PRINT December 2011

Matthew Higgs

Andy Warhol, Shadows, 1978–79, silk-screened and handpainted acrylic on canvas. Installation view, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, 2011. Photo: Cathy Carver.

1 “Andy Warhol: Shadows” (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; curated by Yasmil Raymond) The 102 canvases that make up Shadows, 1978–79, had never been shown together in their entirety before this exhibition. Curated by Dia’s Yasmil Raymond and coordinated at the Hirshhorn by Evelyn Hankins, the show—with its inspired staging of Warhol’s late masterpiece as a near-continuous loop wrapping around the museum’s notoriously challenging circular space—was a revelation, and one of the most extraordinary presentations of a single artwork I have ever seen.

Organized by Dia Art Foundation.

View of “The Hugo Boss Prize 2010: Hans-Peter Feldmann,” 2011, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Photo: David Heald.

2 Hans-Peter Feldmann (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; curated by Katherine Brinson) When, as winner of the 2010 Hugo Boss Prize, Feldmann received a slot on the Guggenheim’s 2011 exhibition schedule along with a $100,000 honorarium, he elected to combine the two parts of the award, displaying his money in lieu of conventional artworks. One hundred thousand used one-dollar bills completely covered the gallery walls in neat, overlapping rows. What could have come across as an overly literal, even pedantic gesture turned out to be an unexpectedly melancholic and aesthetically seductive experience.

Frances Stark, My Best Thing, 2011, color video, 100 minutes. Installation view, Arsenale, Venice. From the 54th Venice Biennale. Photo: Francesco Galli.

3 Frances Stark, My Best Thing Stark’s peculiar feature-length animated video was one of the few bona fide hits in an otherwise subdued Venice Biennale. Starring low-tech, fig leaf–clad avatars, one of which represents the artist, the film reenacts Stark’s respective video chat room trysts with two anonymous men. The resultant vignettes—private conversations between strangers made uncomfortably public—are by turns embarrassing, awkward, laugh-out-loud funny, and deeply affecting.

Christian Marclay, The Clock, 2010, still from a color video, 24 hours.

4 Christian Marclay, The Clock Last fall at London’s White Cube gallery, I watched part of Marclay’s twenty-four- hour video with a gallery-owning friend, who declared that the hour we had spent semihypnotized by the work was the longest time he’d “ever spent in someone else’s gallery.” Subsequent viewings in New York and Venice suggest that Marclay’s exquisitely edited montage of found film and television clips may well prove the first universally popular artwork of the twenty-first century.

Marion Adnams, Three Stones, 1968, oil on canvas, 29 1/2 x 41 3/8".

5 “Three Stones in the City of Ladies” (Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery, UK; curated by Elisa Kay) This idiosyncratic and quietly ambitious show was structured around a small group of paintings by little-known British Surrealist Marion Adnams. As counterpoints to Adnams’s enigmatic imagery, works by Annette Kelm, Lee Miller, Eileen Quinlan, and Lucy Skaer explored, in subtly different ways, repetition as a form of abstraction.

Merlin James, The Dunes, 2011, acrylic and hair on canvas, 22 1/2 x 28 1/4".

6 Merlin James (Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York) Like his near contemporaries Peter Doig and Luc Tuymans, James takes painting’s multiple and overlapping histories partly as his subject matter and partly as a point of departure. The paintings are stylistically promiscuous—it is hard to describe or even imagine a “typical James.” Yet seen together they not only make perfect sense but also articulate something of the infinite freedom and the stubborn vitality of the medium.

Bjarne Melgaard with Omar Harvey, Big Fat Black Cock Inc., and Richie Rent, Untitled, 2011, mixed media. Installation view, Maccarone gallery window, New York. Photo: Jeffrey Sturges.

7 Bjarne Melgaard et al., “Baton Sinister” (Palazzo Contarini Corfù, Venice) and “After Shelley DuvaLl ’72 (Frogs On The High Line)” (Maccarone, New York; curated by Bjarne Melgaard) “Baton Sinister” emerged from Melgaard’s workshop “Beyond Death: Viral Discontents and Contemporary Notions About AIDS,” a project commissioned by the Office for Contemporary Art Norway as part of Norway’s representation in this past summer’s Venice Biennale. The show included works by Melgaard and his students, all orbiting around a filmed conversation between cultural theorist Leo Bersani and the artist. At Maccarone, in an exhibition that contained more ideas, provocations, and detours than any in recent memory, Melgaard installed works by a profoundly eclectic cast including Michael Alig, William N. Copley, Richard Kern, Marlon Mullen, and Martin Wong alongside his own works and collaborations. Both exhibitions served as powerful exemplars of what Melgaard identified in the Maccarone press release as “artistic practice where the idea of curator, artist, writer, critic, or editor become new terminologies or even start to obliterate into new lines or modes of expression.”

Tom Fairs, untitled, 2000, pencil on paper, 8 3/4 x 6".

8 Tom Fairs (KS Art, New York) Modest might be too strong a word to describe British artist Tom Fairs’s intimately observed drawings of North London and its environs. Fairs (1925–2007) is largely unknown, so this exhibition at Kerry Schuss’s TriBeCa gallery, itself one of the New York art world’s better-kept secrets, felt like a discovery. For an artist who once declared, “I have no theories, no special techniques and no information to communicate,” Fairs somehow, employing the most limited of means, managed to say a great deal.

Tea Dance class at Christoph Büchel’s Piccadilly Community Centre, London, 2001.

9 Piccadilly Community Centre (Hauser & Wirth, London) A very different image of London was evoked in the Piccadilly Community Centre, an endeavor (not intended to be construed as an artwork or an exhibition, but a sort of living sculpture all the same) orchestrated and anonymously presented by Swiss artist Christoph Büchel. Transforming the gallery’s central London space into a plausible and fully operational community center, albeit one with unexpected facilities such as a seedy basement bar and an anarchist-appropriate squat, Büchel created a phantasmagoria, a Frankenstein-monster simulacrum, of twenty-first-century Britain, mirroring and amplifying the contradictions at the heart of David Cameron’s “big society.”

Owen Jones, Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (Verso, 2011). Photo: Kate Lacey.

10 Owen Jones, Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (Verso) Published just before riots broke out across Britain this past summer, the twenty-seven-year-old Jones’s first book is a sobering account of the ongoing marginalization and, per his subtitle, demonization of the British working class. Jones identifies deepening social inequality as instrumental in the creation of the “feral underclass”(to use right-wing justice secretary Kenneth Clarke’s tellingly dehumanizing phrase). Seen in the light of the riots and the worldwide Occupy protests, his lucid analysis of a divided society appears uncannily prescient.

Matthew Higgs is the director of White Columns, New York, and a regular contributor to Artforum. His exhibition “I Am the Billy Childish” is on view at Lehmann Maupin in New York until January 21, 2012.