1. Paul Thek, Diver, Whitney Museum, NYC – I knew of Paul Thek’s work but I didn’t really know it when I walked in to the museum on a beautiful late October day, but coming in from the street all orange and golden and into this, all blue and pink and meat sculptures, it was like being slapped, The impermanence of every damn thing is driven home all through this retrospective, but so is the truth in transcending the limitations of society, of inhibition, of the body. As moving a collection of work as I saw all year.
2. Marina Abramovic, The Artist is Present, Museum of Modern Art, NYC – One of the most visceral exhibits I saw this year, but that doesn’t mean it relied on shock value. A fascinating combination of recreations of her earlier performances, videos, ephemera, and of course Abramovic herself sitting at a table making eye contact with visitors for hours on end.
3. Mark Bradford, s/t, Wexner Center for the Arts –Props to the Wexner Center for doing this and going above and beyond to integrate this with the community and get the outside world involved in an exhibit that was a harder sell than, say, last year’s Luc Tuymans. Abstractions wrigglingly alive, color palates that smacked the viewer around, an exhibit I saw three times and wanted to see a dozen more.
4. Catherine Opie, Girlfriends, Gladstone Gallery, NYC –Portrait photography that grabs you by the throat. Few backgrounds but the ones set in a specific place are twice as gripping, the compositions draw you in even more because of that. Women in joy and pain and ecstasy and rage.
5. Peter Brotzmann, Wood and Water, Corbett v. Dempsey Gallery, Chicago – Brotzmann’s visual art which I’d only seen on record covers really stunned me in this gallery. Blake’s giants and classical woodcut techniques and a love of the earth and woods and everything that deforms both, with a rough-hewn look but also a watery dreamlike brushstroke.
6. Robert Motherwell, Adolph Gottlieb and Herbert Ferber, Modern Art, Sacred Space, Jewish Museum, NYC – This blew me away with three takes on modernist reworkings of tradition Jewish iconography, designed for an actual synagogue in the late ‘60s. Whether it was the Curious George thing I saw this year or the Masters of the Comic Book show I saw a few years ago, or a small exhibit of permanent collection work dealing with how artists view the holocaust at this remove, no one sequences or displays art in a more approachable, interesting way than the Jewish Museum.
7. Cyprien Galliard, Disquieting Landscapes, Wexner Center – Photos of buildings right before or right after demolition, this air of impermanence and crumbling modernity but also this beauty of decay. a splash of blue plastic that leads your eye through the rubble so then you see the tiny flecks of color you might miss originally.
8. Various Artists, The Delusion of Eating, The Shelf gallery – My favorite multi-artist show in Columbus this year, brilliantly curated to expose the theme in a variety of different ways, less about sexuality than the early press led me to believe and more about the lies we tell ourselves about what we eat, about the nutritional qualities and also the hedonistic elements.
9. Jan Gossart, Man, Myth and Sensual Pleasure, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC – A widely known canonical artist who I had no background in before seeing this show, one of the frustrations and pleasures of being a dilettante striving for autodidact status. Everything in these paintings is suffused with joy and a thick erotic richness, a link between Van Eyck and Rubens. I could’ve stayed here for hours.
10. Various Artists, Chaos and Classicism, Guggenheim Museum, NYC – A mindfuck of a show clean and gleaming like a pristine tooth but bubbling rot not far enough under the surface. Sometimes a regressive movement is just aesthetically motivated, but as often wanting to go back like it was at least leaves you open to insidious forces.
11. William Kentridge, Five Themes, Museum of Modern Art, NYC – Seeing this South African artist’s exhibit full of his animations including stills and storyboards and enormous sketches and prints as well as performances and ephemera around the operas The Nose and Magic Flute was a kick in the teeth. The artist and the audience as a worm burrowing into the banality of evil and coming out a little wiser but with a black eye.
12. John Baldessari, Pure Beauty, Metropolitan Museum, NYC – I walked out of this with an enormous grin on my face, and a new appreciation for an artist whose name I knew but I had no idea he was responsible for this much of what I think of as the conceptual art canon.
13. Sarah Sze, untitled, Tanya Bonakdar gallery, NYC - The framework of a wonderland, all spindly structures and very mundane parts but so enormous I had to delve into every single piece and leave slack-jawed.
14. Various Artists, Abstract Expressionist New York, Museum of Modern Art, NYC- Taking one of my favorite eras of art and showing me things I’d never seen and making me think about it in a new way is no easy task, and this did what the play Red could not even (though I also loved that). It also paid the best tribute to a museum I already loved by reminding us that on a good day its permanent collection floors don’t even scratch the surface of its permanent collection.
15. Rivane Neuenschwander, A Day Like Any Other, Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis – This Brazilian artist picks up Baldessari’s fun-gauntlet and throws so much at the viewer that you know something has to stick. And what sticks you have a hard time getting over for days, including constellations made out of hole-punched paper looking over tables with the detritus of a raging night, an installation paying tribute to the movie The Conversation and a series of buckets with holes creating a resonance when they drip into other buckets.