PRINT December 2010

Lynne Cooke

1 Rosemarie Trockel (Kunsthalle Zürich; curated by Beatrix Ruf) Light-fingered and light-footed, Trockel’s work has long evaded easy categorization. Resisting surveys that might freeze-frame her practice, the German artist addresses retrospective exhibitions in the most glancing way. Twice in this great show, she inserted a large vitrine through a wall that divided adjoining galleries: One exhibition case contained a medley of early works with a feminist valence; the second was more anthropological in orientation. Elsewhere, among the recent works, were several majestic knit pieces that deftly contested the notion that the monochrome is a moribund art-historical category.

2 Rodney Graham (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona; curated by Friedrich Meschede) A pinnacle in a year that witnessed a number of impressive midcareer retrospectives, including “Francis Alÿs” at Tate Modern, Graham’s subtle show at MACBA not only traced a specific thread through his maverick practice but revealed why he is held in such high regard among artists of diverse persuasions. The quintessential artist’s artist, Graham has rarely benefited from such empathetic attention to the installation of his work as in Barcelona, where full advantage was taken of the quirkiness of these otherwise problematic galleries.

3 Gerard Byrne (Lismore Castle Arts, Waterford, Ireland; curated by Mike Fitzpatrick) A cynosure possessed of uncommon intelligence and energy, Byrne focused this impressive show on a tightly interwoven body of new works. Four of the five video projections, collectively titled A Thing Is a Hole in a Thing It Is Not, 2010, center on issues relating to Minimalist artworks, modernist theory, and institutional critique. The show’s standout was a deconstructionist reworking of the famous radio interview between Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Frank Stella, and Bruce Glaser that was broadcast over public networks in New York in 1964.

4 Moyra Davey (Kunsthalle Basel; curated by Adam Szymczyk) Davey, like Trockel, tends toward the understated and the disarmingly low-key. If the act of observation in all its manifold complexity is one of Davey’s primary preoccupations, so too are the means by which we attempt to order, categorize, classify, and hence construct the world around us. This resonant show proposed that the means and mechanisms we invent to this end often tell us more than do the ostensible subjects of our regard.

5 Madeleine Vionnet (Musée de la Mode et du Textile, Paris; curated by Pamela Golbin) This canonical retrospective of one of the twentieth century’s greatest couturieres drew on the extensive archive of original designs that Vionnet donated to the French state in 1952, thirteen years after her retirement. Thorough documentation was coupled with a brilliant installation by Andrée Putman that highlighted key pieces in which Vionnet’s radical and timeless modes of draping were seen to full effect. Due consideration was also given to the couturiere’s pioneering social vision and inspired patronage of her counterparts in related fields—from Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand to Jean-Michel Frank.

6 “Kingdom of Ife: Sculptures from West Africa” (British Museum, London; curated by Enid Schildkrout) Not often is a whole arena of significant creative activity brought to our attention as if for the first time. Such was the case with this revelatory show, drawn almost exclusively from collections in Nigeria. The diverse work from the ancient city-state of the Yoruba people is among the most technically sophisticated sculpture in existence. Many of the most unforgettable objects were idealized portrait heads in terra-cotta, consummate evocations of worldly and spiritual power.

Organized by the Museum for African Art, New York, and the Fundación Marcelino Botín, Santander, Spain, in collaboration with the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria.

7 Rachel Harrison (Hessel Museum of Art and CCS Galleries at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York; curated by Tom Eccles in collaboration with the artist) Harrison, like Graham, transformed an unprepossessing set of galleries into a remarkably challenging ensemble. Re-creating seminal solo shows from earlier in her career, “Consider the Lobster” retained the provocative open-endedness that has often been a hallmark of those exhibitions, nevertheless disclosing an abiding set of preoccupations. Savvy, smart, and inventive, Harrison’s work is fueled by a razor-sharp visual intelligence put in the service of audacious display strategies.

8 Rosa Barba, “Is It a Two-Dimensional Analogy or a Metaphor?” (Centre Internationale d’Art et du Paysage de l’île de Vassivière, Limousin, France; curated by Chiara Parisi and Andrea Viliani) Barba’s installations frequently involve dismembering film into its constituent components: sound, light, and celluloid. Rarely has she so seamlessly wedded her work to its site, in this case Aldo Rossi’s architectural gem located in a remote part of rural France. A giant beam installed in the building’s freestanding turret turned it into a lighthouse, while a second beam, lodged in the museum proper, transformed its cavernous body into a giant camera. Each night, as the camera-projector illuminated the adjacent lake, whose surface erupted erratically in response to one of Barba’s submerged sound pieces, it seemed to release fantasies entombed within the very fabric of this visionary structure. The location became a protagonist.

9 Mateo Maté, Viajo para conocer mi geografía (I Travel to Learn My Geography) (Matadero gallery, Madrid) Maté’s sprawling installation, which appeared to comprise the contents of his studio and apartment, engulfed the cavernous raw exhibition space in Matadero, a former abattoir. Despite its immediate charm, his makeshift cityscape might have appeared a little hackneyed had it not been for the emotional vertigo triggered by the tiny itinerant vehicle that circulated relentlessly, armed with a small camera whose images were projected in grainy black and white onto a large screen suspended overhead. Offering an alternate vantage point from that of the spectator, the toy car conjured uneasy recollections of childhood games cast in a disturbingly dark register.

10 “Screening Real: Conner Lockhart Warhol” and “Warhol Wool Newman: Painting Real” (Kunsthaus Graz, Austria; curated by Peter Pakesch) Challenging group shows that stimulate fresh insights or compelling revisions of familiar material are increasingly rare. Peter Pakesch’s twinned exhibitions each offered a provocative triangulation of works that served above all to illuminate a younger artist’s practice—more so in the case of Sharon Lockhart, where an unlikely parenting spawned progeny of a singular kind. By contrast, Christopher Wool’s strategic drawing together of abstract and representational idioms, and of handcrafted and mechanically reproduced legacies, has yielded such an impressively sustained body of work over the past three decades that a show of this kind, while improbable, seems long overdue.

Lynne Cooke, chief curator and deputy director of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, is currently preparing a touring retrospective of the work of James Castle, slated to open in May 2011.