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We asked ArtsATL’s visual arts critics to look back on the Atlanta exhibitions of 2012. Here follows, in no particular order, an annotated list of some of the most noteworthy offerings.

Katherine Taylor's "Encroachment" at Marcia Wood Gallery.

“Firmament.Marcia Wood Gallery. Katherine Taylor’s paintings seemed to walk a tightrope between abstraction and representation. Within this duality, she was able to collapse notions of the man-made imposed upon the organic, creating still, frozen moments fraught with an intense sense of place. It was no surprise to hear that Taylor was one of three winners of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia’s 2012-13 Working Artist Project. Christina Cotter

“Book of Parts.” Sarah Sze’s room-sized installation is the last work encountered by visitors to the High Museum’s “Fast Forward: Modern Moments 1913 >> 2013″ (through January 20), and it’s a doozy. Like many of the New York artist’s sculptural installations, it’s a complex and precarious configuration of seemingly random objects that have subtle references to people, places or things and, in this case, the works on view in the preceding galleries. Sze, 43, is one of the most prominent artists working today and will represent the United States at next year’s Venice Biennale. In a strange turn, the work’s site-specificity is tied more to the Museum of Modern Art works it references than to the High itself. Nevertheless, the High would be wise to acquire this significant work for its collection (which, by the way, is short on women artists). MOMA certainly would. Stephanie Cash

Paper Moon.” Kennesaw State University Art Museum. This first exhibition curated by then-Director Teresa Bramlette Reeves, whose tenure was unfortunately short-lived, promised further exhibitions of similar rigor and depth. It gathered works by numerous artists and other figures — Atlanta’s Joe Peragine, Marc Steinmetz of Germany, the film “Marwencol” and Nigerian figurines among them — that touch on a similar concern: that of making do with what one has in the absence of what one wants. With a new building set to open in 2013, KSU has the potential to become a destination venue for contemporary art, something metro Atlanta’s stuttering visual art scene could use. Whether school officials have the will to make that happen remains to be seen. S.C.

An image from Gordon Parks' "Segregation Portfolio."

“Gordon Parks: Segregation Portfolio.” Jackson Fine Art and Arnika Dawson Gallery. Parks was a wide-ranging photographer who is best known for his two decades at Life magazine and for directing the 1971 movie “Shaft.” His subjects ranged from high fashion and celebrities to poverty and racism. The 12 images in his “Segregation Portfolio” were shot in the mid-1950s while on assignment in Mobile, Alabama, and only recently discovered. On view through February 2, they remind us of our not-so-distant past, when “colored” people had a separate entrance at the theater and black children were not allowed on white playgrounds. The photos have a conflicting effect — they are visually appealing even as they morally offend. S.C.

Hale Woodruff’s “Mutiny,” from “The Mutiny on the Amistad” from Talladega College, at the High Museum of Art.

“Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College.” High Museum of Art. Woodruff’s two mural series from the historically black college, including his world-famous portrayals of the Amistad mutiny, are on tour because the High Museum undertook their restoration, a contribution that should be applauded. But in the larger scheme of things, it’s far more important that this exhibition enabled the High to produce new scholarship on this important artist that placed the murals into multiple historical contexts and revealed new aspects of Woodruff’s achievement as a muralist as well as contemporary painter. Jerry Cullum

“1961.” {Poem 88} Nikita Gale’s solo show provided a new generation’s imaginative-anthropological take on the documentary remnants of their parents’ epoch-making year of civil rights protest. Gale’s use of found photographs and public documents turned evocative but now-enigmatic facts into productive artistic speculations, and offered a new departure in combining several contemporary genres of conceptual art. J.C.

“Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial.” High Museum of Art. This retrospective demonstrated that some of the most spectacular contemporary art of the past quarter-century has been made by a self-taught African-American artist who’s now 84 years old. Dial has expanded his aesthetic to create monumental combinations of found-object sculpture and painting that go beyond “folk art” and have earned him a place among present-day artists of any category. J.C.

“The Sacred Round: Mandalas by the Patients of Carl Jung.” Oglethorpe University Museum. Longtime museum Director Lloyd Nick’s spectacular farewell exhibition presented 40 paintings done at the great analytical psychologist’s request and never before publicly exhibited This was the first occasion when they were presented as art rather than as psychological documents. J.C.

A pear-shaped tripod vessel with jaguar features, from Costa Rica/Nicaragua A.D. 1000-1350, in the "Shamanic Visionary Experience" exhibition. (Photo by Bruce White)

” ‘For I Am the Black Jaguar’: Shamanic Visionary Experience in Ancient American Art.” Michael C. Carlos Museum. This show presented curator Rebecca Rollins Stone’s hypothesis that shamanic practice is symbolized and illustrated in the art of the ancient Americas. Drawn primarily from the Carlos’ permanent collection, the objects in the exhibition provided an introduction to Central and South American shamanism, including the different methods used to induce visionary experience. J.C.

Elemental.” Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia. This exhibition, the culmination of Brian Dettmer’s Working Artist Project fellowship, was an enlightening experience of the subtle turns of his knife and the depth, both sculptural and conceptual, of his work. Because Dettmer’s Atlanta representation, the already greatly missed Saltworks, closed its public space at the end of the summer, it may be many years before Atlantans will get to see such a full display of his work again. Lilly Lampe

Westobou Festival. Augusta. Westobou succeeded in drawing Atlanta art-goers to the east Georgia city with a dazzling mix of film, music and truly exciting visual art. With performances by artist Lonnie Holley and pop darling Janelle Monae and a talk by the “Man on Wire” himself, Philippe Petit, the festival proved that you can cater to many levels of taste without sacrificing quality. Bringing on former Atlanta gallerist Nancy Solomon as visual arts curator was a brilliant move. Audiences were treated to work by artists from her stable, including an enjoyable interactive installation of “Cinderblocks” by Scott Ingram, as well as video work by several internationally known artists. L.L.

“Come Inside Me.” Nathan Sharratt took over a vacant house near Turner Field to explore ideas of family and the home in ways that were deeply personal, provocative and often perverse. The combination was unusually political and conceptual for Atlanta. Showcasing a young new artist in this fashion proved that Beth Malone and Courtney Hammond of Dashboard Co-op are curators to watch. I’m excited to see more of Dashboard Co-op’s work in 2013, as well as continued in-depth explorations of concept by Sharratt. L.L.

“Underneath the Hope.” Marcia Wood Gallery. Marcus Kenney’s solo show was pure magic. The Savannah-based artist spins myths of a wild South with his imaginative and fierce mixed-media photography, paintings and taxidermy sculptures. The resulting works reveal the fallacy of assuming that the racial issues in the region have been fully addressed, yet simultaneously rejoice in a continued savage presence, creating a contradiction both thrilling and unnerving. L.L.

“Deliverance.” Atlanta Contemporary Art Center. This performance-based show, which included Clifford Owens, Anya Liftig, Laura Ginn and Jayson Scott Musson, elicited decidedly mixed responses, but it challenged the community in terms of risk taking, boundaries and what can be defined as art. Owens’ participatory photo shoot pushed things about as far as they could go. Invigorating some while offending others, he almost immediately broke barriers of intimacy and self-disclosure with his audience, appearing as both confidante and trickster. Owens’ work ignited heated conversation about authenticity and the potential of art as a vehicle for human connection — plus, Contemporary Artistic Director Stuart Horodner got naked. Faith McClure

A view of Ben Roosevelt's "The Blue Flame" at Get This!

“The Blue Flame.Get This! Ben Roosevelt’s installation was an unusual show for Atlanta in terms of the transformation of a gallery space. Feeling more like a hallucination than an exhibition, as if plucked from a David Lynch film, the gallery was completely refashioned to serve as an ethereal dive bar based on a dream the artist had about artistic influence and authorship. Simultaneously real and unreal, the result was a disorienting headspace that felt both private and shared with gallery-goers. I can’t recall anything else like it in Atlanta in the last several years. F.M.

The Sacred Life.” Flux Night. If one took the initiative of sitting on the floor amid the Sacred Harp singers, who faced one another in a square, Ben Rollins’ installation was an immersive and exhilarating spiritual sonic experience. Catherine Fox

Civilizations.” Art on the BeltLine. Gregor Turk worked with children from Youth Art to produce this exemplar of participatory public art. The children created small clay architectural sculptures, which they tucked into the crevices of a granite outcropping near Ansley Mall. The effect was like something out of a fairy tale. C.F.

Vivian Maier: Untitled, New York, 1953. (The Maloof Collection, courtesy Lumière)

Vivian Maier. Jackson Fine Art and Lumière. The late Vivian Maier made her living as a nanny, and no one knew that this solitary woman was a masterful photographer until John Maloof bought the footlocker in which she had stored 30,000 negatives. These two exhibitions revealed her compositional savvy as well as her empathy, wit and passionate engagement with the world she observed — and lived — through the lens. C.F.

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