PRINT December 2012

The Artists’ Artists


To take stock of the past year, Artforum asked an international group of artists to select the single image, exhibition, or event that most memorably captured their eye in 2012.


Gang Gang Dance (September 22, Cameo Gallery, Brooklyn) If materialism is the unwanted fat on our spirits, Gang Gang Dance’s music is the blade that cuts it all off. Their sounds burn up that heaviness of need and greed and lift the spirits to other dimensions. A hundred years ago, Rudolf Steiner wrote The Philosophy of Freedom and feverishly lectured about protective space and other visionary ideas to nurture future societies riddled by war; his near-cultish visions have found their great-grandchildren in this band. They create the most contemporary sounds and beats, using ancient recipes of the human consciousness in order to stay human.


“Photographic Masterworks by William Eggleston” (Christie’s, New York) In March, after drifting through various Occupy events and stupefying myself with thirdhand thoughts about art and commerce, I attended this auction of William Eggleston prints, photographs of humble objects and unglamorous people made mostly in the 1970s but presented in luminous new digital editions, much enlarged from their vintage incarnations. As prices soared, there was an almost audible whoosh of money surging through the air. The auctioneer—natty, lean, bald—gestured with the blade of one hand, karate-chop fashion, then executed a quick hop as he whacked down the gavel. At $390,000—it’s yours! In forty-five minutes thirty-six photographs sold for roughly $5.9 million. (Frames included?) The event crystallized my confusion about photography in the age of digital reproduction, the dizzying differences between holding a picture in your mind and owning it in the flesh. I want to believe that these serene and thrilling images—like the richest cultural treasures—are ours.


Tino Sehgal, This Variation (Documenta 13, Kassel) Near the end of Documenta, I went to see This Varation. A few days before, I happened to have visited Lebanon’s Jeita Grotto, a millions-of-years-old work in progress that links the region’s mountains to the sea by way of nine subterranean kilometers of stalactites, stalagmites, and columns. Being inside Sehgal’s piece felt comfortable and familiar. Both the performance and the caves had their own temporalities—in each, simple natural elements continuously congregated, clustered, piled up, and dissolved, compelling me to rethink my relation to time, architecture, sound, and composition.


Göbekli Tepe (Urfa, Turkey) The continuing archaeological discoveries at Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Anatolia make it apparent that religion is hardwired in us all, since its monumental structures appeared circa 9,000 BC—thousands of years before farming, wheels, and human settlements even existed. The legacy of this innate drive to worship runs up through the present day, where religion is obviously still at it, building hierarchies and sending favored sons up to the sky (Orions, Christs, or Allahs), with not much liking for naysayers.


Alair Gomes, Sonatinas, Four Feet (detail), 1966–86, gelatin silver prints. From the 30th São Paulo Bienal, 2012.


Nick Relph, Raining Room Sitting exhausted outside Art Basel this summer, I was shown a cellphone photo of Nick Relph’s four-wheeled work Raining Room, 2012, at the Herald St booth. Despite having promised myself to get as far away from the building as possible, I went back inside the fair and searched for the piece for hours, in vain.

We all know that an invisibility cloak doesn’t cover the shoes of its wearer at first, but tends to fall into place, eventually making its subject disappear entirely. I gathered that was what had happened. Still, the image of this car somehow remains fixed in my mind.


Buddhas of dust (Kabul, Afghanistan) The most intense art-related experience I had this year was brought about by a visit to the National Museum of Afghanistan, which has a significant collection of Buddhist art. Accompanying certain pieces were photographs, each showing a heap of dust. Francis Alÿs was with me and explained that these images depict statues devastated by the Taliban, and that the museum had reconstructed these figures from remains. The idea that these Buddhas embodied their own creation, end, and rebirth was incredible—they seemed even more than alive.


Les Maîtres du Désordre” (Musée du Quai Branly, Paris) Curated by Jean de Loisy and designed by Jakob+MacFarlane, “Les Maîtres du Désordre” (Masters of Chaos) pulled its viewers into a winding maze that resembled a giant, hive-like brain structure, mediating between objects from various cultures and historical periods. The show’s grotto-like viewing spaces housed sculptures, drawings, paintings, artifacts, and videos whose flickering lights and mysterious echoes added to the theatricality of the environment. I felt as though I had been swallowed, exposed to a swarm of artistic languages, and then ejected. The show revisits the ideas raised by MoMA’s 1984 “‘Primitivism’ in 20th Century Art”—once heavily debated in these pages—and takes them to an exciting new place.


Maria Nordman, FILMROOM: SMOKE, 1967–Present (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) The atmosphere of this dual-screen installation is one of pervasive languor. The light is cool and heavy; the pair of actors are equally, glamorously cool, sitting and smoking in an upholstered armchair at ocean’s edge, water lapping at their feet. The chair is covered in plastic, evoking a sense of vulnerability and impermanence that is especially poignant in contrast to the actors’ attitude of total detachment. And yet, five decades on, the actual chair is physically present, in front of one of the projections, and there we stand, chair and I, with the uncanny feeling that the waves are encroaching upon us.


Liza Johnson, Return Artist and filmmaker Liza Johnson’s first feature-length movie is an extraordinary work of realism showing the difficulties facing a soldier returning home. The main character (played by Linda Cardellini) refuses to describe her time overseas even though family and friends demand an account. Never given the exact details of the protagonist’s combat experiences—there are no flashbacks, no reflective therapeutic revelations—we are confronted by the harsh reality of a veteran coping with trauma in the present tense. Scenes develop organically as plotlines emerge out of the relationships on the screen. The story is conveyed with psychological acuity and exceptional craft. Nothing’s predictable in Return.

Alina Szapocznikow in her studio, Malakoff, France, 1967.


“Lucio Fontana: Ambienti Spaziali” (Gagosian Gallery, New York) For a long time, the only Fontana works I knew were his slash paintings, which I’ve seen a million times in books. But this Gagosian show included lots of different pieces that I loved. Fontana’s Concetti spaziali (Spacial Concepts) pieces—especially the series of beautiful egg-shaped painting-sculptures—were my favorite. Fontana called these works “La fine di dio” (The End of God), which I think is a great title. They look as though they’re made of frosting and a chick has pecked away at their surfaces. To me, these pieces are like magic, they are so many things at once—elegant, gaudy, cartoonish, sublime, flat, spatial, illusionary, concrete, decorative, and philosophical.



“Image-Counter-Image” (Haus der Kunst, Munich) Organized by Patrizia Dander, León Krempel, Julienne Lorz, and Ulrich Wilmes, “Image-Counter-Image” opened with a time line and slide shows linking images of war with technological changes in news media between 1992 and now. This selection of data and imagery provided a clear analytical framework for an exhibition including work from a broad range of artists—from Sean Snyder to Jasmila Žbanić—who interrogate the role of images in the public’s understanding of conflict. The show effectively suggested that artistic “counter-imagery” could offer a viable mode of critique alongside the dense fabric that is our technologically diversified international news system sprawling across the BBC, Facebook, Bloomberg, Twitter, Al Jazeera, Tumblr, etc.


Samuel Beckett, Not I (“Happy Days: Enniskillen International Beckett Festival,” Enniskillen, Ireland) Portora Royal School—the old grammar school that Beckett himself attended—provided the setting for an unforgettable performance of Not I (1972) by the Irish actor Lisa Dwan. Beckett’s instruction that the work should be performed “at the speed of thought” set the benchmark for Dwan, who delivered this most complex and poetic monologue in less than ten minutes, physically restrained in a neck brace, blindfolded, and shrouded, with only her mouth visible. Disembodied, angry, visceral. Hovering eight feet above the stage, the mouth silenced everything else. I am still shaken by its power.


Paul Willams at the Apple Store SoHo (New York) Growing up, I loved Mama Cass, Tiny Tim, and Paul Williams. Their songs still inspire mine. So when I found out Paul Williams would be speaking at the Apple Store in SoHo (he’s the subject of a new documentary, Paul Williams Still Alive), I got there early. He was so happy to share everything about himself; he even performed. I was one of the few in the room, so as he sang “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “An Old Fashioned Love Song,” “We’ve Only Just Begun,” and “Rainbow Connection,” we often locked eyes. On his way out, Paul gave me a hug. Love: It really is “soft as an easy chair.”


“The World as Will and Wallpaper” (Le Consortium, Dijon, France) Curated by Le Consortium’s Stephanie Moisdon, my favorite exhibition of 2012 was based on my favorite book of 2012, Michel Houellebecq’s The Map and the Territory. Less an interpretation of Houellebecq’s themes and ideas than an extension of them, “The World” was underpinned by immediately legible references to The Map—for example, wallpaper by William Morris—yet shot through with more oblique head-scratchers that still have me thinking. I love when a show has this “timed-release” effect. What does connect Fourier (about whom I knew nothing before reading the book) and the “prehistoric” paintings of Verne Dawson? Pagan pleasure? To top it off, Houellebecq himself showed up for the opening.


Alex Katz, Alex at Cheat Lake, 1969, photo-offset lithograph, 1969. From “Alex Katz Prints,” 2012, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


I continue to be inspired by Richard Jackson’s unflinching exploration of our culture’s emotional investment in paint handling.

Garage at 70th Street and Ashland Avenue, Chicago, October 1, 2012. Photo: Kerry James Marshall.


Moyra Davey, Les Goddesses, 2011, HD video, color, sound, 61 minutes.


Hassan Khan, DOM-TAK-TAK-DOM-TAK, 2005, mixed media. Installation view, SALT Beyoğlu, Istanbul, 2012. Photo: Serkan Taycan.


Liza Johnson, Return, 2012, 16 mm, color, sound, 97 minutes.Kelli (Linda Cardellini) and Mike (Michael Shannon).


Death mask of Napoléon I, 1821 (British Museum, London) Photography is commonly likened to a death mask, but taking a snapshot of this death mask of Napoléon’s cast gave me pause. Unassumingly presented, propped up in a smallish cabinet alongside a selection of regular artifacts, the infamous emperor appears life-size and yet diminished. Encountering his photograph would certainly be less haunting than seeing him like this, postmortem and face-to-face. Like a photograph, however, this death mask has been copied many times. Allegedly, one bronze version was even used as a paperweight in the office of a US statesman.


Moyra Davey, Les Goddesses, 2011 Watching Moyra Davey’s film, I had a feeling that I was confronted with more than just the work of an artist, a photographer, or a woman reflecting on her life and profession. Her often repeated “I” didn’t come across as the “I” of a therapeutic self-portrait, or the timid and humble “I” of a self-reflexive gesture. Davey’s “I” felt more desperate, more like a last resort. Perhaps she has known for quite some time that this voice is one of the few, if not the only, with which it is still possible to speak. Perhaps it was the degree to which she pushes that voice to its limits, or stretches its potential, that was most memorable and unsettling to me.

Alexej Koschkarow, Schtetl, 2012, plywood, iron, 47 x 39 x 30". Photo: Ivo Faber.


“Parcours” (Art Institute of Chicago) More for artists, perhaps, than for the general public, this deceptively simple exhibition provided a surfeit of poetic moments along a “path” constructed by artists Liz Deschenes and Florian Pumhösl with curator Matthew Witkovsky. Taking as their inspiration an unrealized curatorial plan by Bauhaus artist and educator Herbert Bayer, the team installed a wall of window screens taken from the museum’s recently renovated McKinlock Court garden, and selected photographs from the permanent collection by modernists such as László Moholy-Nagy and Florence Henri. Serene glass sculpture by Pumhösl and impossibly luminous, light-absorbing photo-based works by Deschenes lent conceptual depth to each physical encounter. This parcours connected, as if by dots, transparent materials—glass, screens, light—to the transparency of process, leading me toward a new view of modernism.



Theaster Gates, 12 Ballads for the Huguenot House (Documenta 13, Kassel) After all the artyology of Documenta, it was refreshing to see art that was so totally full of joy, love, life, and formalism. Transposing the interior of a run-down house in Chicago to the nineteenth-century Kassel site, with all the latter’s dilapidated trappings, Gates gave us the gospel of humanism. Of course there were artyological aspects to his piece. History, memory, archaeology were all there—but in a good way. Here is a drawing from my diary of my friend Ingibjörg looking at the work. Artyology is her word. She invented it during our visit.


Michael Frimkess and Magdalena Suarez Frimkess (South Willard, Los Angeles) There were two types of pottery in this show: pots that Michael Frimkess threw on a wheel and Magdalena Suarez Frimkess decorated, and pieces that she hand built and decorated. His vases are tall and solid. Her plates and cups are small and cheery—one cup had a handle that looked like a lifesaver for a pygmy marmoset. All of the pieces are surprisingly lightweight and brittle—like a childhood photograph that you have no memory of.


“Jack Goldstein x 10,000” (Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA) I first met Jack Goldstein in London back in 1971, at his first show with Nigel Greenwood Gallery. We used to talk about ideas, whenever he would visit Los Angeles during the ’70s. He’d work two or three shifts a day as a short-order cook, flipping burgers to pay for his glamorous films about Hollywood mythology. His fascination with glam and the spectacle of the media were the inspiration for his beautiful paintings, of which he was the producer, rather than the “painter.” Goldstein was a poet/thinker and a great manipulator of visual concepts. At his retrospective, which Philipp Kaiser organized for the Orange County Museum this year, moving from painting to painting was like going through an MGM motion picture directed by Jack Goldstein.


Moyra Davey, Les Goddesses, 2011 Les Goddesses braids vignettes from the life of Mary Wollstonecraft with those of the artist’s own. We watch as Davey traverses her apartment, haltingly reciting a prerecorded script, transmitted via earpiece. Her casual foregrounding of technical media’s role in this is striking. Occasionally, her Canon SLR appears, shooting into domestic mirrors, reflecting a site populated with specular technologies. A historical understanding of both psychological and architectural interiority congeals here. Subjectivity is placed on perilous ground by the technologies that support its image. The film’s impeccable coda submerges Davey’s camera under metropolitan pavement, another interior from which some of photography’s first images exited into the light of day.


Pam Hogg, “Save Our Souls” (spring/summer 2013 collection) Pam Hogg is the ultimate designer-as-ventriloquist. She always cuts cloth on herself first, before transferring her designs onto her models’ bodies. I recently saw Hogg’s “S.O.S.” show, and am still trying to work it out. There was something going on that had less to do with fashion and more to do with fashioning a language. Hogg’s human dummies walked the catwalk knowingly, with unsettling gravitas—mute, but speaking volumes on our behalf: “Save our souls!” Pam Hogg— fabular? Absolutely.


Nils Frahm, Felt (Erased Tapes) The studio can be a solitary place, so I’ve chosen a piece of music that’s been a great companion this past year. Sitting perfectly beside the recent shows I’ve seen, it’s no doubt had an equal influence on my work. Layered and welcoming, Felt is interesting also because of the way Frahm, a pianist by training, understands his instrument as a sculptural object; his relationship with the piano is part of the piece. I especially like that he placed felt inside his piano so he could practice at night and not disturb his Berlin neighbors. I love this record. Perhaps almost as much as his neighbors loved not hearing Frahm record it.


Richard Jackson, Accidents in Abstract Painting, 2003/2012. Performance view, Brookside Park, Pasadena, CA, January 22, 2012. Photo: Juan Posada.


“Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980” (Hammer Museum, Los Angeles) The Getty Research Institute’s “Pacific Standard Time” initiative was a hugely significant cultural event in Southern California, but out of all its related projects, perhaps the most important was “Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980,” at the Hammer Museum (now on view at MoMA PS1). Elegant, poignant, and thoughtful, the show, curated by Kellie Jones, single-handedly cracked open the discussion of Los Angeles art history—a subject that has long been limited by selective memory or even outright cultural amnesia. After “Now Dig This!” it can no longer be said that art in LA had its beginnings in one single gallery on La Cienega Boulevard.


Olafur Eliasson (ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Denmark) The waves of claustrophobia and panic induced by Your Atmospheric Color (and only amplified by my lingering hangover) glazed me in cold sweat. My vision seemed to explode, then collapsed completely. Perceiving only regions of purple, green, red . . . I made a fast exit. Fortunately, the crisp air of the roof deck helped revive me, so I ventured, though still mildly queasy, into Your Rainbow Panorama— a large circular walkway mounted on top of the museum, encased in color-saturated glass. Suddenly, my head and vision were clear and the faces of my companions were tinted, with breathtaking beauty, by the light penetrating the work. I’d ascended to an Eliasson-made pure prismatic heaven from his womblike chroma-hell.


Drugs Crew, San Francisco I’m not exactly sure when it started, but it’s certainly in full swing now. By the time some well-executed fanzines by the Drugs Crew landed in my hands a while back, I had already noticed the refreshingly loose tags and throw-ups from SPRAYS, OMG, PS, and ORFN holding down the last few streets still untouched by the otherwise complete revitalization of the Mission District. Drugs clearly has an infinite knowledge of tagging on the San Francisco streets and Muni system. Look to Andrea Sonnenberg’s photos on Flickr and Tumblr for shots of their daily activities.


Erik Kessels, Photography in Abundance, 2012, ink-jet prints. Installation view, Foam, Amsterdam. Photo: Gijs Van Den Borg.


Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge, It’s Still Privileged Art, 1976 I came upon a black-and-white, slightly crumply Xerox of It’s Still Privileged Art lying on a side table at Berlin’s MD72 gallery during the exhibition “Homo Economicus” (curated by David Bussel). The original publication—a four-by-seven-inch illustrated book relaying the daily exchanges and contradictions of being an artist participating in the market—was displayed in a vitrine nearby. Seeing Condé and Beveridge’s work for the first time, I was struck by their uniquely pragmatic and engaged tone as they contemplated ways to shift their focus from minimalist painting and sculpture toward a more politically involved practice.


“Berenice Abbott: Photography and Science: An Essential Unity” (MIT Museum, Cambridge, MA) While all photographers have always necessarily relied on science to bind physical phenomena to depiction, few artists of the medium have turned their lenses to science itself with the confidence and conviction of Berenice Abbott. Her commissioned work for Science Illustrated and MIT is a wide inventory of the phenomena of physics, and every astonishing image seems to tell its own story. With the supplementary information provided throughout by curators Julia Van Haaften and Gary Van Zante, this exhibition exposes the intricacies of Abbott’s somewhat bumpy dialogue with the scientific establishment and her commitment to the role of aesthetics in fostering a wider audience’s understanding of the underlying laws of nature.


“Terry Adkins: Recital” (Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY) Terry Adkins is a New York–based, transdisciplinary artist. This fall, his work has been the subject of a stunningly beautiful and brilliant retrospective that unpacks the enormous power and presence of his prolific thirty-year career. Comprising recombinant forms of found objects, avant-garde musicality, and moving images, “Recital” elucidates Adkins’s intensive, free-form research on such towering American figures as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Matthew Henson, Bessie Smith, and Jimi Hendrix to showcase the artist’s deft reimagining of the past to disrupt its conventionally accepted relationship to the present.


The New American Wing (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) When I was eighteen, I was given a Thomas Eakins calendar as a present. I tried to accept it graciously, but the idea of facing those crisp-yet-dim scenes for an entire year depressed me in some very piercing way; the artist’s sober, East Coast rationality felt deathly familiar. On a recent visit to the Met—usually a place for escaping the mundane—I walked through the newly reopened American Wing, and that “too close to home” aspect of the collection’s paintings suddenly became alive and provocative. Taken together, the pictures seemed as socially charged as the exotic, Orientalist scenes of Jean-Léon Gérôme (Eakins’s teacher). Amid Homer, Harnett, Hassam, and Eakins, dueling themes of hermeticism and populism offered a structure for thinking about American art that remains relevant, even upon returning to the dislocated, blogrolling present.

Sturtevant, L’Abécédaire de Deleuze, 2012, three-channel color digital video with sound, three projectors, three monitors, three chairs. Installation view, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris.


“Invisible: Art About the Unseen, 1957–2012” (Hayward Gallery, London) Surveying more than a half century of art, “Invisible” presented the unknown as a space of possibility. Here, Yves Klein’s “immaterial pictorial zones” were haunted by the Ghost of James Lee Byars while canvases primed with mountain snow—like “landing strips for the mind”—captured consciousness radiating out (thanks to Ceal Floyer’s marking of the gallery’s exact center, a single point in the centerless expanses beyond) toward the surrounding city and sky. Staring into staring, breathing in xenon, feeling the weight of Klein’s gold falling into the Seine, I was arrested by the unseen.


Pierre Huyghe, Untilled (Documenta 13, Kassel) Coming across Pierre Huyghe’s work at Documenta 13 was like stumbling onto the set of a Tarkovsky film—a bit like entering the forbidden “Zone” in Stalker. The strange, wild foliage, the muddy paths, the fluorescent-legged dogs, and the clearing with the reclining female beehive sculpture were at once beautiful and surreal. I returned to Kassel at the end of summer and visited the site again—by then it had changed from surreal to sinister. The whole environment was overgrown, and the beehive head had spread across the woman’s torso. Huyghe’s installation was pulsating, expansive, and uncontained in the way that only nature and culture and great art can be.


“Hans Haacke 1967” (MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA) Organized by Caroline A. Jones, “Hans Haacke 1967” was a restaging of Haacke’s revolutionary exhibition (curated by Wayne Andersen) at MIT, plus works that the artist had made around the same time. This lively show brought back memories of my friendship with Haacke, which started in the late 1950s, when he visited my studio in Düsseldorf. Hans and Linda Haacke were married just before boarding a ship to America, and, as a wedding present, I sent them a telegram explaining that I’d persuaded Howard Wise to present a solo exhibition by Hans soon after their arrival in New York. One of the pieces in that exhibition—and one that I was pleased to encounter again in the MIT show—was the now-legendary Condensation Cube of 1963–65.


Du Bois Machine Did you know W. E. B. Du Bois, the charismatic Negro man of letters, Communist, and cofounder of the NAACP, was a machine? No? Well, his legacy is. And this past September, I witnessed it at work when I attended “Du Bois in Our Time,” a symposium hosted by the University Museum of Contemporary Art at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Over two days, the Du Bois machine emitted a plume of facts, fancy, and figures. For example, did you know that he was a dandy? That his first loves were probably fräuleins? That he was an asshole? Each detail fascinates. Each is ultimately unimportant. All coalesce like soot on an apparatus.


“Isaac Julien: Geopoetics” (SESC Pompeia, São Paulo) SESC Pompeia, a São Paulo factory complex converted by the late architect Lina Bo Bardi into a community center and art space, made for perfect viewing of Isaac Julien’s retrospective extravaganza, as the social nature of the site reflected and amplified Julien’s subtle, sophisticated politics. The show included eleven films made over the past twenty years and was curated by Solange Farkas. This was essentially an unforeseen collaboration between a São Paulo–based architect and a London-based artist born fifty-five years apart. Might globalism have unexpected rewards?

Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Snow Workers’ Ballet, 2012. Rehearsal view, field near the Tsumari-Ohashi bridge, Tokamachi, Japan, July 27, 2012. Pictured: the “Embrace” from the movement titled “Dance of the Tire Dozers: The Tragic Love Story of Romeo and Juliet.” Romeo (right) and Juliet (left). From the 5th Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale. Photo: Yasuhisa Ishii.


Nick Relph, Raining Room, 2012, car wheels, 2' 1“ x 5' 9 1/4” x 10' 6 1/4".


“Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion” (Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo) This exhibition, curated by Akiko Fukai, addressed aspects of flatness, shadow, and fluidity in the work of designers such as Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake, and Yohji Yamamoto. A two-dimensional form turning into a piece of clothing, shape becoming reality—this kind of fashion has a strong relationship to art for me. As the industry demands a new collection each season, fashion changes at a much faster pace than the art world does, but I do see something immutable in the design represented here, and I consider this “something” very important.


Ingrid Caven (Berliner Ensemble, Berlin) In a recent interview for the German newspaper TAZ, Ingrid Caven recalled that during the war, when she had to sing “Silent Night” for Hitler’s soldiers on Christmas Day 1943, her voice had to be pure. In her rendition of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire this October, almost exactly one hundred years after its premiere, Caven arrived at something much closer to what Jean-Jacques Schuhl (author of the novel Ingrid Caven) described as “une animatrice de bordel”—an animalistic expression of the movements of the soul.


Car wash on the corner of 10th Avenue and 24th Street in Chelsea, New York, 2012. Photo: Tica B. Tran.


The points and strokes in the cave of Niaux, France. The points and strokes at Manhattan Car Wash Gallery, 235 Tenth Avenue, New York.

Snapshot taken by Roman Signer during the installation of the 9th Shanghai Biennale, 2012.


I read that 380 billion photographs were taken last year. Which one was my favorite? I’m partial to this image, a photo of Erik Kessels’s installation of every photograph uploaded to Flickr over a twenty-four hour period.

Barry McGee, Untitled, 1999–2012, acrylic on ninety-four glass bottles, wire, 72 x 60". Installation view. Photo: Colin M. Day.


L’Abécédaire de Deleuze is an installation derived to bring into being the higher power of words and cybernetics’ disastrous move of reversing hierarchies.

William Michael Harnett, The Artist’s Letter Rack, 1879, oil on canvas, 30 x 25".


“Pourquoi Pas Bylex?” (Why Not Bylex?) (Maison Revue Noire, Paris) For twenty years, the Kinshasa-based Congolese artist Pume has been developing a framework for achieving the perfect duality of words and objects. In pursuit of this, he created Bylex, a surprising quasi-brand/alter ego, embroiderer of utopias, poetry, and forms.


“To the Moon via the Beach” (LUMA Foundation, Arles Amphitheater, France) For four days in early July, while the international photography festival of Arles was going full blast, the quiet refuge of the city’s ancient Roman amphitheater was a relief. The salty air of the Camargue, mixed with the scent of lavender in the fields, gave me a sense of ease, and time slowed down. Away from the urgency of Documenta 13, Philippe Parreno and Liam Gillick’s “To the Moon via the Beach” felt transcendent. Seven hundred tons of sand had been brought into the center of the arena and slowly transformed (by a team of sand sculptors from Holland, directed by Wilfred Stijger) from seascape into lunar terrain—scenes that provided settings for parallel activities and interventions (full disclosure: including a project of my own). It was like watching a long take from a naturalist film; not all was discernible to the human eye, but a lot was going on.


View of “Isaac Julien: Geopoetics,” 2012, SESC Pompeia, São Paulo. Foreground: Paradise Omeros I, 2002. Background: Fantôme Créole, 2005. Photo: Camila Butcher/Associação Cultural Videobrasil.


Thomas Ruff, self-portrait taken during a zero-gravity flight, 2012.


Walker Evans (Florence Griswald Museum, Old Lyme, CT) “The Exacting Eye of Walker Evans,” curated by Amanda Burdan and John T. Hill, was exquisite. In the 1960s, Evans had built a house in neighboring Lyme, Connecticut, and this exhibition featured the photographs he made in the area and the legendary signs he had collected nearby and hung in his living room. On the snowy January afternoon I visited, I was surprised to see that in addition to real signs, the Griswald also showed re-creations: ink-jet prints from scans of original photos taken by Evans. Several photographs on view had been resuscitated the same way. There is a spirited discussion regarding this practice. In this context, however, printing in ink-jet seems an apt extension of Evans’s documentary style.


Mark Morrisroe (Museum Villa Stuck, Munich) Morrisroe, who died of AIDS in 1989, was unknown to me before I saw this exhibition at the Villa Stuck curated by Beatrix Ruf and Thomas Seelig. The authenticity and physicality of his work extend across the compressed constellation of photographs, films, zines, and collages that he left behind. In their documentary value and piercing intensity, the images seem at once historical and contemporary. After seeing the Morrisroe show, I headed over to the Munich Kunstverein, where Willem de Rooij was showing his woven paintings—their subtle variation and simple clarity drew me in. It was a splendid day of contrasts.


Hassan Khan (SALT Beyoğlu, Istanbul) Among the breathtaking juxtapositions offered in this eighteen-year survey of Hassan Khan’s work is a pairing of landmark pieces: Jewel, a video installation in which two men dance to chaabi (pop) music that Khan composed himself, and The Twist, a section of steel that appears torqued, as if buckling under the pressure of excessive weight. My favorite work, however, may be The Agreement. Comprising five stories and a set of objects, it includes a tale of two boys who, attempting to escape school by digging a tunnel, come upon an ancient Egyptian statuette. Interrupted by the bell, they leave the yard, only to find, when they return the next day, rusted steel in the relic’s place. I like this theme and it runs through much of Hassan’s work—a teenager’s desire to conquer the complexity of the adult world.

Interior of Universal Life Insurance Co., Memphis, 2012. Photo: Leslie Hewitt.