The 10 Best Exhibitions of 2011

12/21/2011 4:00 AM |

1. Occupy Museums
Occupy Museums is more of an activist movement than it is an exhibition, but they top my list regardless. Protesting the disproportionate role the wealthy take in shaping what we will preserve of our culture, the group organized protests that included Bring Your Own Manifesto at MoMA; a séance to channel distant voices of extinct dinosaurs and a mass dinosaur die-in at the American Museum of Natural History; and a Phillip Glass-led people’s mic reciting a chorus of Ghandi quotations at Lincoln Center. Brilliant!

2. ArtPrize in Michigan
Yes, I’m placing a contest in which a giant metal praying mantis was a top ten finalist in my year-end list. Located in Grand Rapids, ArtPrize’s methods of engaging the public are anything but conventional; citizens vote by phone and online to determine the winners of the cash prizes. I’m a little worried the city will elect a sparkling pig as its number one art mascot, but fuck it. This organization has managed to get their citizens involved enough in art that they are actually asking for resources that will make their votes more informed. That’s already a huge win for everyone.

3. Alexander McQueen at the Met
Caring about clothes doesn’t make you a pussy or materialistic but I have to wonder whether these preconceived notions kept a few friends away from that exhibit; despite penning a glowing review of McQueen’s posthumous retrospective and sending several personal emails to friends, I couldn’t get a single bestie out to see the thing. That’s their loss I guess, but this is the kind of exhibition you want to share with everyone, so it made me really sad that people missed it. No one made sexier clothing, no one combined texture, patterning, and exquisite tailoring than McQueen. Sculptors, painters, printmakers: for god’s sake, pick up the 240-page exhibition catalogue.

4. Lynda Benglis at the New Museum
Benglis is one of the few artists who rivals McQueen’s mastery of texture and color, and her retrospective at the New Museum showed this in spades. The glow-in-the-dark pourable foam sculptures, the blue velvet juxtaposed with pewter columns, the silver dildo; each work not only demonstrates a great versatility with materials, but looks as though it was made today. This says a lot about the importance of materiality to the current art world, but it may also say a lot about dicks. We like them.

5. Christian Marclay at Paula Cooper Gallery
t’s hard to know whether to put “The Clock” in this year’s best or worst category given the media frenzy that surrounded it. I don’t trust any artwork that’s as popular as Marina Abramovic; cheap staging seems inevitable. Sure enough there’s some of that at work here: stitching together a bunch of films to count the day minute by minute is a facile concept, one the film ultimately transcends. Sequence after sequence, this 24-hour clock transfixes, its editing and tempo vastly more engaging than the actual passing of time.

6. Willem de Kooning at MoMA
I gave this show a hard time in my review, but when a commenter asked me what I’d have done differently, I realized the answer was, “not much.” I didn’t think de Kooning was as versatile as curator John Elderfield seemed to, but the exhibition itself was a comprehensive survey of some of the Abstract Expressionist’s best paintings. There’s enough meat in this show for a viewer to chew on for days.

7. Sideways Rain at the Serralves Foundation
A performed version of the arcade game Frogger, minus the frog. This is what ALIAS’s piece this year at the Serralves in Porto, Portugal looked like—dancers rolling, crawling or running across the stage in unison—and also describes its appeal. While there was no gameplay involved, the horizontal current of movement was so strong that, as an audience member, I actually felt physically sick whenever a dancer moved in a different direction. That such a reaction can occur poignantly demonstrates why achieving change is so difficult.

8. José Lerma at Andrea Rosen Gallery
What is the sound of abstraction? If Lerma’s show was any indication, I’d say it’s a continuous hum in D-minor. Lerma set a large abstract painting mostly in ballpoint pen on top of two keyboards for this exhibition. A silvery curtain next to the painting pointed to a magic show that’s just about to begin. I walked through the exhibition with an unsettling sense of anticipation.

9. Haim Steinbach at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
Man, I loved this show, but it’s not easily unpacked. The short of it: A collection of shelves designed specifically to create complete visual harmony between the objects Steinbach placed upon them and the wooden wedges themselves. It was incredible.

10. Notes on a New Nature at 319 Scholes
Digital artists aren’t uniformly influenced by romanticism like the Hudson River School was, but this show reminded me of that mid-19th century landscape painting movement anyway. Just as members of the HRS showed how their surroundings evoked both the rugged and the sublime, here too we saw the effect digital technology has on the viewer. From Nicolas Sassoon’s blissed out “Fidji,” a projection of rippling blue lines, to Joe Hamilton’s surreal panning digital landscape, many of the pieces in this exhibition conjured a feeling of soothing discord.

Bonus: Hennessy Youngman’s YouTube Channel
Having trouble understanding the art world? Need a few Cliffs Notes? Hennessy Youngman’s Art Thoughtz is 2011’s version of that; a character from the hood conceived by Jayson Scott Musson who explains the ins and outs of the art world. How to Make an Art, Curators, and The Sublime, are just a few of the 15 episodes currently available, though Relational Aesthetics is a favorite. As defined by Youngman, the movement is simply a social experience and usually garners more positive responses when made by well-known artists who don’t have time to make art. Given this broad definition, Youngman covers all the bases. Just because social experience can happen anywhere doesn’t mean that getting drunk in a bar and contracting herpes is a performance. You have to pay for the drinks, so the art experience is soiled by “capitalism’s dirty fingers and shit.” Ah, yes, the art world’s values in a nutshell. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say on the topic of benefits.

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