PRINT December 2012

Matthew Higgs

William Wegman, Basic Shapes in Nature: Square (Variant), 1970, gelatin silver print, 14 × 11". From “It Happened at Pomona: Art at the Edge of Los Angeles 1969–1973, Part 2—Helene Winer at Pomona,” Pomona College Museum of Art, Claremont, CA, part of “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945–1980.”

1 “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945–1980” (various venues) My 2011 ended with a weeklong road trip across Southern California, trying to take in as many as possible of the sixty-plus exhibitions in “Pacific Standard Time,” arguably the most ambitious curatorial initiative of the twenty-first century. Highlights, too many to list here, included the second part of “It Happened at Pomona: Art at the Edge of Los Angeles 1969–1973,” a succinct account of Helene Winer’s prescient two-year tenure as director of the Pomona College Museum of Art, and “Common Ground: Ceramics in Southern California 1945–1975,” an illuminating and often wild survey of both studio and industrial ceramics at Pomona’s American Museum of Ceramic Art. A decade in the making, “Pacific Standard Time,” led and partly underwritten by the Getty Research Institute, is probably unrepeatable—but it’s tempting to imagine what similarly scaled and equally ambitious curatorial surveys might reveal about the art produced in other locales during the same era.

2 Klara Liden, S.A.D. (Reena Spaulings Fine Art, New York) The new year began with Liden’s unforgettable installation S.A.D., 2012, a room tightly packed with abandoned Christmas trees that she had recovered and repurposed from the streets of New York. The titular acronym stands for “seasonal affective disorder,” the “winter blues”—a phrase that perfectly articulates the profound melancholy the work induced. Among all the artists I can think of, Liden, and her deceptively casual work, best describes our present social, political, and emotional malaise.

3 “On Kawara: Date Painting(s) in New York and 136 Other Cities” (David Zwirner, New York) If I could own only one work of art, it would be a date painting from Kawara’s ongoing “Today” series, whose workmanlike style has remained almost unchanged for nearly half a century. This extraordinary exhibition of more than 150 date paintings made between January 1966 and the present, arranged in chronological order throughout Zwirner’s capacious galleries, felt like a once-in-a-lifetime event. With each passing year, Kawara’s project gains in poignancy, so much so that it is hard to imagine that one day it will, inevitably, come to an end.

4 Lutz Bacher (Alex Zachary Peter Currie, New York; Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York) Over the past twenty-odd years, Bacher’s work has slowly and persistently come into focus. For followers of Bacher’s idiosyncratic approach to being an artist, 2012 was a vintage year, with her poetic and precise interventions into the Whitney Biennial and her J. G. Ballard–esque solo exhibition on the Upper East Side, where twenty-five tons of sand created the entirely plausible impression (pre-Sandy) that a nearby dune had somehow become untethered and drifted into Alex Zachary and Peter Currie’s 1970s-era duplex space.

5 Jeremy Deller, Sacrilege (5th Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art) Deller’s life-size inflatable version of Stonehenge is perhaps the most successful work of public art I’ve ever encountered. Given that almost nothing is known about the origins and purpose of Britain’s most beloved and celebrated prehistoric monument, Deller’s homage—in the form of that pneumatic fairground attraction known colloquially as a “bouncy castle”—managed to amplify the elusive strangeness of the original site while simultaneously creating, literally, a public platform for unbridled fun. You really had to be there.

6 Einstein on the Beach (Brooklyn Academy of Music, September 14–23) The two best theatrical spectacles I saw in 2012 were Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony for the London Olympics, which I watched on TV at home in New York, and BAM’s revival of Einstein on the Beach, Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s legendary 1976 “opera,” which is four and a half hours long but never boring. The juxtaposition of Glass’s iconic score, Wilson’s surreal theatrical tableaux, Lucinda Childs’s breathless and breathtaking choreography, and Christopher Knowles’s gnomic texts should have made for a unholy mess, but it somehow cohered into a unique and truly compelling form of entertainment.

Daniel Clowes, The Psycho-pathology, 1996, gouache with collage on board, 20 x 26 1/4".

7 Daniel Clowes (Oakland Museum of California; curated by Susan Miller and René de Guzman) After Jim Woodring, Daniel Clowes is my favorite American cartoonist. (A copy of Clowes’s 2010 graphic novel Wilson should really be in every home.) This survey charting Clowes’s spookily consistent work—from its 1980s underground origins to its recent near-mainstream acceptance—featured genuinely innovative exhibition design by Nicholas de Monchaux and was an accessible joy for aficionados and newbies alike.

8 Antoine Catala (47 Canal, New York) Catala’s self-consciously lo-fi, analog takes on the high-tech digital-media landscape have been a highlight of many New York group shows over the past few years. Appropriating a Rube Goldberg–esque sense of wonder in his approach to both materials and ideas, which conjoins classroom-science-project aesthetics with highbrow semiotics, Catala created work for the 47 Canal show that not only looked like no other recent art but also felt different. His humor and wordplay often mask a decidedly singular and serious practice that I imagine will only continue to bear ever-stranger fruit.

9 David Korty (Kimmerich, New York) and Mary Weatherford (Brennan & Griffin, New York) If psychogeography had artists-in-residence, Korty and Weatherford would make ideal candidates. This past season, these two very different Los Angeles–based painters had distinct career-defining exhibitions of essentially abstract paintings based on and evoking their personal experiences and memories of real places: a graphic and quasi-architectural Vancouver in Korty’s case, and an elusive, almost hallucinogenic New York for Weatherford. The result was the most visceral new painting I’ve encountered in some time, each artist working both with and against the conventions of nonrepresentational art to come up with something, if not exactly new, then at least previously unimagined.

10 Martin Amis, Lionel Asbo: State of England (Knopf) Amis’s thirteenth novel (and the first published since his move from the UK to Brooklyn) was poorly received by critics on both sides of the Atlantic. But to my mind, it is a tenderly observed, evocative, and often laugh-out-loud-funny account of Britain’s recent past and unresolved present. Amis is an outrageously gifted stylist, and the book reads like a screenplay for a movie I hope will get made one day.

Matthew Higgs is an artist; the director and chief curator of White Columns, New York; and a regular contributor to Artforum. In January, he will have a two-person exhibition with Margaret Lee at Murray Guy, New York.