PRINT December 2007



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 2007. Contributions by ten of those artists have been reproduced below. For the rest, see the December issue of Artforum.


Daniel Mendel-Black, “The Paintings Are Alive” (Mandarin Gallery, Los Angeles) The eleven paintings in this show seemed to create a place for the palette of Play-Doh to oppress acrylic and oil into some perilous graphic universe of cynical optimism. Looking is like falling in these paintings; your eyes are asked to trust and mistrust hard and soft edges, cheap, edible color, and idiotic enunciations of “structure.” The paintings then play morbid by reiterating the same activity in black, white, and gray. The artist has also written a response to David Salle’s text “The Paintings Are Dead.” There is a restless energy to Mendel-Black’s writing that is analogous to the deadpan hysteria of his paintings, and I liked the nonfortifying presence of this discourse.

Daniel Mendel-Black, #69, 2006, acrylic and oil on polyflax, 30 1⁄2 x 23 1⁄2".


Ceal Floyer (Swiss Institute, New York) This show, on view toward the end of 2006 (too late to make last year’s “Best of” issue), featured three diverse, precise installations. The most memorable, Double Act, 2006, consists of a large white spotlight fixed on a red theatrical curtain. But, in fact, this is an illusion: Spotlight and curtain alike are a projection on the wall. As spectators come closer, their shadows enter the work, and the viewers’ participation becomes the subject.

Ceal Floyer, Double Act, 2006, photographic gobo, gobo holder, and theater light. Installation view, Swiss Institute, New York, 2007. Photo: Roberto D’Addona.


“Maps and Atlases” (The Abbey Library of St. Gallen, Switzerland) Fantastical imagery of the world in an old cartographic inventory from the eighth to seventeenth centuries, including mappae mundi, manuscripts, and prints. The maps invoke a specific imagination of continents, seas, islands, mountains, towers, fauna, mythology, and history, which are detailed in extraordinary drawings, presenting the intersection of imperialism and mapmaking. And how remarkable to see maps made of the world when it was thought to be flat!


“Robert Gober: Work 1976–2007” (Schaulager, Basel) What gives the sinks their whiteness? Enamel, or sperm? A Winchester rifle, floppy like a penis after orgasm, is draped over a crate of apples. A metal drainage pipe pierces the lifeless body of the Madonna. The rest of humanity has fallen to pieces. Water flows, cleansing but not purifying. The serial killer is watching: He doesn’t kill me this time; he takes me with him.


Shaun El C. Leonardo, “The Whole ’Dam Show” (March Gallery, New York) I’m into hero mythologies, so I was intrigued by Leonardo’s poetic and at times violent exhibition, which somehow maintained an inner fragility. The works, mostly self-portraits, express a subtle hopelessness with each gesture toward an impossible ideal. This show elaborated upon his earlier El Conquistador vs. The Invisible Man performances; moving beyond the image of the wrestler, Leonardo depicted a number of godlike characters in a variety of media, including thoughtful and deftly rendered drawings.


William Bennett, Russell Haswell, and Toshiji Mikawa (IKKI Bar, Kitakyushu, Japan) This brutal sonic affirmation by the vanguard of noise music was nothing short of a revelation. That the performance took place in a small bar with a maximum occupancy of maybe ten people only made the resounding attack all the more monstrous!


“All in the present must be transformed: Matthew Barney and Joseph Beuys” (Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin) An amazing show that illuminated the commonalities between two artists of seemingly different styles and generations. Not merely the best exhibition of 2007 but the best I’ve seen in three years. I hope curators will emulate this approach, rather than recycle the same old themes. Be fresh, have a new point of view.


Isa Genzken, Oil (German Pavilion, Venice Biennale) This installation was devastating and poetic, concisely capturing the beauty and tragedy of the world we live in. That Genzken finds a way to make such huge statements in an abstract, nonliteral way while creating magically beautiful objects is monumental.


Richard Hawkins (Richard Telles Fine Art, Los Angeles) Looking under, above, through, and into the sculptural plane in a forward-thinking, ass-backward way, Hawkins effortlessly conflated everything he had done before while negating our idea of what was to come. Those Hanna-Barbera-like, Septizodium bordellos left me both inspired and unabashedly jealous.

Richard Hawkins, Bordello on rue St. Lazare (detail), 2007, altered dollhouse and table, 74 x 37 x 37". Photo: Fredrik Nilsen.


Emily Carr, “New Perspectives on a Canadian Icon” (The Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto) In these paintings, nature is a seething backdrop, aggressively and lovingly licking up against almost-human totem poles. Anthropology seen through a Post-Impressionist/Cubist prism.


Enrico David (Institute of Contemporary Arts, London) Experiencing David’s show of paintings, sculptures, and installations is like listening to him talk: It’s as if his strings of puns, word associations, and misheard terms were turned into scatological, cruel, and hilarious figures. Cast with mannered courtesans, the exhibition evoked another world—deeply weird yet strikingly familiar, as if from a collective dream. I found it hysterical and beautiful.


In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni—The Situationist International (1957–1972)” (Museum Tinguely, Basel) As commerce continued unperturbed (and fatigue set in) at Art Basel this past summer, a museum across town offered a tonic and iconoclastic alternative. The paintings by Asger Jorn looked wonderful in person, while closed copies of Internationale Situationniste were trapped under glass. Although the installation was hard to love, I think about this show more than any other I saw in 2007.


“Andrea Zittel: Critical Space” (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles) Zittel’s midcareer retrospective—organized by the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and New York’s New Museum, venues to which the show traveled first—presented an overarching if decidedly quirky and often endearing integration of questions of habitation, engineering, and design reminiscent of early-twentieth-century European utopians. One can hardly resist remarking that a male artist with a similarly comprehensive and painstaking practice would have had many museum shows before now, yet this seems to be her first major exhibition at an American museum.


Mathias Poledna, “Crystal Palace” (Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne) This show made my day. As I left the gallery, I said to myself, Yes, thank you, that’s what it’s all about.


Martín Ramírez (American Folk Art Museum, New York) He refused to speak, but using tongue depressors (to draw straight lines) and glue (made of spit and oatmeal), Ramírez made some of the most articulate images of modern times. Torqued landscapes undulate around a religiously infused repertory company of trains, zoomorphic cars, and armed riders on horseback. Ramírez would surely be surprised to find his work a model for much that is produced within the asylum-studios of contemporary MFA programs.


Haegue Yang, Unpacking Storage Piece (Sammlung Haubrok, Berlin) So much stuff, so much art! In 2004 Yang first showed Storage Piece, which was conceived (so the artist claimed) as a solution to her lack of space: The installation featured elements from a number of her unsold earlier works, in boxes, crates, and bubble wrap. When Axel Haubrok purchased Storage Piece, Yang handed over authorship to the collector, who chose to unpack it—thus creating Unpacking Storage Piece. Truncated installation pieces are revealed alongside their packaging; an audio recording plays a performance of fragmented discursive reflections. The codependent life of an artwork is enacted from exhibition to transportation to storage and back again; even the inventory list does double duty as the gallery’s checklist. In this slow practice of everyday poetics, the tension between hidden storage and public display is transformed, and though the secret within has been forever unfolded, the multilayered work is still peeling.


Pierre Klossowski (Museum Ludwig, Cologne) This is how I’ve always wanted to see these pictures—in a dusty light, on walls covered with dark brown fabric, in a space that feels like a musty library. Here it became clear that Klossowski’s pictures are better suited to passionate reading than to detached observation. And what do we read? Tales of a concentrated libido that transforms itself into outrageous forms of reason.

Pierre Klossowski, Les barres parallèles III (The Parallel Bars III), 1975, colored pencil on paper, 79 1⁄2 x 49 5⁄8". © 2007 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.


“Arte como Questão—Anos 70” (Art as Question—The ’70s) (Instituto Tomie Ohtake, São Paulo) Curator Glória Ferreira’s survey of Brazilian art from 1967 to 1981 was thoughtfully curated and very much needed. Alongside well-known works by Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark were pieces by lesser-known peers such as Artur Barrio, Antonio Dias, Lygia Pape, Carlos Zílio, and others. The show reminded us of the importance of artistic resistance during the years of dictatorship.


The Surrealism Galleries (Menil Collection, Houston) and the Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art (Museum of Fine Arts Houston) This fall I was reminded why I do what I do after seeing two inspiring, supersensual, and visionary collections of work in Houston. Two gems were a 1942 drawing on pink paper of a pair of fantastical aquatic bird people by Max Ernst, and Metaesquema, Vermêlho cortando o branco (Red Going Through White), 1958, a red and white painting of irregularly shaped rectangles by Hélio Oiticica.


“Matthew Barney: Drawing Restraint” (Serpentine Gallery, London) Bizarre props, tales of athletic endurance, and esoteric mythologies filled the building in Hyde Park to bursting. Like some nineteenth-century explorer returning from his adventures in exotic lands, the biomythical Barney is living his dream—that of an interdisciplinary systems analyst with an expanded sense of potential for drawing, sculpture, and human identity.


“Richard Prince: Spiritual America” (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York) Richard Prince is a boring fuck and so are all of his boring fuck head friends and stupid shit for brains fans and I’m glad he did this show.


Sean Snyder, Schema (Television) (Kitakyushu Biennial, Japan) This brilliant DVD collage draws your eyes beyond the surface and into the very structure of the image itself. Instead of showing us a nose, Snyder shows us the dots of a nose. You find yourself swimming in the deep blue abstract sea of billions of dots. . . . Snyder takes us back to the center of good art. Goethe said the how is important, but more important is the what; Cézanne flipped it around to say the what is important, but more important is the how!


Isa Genzken, Oil (German Pavilion, Venice Biennale) An overwhelming demonstration of what the concept of “deep texture” might mean if it existed. An uncannily precise and rhythmic arrangement of things (carry-on bags, stuffed owls, Venetian masks, astronaut suits) that transformed the objects into particles of thought. And the installation was fun too!


Richard Hawkins (Richard Telles Fine Art, Los Angeles) Through a window in Bordello on rue St. Lazare, 2007, one could see a miniature reproduction of Whistler’s portrait of Count Montesquieu. Tucked away within this stunning show of model houses, collages, and monoprints, the count serves as an appropriate witness to Hawkins’s discovery of the kinds of grays that never existed before.


Sergej Jensen, “La Chambre de la peinture” (White Cube, London) This exhibition showed a clear awareness of established codes and limits, but it was far faster, riskier, and more elegant than most. It was rock ’n’ roll.


Meramec Caverns (Stanton, M0) Once one of Jesse James’s many hideouts, this cave goes on for more than twenty miles. Visitors are only allowed along the first mile and a quarter, and yet it was still completely terrifying. At the end of the journey, our teenage tour guide jumped up into a hidden alcove, put on a cassette of scratchy folk songs, and played with stage lights for about fifteen minutes. Total blackness with intense colored flashes of stalagmites and stalactites. And we all just stood there in complete silence.


“Robert Gober: Work 1976–2007” (Schaulager, Basel) A true total experience of time and space, in much the same vein as the best exhibition of 2006, “Voyage(s) en utopie, Jean-Luc Godard, 1946–2006,” at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.


Ömer Ali Kazma, “Obstructions” (Biennale de Lyon) Three manual activities occupy three screens. Each shows a video from the series “Obstructions”: on the left, Brain Surgeon; center, Clock Master; right, Studio Ceramist. The patient undergoing surgery is conscious, and so is the spectator—no anesthesia is administered through these images. While watching the drill penetrate first skin, then skull, we are reminded of the fragility of the body and the precariousness of the nervous system processing this same information. The other two actions—fingers carefully manipulating the insides of a clock, hands shaping pottery—further underline unavoidable materialistic truths: Power relationships always cross our bodies; our health and our workforce do not belong to us but to the system in which we live.


Yoko Ono, Imagine Peace Tower (Videy Island, Reykjavík, Iceland) Iceland reminds us of the basic things in life—colors, sunshine, rain, scents, tastes, and sounds. In this way, the Imagine Peace Tower is a very islandy work: A blue column of light impales the sky, evoking those primary elements of experience.


Vojin Bakić (Gallery Nova, Zagreb, Croatia) This was the first solo show in some forty years of modernist sculptor Vojin Bakić (1915–1992), whose abstract monuments to antifascism confronted the dominant understanding of socialist modernism and, for once, really had something to say about aesthetics and politics. His work first made him famous throughout Yugoslavia—then led to his effective erasure. The curatorial team What, How & for Whom (WHW, based in Zagreb) handled the complexity with an amazingly simple but extremely clever display: The gallery space was closed, and visitors were forced to press their faces up against the glass windows to see Bakić’s sculptures and drawings.


Blinky Palermo, “Palermo” (Kunsthalle Düsseldorf and Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen) and André Cadere: “Peinture sans fin” (Painting Without End) (Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Germany) I saw these shows the same weekend, so it’s hard not to think about the artists’ similarities. Both died relatively young; both merged conceptual strategies with an interest in color systems and abstraction; and both seemed skeptical of the institutions that would in the end house their work. One rarely gets to see either artist’s work in the flesh—and it’s precisely the flesh of the objects that got me, their rough, casual, but unaccidental constructions, sexy colors, beaten-up materials (scrap linen, visible glue). Cadere’s Peinture sans fin, 1972, a chunky, segmented pole in red, black, and yellow, was brilliantly placed in the worst corner of the entire museum, next to the fire alarm, a motion detector, and an exit sign. It felt like Cadere might have left it there himself.


Jean-Luc Moulène (Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris) An intelligent combination of media made this exhibition heterogeneous and contemporary. Moulène extends photography into space and makes it diffuse: This is extreme photography.

Jean-Luc Moulène, La nuée (The Cloud), 2006, pencil and felt pen on paper, 22 1⁄16 x 17 5⁄16".


Liu Wei, “The Outcast” (UniversalStudios, Beijing) The emotions of viewers were completely controlled and directed by the large-scale installations and paintings assembled for this show, which acutely expressed an abiding suspicion of power and an awareness of the limits of political action.


“High Times Hard Times: New York Painting 1967–1975” (National Academy Museum, New York) The great thing about this show is that it had really great paintings and really awful paintings together—no connoisseurship. But the assembly of abstract works self-consciously playing out the medium’s “endgame” adumbrated the mind-set bedeviling painting at that time, when artists felt that imagery was really the wrong way to go.


Elmgreen & Dragset with Tim Etchells, Drama Queens (Städtische Bühnen Münster, Germany) The lives and loves of a group of “sculpture superstars”—including Giacometti’s Walking Man and Warhol’s Brillo Box—were captured in a hilarious and mesmerizing live performance during Skulptur Projekte Münster 07 at the perfect location, a theater opened in 1956 for Skulptur Projekte’s inaugural year. Was the overheating of Jeff Koons’s Rabbit (which caused its motor to break down) intentional? We’ll never know. But this was the most aesthetically pleasing argument I’ve witnessed in a long time.


“Manet and the Execution of Maximilian” (Museum of Modern Art, New York) Barely into 2007, I encountered this timely display of an artist’s proto-Conceptual gesture: Repeatedly depicting an almost identical image, Manet reflected on a nation’s imaginary of distant warfare. The exhibition demonstrated that these canvases can still trigger debate, transcending their formal and historical anchors.


Klaus Weber, The Big Giving (The Hayward, London) After Public Fountain LSD Hall, 2003, Weber created another amazing fountain, this time for the Hayward’s “Fountain Series.” The Big Giving, 2006–2007, in which water gushes from various body parts of human figures, brilliantly and humorously references native North American potlatch ceremonies.


Sol LeWitt (Paula Cooper Gallery, New York) The title of this show, “A cube with scribble bands in four directions,” is a literal description of what is one of the last pieces LeWitt conceived before his death this year. The cube in question seamlessly combines wall drawing and sculpture, prompting the viewer to contemplate the shifting space between LeWitt’s two- and three-dimensional work and his contributions to expanding the fields of the media in which he operated.


Franz Josef Glacier (aka Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere) (South Island, New Zealand) Jasper Johns once famously enjoined, “Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.” This formula-based approach to object making seems to have been taken to heart by the Glacier of Franz Josef: Take a deceptively simple molecule (H₂0); subject it to temperature fluctuation, gravity, wind, and friction; repeat on a scale of billions; add pressure and time—and marvel at the encyclopedic vocabulary of form that results.


“Gilbert & George: Major Exhibition” (Tate Modern, London) I have often bypassed in terror the bold, visual attacks of the beaver fur–and-tweed Madams. This time I stopped and got into the hysteria. Shameless and gentle on an industrial scale, from the manic charcoal haze of the early pastoral works on paper to the billboard campaign–like frenzy of the photo grids. Strangely contemplative and intimate, like a really, really loud love poem to each other, everything, and everyone.


“Retrospective ’06–’07” (Tiny Creatures, Los Angeles) For this group show, Paul Gellman contributed thirty small Fimo figures, some posed like pop stars. They were displayed on a shelf, crowded amid a rather busy atmosphere. During the course of the show, Gellman (with Hedi El Kholti) held a screening of Carmelo Bene’s 1972 film Salomè, and he performed a crafts demonstration on “how to make paper roses from coffee filters, and also how to make flowers out of candy.”


Isa Genzken (David Zwirner Gallery, New York; German Pavilion, Venice Biennale) I like the controlled anarchy of Genzken’s work. Fearlessness and perversity came together in the New York exhibition, which combined wheelchairs, strollers, crutches, and umbrellas. In her Venice Oil odyssey (which she originally called Leonardo Incognito), manic attention to detail and tender personalization (such as posters of cats) underwrote her reflections on history and the current plight of humanity. These two installations only reinforce Genzken’s stature as one of the most commanding artists of our time.


“A point in space is a place for an argument” (David Zwirner Gallery, New York) This past summer I was happy to see the tradition of curated group shows at New York galleries continue, and even strengthen and expand. Zwirner’s show included many of my all-time favorite artists (Forrest Bess, Alfred Jensen, Lee Lozano, Joe Overstreet). In No Title (Idea that Cannot Be Drawn, Nov 16, 68), Lozano laid out what could be an artist’s entire life’s work in a few sentences. Many of the works here reflected the unique lives and perceptions of their artists and dealt seriously with the sometimes underground currents and connections of recent art history.


Nathaniel Mellors, The Time Surgeon (Biennale de Lyon) This film installation shakes you. Mellors’s spastic logic gives me stomach cramps, his honest practice an antidote to the incessant appropriation we are suffocating ourselves with. One night Nathaniel said to me, “There’s a difference between putting a Fall album cover on the wall and being the Fall.” I think he’s right.


“Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) If our government is impacting our culture today, it is happening insidiously, as cultural producers are soothed by troughs of money. But this was not the case in Germany in the late ’20s. The Met’s standout exhibition was a psycho(pharmacological) documentary—the last trip of the Weimar Republic, when the breakdown of societal mores seemed like a desperate attempt to escape the impending crackdown by the National Socialists. Max Beckmann’s color never seemed so frantic. Otto Dix’s simple ink sketch of himself as a heavily armed soldier might have been one of the slighter pieces in the show, but an image of an artist carrying a gun shows us how disengaged artists are today. An exception: shortly after “Glitter and Doom,” echoes of the end of empire in paintings by Carroll Dunham.


Terence Koh, The End of My Life as a Rabbit in Love (Deitch Projects, New York); Chicks on Speed (Gartenbaukino, Vienna); and gelitin, The Dig Cunt (Coney Island, New York)
Dear reader,
The year featured two memorable performance pieces, both less than five minutes and less sweet than short. January kicked off with Koh’s performance at Deitch. It happened so fast, I wasn’t sure if it was the end of a life before or the birth of a life to come. White light, white heat, and all gone in a puff of smoke. The other event of the year for me was an inspired improvisation by Chicks on Speed band member Melissa Logan; it took place during the show “Art Rules!,” which I organized with the band and Viennese DJ Christopher Just. Among other events too shocking to mention, Melissa called upon a wary audience member to step up and have his hair shorn, in a classic Samson and Delilah via Warhol mise-en-scène. The young man (perhaps wisely) fled the scene, leaving Melissa to stand alone and quickly switch roles, becoming a self-mutilating Jezebel. Yes, dear reader, it was quite a year. So much so, I fell down a ten-foot hole on the beach in Coney Island this summer and never quite recovered. Now, who could have done that? NAUGHTY BOYS.
Over and out,