Mark Erickson's top art shows of 2010 Hampton Roads

If any single visual arts attraction should rank at the top of heap in 2010, it has to be the May 1 opening of the

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' new James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin Wing.


The $150 million structure not only added 165,000 square feet of space but also went a long way toward taming the confusing knot of traffic patterns that left many visitors feeling lost as they tried to navigate the mishmash of four previous additions.

With all that extra room, the VMFA doubled the number of works on view in its permanent exhibits, which include one of the best American art collections in the country as well as internationally distinguished holdings in Indian and Himalayan art, Art Nouveau and Art Deco and Faberge. It also put the rest of this long-sought expansion to work staging such spectacular but previously too big to handle traveling shows as


"Tiffany: Color and Light"

— giving visitors from both the Peninsula and beyond plenty of reasons to make the drive to Richmond.

"Unbearable Beauty: Triumph of the Human Spirit, Photographs by W. Eugene Smith and Aileen Smith."

Muscarelle Museum of Art, Williamsburg. April 24-July 20. Sad is too small a word to describe the depth and complexity of the feelings prompted by these landmark 1970s images of mercury poisoning victims in Japan. The searing portraits of mothers trying to comfort children whose bodies had been twisted and dehumanized by the toxic metal may have cut you to the quick. But you couldn't stop looking at such stunning images of pain, beauty and compassion.


"Carlton Abbott: 50 Years of Art and Architecture."

Peninsula Fine Arts Center


Newport News

. Jan.16-March 23. With more than 30 solo shows and nearly 90 architectural awards to his credit, this remarkable Williamsburg talent's devotion to art and design has made him a legend in Virginia. But not until this fascinating and long-overdue show — which literally filled one of the prize-winning buildings he's designed — has the public ever had the chance to explore the uncanny depth and breadth of Abbott's gifts as a draftsman, printmaker, painter, sculptor and architect in one place.

"My Incredible Journey," medallic sculpture by Ivanka Mincheva.

Blue Skies Gallery, Hampton. Oct. 1-31. Good things come in small but very eye-grabbing packages when you see the work of one of

Hampton Roads

' best but — locally, at least — little known artists. Classically trained in the academies of Bulgaria, then re-born in the metal-casting shops of Hungary, Mincheva counts the British Museum among the distinguished collections that own her internationally celebrated work. She also won the American Numismatic Association's 2010 award for excellence in sculpture.

"Portraying a Nation: American Portrait Photography, 1850-2010."

Chrysler Museum of Art

, Norfolk. Aug. 25–March 27. Few things attract our attention more than the face of another human being. And by combining portraits that range from martyred

President Abraham Lincoln

to punk rock icon

Patti Smith,

this smart and imaginative collection drawn from many different time periods, walks of life and levels of fame makes more than 70 American faces blend and collide in provocative ways, creating a rich if often chaotic snapshot of our national character.

"Sally Mann: The Flesh and the Spirit."

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts,


. Nov. 13-Jan 23. Lexington photographer Sally Mann shot to worldwide fame in the 1970s when her strikingly intimate, often controversial portraits of her children become embroiled in the culture war over family values. Here, in one of her first major museum shows, she combines her fearless contemporary sensibility with antique photography equipment and processes to explore new images of her ailing husband as well as her aging self, giving a distinctive, often emotionally penetrating twist to such universal themes as love, mortality and loss.

"Steve Harley: An Original Life."

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, Williamsburg. Feb. 13 through December 2011. Michigan farm owner Steve Harley was the kind of guy who never measured up — and he spent most of his first 60 years barely trying. But when he finally packed his bags and his caretaker's wife and headed off to the Pacific Northwest in the 1920s, he put everything he had into his brand new life of fishing, hunting and living outdoors in the scenic wilderness. He also taught himself to paint, producing some of the most obsessive, painstakingly detailed and visually stunning images of the region ever created.

"London Calling: Victorian Paintings from the Royal Holloway Collection."

Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk. Oct. 6-Jan. 2. Whenever you say the word "Victorian," an instant chorus of long-held stereotypes about the sentimentality and hypocrisy of the era is almost sure to follow. But visitors to this revealing exhibit are discovering a vastly more complex and sometimes surprisingly familiar world emerge as they take in the sophisticated tastes of one of the period's wealthiest men, who used his seemingly bottomless pocketbook to create one of the greatest collections of British Victorian Art ever assembled.

"Endangered Species: Watermen of the Chesapeake," photographs by Glen McClure.


Mariners' Museum

, Newport News. Sept. 18-May 2. Bigger really is better in this landmark collection of work by Norfolk photographer Glen McClure, who spent more than a year patrolling the Chesapeake Bay in search of faces that could tell its story. But unusual size is just one of many reasons behind the considerable power and depth of his monumental pictures, which focus almost entirely on the character of the people who work on or near the water rather than the spectacular but sometimes spell-binding beauty of the water itself.

"Portrait of the Artist: Self Portraits and Portraits of Hampton Roads Artists."

Charles H. Taylor Arts Center, Hampton. Sept. 3-Oct. 17. Imagine a giant yearbook filled with pictures of artists instead of students. Then swap out the photos and the traditional head-and-shoulder shots for a rich and seemingly endless array of paintings, drawings and other works depicting their subjects in all sorts of poses. That panoramic stream of faces and figures was the splendid and unexpectedly engaging attraction of this wonderfully varied show, which shed new light on the apparently inexhaustible potential of a very old subject.