PRINT December 2005


The Best Exhibitions of 2005

To take stock of the past year, Artforum contacted an international group of artists to find out which exhibitions were, in their eyes, the very best of 2005.

“Edward Munch by Himself” (Royal Academy of Arts, London) This show gave me butterflies, screwed me up, and made me cry.

John Baldessari, “A Different Kind of Order” (Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna) I rarely go to exhibitions these days. Perhaps I’m too jaded. But the Baldessari retrospective was something else. Focusing on his production from 1962–84, it was notable for its curatorial indifference to the marketplace—so refreshing!—and for the large number of works never shown before.

Aernout Mik, “Vacuum Room” (carlier|gebauer, Berlin/Centre pour l’Image Contemporaine, Saint-Gervais Genève) Yet again Mik conjured a visual scenario that felt utterly familiar (a meeting of apparently powerful political types is interrupted by what looks like a throng of young protesters) only to render it utterly ungraspable, thereby suspending us somewhere between what we think we see and what we think we know, without a beginning or an end to make sense of it all.

Military Historical Museum of the Artillery (St. Petersburg, Russia) The special exhibition on Mikhail Timofeevich Kalashnikov, the designer of the AK-47 automatic rifle, was both thorough and enjoyable. It demonstrated how it is possible to appreciate the aesthetics and creativity of any act, regardless of its purpose or consequences.

The Return of UbuWeb: Henry Flynt interviewed by Kenneth Goldsmith on WFMU, February 26, 2004 ( flynt.html) After moving all its files to a different server over the summer, UbuWeb is back, and better than ever before. I ran into this interview with Flynt while trolling around the Web last August. Flynt speaks for three hours about working with La Monte Young, Pandit Pran Nath, and Tony Conrad interspersed with snippets of music from the Coasters, Bo Diddley, Simon and Garfunkel, Jimmy McGriff, and the Drifters. Sound incohesive? Nope! There’s not a boring moment, and it’s all glued together by Flynt’s own compositions.

“Karen Kilimnik: Paintings and Installations” (Historisches Museum Basel, Haus zum Kirschgarten) The ideal context for Kilimnik’s precise and beautiful interventions, which made the museum come to life. A favorite moment: In one room, classical music started to play when you entered, and after a while, just as you began looking at her small painting of swans on a lake at night illuminated by lightning, a photographic flash would go off and undercut the illusion.

Juliette Blightman, “Marcelle, are you feeling bored with life?” (i-cabin, London) Zen, Warhol, and horticultural caprice. Two three-minute-long films exposing the passing of time and the disintegration of material presence. The locked-off image of a plant in its domestic situation allows the thought to form: “What is overlooked?” And,“What is the object?”

Neo Rauch (David Zwirner, New York) I’m impressed with what seems to me to be a new kind of history painting—it doesn’t owe much to New York painting. Rauch has mastered scale; his pictures are suave and self-assured. They seem less sullen than before. I can’t read the narrative, but it doesn’t get in the way of liking the painting.

Tony Conrad (The Kitchen, New York) Part ethereal, part pummeling, Tony Conrad’s trio of amplified strings left me in a state of mind-numbing bliss. The minimalist performance was followed by some equally abrasive and endearingly maniacal videos with titles like Grading Tips for Teachers, 2001, and Tony’s Oscular Pets, 2003.

“Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & His Circle” (Santa Monica Museum of Art) Imagine it’s the late ’50s and you’re hiking in the foothills of the Sierra Madres. You accidentally get lost in a wooded canyon. Gradually you discover that it is inhabited by dusty, chemically altered beatniks delving into sexual experimentation and new social ideas. It’s a beautiful moment. Their agitation takes physical form as collages, journals, sculptures, and objects. The work of Wallace Berman and friends is sharp, edgy, and more punk than you could ever have imagined.

Roger Fenton (Tate Britain, London) It’s fascinating how these clear little pictures, silent documents from the mid-nineteenth century, reach out into our present—especially the photographs taken from the Kremlin domes. One gets the uncanny feeling of looking out a tiny window, expecting to see the past.

Elizabeth Murray (Museum of Modern Art, New York) Finally seeing these paintings together makes it clear that Murray’s world is in fact an enormous universe. Forget square paintings, voracious color, and distinctions like abstraction and representation. Dis Pair, 1989–90, is the most tender portrait of shoes since Van Gogh’s chukka boots.

“Paul McCarthy: LaLa Land Parody Paradise” (Whitechapel Art Gallery, London; originated at the Haus der Kunst, Munich) This show took my breath away, made me cry, laugh, and feel nauseous. I always thought of McCarthy in terms of video and performance, never realizing what a brilliant sculptor he is.

Max Schumann (Taxter & Spengemann, New York) The Jon Stewart of the art world. Progressive pricing, pinpoint political accuracy, and lots of zombies. Full disclosure: I bought Set Yourself Free (Green Zombie), 2005, for fortyfive dollars and felt like I’d just got Manhattan for a string of glass beads.

Nicole Eisenman (Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin) Since 1993, Eisenman has been making knockout, no-holds-barred exhibitions. In her most recent show, mastering a switch-stance style between expressive figuration and cartoon imagery, Nicole really slips an ice cube up your ass. The painting Little Shaver, 2005, stuck with me all year. It’s a portrait of a man fully lathered and fixin’ to be shaved by a Dubuffetesque woman who is kissing him at the same time as she cuts his throat with a straight razor. Meanwhile, a smaller figure pitched atop his head is pissing in his ear. It’s a great example of Nicole’s versatility.

“Colour After Klein” (Barbican Art Gallery, London) I’m a sucker for intelligent beauty and this show delivered it in bucket loads. I never thought Joseph Beuys and Anri Sala could coexist within the same show. What a delight to revisit early Anish Kapoor and Pipilotti Rist. I walked out of the show singing “I’m not the girl who misses much, I’m not the girl who misses much . . .”

Michael Krebber (Wiener Secession) In Krebber’s work, thought becomes form by reflecting its beginning in its end. His refusal to execute what is already executed reaches perfection and remains as a clear stain in my memory.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, “In Word Only” (Cheim & Read, New York) While the stunning Brooklyn Museum retrospective was oozing crowds around Basquiat’s paintings, “In Word Only” provided a quiet opportunity to study some of his text-based work. The exhibition featured notebooks, scraps of paper, and canvases bearing only his written words. Some of these magical codes were presented in vitrines, which somehow made them that much more riveting.

Celux (Tokyo) Dr. Romanelli and Jose Parlá showed their clothes and bags with unique, graffiti-style lettering printed on them at this private, members-only club created by LVMH. I wanted to know, but at the same time didn’t want to know, the meaning of the words. Placed on the jackets, the arrangement of these mysterious letters became so familiar!

“Carol Bove, Adam McEwen, and Seth Price” (United Artists, Ltd., Marfa, Texas) and “Lesser New York” (Fia Backstrom Productions, New York) The problem with artist-run spaces tends to be that they either cave in and become “real” galleries or remain totally kitchen sink and go unnoticed. These two prove that there are still venues out there that are neither fish nor flesh. Fia Backstrom Production employs drastic display tactics to showcase peripheral works (publications, posters, lectures, records, and so on) that will never rest comfortably as “art;” while United Artists, Ltd. utilizes its remote location like a retreat to provide artists a space where works need not be explained and all absurd concepts are entertained.

“Accumulated Vision: Barry Le Va” (Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia) Seeing Barry Le Va’s retrospective at the ICA made me wish there was a permanent “earth room” somewhere for these works so I could visit them over and over again. Tough, beautiful, and uncompromising in all its forms, the exhibition inspired me no less than when I first encountered the early work many years ago.

“An Evening with Kenneth Anger” (Museum of Modern Art, New York) Kenneth Anger, dressed in red and black, sat in the row behind me as I watched Mouse Heaven, 2004, his latest weird and beautiful film, whose unlikely subject matter is a collection of vintage Mickey Mouse memorabilia. The film was so intensely odd—and magical—that they had to screen it twice. Genius.

Richard Tuttle (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) Whenever you think you have a handle on Tuttle’s work, he flips it over, and it’s even more revealing. Each room in this show was configured like one of his pieces. One of the most beautifully articulated retrospectives I’ve ever seen.

Julian Opie, “Animals, Buildings, Cars, and People” (Public Art Fund, New York) In the many times I have passed City Hall on my way to J&R for ever more electronic “goodies,” I have been continually impressed with different aspects of Opie’s work. At times it seems like cute randomness; at others I believe I see intelligent and relevant connections. Either way it’s always entertaining and worth a pause (especially the two LED sculptures of walking figures atop the Tweed Courthouse steps).

Amir Zaki, “Spring Through Winter” (MAK Center for Art and Architecture, Los Angeles) Zaki’s digitally altered photographs of ubiquitous dystopic icons resonated unforgettably within Rudolph Schindler’s utopian masterwork.

Gelitin, Rabbit (Artesina, Italy) A huge, huggable, 279-foot-long stuffed pink rabbit atop a peak in the Alps—and it’s made of knitted wool!

“Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata: Masters of Animation” (Museum of Modern Art, New York) This retrospective featured thirteen animated films, from 1968 to 2004, including Miyazaki’s two best-known films, Princess Mononoke (1997) and Spirited Away (2001). Mysterious, dark legends saturated with fantastic, superreal nature. Malevolent thunderclaps, rains of paper birds that shred the skin, an empty train moving across mirror-still water.

“The Art of Star Wars” (Expo 2005 Aichi, Japan) I was really influenced by the Star Wars exhibition that toured in Japan about ten years ago. This time was also terrific!

Sarah Sze (Marianne Boesky, New York) Sze continues to challenge with her precise engineering of materials. The complexity and structural integrity of her work never cease to drag me into a delirium of giddy inspection.

Rudolph Stingel (Paula Cooper Gallery, New York) I thought of how I would have liked to be a generation or two older just to have had a chance of rolling around with a young Paula Cooper. Rudolph Stingel always surprises and excites me as few others do.

“La Belgique Visionnaire” (“Visionary Belgian,” Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels) This group show celebrating Belgium’s 175th birthday was the last exhibition curated by Harald Szeemann, mix-and-match curator extraordinaire. Walking into this exhibition, I was struck by the finality of the occasion and wanted to both cry and fucking jump for joy for all the beauty he introduced me to.

Jörg Immendorff (Nationalgalerie and Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin) These two simultaneous exhibitions were powerful, risky, and passionate, as one might expect from an artist with such a big heart. Immendorff is an artist who isn’t afraid to show his hand.

Keren Cytter (Kunsthalle Zürich) Cytter’s videos reference numerous disciplines and styles, from ancient Greek melodrama to contemporary reality TV. Her intricate narrations, often starring friends and relatives, impress with their formal, conceptual, and dramatic nonconformism. In Zürich, Cytter designed a monumental architectural constellation (imagine Cheops meeting Bilbao) to mirror as well as shelter her tragic and humorous epics.

Candice Breitz (Sonnabend, New York) At a moment when the indolent DJ sampling cut-and-paste trope has permeated every aspect of image-making in culture, it’s refreshing to see video work that beats the bastard child of appropriation to a bloody pulp. Breitz’s new video installation cuts through the muck of cultural theory with diamond precision, leaving a genuinely democratic visceral experience.

Charlotte Becket (Taxter & Spengemann, New York) Heaps of garbage breathed ever so slightly, while a waterfall of debris had a hand in its own making. Walking into this show of kinetic sculpture—part Rube Goldberg, part absurdist comedy—was like walking into an event in progress. The Wishing Well, 2004, hurled projectile flotsam at the audience. It was the first time I have been physically hit by a sculpture.

“Herzog & De Meuron: An Exhibition” (Tate Modern, London) The exhibition here becomes form; viewing debris from the process of making architecture while standing in their building; nothing is finished, simply byproducts of thought. Highlights included the duo’s plans for the National Stadium for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

“The Last Picture Show” (Miami Art Central; originated at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN) The final stop for “The Last Picture Show,” Miami, was a perfect venue for this crucial exhibition. Amid the fluidity and complexity of the city, it seemed irrelevant, yet it presented an isolated moment where the work could be seen clearly once more. While it didn’t raise the bar for the exhibition format, the content still floated free—a challenge to this city of multiple images and identities.

“The Armored Horse in Europe, ca. 1480–1620” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) This show offered an unusual representation of the animal, from a time when different ideas were held about its function and value. Here, the horse is made over as a kind of precision instrument, a piece of military technology for extending the power of its user. There’s something uncomfortable about looking at a mask made for an animal.

Andreas Zybach (Schnittraum, Cologne) Andreas Zybach’s Self-reproducing Pedestal, 2005, was based on a sandwich construction: the bottom layer contained red balloons, while the upper layer contained a pneumatic device. The pressure of viewers standing on the wooden platform on top of the two layers caused the air pump to inflate the balloons. The more spectators, the higher the pedestal.

Edward Yang, A Brighter Summer Day (Museum of Modern Art, New York) MoMA presented three of Taiwanese director Edward Yang’s seldom screened major works. A Brighter Summer Day, 1991, never yields to the sentimental. And, although it is just under four hours long, its brutal energy never lags. The lyrics to Elvis Presley’s 1960 hit “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” lend the film its title.

Shirin Neshat (Barbara Gladstone, New York) This moving and disturbing show by Shirin Neshat was situated somewhere between installation, cinema, and performance—a wonderful place to be.

“Embah” (Veni Mangé Restaurant, Port of Spain, Trinidad) If only the eyes could speak. Some beautiful paintings by this Trinidadian painter in his sixties or seventies. Meditation is his key, and to see these paintings is to look through the keyhole of the door to the creative process.

Ei Arakawa, RIOT THE BAR (Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY) A multivalent project incorporating improvisation, participation, disaster, freedom, interruption, destruction, the prospect of life in this century, and irreverence. It was a happening with dances and games, constantly generating ideas and palpable, true feelings. Truly a “grand orgy to awaken the dead”—or at least those who are sleepwalking.

Plimoth Plantation (Plymouth, MA) Although it wasn’t technically an exhibition, the most memorable thing I saw this year was on a weekend visit to Plimoth Plantation, a “re-created” seventeenth-century Pilgrim outpost complete with thatched-roof huts and thoroughly schooled costumed inhabitants speaking in dialect. Since 1973, local Wampanoags have been incorporated into the mise-en-scène, albeit as a satellite encampment just outside the park’s palisades (and despite the tribe’s continuing protests against the park’s presence). Unlike their roleplaying neighbors, the Native Americans refuse to reenact themselves, speak contemporary English, and remain very much in the present. The dual presentations set up a wonderful dissonance that makes this a very memorable exhibition. (I mean tourist attraction.)

Fiona Tan, Correction, 2004 (Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; originated at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago) The subversiveness of this work is hard to overstate. Tan sensitively portrays the least visible and most disenfranchised “members” of our society. Her representations of all those involved—prisoners, guards, administrators, and service workers—demonstrate care and respect that is immediately apparent to the viewer. She has constructed a quiet but profoundly powerful and moving platform to contemplate the prison-industrial complex.

Herwig Weiser, Death Before Disco (Galerie Lisa Ruyter, Vienna) Weiser produces a high-tech, blackhole version of a disco ball—a mass of sophisticated electronics. Thankfully, Weiser’s nausea engine will be coming to the US soon, installed in one of Art Basel Miami’s shipping containers.

Figures on a Field (The Kitchen, New York) Choreography by Dean Moss, inspired by the work of Laylah Ali: violent, flat, and funny—and violent again.

Gordon Hart (Dwight Hackett Projects, Santa Fe, NM) In his first US show in nearly twenty years, Hart’s recent mixed-media paintings are pure color as artifice: atmospheric fire, air, and water hues. They look like bubbling crater pools that have been transferred onto panels.

Robert Smithson (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; originated at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles) Passaic as the eternal city, in New Jersey the crystal land. Robert Smithson transformed ideas and speculations about place and history into artworks. Walking through the exhibition was like watching someone think out loud.