Article written for "M" aka "In The Art World" and it was their January 2012 issue cover story.
The printed article was of course quite edited-down.
This is the full text before editing.
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As twilight falls on 2011, the "Best of" and "Top Ten" articles flow. Since one person can only see so much of New York's art world and any combination of timing, luck, and weather might leave any of thousands of shows unseen, I didn't feel comfortable with making a "best of" list. Call it a "most memorable" list –and at that, a "most memorable" list of just one person. Disclosure One: exhibits where I had some minor role either exhibiting, sponsoring, or otherwise supporting are marked with an asterisk. Disclosure Two: I've already written articles about many memorable shows, and I let their prior inclusion disqualify them from this list. I also excluded museum shows and most pay-to-enter venues. So, the 2011 list in no particular order:
Painter Thornton Dial at Andrew Eldin Gallery pounded into being some creepy, wrenching, and yet also playful texture-pile paint-wallheaps. Bonus points for totally nailing a giant U.S. flag painting. Flags are hard. Ever since Jasper Johns aced Flag for all time, all subsequent flag paintings risk looking derivative and lame. Only once every five years or so does someone riff off of the flag concept in an original way (believe me –I've tried myself). Dial's monumental foot-thick pileup of sticks, cloth-strips, bones, doll-heads, and liver-red paint (with some white and blue) actually works. More bonus points for not-being yet-another insufferable cocky newly-minted MFA kid (as I confess I first suspected). In fact, Dial is an elderly outsider –a railroad metal-fabricator often putting workplace industrial epoxy substances creative use. His gutsy rawness is not the affected bravado of a twentysomething art student but the authentic world-weary angst of a working man struggling to vent his decades of life-strife. Masterful!
Painter Angel Otero at Lehman Maupin Gallery actually was a newly-minted MFA kid, but I forgave him. His distinctive reversed paintings (made by painting on glass, scraping off the paint when dry, and attaching the peelings in verso to canvases) had a certain totemic power that rose above the potential to be seen as a one-trick-pony. Also, Lehman Maupin Gallery's soaring spaces complimented the large works. Lehman Maupin's thoughtfully-repurposed LES space has the airy vastness of a white cube venue without any of the often-criticized sterility of such spaces –-there being enough remnants of the earlier occupant's semi-industrial activity to give the space that cherished gritty "real"-ness.
We are fortunate to be able to enjoy “grittiness” just for its novelty effect. Others in the world live in grit and there’s nothing pretty about it –as authoritatively shown at Anastasia Photo below.
Photographer GMB Akash at Anastasia Photo showed arresting documentary images of near-slave Bangladeshi child-laborers. Abused but unbroken preteens were often covered with powder --sometimes industrial metal grit, sometimes soot, sometimes whorehouse makeup. Chilling deadpan encyclopedic captions included: "The owner of a textile factory beating a twelve-year-old child laborer," "Children carry bricks on their heads at a brick factory," "Fifteen year old Nodi ....was sold to the brothel by her stepmother," "(Bonded sex worker) Juthi is preparing for her clients as the evening crowd gathers." Pimps and factory managers exploit young flesh; It is important for us with lives of gallery-hopping comfort to shudder from time to time. (note: cover photo)
Painter Maya Bloch at Thierry Goldberg Projects had exquisite balance of geometric striped backgrounds and semi-figurative inky blobby people in the foregrounds. Lush, loaded paint strokes met stains, faint washes, and expressive obfuscation –and these actually harmonized with rigid parallel lines. No easy trick to make inkiness and ruler-straight lines "play nice" together.
Painter Herb Jackson at Claire Oliver Gallery was a master of the non-objective painterly amorphous color-patchy Modern thing. Yet: his huge assertive abstracts paradoxically radiated some sort of ephemeral lightness. How? It took lots of staring to realize their topsides were bouncing reflected light onto the walls, giving each canvas a subtle horizontal halo. One wondered: were some halos tinted? Different colors? What the– ? Then the always attentive and helpful gallerist Claire Oliver noticed me noticing and confided: the artist puts a brightly-colored stripe atop the paintings to promote tinted light-bounce. So –everything happened as the artist planned it. Well done, Mr Jackson.
Speaking of the ephemeral,
Photographer Jay Fine at Kim Foster Gallery is the “Master of Urban Fog” in my opinion. And if you've ever seen a National Geographic-style photo of lightning striking a City landmark, it probably is a Jay Fine image. I've watched Fine's activity for many seasons. Each year millions of tourists point cam-lenses at New York. And they make lame photos. Fine takes aim and makes instant classics –truly representational New York scenes.
And speaking of Newyorkyness,
Sculptor Yutaka Sone at David Zwirner Gallery showed a huge marble model of our own City skyline –or the Grid, rather. Picture the City's streets and buildings seen from above. Okay, now carve that in stone. This vision didn't include the rivers: at the shoreline, this New York just goes down-down-down, far deeper that any building is tall. Thus it was Manhattan on a mesa. A plateau. The irregular base outline was polished smooth. The whole looked so much like a giant Japanese suiseki display that I wanted a proper suiban tray to enclose it –and was somewhat disappointed by the huge wooden rectangle which served as the base instead. Of course making a ten-foot bronze suiban would quintuple the production cost, so forgiveness is due. (By the way, one copy of this sculpture needs to be bought and moved to a secure location far from New York –to be kept ready to serve as the memorial portrait for our dear Grid if ever some nutjob terrorist ever actually does succeed in nuking us.)
Sculptor Don Porcella at Spattered Columns Exhibition Space had some whimsical and ironic cartoon-men made of pipe-cleaners. For the rest of us who abandoned the fuzzies in fifth grade, Porcell's musings are both eerie and cool.
Sculptor Peter Reginato at Heidi Cho Gallery showed abstract-shape Modern constructions in metal. The "rule" for such pieces has long been that they must be painted in one solid color: flat black, flat white, flat rust, flat orange, flat yellow, flat red, flat flat flat. Or, for rebels: gloss red. Maybe. So Reginato's tutti-frutti paint jobs in all the colors of ice cream sprinkles were a refreshing "screw you" to that rule.
Installationist Edward Krasinski at Miguel Abreu Gallery was –as always– serious and mathematical and funny as hell. No one else can lay a stripe of tape around a gallery like this the long-time pioneer of such things. Everyone else is derivative. Krasinski owns the 'round-the-room stripe. Since the Woodstock era, his thing had been to put a stripe of blue masking tape around the room (at exactly 130cm from the floor), whatever else is on the walls be-damned. The line cutting across the gallerists' own bookshelves and also across all the art in the room was amusing –especially when marking through the video installation (below).
Video-artist Igor Krenz at Miguel Abreu Gallery pulled off a sight-gag that rises to the level of art. His video piece explored various whatevers of the art world (yadda yadda, like so much video art) –but with an intentionally-cockeyed camera angle. The scenes all played out at an angle because of the camera-tilt, and were played back to us in single-channel video on a screen set at an angle with the help of a big wedge to correct for the tilt. Hence the film's title, Correction of Tilt. Curator Barbara Piwowarska's selection of this piece was enhanced by the overlay of a rigid horizontal: a line of blue tape crossing all things 130cm from the floor by (above) Edward Krasinski. This grouping was a visual opera: just as the music and the libretto combine to make a stronger whole, so the wedged screen and applied horizontal line enhanced each other.
Interventionists Eric Clinton Anderson and Patricia Silva's "contribution" (such as it was) to the Rirkrit Tiravanija show at Gavin Brown's Enterprise out-funnied Edward Krasinski's stripes (above) by a mile –or maybe more like 1.3 miles. They generated smiles and pages of art critics’ debate. Tiravanija's show featured whole-wall plain spraypaint letters forming the message "FEAR EATS THE SOUL." There was also a plywood cubicle where assistants screen-printed "FEAR EATS THE SOUL" posters and t-shirts. A separate kitchen had assisting-artists like Danny Baez concocting spicy tortilla soup. (You EATS THE soup –and hopefully you also ponder the role of art or at least chat with the cook). Perhaps for added avant-garde effect (or perhaps merely to vent the fumes made by spray-painting house-tall letters), the gallery's streetfront windows were removed during the exhibit –thus setting the stage for the following unplanned act. When Gavin Brown parked his car inside the gallery (doable thanks to the removed windows) for a quick meeting and also left his keys in the ignition (how can one not feel secure in one's own gallery?) visitors Anderson and Silva saw the car and assumed it was part of the overtly relationally-aesthetic exhibit. So of course they're meant to take the car for a spin as part of the gallery experience. Right? Of course! Right? Gallerist Brown was aghast while the art-lover/car-thief duo merrily Tweeted their reactions to this new sort of art experience –thereby also giving alibi to any "grand theft auto" charges. Brown later turned his distress at the temporary theft into annoyance that the joyriding interventionists didn't push it further, telling art critic Jerry Saltz, “if someone really wanted to do something like this, they should have taken the car for a week, or driven it off the pier."
Installation-maker Rirkrit Tiravanija at Gavin Brown's Enterprise –largely described above. The soup kitchen installation charmed some major critics while some other visitors scratched their heads. "The art is not an object you buy; it is an experience you have" is a message artists have tried saying since the Robert Smithson era. Few things say it like the peppery afterburn of a spoonful of Tiravanija's kitchen-assistants' concoctions. (Later in the year, another installation-maker, Spencer Sweeney, at the same venue almost qualified for the most-memorable list by adding a sauna to an exhibit –though unfortunately much of the 2-d work in the actual exhibit was lame.)
Installation-maker Oskar Dawicki at Postmasters Gallery appearing at the same time as Rirkrit Tiravanija a few blocks away could well get visitors wondering if one influenced the other and a mini-fad of wall-modifying got started. But of course gallery shows are planned a year or more ahead of time, so the 2011 wall-mod craze must have been coincidental. Dawicki's person-outline shaped break in the Postmasters' exterior wall evoked Loony Tunes scenes or perhaps something out of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" Standing inside the gallery and pointing a camera through the hole to the sidewalk made for enjoyable snapshots –especially when passersby looked with surprise into the hole.
Another impressive installation-maker,
Brendan Fowler at UNTITLED blended fridge-door-sized framed photos with drywall and builders' lumber –with authority.
Performance/video-artist Janet Biggs in the East River at DUMBO Arts Festival. Even without the nostalgia-effects of staging Wet Exit outside with lower Manhattan’s night-skyline and bridges as the background, zany art-master Janet Biggs' dramatic choreographed-kayakers thing would have been unforgettable. Only she can mix drums, a mezzo-soprano, a string section, spotlights, a Jumbotron, and boats without “jumping the shark.” Biggs is a genius who is only held back by the ranks of low-talent amateurs cranking out so much video "art" twaddle (which, in these oh so inclusive and politically-correct times no one dares take a well-deserved critical crap upon) who give the whole genre a bad name. Everyone hoping to be a video/performance artist someday, please hear this: watch everything Janet Biggs has ever done. Twice. THEN go make your art. Really. Do this. You'll thank me or her someday. Janet: Splendid job!
Artist-trickster William Powhida at Marlborough Chelsea Gallery* raised snark to the level of Confucian scholarship with his performance mocking commercialization, celebrity VIP douchebaggery, and openings-being-just-about-being-seen. How? By "being" a celebrity VIP douchebag and staging an opening just-about-being-seen. Extra credit for also mocking how the most famous artists so often outsource their art-making to assistants or sweatshops –-BY HIRING AN ACTOR to do the performance mocking commercialization, celebrity VIP douchebaggery, and openings-being-just-about-being-seen. Opening visitors got honored with VIP couchtime and a glass of champagne, or got semi-honored with a PBR –-or got excluded entirely. How like art-life! This could be relational-aesthetics Nobel Prize material.
Crowdsourced group show "Single Fare 2: Please Swipe Again" at Sloan Fine Art* was the impressive sequel to last year's "Single Fare" show organized in a pop-up site by artists Jean-Pierre Roy and Michael Kagan. Artists sent in creations painted or drawn upon swiped-out subway farecards. A gallery show actually seeking submissions (like when does that actually happen?) and having such a small "canvas" size led to a gigantic roster of participating artists. When they and their partners/moms/three-best-friends came to the opening, happy Fire-Code-straining crowds ensued. One needed a shoehorn to get in, but the varied interpretations of the theme were worth the close-quarters.
Designer / interventionists Trusto Corp at Opera Gallery are the sneaks behind the "DON'T FEED THE HIPSTERS" road signs that appear on City streets from time to time. Frequent removal by police, thieves, and connoisseurs makes the art-signs a scarce treat. As often as I've myself felt at the bottom, the snark-spirational words of Trusto Corp's street sign "SHIT COULD BE WORSE...you're not dead" have been a pick-me-up. The rad lads deserved a gallery show and they got one. Applause.
It is one thing to approach a signpost and attach a funny sign. It is a different order of magnitude to modify bikes, shopping carts, and corporate-sculptural public art plazas for new artistic consideration–
Rebel crochet-artist Crocheted Olek on the Wall Street Bull. Olek stuck herself into the City scene numerous times by covering objects and other artists' work with her hot-pink camo-patterned yarn. Her improvement of Tony Rosenthal's upended cube in Astor Place might have gotten more notice if a couple of yahoos hadn't ripped it down shortly after creation. Then, long before it was cool to screw with Wall Street, Olek covered the Wall Street Bull with a coating of crochet. Olek has more balls than a hundred better-paid artist-dandies. Interesting too that her intervention with the Bull was itself happening to a rebel artists' creation: people assume the Bull was paid for by the 1%, but actually it was free art left on Wall Street (later moved by the authorities to Bowling Green Park) by artist Arturo Di Modica. Olek's re-contextualization of Di Modica's Bull didn't last long before destructionist forces marshaled. Often Olek reminds me of an intrepid master sandcastle builder whose time-intensive labors are so pleasing –only to be wrecked in minutes by brutish fools.
Crowdsourced group show "OCCUPY These Walls" at AC Institute Gallery* (and also at times on the streets at the nearest OCCUPY staging area). Organizers curated some art but also held an open call for OCCUPY designs and for donations of original protest signs –and also planned to take signs and posters out onto the street to join in OWS protests. Art imitates life and then art imitates/instigates life. OWS-OTW managed to feel genuine, unlike so many "oil" spattered art-happenings in the wake of last year's BP Spill Disaster which often felt too much like crass current-events-publicity-whoring.
Honorable Mentions go to two AIPAD exhibitors at the Armory.
AXA insurance group (yes, really, I’m serious) at AIPAD made an art-level found-object display of a shipping crate sawed in half to show damage from sloppy packaging of blue chip art. Apparently a Cindy Sherman photo was poorly padded and sent by mail under glass in a frame –and the glass broke. Subsequent handling left enough scratches from the glass to render the $58k Sherman art nearly worthless. Sure the message was commercial (“Hey! Buy insurance lest this happen to you”) but the actual booth exhibit of the cutaway crate with shattered glass and scraped-up Sherman photo was haunting. The public might sometimes hear of tragic losses in the art world, but one never gets to ogle the wreck. AXA let us rubberneck. It also evoked art-vandalism and historical book-burnings –and other purposeful art-destruction by those with agendas.
Another honorable mention goes to–
HIGHERpictures Gallery exhibiting at AIPAD. One of the few galleries these days to dare to show both paintings and photos together, HIGHERpictures’ spread included a group of vintage police department staff photos hung in precise rows, seeming to make a statement about conformity. The wall of cops was fine curatorial treasure-hunting.
And one last honorable mention–
Adbusters Media Foundation at (the internet and various streets) for the newly-iconic dancer-atop-the-Bull “WHAT IS OUR ONE DEMAND?” #OccupyWallStreet image.
Terry Ward's most memorable of 2011 picks article was the Jan 2012 "In The Art World" cover story. Pictured: a GMB Akash (see above) image.
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