At the end of each year, critics and editors eagerly (and oh-so-authoritatively) weigh in on what they found to be the best work of the last 12 months. But why not go straight to the source, asking some of our favorite creatives what thrilled, moved, and inspired them in 2017? Here, without further ado, we present a year-end wrap-up that lets the artists decide what mattered.
Installation view of “Friedrich Kunath: Frutti di Mare,” 2017. © Friedrich Kunath. Photo by Joshua White/JWPictures.com. Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/ Tokyo.
“I have to say it is hard to pin down a favorite show, but definitely the most stand-out opening night in Los Angeles this year was experiencing Raitt and Kunath across the street from one another. Both shows were completely immersive, creating lush, fictive landscapes for the romantic ideal of the painter—through the lens of an L.A. transplant. For Raitt, the idea of the American landscape is informed by growing up in Britain and seeing Bob Ross on TV, but the latest works in the show seem to reflect his recent move to Los Angeles. And I’ll quote Kunath for his take on his own exhibition: ‘If Arte and Merv Griffin co-produced a reality TV show, it might go something like this.’”
Milka Djordjevich’s ANTHEM, performed at Bob Baker Marionette Theatre as part of Los Angeles Exchange (LAX) Festival
“This piece bubbles to the top of my brain when I think of all the art I saw over 2017,” says Felton (whom Artsy picked out as an artist to watch at this year’s Untitled art fair in Miami Beach.) “It might have been the 1970s outfits, the theatrical lights, the intimate audience sitting around a small dance floor. It might have been the four beautiful dancers that hit every beat. The sweat and the glow on their glittered faces. ANTHEM embraces virtuosity and sass. It touches on ideas of labor, play, and feminine posturing. As a painter I think of images that can play with de-sexualizing the female body, and Milka has choreographed movements that embrace that idea. ANTHEM is cool, sexy, and pretty amazing. I feel lucky to have seen it.”
“David Hockney” at The Met, 2017. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“Previously, I was on the neutral side regarding Hockney’s work, but this show changed that.
“The early work is bold in style and subject, especially considering homosexuality was illegal at the time. By the later 1960s his paintings have become refined, meticulous, and cool, but always with an underlying tension: beneath the equidistant lawn sprinklers are Van Gogh-like blades of grass; a totem pole mirrors the collector Marcia Weisman’s expression. Within the contemporary Los Angeles homes are a few odd, specific details and décor, clues to the inhabitants who hold their own in the large, illusionistic space. By contrast, the later paintings are freewheeling, bright, with several perspectives as if seen with many eyes, vertiginous. I loved the show.”
“Calder | Miró Constellations” at Acquavella Galleries in New York (in collaboration with Pace Gallery)
“I didn't see many shows this year, but this one stuck with me. It was beautiful without having to be glamorous. The Miró works in particular vibrated in an otherworldly way and seemed to transcend a historical moment. There were ten thousand different ways to look at each one, or at all of them: from the sides, or with your eyes closed, trying to remember. It's everything I love about painting. When I was younger I’d see an exhibition that would challenge my idea of what art could be, and I would immediately retreat to the studio and work. I would also see shows that were just so good that their afterimage would paralyze my own production. This did both.”
Installation view of “Bivouac.” Courtesy of Bible Gallery.
“The artist suspended three ‘paintings’ made from things like cough syrup, shampoo, tobacco and resin from the ceiling of Bible, a black-painted basement in Chinatown. The works looked wet, like animal skins clumped with fat and wet leaves, and they had postures like the clothing hanging off a scarecrow's frame. There was an expectation that they would waver or ripple in the air but their rigid material made the way they hovered so still in the room feel supernatural, as if they were caught in a flashbulb. It was eerie and peaceful down there, everything I want from a show.”
Sanford Biggers, “SELAH,” at Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York
“Growing up an unlikely Evangelical, our radio was almost always tuned to the Bible Broadcasting Network. An aural fixture of my memory, its ubiquity was only rivaled by the hum of our refrigerator. The weekday lineup featured this segment called ‘Take A Minute,’ and at the end of each of these 60-second devotionals, the host would chime brightly: ‘Selah! Meditate on this.’ It was a catchy phrase in both content and delivery that could easily be mimicked and turned for comedic effect—or served shady, if you were caught slipping on your good Christian bidness. Art is my religion now, the studio acting as my home church, but occasionally I can be convinced to visit another congregation. And so, Sanford Biggers’ ‘SELAH’ lured me. An aesthetic sermon of homespun conceptualism. Quilted motifs, sacred geometries, mutilated deities and tactile sequins, so measured in their presentation, that Biggers deftly coaxes the intellectual from the emotion of contemporary violence—upon which we must all meditate.”
Work by Matt Kenny in “Landscape paintings (PART 2).” Courtesy of The National Exemplar.
“In a year that championed sophomoric figuration, it was great to see Matt Kenny’s masterful representational paintings,” says Wallace, whose work will be on view this January at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) at Maine College of Art (MECA). “The first part of this show included an authentic, untitled Francis Picabia from 1903, and featured three copied paintings by Kenny (of a Pissarro, a Bonnard, a Cézanne; all given a “Picabia” signature at bottom right), as well as two naturalist paintings of One World Trade Center as viewed at a distance from the Meadowlands and Secaucus, New Jersey. In the Meadowlands painting, the building is re-animated as a cartoonish monster, while from Secaucus, the building is painted in true realism. It is easy to be seduced by the craft, but registering the throughline in all of Kenny’s projects is where the spoils lay. Here, it was a fun leap to consider a scenario without forged signatures, and with an agenda that was political rather than visual—in which the ‘fakes’ could be used to raise illicit funds, and the views rendered with such care in the Trade Center paintings could just as easily be snapshots from a reconnaissance mission, or from residences housing indoctrinated recruits just beyond city limits, like the ones discussed in Coercive Beliefs (2017), Kenny’s just-released first book: A 300-page nonfiction poem on the origins of Al Qaeda.”
Becky Kolsrud, “Allegorical Nudes” at JTT Gallery in New York
“This show featured a warm, electric blue—a flatly-handled, brilliantly-hued kind of ‘body of water’ or ‘wave’ throughout. This bombardment of blue created a warm electric buzz in the room, and gave buoyancy to her figures, a cast of repeating characters that stare out from the paintings in resolute, classical poses. In almost every painting, the blue of water threatens to wall-over or erase an unflinching figure. The body and the blue are equally constant and unpredictable—and each painting unravels a slightly different riddle. Kolsrud's protagonists are in jeopardy—but her strong, confident strokes of color, and inventive turns of logic, push the figures to the front. The wall of blue, the symbolic, destructive force of water, is held impossibly at bay by the confident and effortless rendering of a hand with red fingernails.”
Installation view of Sally Saul, “Knit of Identity” at Rachel Uffner Gallery. Courtesy of the artist and Rachel Uffner Gallery.
“Sally’s work is a subtle commentary on social concerns, particularly having to do with the environment and women’s bodies,” says Rubenstein, whose paintings are on view at Reyes Projects in Birmingham, Michigan through January 20th. “Her ceramics are like a warm hug. They echo the sentiments I feel when progressive action is taken by my feminist heroes. At first glance her sculptures are homey and goofy even, they have a magical, disarming sensibility. Sally is getting attention for her work somewhat later in life, which to me is symbolic of tides turning. This exhibition helps to rewrite history a little bit, and it’s the kind of history I want to be a part of.”
Rico Scagliola & Michael Meier, “Together,” at Kunsthalle St. Gallen, Switzerland
“A hermitage hanging of giant photographs of the everyday transformed drunk bros at McDonalds, grotesque children, and unflattering couples into painterly portraits of the intense beauty of the human and urban form,” says Anderson, a Zurich-based artist whose work can be seen at Fri Art Kunsthalle Fribourg through the end of January. “The show’s titular video has engrossed me since August. In it, teenagers—filmed on a carnival ride—attempt to stay stable as their smallest gestures and gazes are slowed to reveal the ways in which they, and all of us, try so hard to effortlessly present ourselves to others. The sexual tension was transcendent.”
Installation view of Froggyland in Split, Croatia. Courtesy of Froggyland.
“In a year that found me traversing the globe to several world-class art destinations, no exhibition occupied my mind quite like Froggyland in Split, Croatia—an attraction that is exactly what it sounds like. Knowing a minor amount about taxidermy, stuffing, and posing frogs is tantamount to posing a freshly launched snot rocket—no small feat—and, yet, this place is chock full of century-old, drama-filled, mini-dioramas from the fanatic, mesmerizingly OCD melon of Hungarian taxidermist Ferenc Mere. A true masterpiece of outsider art, it represents nearly every aspect of early 20th-century Western life in exacting detail: the classroom, the courtroom, the gym, the circus, the billiards hall, the public plunge, the barbershop, the bedroom, and more. Unlike Jim Henson’s heartwarming, googly-eyed brand of anthropomorphism, all of Mere’s subjects must spend eternity staring blankly up at the sky (or the ceilings of their fingerprint-laden glass tombs)—perhaps praying for rapture for their finely lacquered, rock-hard amphibious souls.”
Sophie Calle and Serena Carone, “Beau doublé, Monsieur le marquis!” at Le Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris (through February 11th)
“One of the strangest exhibitions that I saw this year was Sophie Calle’s exhibition with her guest, the artist Serena Carone, curated by Sonia Voss,” says Othoniel (who opens a solo at Perrotin New York in March of the coming year). “The exhibition is magical and Musée de la Chasse is the perfect space for such incredibly personal works, which consistently and brilliantly incorporate autobiographical and fictional narratives. For this show, Calle reinvented and reinterpreted much of her previous work, which often explores themes of hunting, of stalking, and she’s also created new works. At the same time, she incorporates and magically investigates the animal kingdom.”
Eamon Monaghan, “The Rube’s World,” at the Hand in Brooklyn, New York
Installation view of “The Rube's World.” Courtesy of The Hand Gallery.
“Monaghan is a rare breed of artist capable of accessing creativity in its most genuine form. He creates a captivating world that is both tender and full of longing, but also absurd and hilarious. His filmmaking process is meticulous and unique. His story develops hand in hand with the building of an extremely elaborate set consisting of endless detailed sculptures made from painted insulation foam. It’s a magical world that you don’t have to understand in order to be in awe of it. I am reminded how refreshing it is to be in the presence of something that just is. Monaghan’s work leaves you giddy, triggering the type of curiosity that inspired you to make art in the first place.”
Damien Hirst, “Treasures From The Wreck of the Unbelievable,” at the Pinault Collection in Venice
“Art’s biggest irony of 2017? Damien Hirst made a brilliant show in Venice about an ancient shipwreck—a multilayered allegory about himself and all humanity—and everyone missed the boat. The art media got stuck at the entry-level outrage (the money it cost and made), blinding them to the show’s amazing and complex exploration of human morality and materialism, the real entry point of which was one of today’s more debatable binaries: good creator vs. bad collector. Conflating medieval demons with modern monsters, Hirst merged 27 of Dante’s circles of hell, purgatory and heaven with today’s 12-step addiction canon. The is the story of a man and a ship and a race that have all hit bottom, and the gaudy, gory glory of Hirst’s inventory celebrated everything that being human means—anger, love, desire, greed, faith, hope, lust, et. al.—fiercely, beautifully and candidly. Priceless.”
Nicola L, “Works, 1968 to the Present,” at SculptureCenter in Queens, New York
“The artist has been a huge inspiration ever since the late, great Jim Walrod showed me his Nicola L female boudoir,” says Stout, whose sculptures are on view at Nina Johnson in Miami through early January. “She’s a full blown icon to me, so I was shocked to learn that this was the first comprehensive survey of her work. She started her career in art over 50 years ago and her skin suits and furniture based on the human form feels as fresh and relevant as I imagine they felt then.”
Installation view of Jacqueline Humphries at Greene Naftali, New York, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York.
“After an intense year of sociopolitical upheaval, Humphries’s exhibition might be the first show I’ve been able to look at without wondering where the social commentary is,” says Reames. “I’ve had a lot of conversations over the past year about how artists have an obligation to be politically engaged, since being apolitical is a stance in itself. Somehow this show has taken me back to a place of being able to look at paintings for what they are instead of what they mean. The group of large square canvases were intensely detailed with alphanumeric keystrokes, stenciled on with thick oil paint, with the occasional bleed or gestural smear. They’re austere, elegantly brutal, and impressive. It’s the kind of show that made me jealous, wishing that I made those paintings; and ultimately excited to get back into the studio.”
“Post-Truth,” a symposium presented by Culture Lab Detroit
“During two panel discussions, artists, writers, and architects discussed the antagonisms of our current political climate and possibilities for the future, especially in the arts,” says Wolowiec, known for her hand woven, dyed textile works. “I love the challenge of critically dissecting a topic that is so new there aren’t yet cohesive dialogues to talk through it, requiring on the spot thinking and honest self-assessments. During the ‘Alternative Facts’ panel, moderator Juanita Moore asked, ‘Does the artist have a moral imperative to be politically engaged?’ Artist Martine Syms poignantly answered that not only is it a privilege to not be political, but institutions that exhibit presumably radical projects don’t always align their own politics along those same ambitions. Artist and educator Edgar Arceneaux simply answered ‘No.’ I loved both of these answers because it’s absolutely a privilege to not be political, and if your work is politicized by others in ways you don’t agree with, you have the right to direct that conversation elsewhere—or say ‘No,’ and leave it at that.”
“World War I and the Visual Arts” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (through January 7th)
Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, Returning to the Trenches, 1916. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“This exhibition, drawn largely from the Met’s own holdings, encompassed a wide range of responses to World War I,” says the painter (who opens his own solo exhibition at Pace Gallery in New York this coming January). “Not another eat-your-spinach, didactic kind of exhibition, the curators got this one exactly right by focusing on the quality of the individual works included. Folk art, vanguard art, industrial art, commercial art as well as traditional art are interwoven in a provocative and exciting way. Younger artists today, investing more and more of their efforts with social and political concerns, could find a wealth of options in this exhibition. Any opportunity to see Otto Dix’s fifty-one-piece aquatint and etching suite ‘Der Krieg’ is always welcome. I am still thinking about this show.”
Rose Wylie, “Quack Quack,” at the Serpentine Galleries in London
“Play, color, comic, nostalgic, texture, bold, narrative, clumsy, jubilant, pink, red, thick, haste,honest, modest, fearless, joy,spontaneous, cartoon, caricature, heraldic, coincidence, eyelashes, ducks, bats, planes, happy, primitive, memory, experience, sifting, love, joy, sports, news, celebrity, dogs, collage, football, composition, literature, form, curiosity, hope, landscape,memory, ice-skating,blonde, cinema, routine, scale, parks, filmmaking, imagery,discipline,girls, text, paint, canvas, smell, Hollywood, dreams,fashion, vast, uncompromised, boys,bold,irreverent, abstract, original, irrelevance, relevance, everyday, awkward, seasons.”
“Elizabeth Murray: Painting in the ’80s” at Pace Gallery in New York (through January 13th)
Installation view of “Elizabeth Murray: Painting in the '80s.” Courtesy of PACE Gallery.
“It was so inspiring to see how brilliant, innovative, and totally surprising Murray’s work was when she was painting at the top of her game. Each canvas seemed like its own unique universe—a play on the still life genre with its connotations of domesticity, but blown up to the size of an enveloping world. She had total command of the shaped canvas. I was blown away by the way each dynamic painting slipped between representation and abstraction, as well as solid and void. And how funny and wild and bold they were. She played by her own rules, and how lucky we are to experience this.”
“Unholding” at Artists Space in New York (through January 21st)
“I was fortunate enough to view this exhibition in conjunction with a conversation and book launch for No Reservation: New York Contemporary Native American Art Movement (2017), published by AMERINDA Inc., which gave me a new understanding of what it means to fight for aesthetic sovereignty while also maintaining community building within one’s ambitions,” says Lee, whose next show opens in January at Marlborough Contemporary in London. “In a time when activism and political engagement has become a necessity more than a passing interest, ‘Unholding’ presents an inspiring example of how to navigate the interconnectedness between the personal and political within contemporary artistic practices.”
Kwan Sheung Chi, “Blue is the New Black,” installation view at Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Edouard Malingue Gallery.
“Bewilderment is an ever-rarer response to contemporary art, in the shadow of over a century of Western avant-garde antics. Kwan Sheung Chi elicited such a response in this Hong Kong-born, Western-schooled viewer,” says Ho, whose next major project will open in October 2018 at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. “Imagine an elevator that opens onto a room crisscrossed with blue tape; two unmatched monitors mounted front-to-back inches apart respectively depicting a bust of David being bashed, and a hand silently gesturing in sync; an actual halfpipe, in Yves Klein Blue; and footage of a remake of Pierrot Le Fou’s closing scene, starring the artist’s young son. Kwan’s masterstroke is to make his Western references too obvious. An interpretive feint that belies intercultural operations as labyrinthine as the city’s colonial history and capitalist streets below, they insist: Look again, through your Hong Kong eyes.”
Biba Bell and Jessie Gold, Body Factory, in Detroit
“This two-dancer performance (scored by Ivan Berko) was a combo field-trip and performance during the hazy Detroit summer. We were met in a roofless structure and bussed out to a dilapidated theater some miles away. In here, Bell and Gold performed, moving in and out of sync, incorporating objects at times, and continually encroaching on audience’s space. The performance was both physical and tactile and the border between the audience and performers slowly broke down; the musical score turned into a DJ set, and the beer-drinking crowd slowly became part of the dance floor.”
Installation view of work by Jackie Saccoccio in “Sharp Objects & Apocalypse Confetti” at 11R, New York. Photo by Charles Benton. Courtesy of 11R/Van Doren Waxter.
“This show blew my mind: Rapturous works on paper comprised of tangles of linear drips meant as portraits, and large-scale paintings where Saccoccio began to fill in the tiny empty spaces between her signature drips and pours that splayed in all directions. The portraits were like decaying psyches while the paintings, with titles like Place (Group), Time (Splinter), and Apocalypse Confetti, evoked the decay of digital information, buildings, civilization, the end of everything in a spastic rush of heightened beauty. Nuclear meltdown mixed with the most dramatic, saturated sunset in these images of ecstatic ruins.”
Richard Mosse, “Incoming,” at the Barbican Centre’s the Curve in London
“Mosse created ‘Incoming’ like the military targets enemies: using a camera that is formally classified as a weapon,” says Meyohas, who opened a large-scale exhibition at Red Bull Arts New York this year. “Long range surveillance of thermal radiation reveals a maelstrom of bodies. They are refugees. The camera textures them in black and white, an effect that is alien and anonymizing. The brilliance of the piece is that this spectral rendition actually serves to humanize. The epic drama looms before you across a trio of monolithic screens. ‘Incoming’ (created with cinematographer Trevor Tweeten and composer Ben Frost), felt more poignant than any other footage I had seen of the refugee crisis.”
Peter Halley, “Ground Floor,” at Greene Naftali Gallery in New York
“In the wake of our changing experiences within the internet, Halley’s exhibition felt as urgent as ever. His cell paintings continue to discuss ideas of power, money, and flow, helping in our attempt to define neutrality and the mechanisms behind the things we’re shown. The nine new paintings, hung in a bright yellow room, looked like rotating prison bars painted in the far extremes of color, or maybe circuit boards that parse the information we see and don’t see.”
Celeste Dupuy-Spencer, Early Snow – Rhinecliff Hotel, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Marlborough Contemporary, New York and London.
“Moving paint around to make pictures can be a complicated behavior,” says Humphrey, whose own pictures can be seen through early January at Real Estate Fine Art in Brooklyn. “Dupuy-Spencer’s mark-making has a warmth and jaunty muscularity that suggests she both cares about her subjects and is in awe of, if not disoriented by, their inscrutable reality. Painting can be a way to process feelings by spending time with people and events in their absence. Dupuy-Spencer conjures concerts, parties, and political demonstrations in a painterly equivalent of fiction’s free indirect style, where first and third person are blended. Dupuy-Spencer’s fictions tangle her voice into the bustling of life inside the Rhinecliff Hotel, a socializing crowd of family and friends on a porch, the ungroomed intimacy of a head rub. Her work reveals the weird and powerful ways we are defined, hurt, disappointed, and amazed by other people.”
Jack Pierson at Regen Projects in Los Angeles and Maccarone in New York
“Often when Jack Pierson is talking about one of his photographs he will say that he likes it because it looks like the 1950s. I have a similar feeling about my paintings when they remind me of the 1970s. What I connect to in Jack’s work, both the photographs and the word sculptures, is what I see as a desire to rescue and preserve something of the past and to find a way to honestly communicate it in the present. At Maccarone in New York, Jack was showing photographs that were first shown in the early ’90s but were taken in the 1980s, and printed in a low-tech way—that welcomed hairs and scratches and uneven color—that made them seem as if they might have been found images. I can see how this connects to the recent word sculptures at Regen Projects in L.A. where found letters from old signs have been given new life as sculptures that are both poetic and formally rigorous. In both bodies of work something of the past is saved and transformed into a message for the present day.”
Installation view of Sadie Laska’s work in “Nudes” in Saint Étienne at Ceysson & Bénétière. Courtesy of the artist and Ceysson & Bénétière.
“In this exhibition, Sadie Laska keeps very little of the magazine images she initially projects on the canvas,” says abstract painter Chalendard, who also shows with the gallery. “What remains are simplified shapes and curves that our imagination can still associate with the female body. I quite like these paintings for everything that is accentuated and exaggerated: gestures, shapes, points of view. The sensuality and brutality expressed by these canvases go way beyond erotic imagery. Painting takes over with its expressive power.”
“Epic Tales from Ancient India: Paintings from the San Diego Museum of Art,” at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas
“It’s rare for me to see a show that requires so much careful scrutiny that I don’t ‘finish,’ and promise to return the next day. Classic Indian and Persian stories were explained on wall texts that served as user manuals for the paintings. On each work, segments of narrative coexisted to show a progression from the beginning, middle, and end of a story. Oddly, the sumptuous graphic embellishment and decorated borders typical of miniatures weren’t the primary appeal. Rather it was the lore expressed through repeated patterns of figures in movement and tiny expressive heads in profile, housed in what seemed to be proscenium stage architecture. The effort was worth it.”
Alice Neel, Benjamin, 1976. © The Estate of Alice Neel. Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York/London and Victoria Miro, London.
Alice Neel, Woman, 1966. © The Estate of Alice Neel. Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York/London and Victoria Miro, London.
“Several paintings in the exhibition helped me realize what a brilliantly ironic painter Neel was,” says Kauper, whose own show of new paintings and drawings opens this January at Almine Rech in New York. “Not ironic in the way that term has been used—or misused—in recent discourse, but in the true sense of the word: an expression that seems to mean one thing, but communicates something entirely different. The awkward, almost hamfisted diffidence of each paintings’ initial visual utterance allows the viewer immediate access to the sitter, without having to pass through the authorial presence of the painter. But Neel’s unparalleled ability to make you believe that you’re sharing space with a real human being, and empathizing with them, is possible because of the profound mastery that reveals itself in her pitch-perfect evocations of specific light (glinting off flesh), perceptual color, place, and character. Nobody’s portraits are more authentically real, and it’s largely because of irony.”
Teto Elsiddique, “a distant fire” at 6BASE in the Bronx, New York
“The show featured a group of paintings that are basically frottage rubbings, using a unique printmaking technique Teto invented over the years. Objects are laid on an ad hoc air vacuum bed, and a thin sheet of plastic is put over them. The film gets air-sprayed over and it’s covered to be suctioned in the vacuum bed. He then takes the now air-sprayed sheets of film onto the canvas as a transfer. This process is repeated, with multiple images layered and transferred onto the canvas. As a friend I got to see each stage of his work process (from the sourcing of materials to the actual making) and it was meaningful to see, each painting containing the history of its own making.”
Installation view of Amy Brener’s work at Hot Mud Arts Fest. Courtesy of JAGprojects.
“In late July, the artist Colby Bird and I are on our way to a farm in Hudson, New York to finish installing his fleet of outdoor sculptures for this giant and rambling group show,” recalls Thomason. “It was curated by Jesse Greenberg on the family farm of Nick Payne. Our arms are literally full of melons to install on Colby’s hand-bent iron staffs to mark a sweet, but fleeting, occasion. Smelling like Backwoods DEET, we pull up to a barn where Amy Brener’s translucent corporeal sculpture is vaulted and draped so high and large that it exists as its very own cathedral. I like to believe this is what was meant to happen when you were told as a young girl to treat your body like a temple. The joy of life covers every inch of every fleck of straw and splashing stream during Hot Mud’s day and night. Pooneh Maghazehe's ceramic heads float in creeks; Nick Payne's sensitive scratches of pastel are placed atop late 19th century wallpaper. 2 a.m. rolls around with fires still roaring, microphones screeching, and I’m left possibly begging the largest question of them all: How did we end up here?”
Trevor Paglen, “A Study of Invisible Images,” at Metro Pictures in New York
“The current status of photography is a question that few photographers bother to address. Paglen not only broached this question but also went on to offer a structural critique of photographic technology as an apparatus. He showed images that were either produced by Artificial Intelligence (AI) programs or that were interpreted by them. Since many of these were dye sublimation prints, we can nominally call them photographs. But if photographs reproduce reality—even if that’s the constructed realities of artists like Jeff Wall or Thomas Demand—these images are of a different order. They too ‘reproduce’ reality but it is a reality that AI software generates from selected data sets. These, in turn, synthesize a ‘worldview,’ so to speak.
“Technically, two AI programs were involved; one produced an image; the other analyzed it. These functioned as a feedback loop. For example, to produce an image of a vampire, the first program creates a composite image. The second reads it and notes that traits like ‘fangs’ are missing. The first then incorporates that information. Nonetheless, the results are still fragmentary and contingent and point to gaps in the artificial cognitive process.
“As machine learning develops, these differences will become increasingly less apparent. What’s most threatening, then, will be the perfect realization of otherwise ‘invisible’ images, because once this is achieved, who will be able to tell the difference?”
Installation view, “Philip Guston: Laughter in the Dark, Drawings from 1971 & 1975,” Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street. © The Estate of Philip Guston. Photo by Genevieve Hanson. Courtesy of Hauser & Wirth.
“2017 was a year when I, like many people, was looking to art with a need sharpened by our ongoing political crisis. A show of rarely exhibited work by Philip Guston was one of the most haunting exhibitions I saw. It opened days before the election and featured a suite of satirical drawings centered on the life and career of Richard Nixon. Guston made ‘Poor Richard’, the first and largest group of work, in a few frenzied months following his highly criticized Marlborough Gallery show in 1970 (and the leaking of the Pentagon Papers). I imagine he was feeling both angry at the world and sorry for himself—the drawings look it. They are brutally hysterical, depicting the arc of Nixon’s life from parochial tot to resolutely confused young man. They culminate in his misadventures as a literal dick head.
“A lot of people have drawn comparisons between Nixon and Trump. The timing of this show made the association inevitable. There is an absurd horror in the drawings that visualizes our current disaster like very little I’ve seen before or since. It was cathartic, but also damning. The works don’t simply mock or criticize. As in his Klan paintings, Guston identifies with the villain. Nixon is shown as victim and perpetrator, child and monster. And he is rendered in ways that are clearly related to the artists’ self portraiture. This show was a challenge to me — or anyone else—who would imagine themselves independent from the worst of their culture.”
Yanique Norman, “Wasting Your Beautiful Mind: Coolidge Antiquitas (2nd Presidential Edition),” at Atlanta Contemporary
“The Atlanta Contemporary has been on a roll, hosting a number of great headliner shows this year. One surprise standout was Norman’s surreal vision of First Lady Grace Coolidge and her art collection. Installed in a closet-size auxiliary project space, electric green walls were lined with amorphous collages of Xerox, watercolor, gouache, and ink. Single photos of Coolidge posing in the Rose Garden or White House were hung low to the ground, and sprouted long strands of overlapping African-American faces, glued together with dizzying repetition. Hydra-Phoenix-goddess beings, they burst upward through the space with a majestic, kudzu-like energy. While referencing African busts and masks, the work felt personal, like an impossibly complicated dream about America’s past and future. It also made me think a lot about the subtext of American decorum, and the experiences of Michelle Obama.”
“The Absent Museum” at WIELS Contemporary Art Centre in Brussels
“This exhibition in Brussels featured Luc Tuymans, Martin Kippenberger, Marlene Dumas, and Ellen Gallagher, to name a few,” says Munroe, whose own work was a stand-out at the Prospect.4 triennial this year. “There were several memorable moments, one being a sculptural installation of ‘Workers’ by Oscar Murillo. I was particularly drawn to this work because of its close correlation and association with the folk tradition of making Guy Fawkes statues in the Bahamas. There, the figures are strategically placed on street corners, and burnt on the night of Guy Fawkes Day, November 5. It was refreshing and thought-provoking to see similar figures within a museum space.”
Katherine Bauer’s Cinematic Death Moon Return: The Forest Phase, Passage for the Datura Dreamer, at Fahrenheit 451 House in Catskill, New York
Katherine Bauer, Cinematic Death Moon Return: The Forest Phase, Passage for the Datura Dreamer, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Microscope Gallery.
Katherine Bauer, Cinematic Death Moon Return: The Forest Phase, Passage for the Datura Dreamer, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Microscope Gallery.
“The viewer peers into an amphitheater-like space, open to the elements, to see psychedelic datura plants reaching up to grab tendrils of 16mm film,” says Thurber (who earlier in the year clued Artsy readers into cartoonists the art world needs to know). “A huge projector reel hangs in a lunar close-up. As time passes in stop-motion frames, snow has piled up on a salvaged theater curtain, and dancers have wandered through this garden of cinematic resurrection. The sculpture is startling– as much for its web of symbols, which link film to environmental plunder and agricultural cycles, as for its mysterious embodiment.” The installation and event—incorporating plants favored by witches, colored lighting, performance elements, and both found and original film footage—is part of a larger cycle of work that Bauer is continuing to develop.
Florine Stettheimer, “Painting Poetry,” at the Jewish Museum in New York
“I went to see this show along with a few lady painters not totally expecting to be knocked out, but it was one of those moments that catch you by surprise. Most of my encounters with Stettheimer’s work until this point were in reproduction. What struck me was her paint handling. It felt so alive and so timeless. My eyes caressed every detail of the surface—the way she sculpted the paint in areas with a knife and then etched into other areas, squiggling a thin line of a plant, or lovingly rendered her name. It was like a beautifully woven tapestry of paint. When I see a person’s paint-handling and I totally relate to it to this degree, I immediately remember why I’ve chosen this crazy path (or why it chose me). I feel the cosmic power that making bestows on us to connect with both the past and the future. It’s pure magic.”