PRINT December 2012

Russell Ferguson

Nobuo Sekine, Phase—Mother Earth, 1968/2012, earth, cement. Installation view, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, 2012. From “Requiem for the Sun: The Art of Mono-ha.” Photo: Joshua White.

1 “Requiem for the Sun: the Art of Mono-ha” (Blum & Poe, Los Angeles; curated by Mika Yoshitake) This revelatory exhibition of work from 1968 to 1974 by artists associated with the Japanese movement Mono-ha (“School of Things”) offered up extraordinary pieces (many of them remade for the exhibition), including Phase—Mother Earth, 1968/2012, Nobuo Sekine’s huge cement cylinder that sits next to an identically sized hole in the ground; Paper, 1969/2012, Susumu Koshimizu’s block of granite in a paper bag; and Cut-off, 1969/2007, Katsuro Yoshida’s cotton-stuffed steel pipe. Together with its catalogue, this show was a welcome reminder of how much is still left out of the standard art-historical narrative. MoMA’s “Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde” will no doubt continue the process of revision.

2 Merce Cunningham Dance Company (Park Avenue Armory, New York) Any sadness from the end-of-an-era subtext to these farewell performances by Merce Cunningham’s company was postponed in the face of the joyous dancing itself, technically thrilling and deeply emotional. With the performances playing out simultaneously over three stages, the huge space was filled with resonant, overlapping movement.

3 Mathias Poledna, A Village by the Sea (Raven Row, London) Poledna’s new film, just under six minutes long and shot in the lushest 35-mm black-and-white, was his contribution to a two-person exhibition with Florian Pumhösl. An elegant couple performs the title song in a perfect re-creation of a luxurious 1930s interior. Outside their window, a city skyline shimmers. Suffused with glamour, the film is also painstakingly artificial and thoroughly melancholy. As with all of Poledna’s work, every moment is considered, and every moment counts.

4 “Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974” (The Geffen Contemporary at MoCA, Los Angeles; curated by Philipp Kaiser and Miwon Kwon) This intensively researched exhibition and publication rewrites the standard narratives of Land art, positioning it as an international phenomenon and, more radically, arguing that it was profoundly engaged with its representation in photography, film, and the press. This is exactly the kind of paradigm-shifting historical show that established Museum of Contemporary Art’s international reputation, and it was an emphatic reminder that the future direction of this museum matters far beyond LA.

5 “The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; curated by Keith Christiansen and Stefan Weppelmann) This astonishing exhibition traced the passage of portraiture from emblematic profiles into startling individuation and intimate likeness. Superb works followed one after the other, and it was worth struggling through the crowds to come face-to-face with each of them. The canonical artists of the period were here, of course, but even less familiar figures, such as Francesco del Cossa, proved compelling. His Portrait of a Young Man with a Ring, ca. 1472–74, combined haughty reserve with touching intimacy.

Co-organized with the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, and also on view at the Bode Museum, Berlin.

6 Jeff Wall (Marian Goodman Gallery, New York) Wall continues to make “near-documentary” images that, once seen, seem completely necessary. Some appear elaborately composed, others almost fortuitous, and almost all radiate coolness and a deceptive simplicity. Boxing, 2011—two boys sparring in an immaculate white interior—joins the long list of his unforgettable pictures.

Michael Queenland, Rudy’s Ramp of Remainders (detail), 2012, plasticized balloons, cereal, rug, dimensions variable.

7 Michael Queenland (Santa Monica Museum of Art, Los Angeles; curated by Jeffrey Uslip) Queenland turned the museum’s space into a chaotic warehouse, shelves piled high with cereal boxes and other consumer items, floors covered with ruglike arrangements of newspapers and trash bags, dozens of plasticized balloons strewn all over. From beneath a sheet of plastic, the face of the deranged Batman movie-theater killer peeked out at us. And at the entrance to the exhibition, a grid of photographs from the New York Times, all showing dead bodies from killings around the world, offered a key to deciphering this disturbingly cheerful meditation on anomie, consumption, and death.

8 Jorge Méndez Blake (1301PE, Los Angeles) This two-part exhibition consisted of a virtuoso series of works that brought together poetry, sculpture, and architecture under the rubric of the monument. Apparently simple drawings of poems by Yeats, Poe, and others played off models for elaborate memorials to writers, and the space was unified by wall paintings that derived their form from poems, even as they obliterated the texts. Méndez Blake achieved the rare feat of convincingly integrating poetry with a visual context.

9 “Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949–1962” (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; curated by Paul Schimmel) Schimmel’s magisterial final show as chief curator for LA MoCA was eloquent evidence of why his departure is such a loss. Revisiting in part his 1998 “Out of Actions,” this exhibition focused more narrowly on the worldwide existential crisis in painting as it played out through the 1950s. Well-known works by Lee Bontecou and Robert Rauschenberg were matched with powerful paintings by artists such as Chiyu Uemae and Robert Mallary, suggesting thought-provoking new points of comparison in a more global account of postwar painting. It was terrific to see Salvatore Scarpitta in the company of Jean Fautrier and Alberto Burri.

10 “Philip Guston: Late Paintings” (Inverleith House, Edinburgh) This eighteenth-century house on the grounds of the Royal Botanic Garden is one of the best places anywhere to see paintings. Nine of Guston’s late canvases were bathed in a natural light that was somehow warm and cool at once. Nothing could have been more appropriate for the works’ combination of harsh motifs and rich painterliness. Seeing this show felt like taking a deep breath.

Russell Ferguson is chair of the Department of Art at UCLA and an adjunct curator at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Exhibitions he has organized include “The Undiscovered Country,” “In Memory of My Feelings: Frank O’Hara and American Art,” and one-person shows of work by Francis Alÿs, Douglas Gordon, Larry Johnson, Liz Larner, and Christian Marclay.