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Posted at 12:48 PM ET, 12/30/2008

State of the Art in '08

By Stephanie Merry

While 2008 may be known to some as the year of a historic election and a flagging economy, it also happens to have been an eventful year for local museums and galleries: a Smithsonian favorite reopened its doors after a massive overhaul, new museums cropped up across town and the art of photography was celebrated in galleries, on storefronts and inside coffee shops. So as we wave goodbye to another year, here is a sampling of the reasons art made us smile, think, sigh or (I admit it!) even get a little choked up in 2008.

Shepard Fairey, responsible for the now ubiquitous Obama posters, went on display at Irvine Contemporary this year. (Shepard Fairey)

As far as openings and reopenings go, the Newseum was a huge one. In April, the museum dedicated to journalism moved from its home in Rosslyn to a sparkly six-floor building along Pennsylvania Avenue. The new Newseum offered up a number of fresh spectacles, including the chance to see large portions of the Berlin Wall, an exhibit dedicated to coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks (complete with much-needed complimentary tissues) and the fantastic "G-Men and Journalists" exhibit, which fills the void of the (currently closed to visitors) FBI Building.

Meanwhile, the American History Museum got a major facelift, rendering it a much less dreary building and a better place to see the Star-Spangled Banner in all its glory. While less of a critical success, the Capitol Visitor Center finally opened its doors this month, giving tourists a place to wait and learn a little history before or after touring Congress's home.

Among my personal favorites was the big addition to the Natural History Museum: Ocean Hall. The museum dove into the planet's most complex ecosystem with displays of shark skeletons, giant squid and a 45-foot replica of an actual whale.

No discussion of 2008 would be complete without a little politics thrown in. It was impossible not to notice the ubiquitous prints of Barack Obama rendered in red, white and blue with words like "progress" and "change" scrawled across the bottom. The posters, created by artist Shepard Fairey, were just some of the works on view this fall in "Regime Change Starts at Home" at Irvine Contemporary.

The future president is also on display at the Corcoran as part of the Richard Avedon exhibit that opened in September. The photographer had a knack for making the most of the expressionless portraits of everyone from the Chicago 7 to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And the Avedon exhibit was just one part of the first annual FotoWeek DC, which started in mid-November. The celebration of the art of photography took root in just about every gallery and museum in the area, not to mention on the exteriors and interiors of any number of restaurants and stores.

A far cry from Avedon's subdued portraiture was the ostentatious and mesmerizing "Recognize! Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture" at the Portrait Gallery. LL Cool J sat coolly in front of a garish green and orange backdrop in Kehinde Wiley's rendering while graffiti decorated the exhibit walls.

And those who prefer a more classical view of art could head to the National Gallery to see sculpture, mosaics and everyday implements from Pompeii, the elite vacation spot that was destroyed by Mt. Vesuvius around the first century B.C.

It would seem that 2008 had something for just about every type of art lover. Any other favorites from this past year? Let us know in the comments.

-- Stephanie

By Stephanie Merry  | December 30, 2008; 12:48 PM ET
Categories:  Museums  
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