1 “WHEN ATTITUDES BECOME FORM: BERN 1969/VENICE 2013” (FONDAZIONE PRADA, VENICE; CURATED BY GERMANO CELANT WITH THOMAS DEMAND AND REM KOOLHAAS) This brilliant and ambitious experiment in replicating Harald Szeemann’s 1969 show was significant not only for bringing together some of the key works of that period but also for its complex architectural installation, which cleverly prompted a more in-depth consideration of the very act of restaging a historic exhibition. It was a joy to get lost in the extensive display of archival material, which included such wonderful treasures as footage of the artists installing the original show.
2 “THE BRIDE AND THE BACHELORS: DUCHAMP WITH CAGE, CUNNINGHAM, RAUSCHENBERG, AND JOHNS” (BARBICAN, LONDON; CURATED BY CARLOS BASUALDO WITH ERICA F. BATTLE) A remarkable group of works here told the story of a pivotal moment in the history of American modernism. But it was Philippe Parreno’s soundscape that really elevated the show, featuring self-playing pianos and recordings of the footfalls of dancers performing Merce Cunningham works. Parreno is a master choreographer of experience; I came away enriched by his generous accompaniment to and close reading of his predecessors.
Organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art (as “Dancing Around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg, and Duchamp”).
3 THE REOPENING OF THE RIJKSMUSEUM, AMSTERDAM The museum’s magnificent renovation led to fascinating juxtapositions of its collection, which presented a new way of looking at European history through objects. The wall of paintings by Vermeer is a particular highlight; his Woman Reading a Letter, ca. 1663, is one of the most contemporary paintings I have ever seen.
4 CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE, AMERICANAH (KNOPF) Adichie’s ability to portray how it feels to be an immigrant, an outsider, is so nuanced that she makes it possible for us, no matter our own position, to momentarily see the world through these eyes. This novel is both a touching love story and a piercing, original look at race, history, and dislocation.
5 ANRI SALA (FRENCH PAVILION, 55TH VENICE BIENNALE; CURATED BY CHRISTINE MACEL) Sala continued his exploration of the dialogue between space and sound in a thrilling installation that paired videos of two pianists playing the same piece of music by Maurice Ravel. The soundsas well as the silencestriggered by their performances were spine-tingling, and trying to make sense of this complicated exhibition was at once disorienting and riveting. This was echoed in the political complexity and context of the show, which, although not immediately evident, recalled the artist’s best work.
6 STEVE MCQUEEN (SCHAULAGER, BASEL; CURATED BY JAMES RONDEAU WITH ISABEL FRIEDLI AND HEIDI NAEF) This exhibition was a master class in how to present the moving image. Not only has McQueen made some of the most significant film and video work of recent decades, but this installation made it possible for visitors to move almost seamlessly through the semi-darkness from one work to another. The experience of one film overlapped with that of the next, emphasizing the connections between the works and enhancing the reading of each piece.
Co-organized with the Art Institute of Chicago.
7 HELEN MARTEN (CHISENHALE GALLERY, LONDON) The level of invention in Marten’s work is extraordinary. She has developed her own visual language and deployed it in such a confident, authoritative, and humorous way: Walking into the Chisenhale space was like entering a hermetic world created by the artist, where cartoon pictograms met Starbucks cups and wooden monkeys.
8 PAUL MCCARTHY, WS (PARK AVENUE ARMORY, NEW YORK) McCarthy must be one of the few artists capable of taking over a space of such enormous scale and staging such an impressive work. I was struck by the incredible ambition of this installationof the films themselves as well as the film set and artificial forest within which they were shown. What we have come to know as McCarthy’s signature themes were all present; here they were pushed to the extreme, yet the brutal excess was tempered by moments of beauty.
9 ISAAC JULIEN (SESC POMPEIA, SÃO PAULO; CURATED BY SOLANGE FARKAS) As the title of this exhibition, “Geopoetics,” suggests, Julien’s art has always combined an exploration of social and political issues with images of formal beauty. Although I was already familiar with his multiscreen installations, my reading of the works was changed by seeing them presented individually on a very grand scale, each in its own glass room.
Co-organized with Associação Cultural Videobrasil.
10 LUTZ BACHER (INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ARTS, LONDON; CURATED BY MATT WILLIAMS) In Bacher’s captivating and enigmatic installation, heaps of black coal slag on the floor confronted visitors as they entered the exhibition, recalling otherworldly landscapes. Walking into the ICA’s upper galleries felt like entering a dream (or a nightmare), a sensation that was underscored by the sound piece playing downstairs, in which lines from Puck’s soliloquy in A Midsummer Night’s Dreamtelling us that what we have just seen is but a dreamare repeated over and over.
Julia Peyton-Jones is director of the Serpentine Galleries in London, where the current exhibitions on view through February 9, 2014, include “Wael Shawky: al-Qurban” and “Jake and Dinos Chapman: Come and See.” She conceived of the annual pavilion series there, which has commissioned designs by world-renowned architects for over a decade, and oversaw the expansion of the galleries into a new Zaha Hadid–designed space this year.