My Top 10 (& Bottom 5) Art Picks for 2008

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While I do most of my art viewing in the New York area, I did manage to get to Boston, Brussels, DC, LA and New Orleans this year…sorry Tyler, my picks are still almost all NY-based. Well, without further ado, here’s my 2008 picks:

  1. Abstract/Abstraction: Pollock, De Kooning, and American Art,” 1940-1976″ at the Jewish Museum (NY) – This was a fascinating take on a topic that has been done to death–or so we thought. By looking at the critical discourse surrounding the Abstract Expressionist (mostly), the show successfully argued for the crucial role criticism plays in ensuring the quality and strength of art.
  2. Judith Supine’s “Dirt Mansion” at English Kills Gallery — I don’t think any street artist has been able to make the jump from street to gallery as effectively and smoothly as Supine. His carnivalesque aesthetic was palpable in English Kills’ two rooms and I think this show will demonstrate a way for other street talents eager to make a sustainable living from their art.
  3. Prospect.1 in New Orleans — Overrunning a city with art is no easy feat but curator Dan Cameron was able to do it, in what seemed from a viewers perspective, effortlessly. Without relying solely on art world superstars, Prospect.1 opened up new potentials for the art biennial and it was chocked full of ideas and work that worked well together.
  4. Hirsohi Sugimoto’s “7 Days/7  Nights” at Gagosian — Sugimoto’s photos emit a force and power that stands head and shoulders above most of the work exhibited this year. It is hard to explain how you feel when you experience a work by Sugimoto but the sensations stay with you for a very long time.
  5. Laurie Anderson’s “Homeland” performance in New York – While she has been touring this work for a few years (and it constantly changes), this was her first performance in her hometown. “Homeland” came at an important point in American culture when people were looking to wash away some of the fear that has gripped our culture for years. Anderson seemed to offer us a reboot button or sorts and I for one found it emotional cleansing.
  6. Swoon & Tennessee Jones-Watson’s “Portrait of Silvia Elena” at Honey Space — An odd and powerful show that was mounted (literally) under the gallery. It was an incredibly intimate experience parked on the edge of Manhattan’s West Side Highway–how Swoon was able to accomplish this is anyone’s guess but it was something I went back to again and again.
  7. Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns” at Shafrazi –An absurd juxtaposition of wallpaper, reproductions and original art (all with the domesticity of wall to wall carpeting) which easily mixed to create a cocktail of irreverence.
  8. The Streets of Cities Across the Country during the 2008 Presidential Elections – While institutions and galleries are the conventional venues to see art, this year the streets of America were home to some incredible creative energy. From Shepard Fairey to Mr. Brainwash, from BilliKid to Elbowtoe, there was a whole universe of street artists who responded to the U.S. Presidential primaries and elections almost instantly and offered their visual intelligence on a wide array of topics.
  9. Banksy’s “Village Petstore & Charcoal Grill ” in Greenwich Village – This Brit knows how to throw a curve ball and do what we’d least expect. This shop was equal parts ecology lesson, animal-rights activism and freak show. I’m still trying to figure out what he was trying to do here but I like it nonetheless.
  10. Exit Art’s “Signs of Change: Social Movement Cultures 1960s to Now” Exhibition” – This non-profit space found a perfect time to remind us about visual culture’s role in social change. The show was able to successfully make a case (without being heavy-handed) for the artist & designers role in community activism.

Honorable Mentions:

  1. Joy Garnett’s “Unmonumental” online photo series – Maybe it started as a spoof, but Garnett’s photographic exploration of the aesthetic that the New Museum tried to ram down our throats with its unfortunate “Unmonumental” show has become a wonderful series (begun on April 19, 2008) that continues to entertain and grow–157 photos as of Dec. 23, 2008. Her photos incorporate (and elevate?) the strange refuse of the city into art. Unlike the New Museum’s show I really see Garnett’s series as a critique of the aesthetics of power in what is now a bygone age of excess. I am curious to see how the series will change–or how my perceptions of it will change–as the economic crisis deepens and changes the way we live.
  2. The New Museum’s Night School series – An engaging series that has featured smart and interesting figures that are allowed to develop or present long form ideas in the public arena…love it! It almost makes up for the institution’s current lack of leadership vision. Let’s hope it stays free.

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Now the my “shoulda stayed home” list:

  1. Olafur Eliasson’s “NYC Waterfalls” around the East River – If there was ever a waste of public money and resources this was it. This tree-killing fiasco made me rethink Eliasson’s genius and realize that the monster that is New York can easily dwarf and tame genius without trying. In New York scale is everything and Eliasson just didn’t measure up.
  2. Anish Kapoor at Boston’s ICA — Don’t get me wrong, I love Kapoor but this show was barely curated, it was a series of first acts without any second ones…I left feeling like I was robbed. Kapoor’s show at Barbara Gladstone in Chelsea this summer was much much better.
  3. Louise Bourgeosie at Guggenheim – Say what you will about her as an artist but I didn’t think her work fared well in the Frank Lloyd Wright space. Something about the noise of the space distracted me from her work and made me realize that the Guggenheim isn’t for everyone.
  4. Cai Guo-Qiang’s fireworks display at the Beijing Olympics – I don’t think I can look at Cai Guo-Qiang’s art the same way again after knowing that he created the fireworks that PR’d China onto the world cultural stage. I suspect we will look back at this as his Leni Riefenstahl moment. I mean you can’t fellate an autocratic regime like that in front of billions of people and think no one is going to notice you swallowing.
  5. Banksy’s Rat Murals around Soho (NYC) – Banksy finally landed in New York but, like another European’s attempt at sanctioned public-ish art (i.e. Eliasson), he failed. Banksy’s images seemed lazy and half-assed. New Yorkers don’t like people who don’t “get” us, and I don’t think Banksy did in this respect. But I guess we can forgive him since his Pet Shop (mentioned above) was pretty original and engaging.