Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best of 2013: Visual Art

  1. Mike Kelley, Mike Kelley (MoMA PS1, NYC) – I’m a little ashamed to admit that I didn’t really know Kelley’s work except for the pop culture stuff I couldn’t ignore - the Sonic Youth association, is band Destroy All Monsters - but this hit me like a hammer.  Walking up the stairs of PS1 and finding myself in a room entirely devoted to takes on Superman’s bottled city of Kandor, the reminder of home that underlined the impossibility of ever going home, and that set the tone for the whole exhibit.  A grappling with personal history and the world and a look at what drives us to try to create a utopia even as it stays out of reach.  So much beauty and so much deep tragedy that I could have been there much longer than the three hours I was and still not absorbed it all.
  2. Marc Chagall, Love, War, Exile (Jewish Museum, NYC) - This assembled a lot of Chagall’s work I didn’t know beforehand and some of the most gripping pieces I’ve ever seen.  His work about his marriage to Bella had the ephemeral quality of love rising out of myth and the room of his crucifixion work making explicit the historical echoes of the holocaust reduced me to horrible, embarassing tears.
  3. Christian Marclay, The Clock (Wexner Center) -  I saw between 8 and 9 hours of this during the month it was at the Wexner and regretted not seeing more.  If you’re anything like me, if you gave this piece more than 10 minutes the rhythms and the jolts of adrenaline were so seductive that I had to drag myself away after an hour or two whenever I had another appointment to make.  This used very mundane and very tense moments from a wide variety of (mostly English language) film and created musical movements and narrative within itself, a ballet of tension and release.  As close as Marclay’s yet come to a symphony and a work of art that’s immediately accessible but limitless in what it can give you.
  4. Various Artists, Blues for Smoke (Wexner Center) - This exhibit - which came to the Wexner after the Whitney - vivisected modernism of the 20th century to show the blues aesthetic pumping through its veins.  Anything using the name of a Jaki Byard album, maybe the greatest cubist blues pianist of all time, has big shoes to fill and this does again and again.  Big enough to encompass Romare Bearden’s collages and a big gorgeous Basquiat.  Beauford Delaney’s portrait of Charlie Parker like a Renaissance pope with gold wreathing his head as you look into a room with Monk and Trane playing the soundtrack to toy blue coal train weaving past upturned piano lids like tombstones.  Julia Koether’s “portrait” of Robert Johnson in red overlooking Rodney McMillan’s chilling installation of a church cast in stitched together red leather suffused with that leather death-smell.  Zoe Leonard’s stitched together dessicated fruit and lines of suitcases.  Documentaries of Cecil Taylor and Samuel Delany.  Carrie Ann  Weems bitterly ironic social realism.  Glenn Ligon’s word paintings next to the Richard Pryor special they’re drawn from.  A world big enough for Henry Flynt and Howlin’ Wolf and George Lewis and Cannibal Ox and Lil B and the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the poet Bob Kaufman.  You could show this to someone who doesn’t know modern art at all and it’d be a damn fine introduction or you could show it to someone who’s a fan of any three of the figures in here and it would break down the walls for everybody else.
  5. Amalia Pica, Amalia Pica (Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago) I’d seen (and loved) Pica’s piece “Eavesdropping” at the New Museum’s last triennial with glasses of various shapes and colors driven into a wall echoing both a glass to the wall for listening and shells shot into a building.  This show sustained that ambiguity but leavened it with a real hope for the world and a joy in the small things.  Household materials turned into sculpture, poetic allusion laid over abstraction.  This made my heart sing.
  6. Glenn Ligon, Neon (Lurhing Augustine Gallery, NYC) - Ligon’s neon work took a little longer to sink in for me than his text paintings which I saw first but over time they’ve become some of his pieces I love best.  They resist description but I’ve been turning this show collecting most of his neon works in a gallery over in my head since the January afternoon where I saw it.  Negro sunshine.  America.
  7. Shinchi Maruyama, Nudes (Bruce Silverstein Gallery, NYC) - Maruyama’s nudes were gorgeously disorienting, photographed with long exposure time so flesh liquifies and leaves trails like an acid trip.  Pouring time over the realism of photography made me think about how fleeting looks are and the inexorable urge to make surreal details into a realistic whole you can wrap your brain around.
  8. Martha Colburn, Camera, Lights, Charge, Pop (Columbus College of Art and Design Canzani Gallery) - CCAD has really stepped its game up in the last few years.  This year had great shows by Laura Bidwa, Gary Panter, and a couple of stunning group shows, plus a wider range of speakers and events including Holland Cotter’s inspiring talk and Bob Loss’s always terrific MIX comics symposium to engage the wider community.  But my favorite this year was Martha Colburn’s punky, energizing mixed media video and collages.  Every time I went through this it made me smile like a child, my only regret is missing the event where members of the local symphony accompanied her films.
  9. Richard Serra, New Sculpture (Gagosian Gallery, NYC)- Richard Serra’s big metal sculptures are as close to a sure thing for me as exists in the art world and this new show over  two Gagosians was phenomenal.  These cold monolithic labyrinthine plates, curved or slabs, feel like they’re leeching any darkness out of me and taking it on in the world, like magnets.  And I don’t want to know too much of his intention because that association is so strong for me and so good that I don’t want to lose it.
  10. Various Artists, Cuban Forever (Pizzuti Collection) - The Pizzuti Collection opened this year with a bang, both the highlight selections from the developer’s personal collection and especially this group show.  A look at a corner of modern art I had close to no familiarity with.  Amazing scholarship and stunning work around every corner, from Roberto Diago’s abstractions to Alexandre Arrechea’s glass punching bag weighted with crumbles of where he’s been to my favorite piece, Teresita Fernandez’s plexiglass colored cubes called Stacked Smoke I could have stared at for hours.
  11. Various Artists, Counter Forms (Andrea Rosen Gallery, NYC) - A phenomenal exhibition of work twisted and decaying bodily forms to get at a deep poetic truth and strike an emotional chord.  Paul Thek’s “meat sculptures”, Alina Szapocznikow’s lamps and grimly unsettling looks at how easily  the body is commodified, Tetsumi Kudo’s gardens with body parts blooming amidst plants and sensual, horrifying sketches, Hannah Wilke’s fleshy abstract sculptures.  If you could go through this gallery show without ideas flooding you, I don’t know that to say to you.
  12. Robert Motherwell, Early Collages (Guggenheim Museum, NYC) - I loved Motherwell’s work before this but had only a vague understanding of his collage pieces but the use of color and space here unlocked his work for me in ways I never expected.
  13. Various Artists, Iran Modern (Asia Society, NYC) - Similar to Cuban Forever I had very little familiarity with the strains of modernism in pre-revolution Iran and this, my last visual art stop on my most recent New York trip was a similar revelation.  Geometric abstractions using mirrors and mosaics, deeply personal takes on rugs and tapestries, work directly impacted by the headlines of the ‘70s.  Breathtaking.
  14. Chris Burden, Extreme Measures (New Museum, NYC) - A look through Burden’s sculptural work. Going from his transition piece moving from performances, a working motorcycle that turned a giant wheel which was pretty damn impressive, to Burden’s Porsche balanced with a meteorite on a beam to 600 models of submarines hanging in air like an ominous cloud made more ominous when you see the wall card that states these are the submarines the United States currently has in its quiver.  A show that makes me question what they mean by extreme measures - is it risking your own body? Is it risking other people (the Faulkner line about “Ode to a Grecian Urn” being worth any number of old ladies? Is it risking the future?  
  15. Art Spiegelman, Co-Mix (Jewish Museum, NYC)  - It was interesting seeing this retrospective and thinking about it in the context (maybe just in my own head) of John Zorn’s 60th birthday and its attendant celebrations.  Like Zorn, Spiegelman’s built a career out of seemingly following every impulse and curiosity he has and plowing that field for exactly as long as it interests him.  And more often than not, it hits.  Beyond that, and beyond how great his work looks in a museum, the room with every page of Maus in working drafts was an inspiring look into process.


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