PRINT December 2010

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 have been touched by Sherman’s genius. The ongoing rehabilitation of the late Sherman’s wayward art rightly continues apace.

2 Al Taylor (David Zwirner, New York) Al Taylor (1948–1999) remains something of a misfit in the history of postwar American art. His mid-’80s shift from painting to a hybrid form of drawing and sculpture liberated him: Giving free rein to his sardonic humor and intuitive knack for manipulating scavenged materials, he began what amounted to a joyous reanimation of post-Minimalism. The works at Zwirner were produced not long before the artist’s death, but they look—and, more important, feel—as if they were made yesterday.

3 “Room Divider” (Wilkinson Gallery, London) Curated by Roxy Music biographer Michael Bracewell, “Room Divider” was structured, literally, around one of Ettore Sottsass’s “Carlton” bookcases. Bracewell sought to instigate a collision of divergent idioms, from the Bauhaus to punk to Memphis and beyond. To do so, he marshaled a genuinely eclectic band of coconspirators, including Richard Hamilton, Gareth Jones, Linder, Simon Martin, the Pet Shop Boys, and Xanti Schawinsky, establishing an art-historically freewheeling and often dandyish elucidation of modernity’s past, present, and possible futures.

4 Trisha Donnelly (Casey Kaplan, New York) Given Donnelly’s negation of a signature style or medium, her recent works need not be taken as evidence of a neo-formalist turn; yet it was still something of a shock to walk into Casey Kaplan and find four almost conventional abstract marble sculptures. In concert with a found kidney-shaped wooden desk, a single photographic image (of a body of water), and an ambient sound piece, they created a subtly theatrical, strangely seductive mise-en-scène.

5 Jiro Takamatsu (McCaffrey Fine Art at the Independent art fair, New York) Over the years, I’ve been introduced to the work of many great artists at art fairs. A case in point is Jiro Takamatsu’s 1972–73 “Photograph of Photograph” series of black-and-white images, which McCaffrey Fine Art presented at the inaugural Independent art fair. Takamatsu’s subjects are themselves photographs, taken from family albums and then staged in seemingly offhand settings and shot with deadpan aplomb. His complex images resonate not only with the Photoconceptualism of the same era but also with later photo-appropriation strategies, as well as with more recent photographic practices such as Leslie Hewitt’s.

6 Justin Spring, Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) Like Woody Allen’s Zelig, Steward had walk-on parts in the lives of numerous notables: Rudolph Valentino, Lord Alfred Douglas, Gertrude Stein, Dr. Alfred Kinsey, Kenneth Anger. But in this beautifully written, expertly paced biography, Spring focuses on Steward’s own claims to notoriety. The detours in Steward’s professional and personal life—only hinted at in the book’s subtitle—are as unexpected as they are remarkable, all the more so given the censorious times he lived through.

7 Luke Fowler and Peter Hutton (Hôtel du Cloître, Arles, France; curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Beatrix Ruf) Installed in adjacent guest rooms of an otherwise empty hotel, this two-person exhibition (part of the annual photo festival Les Rencontres d’Arles) felt like an intimate conversation. Glasgow-based Fowler (b. 1978) invited New York–based Hutton (b. 1944) to present his films in parallel to Fowler’s own. The result was an immersive experience, which brought together Fowler’s loosely biographical works and Hutton’s deceptively modest meditations on the everyday—e.g., a film of a flooded street observed from an apartment window. Rather than placing undue emphasis on what these artists have in common (thus deemphasizing the uniqueness of each), the idiosyncratic setting encouraged instead a focus on the spaces between their respective motivations.

8 Charles Burchfield (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; curated by Robert Gober) Burchfield’s paintings are radiant with what he called “the healthy glamour of everyday life.” Often hallucinatory, his works arguably don’t benefit from being seen in such dense profusion. However, as I took in this revelatory survey, I for one was happy to be overwhelmed by his visionary impulses.

Co-organized by the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY.

9 New York’s nonprofit visual-arts community Writing in these pages four years ago, I identified a renewed sense of ambition in New York’s independent, not-for-profit, and artist-run galleries and projects. Now, even in the depths of the worst recession in generations, these initiatives continue to thrive and make vital contributions. Anthology Film Archives, Cleopatra’s, La MaMa La Galleria, Light Industry, 179 Canal, Participant Inc., and Primary Information, among dozens of others, reinforce the persistent need for such alternatives in good times and bad.

10 Vincent Fecteau (greengrassi, London) Relentlessly inventive, the San Francisco–based Fecteau has quietly emerged as one of the most pervasively influential artists working around both the psychological potential and the formal languages of sculpture. At greengrassi, in what felt like a career-defining moment, Fecteau abandoned the pedestals that had thus far supported his unapologetically handcrafted sculptures, and instead suspended the works, like surreal trophies, from the gallery walls.

Matthew Higgs is the director of White Columns, New York, and a regular contributor to Artforum. His exhibition “At Home/Not at Home: Works from the Collection of Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg” is on view at the Hessel Museum of Art and CCS Galleries at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, until December 19.