PRINT December 2010

Okwui Enwezor

1 Ernest Cole (Johannesburg Art Gallery; curated by Gunilla Knape) Ever since this artist changed his last name from Kole to Cole to pass as a colored (rather than black) man, thus gaining permission to travel around his native South Africa, his life and work have seemed like a legend. Cole went into exile in 1966, landing in New York, where a year later he published House of Bondage, his seminal book of photographs about life under apartheid, with a text by the young Joseph Lelyveld. His negatives were tragically lost in the ’70s, but this rousing retrospective of vintage prints (recently unearthed and donated to the Hasselblad Foundation in Göteborg, Sweden) confirmed all claims made for his greatness. The book only hints at how good his images really are, making the exhibition a photographic event of historic proportions.

2 Chris Ofili (Tate Britain, London; curated by Judith Nesbitt) Ofili entered into the popular imagination in the 1990s through a caricature of the Young British Artists as enfants terribles consumed with pranks and gimmicks. The controversy in New York at the end of that decade over the artist’s The Holy Virgin Mary, 1996, did him no favors. This survey of twenty years of Ofili’s career went a long way toward establishing him as one of the most committed and innovative artists of his generation. One great painting after another lined the walls, from the totemic, glitter-encrusted, shimmering works of the ’90s to the tour de force The Upper Room, 1999–2002, and finally to the recent canvases, painted in Trinidad, which bring to mind Gauguin in Tahiti.

3 Tino Sehgal (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; curated by Nancy Spector) Amid all the performance-oriented work in New York this year, Sehgal’s show was a masterstroke of beguilement and detachment. This Progress, 2006, took the visitor on a journey that began at the bottom of the museum’s winding ramp with a young person posing the question “What is progress?” The wary participant was led like a sheep to a representative of the next generation—and on the relay went, until one reached the very top. The point of this exercise remained mystifying, but it was the experience—not its philosophical opacity—that made it rewarding.

4 Henri Cartier-Bresson (Museum of Modern Art, New York; curated by Peter Galassi) MoMA’s bazaarlike atmosphere was strangely appropriate for this exhibition, in which Cartier-Bresson’s photographs gained vitality both from one another and from the crowds in the museum. To follow the snaking line of visitors past the pictures lined cheek by jowl was to follow a particular historical parcours that Cartier-Bresson brought into sharp focus: The exuberance of his photographs presents us with a thinker in images, who bore witness to historical change without sensationalism.

5 Rabih Mroué, The Inhabitants of Images (Berlin Documentary Forum, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin) Mroué is a sort of pied piper for the Beirut art scene. Alternately theatrical and discursive, monologic and dialogic, his performances often emphasize the absurd, a common predicament of everyday life in post-civil-war Lebanon. The 2009 monologue he brought to Berlin this past summer subjects posters of the supposedly final portraits of Hezbollah’s martyrs to a hilarious and withering deconstruction. At once thoughtful and incisive, Mroué’s performance confirmed the necessity of thinking critically about images.

6 El Anatsui (Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto; curated by Lisa M. Binder) Anatsui currently has two retrospectives, one in Japan and the other in Canada. The Toronto exhibition represents the first show of its kind for this influential sculptor, whose work is increasingly admired for its recalcitrant forms and formal majesty. Every major theme in his nearly four-decade-long career has been brought into this stimulating exhibition. (One hopes the show will look still better when it inaugurates the new building of the Museum for African Art in New York this coming spring than it does in Daniel Libeskind’s silly spinning cubes, where it now has the misfortune of being installed.)

Organized by the Museum for African Art, New York.

7 The vuvuzela (2010 World Cup, Johannesburg) From the triumph that was the World Cup in South Africa, one would not have known that before the lights were turned on in stadiums across the country, the naysayers were out in force with gloomy forecasts of mayhem in the heart of darkness. Thank goodness the Afro-pessimists were drowned out by the jubilant delirium of the football-mad crowds who transformed the event into a vuvuzela-blaring carnival. By the time the Spaniards eliminated the rough-playing Dutch, the vuvuzela had become a byword for deafening noise production.

8 Marina Abramović, Joan Jonas, and William Kentridge (Museum of Modern Art, New York) These three exhibitions were as different from one another as the artists are in their critical practices. Whereas Abramović’s and Kentridge’s shows—the former organized by Klaus Biesenbach, the latter initiated by Mark Rosenthal of the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida, and greatly expanded at MoMA—were grand theatrical statements, Jonas’s, which was curated by Barbara London, focused on the artist’s intensely personal and rigorous work from the 1970s. Each of these well-executed exhibitions—significant steps in the history of MoMA’s presentation of media that are not painting or sculpture—made visiting the museum over the course of two successive weekends this past summer a thrilling adventure.

9 “elles@centrepompidou” (Centre Pompidou, Paris; curated by Camille Morineau) It remains mystifying why the title of this informative, beautifully installed, and altogether engaging exhibition should evoke a women’s fashion magazine rather than being grounded in the challenging exercises in subversion undertaken in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries by the female artists in the show. Regardless, the exhibition—which is made up exclusively of works by women in the Pompidou’s collection—offers yet another occasion for the reappraisal of the importance of the feminine, not just feminism.

10 FT Weekend Weekend newspapers often evoke the sense one gets of hospitals on weekends: no doctor in the house. But for me, the Financial Times weekend supplement on art and culture is a Saturday delight of tautly crafted book reviews, fashion commentary, and design, architecture, and art criticism. There is also the entertaining “Lunch with the FT” column (I’m always interested in what people pick from the menu) and the consumerist magazine How to Spend It, which showcases the gaudy and the sublime.

Okwui Enwezor is a curator, writer, and critic. He is artistic director of Meeting Points 6, a festival of contemporary art, film, performance, and theater, which opens in April 2011 in eight cities in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. He was also recently appointed head curator of the 2012 edition of the Paris-based triennial “La Force de l’art.” At the International Center of Photography in New York, where he is an adjunct curator, Enwezor is organizing “The Rise and Fall of Apartheid,” opening in autumn 2012.