find inspiration.

Check out the rest of our Best of 2017 series: Best ExhibitionsCultural ExperiencesNews StoriesMovers and Shakers, and Favorite Reads.


Haynes Riley, artist and director of Good Weather Gallery, Little Rock

In Europe this summer, documenta 14 (Kassel and Athens), Skulptur Projekte (Münster), and Production. Made in Germany Drei (Hannover), all took place and I was able to spend time with these quinquennial and decennial exhibitions. It’s difficult to choose just one piece, presentation, or moment from it all, but I was most satisfied with the unexpected and quiet encounters, like Benjamin Patterson’s chorus of frogs and other sounds in the gardens at the Byzantine and Christian Museum, a four-piano performance of minimalist composer Julius Eastman’s work, or the billowing smoke from the tower of the Fridericianum Museum in Kassel by artist Daniel Knorr.


The Art of Collecting panel at the Brooks Museum of Art, moderated by Emily Ballew Neff (far left), and (l to r) Pitt Hyde, Alice Walton, and Elliot Perry.
The Art of Collecting panel at the Brooks Museum of Art, moderated by Emily Ballew Neff (far left), and (l to r) Pitt Hyde, Alice Walton, and Elliot Perry.

Carolyn and Brian Jobe, co-founders of Locate Arts, Nashville

There was a wonderful panel discussion called The Art of Collecting at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in March 2017 moderated by Emily Ballew Neff, featuring Pitt Hyde, Alice Walton, and Elliot Perry. We were impressed by the discussion at large, but especially by the passion of Elliot Perry who, along with his wife Kimberly Perry, love collecting and living with work by contemporary black artists. Walton and Hyde agreed that the only mistake they ever made in collecting was buying something that they didn’t like, even if it seemed like a good investment at the time.


Carrie Mae Weems, Praise House
Carrie Mae Weems, Praise House (detail), from the Sea Islands Series.

Rachel Reese, associate curator of modern and contemporary art at Telfair Museums, Savannah

Day trips to the Sea Islands over the course of 2017 to learn the history of the region from Gullah descendants and historians (Daufuskie Island, St Helena Island, Pin Point, Ossabaw Island), particularly a day with 7th generation Gullah descendent Sallie Ann Robinson (the Gullah Diva) touring Daufuskie by golf cart (exhibition research for “Carrie Mae Weems: Sea Islands Series, 1991-1992” opening on January 26.)


Frida Kahlo's home museum, Casa Azul, in Mexico City.
Frida Kahlo’s home museum, Casa Azul, in Mexico City.

Jordan Amirkhani, writer and Professor at UT Chattanooga

I traveled to Mexico City for the first time this summer, and was blown away by the food, people, and most especially, the radical art-activist community in place there. Touring Leon Trotsky and Frida Kahlo’s homes (now museums) was something I have long wanted to do, and seeing the Feminicidio en México presentation at the Museum Memoria y Tolorencia opened my eyes to the ways in which art institutions can create real space for public conversation and reflection.  


Aerial view of the Women's March in Atlanta on January 21, 2017.
Aerial view of the Women’s March in Atlanta on January 21, 2017.

Anne Lambert Tracht, art consultant, Atlanta 

The Women’s March in Atlanta was quite moving. It was thrilling to be amongst so many strong, vocal and funny people in this city.


Mardi Gras Indians Super Sunday parade, New Orleans, March 19, 2017.
Mardi Gras Indians Super Sunday parade, New Orleans, March 19, 2017. (Photo: Dwayne Butcher)

Dwayne Butcher, critic, Memphis 

My wife and I went to New Orleans in March. We came across “Super Sunday” on the Internet while looking for things to do in NOLA. The New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian Council always has their Indian Sunday on the third Sunday of March, Super Sunday. Their festivities begin at noon in A.L. Davis Park where the Mardi Gras Indians dress in their feathers and suits and take to the streets to meet other “gangs.” It was a magical, if chaotic experience. People everywhere. The outfits were some of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Ever. It was such an amazing experience and one of the most diverse things I have ever been a part of; I will be there again in 2018.


Ree de la Vega organized a series of DJ events at the restaurant 8arm.
Ree de la Vega organized a series of DJ events at the restaurant 8arm. (Photo: Dashboard)

William Downs, artist, Atlanta

Sunday afternoon parties at 8arm with guest DJs.


s "Jessica Angel: Facing the Hyperstructure" at the Abroms Engel Institute of Visual Art (AEIVA).
Jessica Angel’s installation Facing the Hyperstructure at the Abroms Engel Institute of Visual Art (AEIVA) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Brett Levine, critic, Birmingham 

In Birmingham, the best cultural experience may have been total immersion in the three-dimensional sensory distortion that was “Jessica Angel: Facing the Hyperstructure” at the Abroms-Engel Institute of the Visual Arts (AEIVA). After donning a pair of 3D glasses, the Randall Stout-designed space shape-shifted (literally) thanks to Angel’s vinyl additions and optical acuity. Elsewhere, at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, New York, “From Lens to Hand to Eye: Photorealism 1969 to Today” was a knockout, but “Platform: Clifford Ross, Light/Waves,” with large-scale, site-specific LED waves crashing on the building was almost unimaginable. More unexpected: slipping on a pair of foam shoes to stand on the floor of Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner’s studio in Springs, New York. If standing on history is not a cultural experience, I am not quite sure what is.


Ashlee Ramsey performing in the SITES series organized by Stephanie Leathers.
Ashlee Ramsey performing in the SITES series organized by Stephanie Leathers.

Chris Vitiello, poet and art critic, Durham

The choreographer, performer, and photographer Stephanie Leathers has run a site-specific performance series called SITES for a while now, which critiques and witnesses the cycle of development and gentrification here. Performances have happened in construction sites, skateboard parks, along chain-link fences, in long-abandoned restaurant spaces about to be reinvented, in municipal corridors. In November, Leathers asked Greensboro-based performer Ashlee Ramsey to perform in the gutted cavern of a textile mill that’s in an early stage of renovation. Very few people witnessed this performance, which took place late on a frigid night with a stiff wind blowing through the active construction site. Concrete foundations were piled with gravel and fill dirt, wrapped pallets of cinderblock were everywhere, scaffolding and strung shop lights dangled, plastic sheeting flapped the window holes. After two hours in there, you blew your nose and there were clots of red dust in the Kleenex.

Ramsey moved throughout the space with total commitment, thrashing her way out of a cardboard box atop a dirt pile, diving into gravel pits and climbing out of them on 2x4s, tracking furrows between poured-concrete floors as if they were frontiers. Leathers was almost as active, documenting the performance through photo and video. It was two unforgettable hours of haunting resistance. You ended up covered with dirt and half-frozen just to move around the buildings to watch the performance. Ramsey transferred some of her restless presence to you, through that. And then you took that restlessness back out into public and private space afterwards. And I haven’t lost that restlessness.

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