Much like my disclaimer on theater, didn't get to see as much visual art as usual - I hit about 45 exhibits all year - and in looking back I'm really surprised to see how much photography's in this top 10. And both heartened and dismayed to see how many of these exhibits are retrospectives - the fact that Alina Szapocnikow or Rineke Djikstra haven't hit my radar before is kind of shaming to me but once I saw their work that string in my heart started vibrating.
As always, everything is in Columbus unless otherwise specified.
Cindy Sherman, Cindy Sherman(MoMA, NYC) - One of my favorite artists of all time in a retrospective so massive it was like gorging on your favorite food. Sure, it might have been a little overstuffed and fatigue was bound to set in at one time or another going through it, but her centerfold pictures or her film noir work, all together, was enough to guarantee the top spot on this list, and there were so many treasures besides. How many things can one face be, how many shades, how much of the world?
Alina Szapocznikow, Sculpture Undone: 1955-1972 (Wexner Center for the Arts) - My first impression was a female equivalent to Paul Thek (whose work I didn't know before his retrospective that was my favorite art show of 2010). A different plague and a different political machine of death, but very much the same humor and rage as sabre and shield. Working with the plastic materials of the time, the materials of her autobiography and a larger sociopolitical context but still being light in these desperately serious gestures should make everyone trying to make art blush and work much, much harder.
Omer Fast, 2001/11(Wexner Center for the Arts) - Two Omer Fast pieces, CNN Concantenated given extra juice by putting it in a very middle-America IKEA bought living room behind a door and his newer 5000 Feet is the the Bestso you need to walk through a seemingly bigger-budget rumination on drone warfare with filmed reenactments of interviews, blurred-face "real" interviews which may or may not be real, and innocuous arial photography suffused with the thick atmosphere of impending doom. A riveting look at how dread evolves over a decade in the same mire that I saw half a dozen times and could have seen a dozen more and still been unpacking.
Francesca Woodman, Francesca Woodman (Guggenheim, NYC) - Another photography exhibit saturated with dread and rage. These grim black and white photos are so body focused and so full of a young insouciant rebellion but hiding something darker and also something funnier, there's an acid wit moving in waves underneath. Obviously, a life cut short can give things added weight but I didn't know that part of the story when I walked into the side gallery and my eyes almost exploded.
Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama (Whitney, NYC) - I saw Kusama's Fireflies on the Waterat the first or second Whitney Biennial I ever went to and it so stuck with me that I became a huge fan immediately. This retrospective made an asset out of the overstuffed quality of the Cindy Sherman exhibit, the obsessive nature impossible to avoid in Kusama's work exploding in repedition and glee, whether the polka dots everyone talks about or the soft-looking sculptures including boxes that looked like tentacles were wriggling out of them. The kind of things you desperately want to touch and frolic in.
Various Artists, Radical Camera: New York Art League(Columbus Museum of Art) - This was one of my favorite surprises all year. Art so upfront about its agenda that the agenda isn't distracting but uplifting, as good a selection of modernist social realist photography I've ever seen. Even when it drifted toward the pedantic, the sensuousness of the aesthetic never let itself be forgotten.
Corrine Wasmuht, untitled (Frederich Petzel Gallery, NYC) - A new-to-me selection of paintings that held me rapt, layers of thin paint over polished boards and harshly cropped digital images. The work felt like looking into a different world in the way I wanted modern art to look when I was first reading Samuel Delaney or William Gibson as a teen.
David Smith, Cubes and Anarchy (Wexner Center for the Arts) - This was the first time David Smith's work really workedfor me, I saw it and I got Brancusi and Tatlin and throbbing blood below the great narrative of the steelworker artist. I was lucky enough to see this twice, at the Whitney and the Wexner Center, but I have to say the layout in the Wex did a better job of surprising and delighting me and revealing different facets of this strain of Smith's work.
Rineke Djikstra, A Retrospective(Guggenheim, NYC) - I've long said any genre, any form can still have juice if it hits a sympathetic pair of eyes and someone up for twisting it till the underlying fibres start to snap. Djikstra's portrait photography drove that point home again. Sociopolitical commentary, honoring and critiquing the subject, and a glorious tension. I got lost in these pictures and didn't want to leave.
Various Artists, Triennial: The Ungovernables - The Whitney Biennial left me a little cold this time but the less-warmly-received second edition of the New Museum's Triennial threw me for a loop, largely with understatement. Adrian Villa Rojar's giant robot ruins underscored a deep melancholy before you even see the title - A Person Loved Me-and Mariana Telleria's Days of Truthwith everyday objects pieced together to show a deeper, sadder poetry, were just two of the things that most spoke to me.