Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017: A Year In Art


2017 was not a good year, geopolitically speaking, and it was a hiatus for Art Bouillon. Still, it was a decent year for art.  There were both highs and lows.  The ruinous Kiefer above captures the mood of 2017 compellingly, but the rest of his show at Gagosian was a disappointing display of trite female nudes -- these are rendered all the more inopportune by the pandemic of sexual harassment, which has been dominating headlines.

Now let's look at some vaguely chronological memories from a year many would like to forget.  The first is not exactly an artistic highlight, but an appropriate icon for the year: Maurizio Catalan's golden toilet at the Guggenheim.  Art fans queued to take a piss in this sparkling homage to Duchamp and Trump tower capitalism.


Those who tired of this golden throne could take refuge in the Agnes Martin retrospective outside.


The year also opened with the Nasty Woman show at the Knockdown Center.  Hundreds of artists donated work to auction off for a Planned Parenthood fundraiser.  (Kudos to Rachel for contributing.) This was a sign that art would be getting more political in the coming year.


Meanwhile, Pipilotti Rist was still drawing big crowds at the New Museum.  Though commendable for enticing many who do not frequent elite art institutions, the show also exemplified an increasing tendency towards crowd-pleasing spectacles in American Museums.


This category also includes the Manifesto show at the Park Avenue Armory.  A collaboration between film maker Julian Rosenfeldt and A-list actress, Cate Blanchett.  Enthralling but politically obvious, occasionally fraught, and ultimately empty.


The Armory hosted a somewhat better show later in the year: Jacques Herzog,  Pierre de Meuron, and Ai Weiwei's Hansel and Gretel.  It combined an interactive light show, and a real-time surveillance system that allowed voyeurs to watch visitors at the exhibition for weeks on end.


Spring brought a fine show of Post-War Abstraction at MoMA, featuring only women artists.  Perhaps one day, we'll have shows of artists who are women without calling it a show of women artists.  In any case, it was a chance to see work that often collects dust is storage vaults, like these works by textile master, Vera, the inventive amateur, Janet Sobel, and the beatnik montage master, Jay DeFeo.  Jackson Pollack stole his drip painting method from Sobel, but that's a story for another post.




Under-appreciated women also appeared in solo shows, including an impressive showing of the extraordinary artist, Carol Rama, at the New Museum.  I caught a better Rama retrospective at the Musee de Art Moderne a few years back, but this was certainly a good tribute, reflecting Rama's remarkable range and sly wit.


Also impressive, of course, was MoMA's Louise Bourgeois show.


Meanwhile, the Met Breuer, which has been struggling to define itself and attack ground, hosted several worthwhile exhibitions.  My favorite was Kerry James Marshall.


The Whitney also mounted some good shows, including a comparatively strong biennial.  The controversy over Dana Schutz’s “Open Casket" was a learning opportunity for the white art world.  As museums work to represent marginalized voices, they also risk commodifying struggles and pain.  Schutz is a very good painter, but there was a bad judgment call here that invites whites to ask how they can most effectively express the thought that black lives matter.  Perhaps Schutz should have painted perpetrators rather than victims.  Putting the biennial aside, let me turn to another Whitney show: the retrospective of Jimmie Durham (who, speaking of white faux pas, has been described as a poser Cherokee!).  Though uneven, there were moments in the show of undeniable charm.


Moving across the globe and back in time, the Age of Empires show was one of the stronger exhibitions at the Met.  Featuring Chinese works from the Han and Qin Dynasties (roughly 2000 years ago), it managed to draw crowds to see work that is neither Western nor Modern--a difficult accomplishment even at New York's most conservative major museum.


The Met also delighted viewers with a show of the small landscapes by the 17th century painter, Hercules Segers.  A proto-Surrealist, Segers created imaginary worlds far removed from any he had ever seen.



Surrealism of a more familiar variety got a good viewing at the ever-enjoyable Ubu gallery.  Here's one from Victor Brauner.


From surrealism we can leap to extreme realism in the work of Robert Crumb, who charmed crowds at David Zwirner in Chelsea.


Chelsea also offered other good exhibitions.  There was Hanne Darboven at Dia, an exercise in obsessive compulsion.



Kara Walker moved beyond silhouettes with disquieting large-scale drawings at Sikkema Jenkins.  Themes of lynching slavery, and the confederacy felt more like a commentary on the present than a requiem for the distant past.


Slavery was also a theme at the Jack Shainman gallery, with a coffin by Ghanan artist, Paa Joe. This sculptural resting place is modeling on one of the slave castles that line the West African coast.


Jack Shaiman has many more of these and other fine works on display at his mini-museum, called The School, in Tinderhook, NY.  A well-curated show there mixed African Art from several eras, with East Asian artifacts and contemporary art from the West.


Back in Chelsea, the Cavin-Morris Gallery had a strong showing with two "outsider" Czech artists, Luboš Plný  and Anna Zemánková.  Here's one from Plný:


Moving on to SoHo, one highlight was a show called Drawings From the Department of Tropical Research Field Expeditions, at the Drawing Center.  The works on display blurred the lines between scientific taxonomy and fine art.


The boundary between science and art was also a theme, as usual, at the Wellcome Collection in London.  On a stopover there, I saw this lovely ebola virus by glass artist, Luke Jerram.


Continuing with this theme, there was also a fun Philosopher's Cabinet show at the Harvard Museum.  Here are some mineral specimens.


No trip to Cambridge, MA, would be complete without a stopover at MoBA, the Museum of Bad Art.


The better side of kitsch was on display at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, NY.  Here's a 1944 masterpiece by "maverick modernist," John Graham.


Later in the year, the Parrish hosted an impressive survey of photo-realism.  These bills by Randall Rosenthal are actually painted wood.


Back in Europa, I was fortunate to attend the Venice Biennale, and co-host a workshop there on art, philosophy, and neuroscience.  One of the speakers was the Nigerian activist artist, Jelili Akitu.  It was a special thrill to watch his grand performance celebrating women's power.


Among the National Pavilions at the Biennale, the American Pavilion was a standout with installations by Mark Bradford.  Here is a Bradford ceiling.


The palette of Bradford's Biennale piece reappeared months later, when I visited the new Broad Museum in LA and saw this impressive painting.  (The Broad, by the way, is an architectural marvel, but the collection is largely a vehicle for LA's selfie culture.  The Bradford is a welcome exception.)


Bradford brings to mind my North Carolina, since I came to really appreciate his work at a retrospective at Duke's Nasher museum five years ago.  In 2017, there were other treats at the Nasher including the vibrant, kaleidoscopic works of Nina Chanel Abney--both playful and political.


In Greensboro, North Carolina, I also caught the annual works on paper show at the Weatherspoon Museum.  I was especially taken by a large work made with torn bits of Japanese paper by Colombian, Maria Berrio, and these feet by Nigerian, Toyin Ojih Odutola.   Later in the year, Berrio had a sold-out show a the Praxis Gallery in Chelsea, and Ojih Odutola has a solo exhibition at the Whitney.  Both shows were excellent, but I liked these two works more.



Among the other good shows in Europe this summer, I was especially taken with a feminist art retrospective in Vienna's MUMOK museum.   This 1977 photo series by Croation, Sanja Ivaković is a reminder that the second wave was a global movement.


At the Copenhagen Contemporary, I caught a robotic pig by Paul McCarthy.  It breaths!




Denmark's Louisiana museum had an Marina Abramović show -- a bit of a yawn after the MoMA retrospective a few years back, but there were some early drawings that cast new light on her work.


A brief stint in Basel allowed a visit to a splendid group show at the Kunsthalle there.  These 1960s works by Joachim Bandau were a revelation.



While in Basel, I also made a pilgrimage to the Fondation Beyeler for a Wolfgang Tillman's show, which intermingled the mundane and the sublime.  Here's some dangerously decorative sublimity.


Time in Paris also afforded much art viewing.  I couldn't resist the Gauguin retrospective at the Grand Palais.  It was pleasantly unpredictable, with print series and ceramics and short films on his methods, mixed in among the more familiar paintings.  There was also a notebook filled with studies, accompanied by a slide show that flipped through each spectacular page.


In Paris I also caught at a Sophie Calle show at the ever-so-eclectic Musée de la Chasse.  I was mesmerized by a female bust that shed actual (well, presumably, artificial) tears.


The best show in Paris, however, was at the Maison Victor Hugo.  It featured works from three of the most important early collections of art by psychiatric patients: Dr. Browne, Morgenthaler, and Prinzhorn.  This was one of several works by an artist known only as S.D. who painted conventional, monochrome landscapes nestled in hyper-saturated, freeform, organic, abstractions.


Just outside Paris, I took a field trip to Versailles.  There a group of contemporary artists had created elaborate interventions in the sprawling gardens.  This one, by Anita Molinero, was constructed from re-purposed trash bins.


Back in the US, I went to Florida for a paleo-archeology conference, one week before Miami's Art Basel fair.  I was in Basel one week after Art Basel, so it was clear the art fair gods were against me.  But, in both places there were good consolation prizes.  In Miami, I went to the recently re-opened Bass museum and saw an impressive installation by the Cameroon-born, Belgian artist, Pascale Marthine Tayou.  African motifs were cleverly interspersed with the Museum's Renaissance collection.


On the other coast, I caught a dazzling installation by the late Mike Kelley at the LA branch of Hauser and Wirth.  Colorful imaginary worlds, glass vessels, and video elements offered a utopian escape from a world that is execrating towards destruction.


Counterbalancing Kelley's escapist fantasy, there were also several activist-themed shows in LA.  The Hammer Museum ended the year with Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985.   The first image below is from a film by Yeni y Tan, Jennifer Hacksaw, and María Luisa González.  The artist record the process of mud drying on their faces.  Below that is a work by Brazilian, Amelia Toledo, with the ironic title, Girl's Smile. 



The California African American Museum had a show called Black Radical Women, 1965–85.  This 1977 paining by Dinga McCannon depicting the Empress Akweke, resembles some current currents in figurative art.


At the end of the year, I also made it to Taipei for a collaboration there.  The main modern museum is being renovated, but there was a good show at the Museum of Contemporary Arts, featuring installations by local, young artists who had been nominated for an annual award.  Here is a piece by Yi-Min Huang.


At the Museum of National Taipei University of Education, there was a show of Modern Western Painting of Japan -- that is, Japanese painters who were inspired by Western modernism.  The creepy painting below exemplifies the work of Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita, who moved to Paris in 1913 and befriending the likes of Modigliani, Matisse, and Picasso.  Evoking Balthus, Margarette Keane, and Florine Stettheimer, yet totally unto itself.  Seeing the work of a Japanese Parisian in Taipei seems an appropriate end to a year in which the art world is continuing to embrace international cross-polinization. If only the political world would learn to transcend borders with the same enthusiasm. 


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