Matthew Higgs

  • Matthew Higgs

    1 JOCHEN LEMPERT (IZU PHOTO MUSEUM, NAGAIZUMI, JAPAN; CURATED BY YOSHIE KUNITA) The Izu Photo Museum, set among the foothills of Mount Fuji, with interior spaces and surrounding gardens designed by the artist Hiroshi Sugimoto, was an apposite and empathetic setting for Lempert’s closely observed images of the natural world. Printed in the darkroom by the artist and installed directly on the gallery’s walls without any form of framing, Lempert’s deceptively modest pictures of birds, insects, plants, and the open sea—some no more than a few inches wide—were, like nature itself, things

  • Matthew Higgs

    1 “DANIEL BUREN: A FRESCO” (BOZAR CENTRE FOR FINE ARTS, BRUSSELS) Part retrospective, part autobiography, and part paean to Buren’s peers and mentors, “A Fresco” ranks among the best exhibitions I have ever seen. In the exquisite Victor Horta–designed galleries, the artist’s signature stripes functioned as a kind of curatorial template for works by Constantin Brancusi, Hanne Darboven, and some hundred others, each choreographed by Buren with an extraordinary site-specific sensitivity and wit.

    2 JACK DRUMMER (BURCHFIELD PENNEY ART CENTER, BUFFALO, NY; CURATED BY SCOTT PROPEACK) This survey of a

  • Matthew Higgs

    1 JAMES “SON FORD” THOMAS (80WSE GALLERY, NEW YORK; CURATED BY JONATHAN BERGER, MARY BETH BROWN, AND JESSICA IANNUZZI GARCIA) A pioneer of the Delta blues and a former gravedigger, Thomas (1926–1993) was also a visionary self-taught sculptor whose principal material was the “gumbo” of his native Mississippi. He fashioned this local clay into portrait busts, often using human hair (particularly in many less-than-flattering takes on George Washington), human skulls kitted out with dentures, and a menagerie of small birds and animals. This powerful exhibition, the largest and most thorough survey

  • Matthew Higgs

    1 MAMMAN SANI, TAARITT (Sahel Sounds) This future-thinking, synth-heavy Saharan folk album was recorded in Niger and France in the late 1980s but was only released this year. It’s hard for me to remember what life was like without Sani’s exquisite music in it; Taaritt is possibly the greatest record ever made.

    2 SLEAFORD MODS, DIVIDE AND EXIT (Harbinger Sound) On the verge of becoming a household name in their native UK, the Sleaford Mods (Andrew Fearn and Jason Williamson) are essential listening for fans of early Schoolly D, the Stooges, and Mancunian poet laureates John Cooper Clarke and

  • Matthew Higgs

    1 LAURA OWENS (356 S. MISSION RD., LOS ANGELES) Owens’s first major hometown exhibition in almost a decade felt like a momentous event. Eschewing the white cube, she elected to present her own work on her own terms, situating it alongside an outpost of Wendy Yao’s savvy Ooga Booga store in a voluminous Boyle Heights warehouse gently renovated in partnership with her longtime New York dealer, Gavin Brown. On view for six months, the suite of twelve XXL paintings, made in that very space, was aesthetically promiscuous and wildly ambitious, and provided conclusive proof—not that it was

  • Artforum, January 1983

    In this new column, artists, critics, and curators single out past issues from Artforum’s archives and explore their resonance, then and now.

    I RECENTLY CAME ACROSS a copy of the January 1983 issue of Artforum at New York’s Twenty-Fifth Street flea market. I didn’t immediately recognize the image on the cover, an oblique view of Barry Le Va’s 1982 installation During (Between Imagination and Actuality), depicting a sequence of stainless-steel balls resting on a wooden armature, but a number of the articles provoked a distinct sense of déjà vu: poet Carter Ratcliff’s “David Bowie’s Survival,” a

  • Mark Leckey

    In the five years since he won the Turner Prize, British artist Mark Leckey has taken increasingly strange and ever more productive turns. Moving away from the subcultural narratives of his (rightly) celebrated work of the early 2000s, Leckey’s more recent videos, installations, and performative lectures have adopted a freewheeling, associative approach that conjures up connections between radically distinct cultural and scientific phenomena. The Hammer will now mount Leckey’s largest institutional exhibition in the United States to date, with roughly fifteen new works,

  • Matthew Higgs

    1 “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945–1980” (various venues) My 2011 ended with a weeklong road trip across Southern California, trying to take in as many as possible of the sixty-plus exhibitions in “Pacific Standard Time,” arguably the most ambitious curatorial initiative of the twenty-first century. Highlights, too many to list here, included the second part of “It Happened at Pomona: Art at the Edge of Los Angeles 1969–1973,” a succinct account of Helene Winer’s prescient two-year tenure as director of the Pomona College Museum of Art, and “Common Ground: Ceramics in Southern California

  • Matthew Higgs

    1 “Andy Warhol: Shadows” (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; curated by Yasmil Raymond) The 102 canvases that make up Shadows, 1978–79, had never been shown together in their entirety before this exhibition. Curated by Dia’s Yasmil Raymond and coordinated at the Hirshhorn by Evelyn Hankins, the show—with its inspired staging of Warhol’s late masterpiece as a near-continuous loop wrapping around the museum’s notoriously challenging circular space—was a revelation, and one of the most extraordinary presentations of a single artwork I have ever seen.

    Organized by Dia

  • Matthew Higgs

    1 Stuart Sherman (80WSE, New York, and Participant Inc., New York) At 80WSE, video recordings of Sherman’s “spectacles”—as he called his idiosyncratic tabletop performances—were framed alongside his lesser-known theatrical productions, sculptural proposals, drawings, and poetry. Meanwhile, a group show at Participant that closed toward the end of 2009 (just making the chronological cut for this list) explored his legacy through a constellation of contemporary artists and performers—including Carol Bove, Matthew Brannon, and Vaginal Davis—who curator Jonathan Berger believes

  • Matthew Higgs

    MATTHEW HIGGS

    1 Don Bachardy (Cheim & Reid, New York) Bachardy’s wrenching, nearly life-size drawings of Christopher Isherwood, his partner for more than thirty years, were made shortly before the celebrated writer succumbed to cancer in 1986. Simultaneously portraits of life and reflections on the imminence of death, Bachardy’s rarely seen and profoundly observed images of the ailing Isherwood are, to my mind, among the most poignant and emotionally complex works of the twentieth century.

    2 James Castle (Philadelphia Museum of Art) Organized by Ann Percy, this exhilarating retrospective provided

  • Matthew Higgs

    MATTHEW HIGGS

    1 Klara Liden, Elda för kråkorna (Heating the Crows) (Reena Spaulings Fine Art, New York) At Reena Spaulings’s Lower East Side space, the Berlin-based Swedish artist Liden constructed a temporary waiting room–cum-antechamber that prevented access to the unseen gallery space beyond it. Upon entering the claustrophobic structure, the viewer was unaware that Liden had left the gallery’s street-facing windows wide open, encouraging the neighborhood’s pigeons to take up residence in the walled-off space where birdseed had been strategically placed. Inside Liden’s melancholic lair, one

  • Matthew Higgs

    MATTHEW HIGGS

    1 Robert Rauschenberg, “Cardboards and Related Pieces” (Menil Collection, Houston) This wasn’t just one of the best shows I saw this year—it was one of the best shows I have ever seen. Exquisitely installed in the Menil Collection’s understated spaces, Rauschenberg’s reconfigured cartons were produced mostly in 1971 (the related “Venetians” and “Early Egyptians” series, also represented here, followed between 1972 and 1974). These deceptively “minor,” rarely seen works offered further evidence, if any was required, of Rauschenberg’s maverick imagination. Think of a point

  • Mark Wallinger

    Bringing together some fifteen works of film, video, photography, sculpture, and installation from 1996 to the present, curator Janneke de Vries will trace Wallinger’s idiosyncratic exploration into both the politics and the poetics of British life as the UK comes to terms with its social realities.

    Despite representing Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2001 and having been nominated twice for the Turner Prize—in 1995 and this year—Mark Wallinger remains a somewhat mercurial figure in British art. As this retrospective should reveal, Wallinger has never settled comfortably into the mold of a sensationalist Young British Artist—a facile rubric to which he does not himself subscribe. Using occasionally blunt aesthetic strategies with often subtle—even elusive—intent, Wallinger has to the contrary developed a truly complex oeuvre that actively resists categorization.

  • Panic Attack! Art in the Punk Years

    Following the stage-setting exhibition “The Secret Public: The Last Days of the British Underground 1978–1988,” organized by the Kunstverein Munich last year, London’s Barbican Art Gallery weighs in with “Panic Attack!,” a consideration of tensions—both real and imagined—that existed between punk and the more rarefied world of contemporary art. Whereas the Munich show focused mainly on London-centric activities, “Panic Attack!”—featuring works from the mid-’70s to the mid-’80s—casts its net wider, to include cultural collisions in American art scenes

  • Matthew Higgs

    FAR FROM THE DEAFENING BUZZ that continues to emanate from the auction houses, and even further from the glossy pages of Vanity Fair, whose “art issue” hit newsstands in November, one of the most intriguing—and least commented on—narratives in the New York art world continued to unfold this year. The underreported story I refer to revolves around the unprecedented number of personnel changes that have taken place, or are about to take place, at the city’s better-established, and indeed historical, “not-for-profits” (a literal term that handily serves as both a mission statement and a

  • Matthew Higgs

    1 “ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG: HOARFROSTS” (GUILD HALL, EAST HAMPTON, NY) The saddest summer show ever? Given that institutions tend to roll out holiday favorites or crowd pleasers for the summer season, the Guild Hall’s decision to exhibit Rauschenberg’s little known, rarely seen, and profoundly melancholic “Hoarfrost” series was a bold gesture. Hanging like “ghosts” in the air-conditioned chill of the museum’s elegant rooms, the 1974–75 “Hoarfrosts”—unstretched fabric “paintings” constructed from layers of transparent, translucent, and opaque materials—were so aesthetically subdued that

  • OPENINGS: KOTA EZAWA

    Working through the past in order to illuminate the present, the San Francisco–based artist Kota Ezawa has described his practice as a form of “video archaeology.” His signature style—a digital approximation of paper-cutout animation—is evocative of the deliberately awkward graphic mannerisms of South Park and lends both a physical and psychological flatness to his works that mirrors what Ezawa has described as the “banality” or “hollowed-out” nature of his iconic yet overexposed source material (typically, archival news footage or the movies).

    Raised in Mössingen, Germany, Ezawa studied for four

  • Matthew Higgs

    MATTHEW HIGGS

    1 Roger Ballen (Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley, CA) Prior to seeing this eye-opening survey (organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego), I’d given almost no thought to Ballen’s creepy, surreal-ish photographs. Since seeing it I’ve thought of little else. There’s a lot to be wary of (and possibly even dislike) in Ballen’s work: e.g., the apparent “manipulation” of his seemingly disenfranchised South African subjects (collaborators?) or the way he makes poverty appear somehow theatrical, poetic even. Yet Ballen is such a profoundly strange artist that I’m willing to forgive

  • Peter Doig

    For much of the past decade, the paintings and subject matter of Edinburgh-born artist Peter Doig appeared at odds with the art world’s prevailing taste. Taking their (painterly) cues from such unfashionable and unlikely precedents as Edward Hopper, David Milne, Edvard Munch, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Doig’s melancholic works—invariably landscapes—were anathema to the visceral theatrics and conceptual endgames of much ’90s art. However, Doig’s persistent engagement with painting’s potential to describe or imagine pictorial realms outside of, or just beyond, those of our rational world