1. Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture at the Brooklyn Museum
After all the controversy
over ten seconds of David Wojnarowicz's "A Fire in My Belly" video from 1987—of which, cheekily, the Brooklyn Museum included several versions in its presentation of the exhibition censored by the Smithsonian last year
—this turned out to be one of the most rewarding and engaging museum exhibitions of the year, underlining the central but often de-emphasized importance of sexual difference in the history of American art.
2. Associated at Open Source Gallery
Not even the biggest, most beautiful loft in Bushwick could rival the stunning character of the charred Park Slope brownstone where this exhibition was installed following a fire in the building next-door, which destroyed
Open Source's former home (it's since reopened up the block). Working mostly with materials found on-site, artists turned the toasted space into the most unique exhibition experience I had all year, in any borough.
3. Patrick Jacobs: Familiar Terrain at Pierogi
Jacobs' latest show of miniature pastoral dioramas embedded into Pierogi's walls behind giant magnifying lenses was endlessly enjoyable, taking me back to childhood visits to Miniature World. Two in particular stood out: the giant one in the gallery's rear room, where visitors could see the back of the flying saucer-shaped contraption that makes the illusion possible; and the one whose verdant pastures were rendered in black and white. That one took me back to my grandparents' childhood visits to Miniature World.
4. Ofri Cnaani: The Sota Project at Kunsthalle Galapagos
This exhibition made the best use of my favorite new(ish) DUMBO gallery, turning the huge, high-ceilinged space into a narrow, corridor-like hall whose every wall served as a section of a continuous screen. Thereupon unraveled an obscure Bible story, in contemporary yet surreal settings, about a woman trying to evade her jealous husband with her sister's help. It was one of the most effective and unobtrusive environmental video installations I've ever entered.
5. Matt Stone: Tectonics at Like the Spice
If I had to pick my favorite art material of 2011, it would definitely be polyurethane. This drippy, neon-hued, blob-like foam stuff has formed the core of so many of my favorite recent sculptures. No deployment of the sweetly toxic-looking stuff was more sophisticated than Stone's, especially when funneled through triangular Plexiglas contraptions or suspended from spandex netting.
6. Jim Herbert: New Paintings at English Kills Art Gallery
Every time Herbert has a show it's one of the season's standouts. This time was no exception, with a dozen of his giant debaucherous expressionistic oil paintings filling English Kills' ample walls. If these latest images seemed especially blurry in their details and explicit in their sexual positions, that's because Herbert painted them from porn downloaded to his smartphone. For me, the works' incredible visual pleasure had less to do with the scenes depicted than the intensely tactile surfaces of the paintings.
7. Isidro Blasco: Tilted at Smack Mellon
This spectacular hybrid of sculpture, photography, installation art and architecture deconstructed the picturesque DUMBO streetscape into a winding, scaffold-like rig of wood-mounted photographs. The effect was like somebody had peeled an orange in one long, spiraling, twisting rind, turning a contained and coherent space into something disorienting, drawn out and fragile.
8. Kathleen Vance: Outgrowth of Nature at Art 101
After seeing a few of her "Traveling Landscapes
" tucked into a closet in Associated
, I was excited to see more of Vance's work, and this show delivered. In addition to a larger installation of said suitcase pastorals, she created a series of incredibly intricate ink drawings depicting leafy, grassy patches of nature, and a massive, twisting sculptural installation of bound twigs. Like a giant trap, it seemed ready to snap at any second, but it was still impossible to keep away.
9. Architecture of Devotion at Gowanus Ballroom
This was the first exhibition I'd ever seen at the Gowanus-adjacent metalwork-shop-turned-gallery-and-party-space, so part of its impact was the sheer delight of discovering such an incredible place. But, having seen every subsequent show there since, this remains the one that best took advantage of its soaring interior spaces, which accommodated a series of immense indoor structures including a giant duck and a wooden fire escape.
10. Brooklyn Art Now at Art Brooklyn
It was only a matter of time before the art world clusterfuck known as Armory Week
filled every available space in Manhattan and spilled over into Brooklyn, and that finally happened in March, when scrappy Verge left its Midtown hotel lobby digs and took over various storefronts, galleries and vacant office spaces in DUMBO. The highlight was this James Kalm
-curated survey of artists who show regularly at Brooklyn galleries.
(Images courtesy the artists, Brooklyn Museum, Open Source Gallery, Pierogi, Kunsthalle Galapagos, Like the Spice, English Kills, Smack Mellon, Art 101, Gowanus Ballroom, Art Brooklyn)