(The Raft, 2010 by Armando Mariño, Queloides, MF)
Now is the time when art mags and newsweeklies announce their “best of” listings. Below is a list of my six favorite art exhibitions of 2010. I’ll review some of the runners-up in another post.
#6 David Shrigley at Anton Kern Gallery, NY. With all of the tricks and tools available to contemporary artists, it is refreshing to see a body of work made with the simplest of tools: ink on paper. Add a touch of wit, a bit of sarcasm and you have David Shrigley. Shrigley can’t really draw or write, but that doesn’t matter. Humans have been making art in his primitive style since caveman days.
#5 Twisted Pair, Andy Warhol Museum. Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol. What would the art world be like without them? (A permanent land of Analytic Cubism or folk art perhaps?) A great work of curatorial scholarship, this show unraveled the uncanny and obvious similarities in the career paths (and inventions) of these trouble makers. For me, it was great to see so much work by Duchamp (even though many pieces were reproductions) under one roof. Although I’m not a big fan of excessive wall text, I thought the information was necessary, in this case to emphasize the thesis of the curators.
#4 Queloides: Race and Racism in Cuban Contemporary Art, Mattress Factory. I’m still in the process of studying this show. I like the fact that it spans two separate buildings in the midst of a neighborhood. (A couple of pieces are viewable outside) The MF staff marches to the beat of their own drummer. (They just installed a video that was recently censored at the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery) They steer clear from art world trends and leave plenty of room for experimentation.
#3 Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art. People love to slam this show, but I think the Whitney crew does a pretty good job. I thought the exhibition was a pretty accurate reflection of social, political and creative consciousness of 2010 America. The general mood of the show was somber. Nina Berman’s photographs documenting the life of a disfigured Marine sergeant were devastating. Stephanie Sinclair’s photos of Afghani women suffering from self-inflicted burn wounds were even more heartbreaking. (It’s odd when a visit to the art museum is necessary to catch a glimpse of reality.) The most memorable piece in the exhibition for me was Michael Asher’s concept piece, which merely involved keeping the museum open 24 hours a day, continuously, for several days. My visit involved meeting some friends at midnight for the opening hour. Our small group had the place to ourselves. I caught one guard snoozing in a hallway. I like it when artists mess with the norms of a museum. It’s rare when an artist has enough influence to make this happen.
#2 Marina Abranmović, The Artist Is Present at MoMA. In terms of art historical importance, international influence, and artistic intensity, this show should be #1. This was perhaps the international art show of the year. In 2008, with art sales in a slump, people were talking about the revival of performance art. MoMA caught wind of the notion and put a big stamp on it with this show. I think performance art is dying out in New York City. The art scene seems so gridlocked that there is little room for experimentation, risk taking and failure. Abramavić may be the greatest performance artist of her generation, but at MoMA I felt like I was walking through an overcrowded zoo. The fact that she performed for the duration of her show keeps the exhibition at the top of my list.
#1 TANIA BRUGUERA: ON THE POLITICAL IMAGINARY at the Neuberger Museum of Art. What makes a great work of art? Is a memorable show necessarily a better one than one that is quickly forgotten? Can a complex layer of experiences in an art environment create a memory that is clearer than one captured in looking at a painting or sculpture? Bruguera stacked on layer after layer of raw sensory overload in her mid-career retrospective at the Neuberger. In one room, Gunmen paced back and forth along a catwalk high above, cocking their handguns and staring blankly into a darkness that was occasionally interrupted by a blinding flashes of light. In another vast, dark room, the floor was covered with rotting sugar cane. As one’s eyes adjusted to the darkness, several ghost-like figures appeared fidgeting nearby. A girl slowly chewed a mysterious substance as she stood naked with a skinned lamb carcass hanging from her neck. Another woman balanced on a high pedestal naked against a wall, fastened into position with large metal brackets.
At the opening of the show a long line of people waited and waited to see a live monkey. The commotion created by it was the whole idea. Also at the reception, a performer stumbled around covered in thick layers of mud and sticks. All performances were reenactments of performances once done by the artist. The actions were carefully orchestrated, and performers were meticulously trained. At the show I felt like I was in a different world haunted by forces of oppression and clouded by the mysteries of a distant culture. I still see the show vividly in my mind and I can almost smell the sugar cane. Aside from problems in Cuba, the show got me thinking about oppressive governments around the world.