Friday, December 25, 2009

Favorite Art Exhibits 2009

Every year I see quite a bit - for a dilettante - of visual art but I never think to post a roundup like I do for music most years and I've done for film a few years.  I didn't see enough movies this year but I definitely think I saw enough museum and gallery exhibits that made an impression on me to do this list.  Next year I'm going to keep better track of books and plays for possible similar lists because I probably read 50 books this year but my memory's so bad about what I read this year versus last year making that more trouble than it's worth.

And as with the music, these aren't the only ten things I saw. A number of shows made these a hard call to make, including C. Spencer Yeh, Marilyn Minter, and Anri Sala at the CAC in Cincinnati, Ryan McGinness at the Cincinnati Art Museum, Robin Rhode and William Forsythe at the Wexner Center, Shepard Fairey at the Warhol in Pittsburgh, Constellations at the MCA in Chicago, this year's New Photography at MoMA, Watteau at the Met, Tristan Perich at Issue Project Room, and on and on.

1.  Luc Tuymans, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus - I've been to this three times and I'm going at least one more before it closes next weekend.  One of the most riveting, unnerving exhibits I've ever seen at the Wex.  The colors wrap you in, seduce you and misdirect you, the cinematic motion sweeps you along. Then, when you're not quite expecting it, there's a knife at your throat and a voice saying "Witness.  Don't forget.  Love life enough to let it worry you."

2. Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago - Sondheim put the words in Seurat's mouth, "Color and light / There's only color and light / Just blue and yellow and white" and this exhibit exploded that, so color and light - frequently just by themselves, teased and tossed with mirrors and projectors became (or already were) nature painting and film and a magic show.  If I didn't have my day to day, I'd have camped out in the $10 ecstasy room (the color wheel) until they forcibly evicted me.  I went twice taking different people both times and both times I didn't want to leave.

3.  Kandinsky, Guggenheim, New York - I thought I knew his work very, very well, but this still showed me things I wasn't expecting and still had pieces I didn't know existed that made me stand, stroking my chin, completely oblivious to the throngs (believe me, it was crowded) going "Holy shit..."  I walked four miles to go get some food just mulling this over after I saw it.

4.  Cy Twombly: The Natural World, Art Institute of Chicago - An artist I respected but didn't love until this convinced me he might be the best living nature painter.  These canvases and a couple of sculptures throbbed with life and flowed with reflected light, and a couple of blurry photographs he used as guides made the lightbulb go off.  He's doing what Monet was already trying to do, let the light permeate the object so you're looking through to its emotional life (or your emotional life as it appears back to you).  And he's doing it magnificently.

5.  Pierre Bonnard: The Late Interiors, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York - Someone I never gave any thought to, unlike Kandinsky or Twombly, shook me up and knocked me down.  The emotional life through color and light that's rapidly cropping up as a theme here?  In spades, and darker and sadder than any of the other artists who've so far appeared on this list. 

6.  Georgia O'Keefe: Abstraction, Whitney Museum, New York - What I said about the Kandinsky show, x2, spinning an artist I already liked into a different stratosphere of my awareness.  The sensual line and the inner/outer landscapes are still predominant but there's a conceptual rigor that I never got from the work I saw before and a grasping at something, at the time, new.

7.  The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, Guggenheim, New York - A look at how the art of the '40s-'60s, running 1890s-1980s but mainly on those decades, moved past Orientalism (and, in some cases, didn't) and tried to grapple with the bigger questions and philosophical tenants gleaned from Asian art, literature, music and philosophy.  The recreated LaMonte Young "Dream House" in the Guggenheim's galleries was enough alone to put it on this list, but there was so much more, from Yoko Ono and John Cage to Georgia O'Keefe and Rauschenberg to Franz Kline and Ad Reinhardt and Nam June Paik.  The kind of show the Guggenheim excels at and the best of its kind I've seen since the post-minimalism show several years ago.

8.  Anish Kapoor: Memory, Guggenheim, New York - I saw this at the same time as the Kandinsky show but I really hope this ran long enough before that opened to get the appropriate (by which I mean a hell of a lot) amount of love from New York fans and critics.  A tiny rectangle looking into darkness, within inches the material around it is receding into this perfect void.  Then when you get around to the other side of it, it's a massive, room-filling asymmetical orb of thick reinforced copper-colored steel.  And you want to slap yourself because the conceit is so obvious and so beautiful.  It's memory as time bomb, memory as time capsule, memory you can see into but know you couldn't get out of if you ventured in too far.

9.  Things Fall Apart, Winkleman Gallery, New York - The only gallery show on this list which means I'm very disappointed in myself.  Next year, more galleries in Columbus, in Cincinnati, in New York, in Chicago, in St. Louis.  I promise.  This group show was up there with The Third Mind retro and the Bonnard thing A. and I saw on our February New York jaunt, and she might have even given this the edge.  This show grappled not only with the Yeats line but also how pervasive references to it are now,  this looked at entropy and terror and destruction as reference points for change, opportunities gained and lost.  And it was beautiful and moving.  Everything in this was good, from Mounir Fatmi's reimagining of flags as brooms cluttered and leaned against the wall, to Joy Garnett's paintings looking at the Three Gorges project in China to Yevgeniy Fiks look at WWII Russian/American propaganda.  Worth the trek through Chelsea with the flu on a devastatingly bitter, cold day and worth so much more.

10. Looking In: Robert Frank's Americans, Metropolitan Museum, New York - Impossible to ignore the crowd in the three crammed galleries in the Met this was in but if you could ignore the crowd that would entail missing the point entirely.  Familiar with the book and its images mostly as a totem and an important document to the beats, having to engage with each photo individually and contact sheets and out takes and ephemera, I walked out studying everybody's face a little harder, picking up on the empty spaces I just walked by most of the time, and what else do you want from art?


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