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.