PRINT December 2013

Matthew Higgs

Laura Owens, Untitled, 2013, acrylic, oil, and Flashe paint on canvas, 11' 5 1/2" x 10'.

1 LAURA OWENS (356 S. MISSION RD., LOS ANGELES) Owens’s first major hometown exhibition in almost a decade felt like a momentous event. Eschewing the white cube, she elected to present her own work on her own terms, situating it alongside an outpost of Wendy Yao’s savvy Ooga Booga store in a voluminous Boyle Heights warehouse gently renovated in partnership with her longtime New York dealer, Gavin Brown. On view for six months, the suite of twelve XXL paintings, made in that very space, was aesthetically promiscuous and wildly ambitious, and provided conclusive proof—not that it was needed—that painting’s demise has been greatly exaggerated.

2 “KEN PRICE SCULPTURE: A RETROSPECTIVE” (METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, NEW YORK; CURATED BY STEPHANIE BARRON) AND “KEN PRICE: SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE, WORKS ON PAPER 1962–2010” (THE DRAWING CENTER, NEW YORK; CURATED BY DOUGLAS DREISHPOON) It is increasingly easy to forget that art often used to be original, sometimes stubbornly so. A case in point is Price’s profoundly strange work, the subject of these two parallel—and sadly posthumous—retrospectives. For more than fifty years, Price made art that not only looked like no one else’s but also felt like nothing you had encountered before—or since. A true maverick, in many ways the definitive “artist’s artist,” he will be greatly missed.

“Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective” was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “Ken Price: Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Works on Paper 1962–2010” was co-organized with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo.

3 CAMILLE HENROT, GROSSE FATIGUE Made in collaboration with poet Jacob Bromberg and musician and DJ Joakim Bouaziz, and narrated by artist and musician Akwetey Orraca-Tetteh, Henrot’s labyrinthine, thirteen-minute cut-and-paste film—seemingly produced on a laptop—was the deserving winner of the Venice Biennale’s Silver Lion. A hallucinatory and often delirious riff on both the excesses and limits of knowledge, the film also functioned perfectly as a kind of primer for curator Massimiliano Gioni’s far-reaching exhibition “The Encyclopedic Palace.”

4 DAN MILLER AND WILLIAM SCOTT (CREATIVE GROWTH ART CENTER, OAKLAND, CA; CURATED BY TOM DI MARIA AND CATHERINE NGUYEN) Creative Growth Art Center is a studio program and gallery space for adult artists with developmental disabilities. It is also among the most farsighted and profoundly optimistic arts organizations I have ever encountered. As part of a yearlong series of exhibitions marking its fortieth anniversary next year, the center presented a focused and revelatory show of recent work by two of its most idiosyncratic artists, Dan Miller and William Scott, who both explore language and autobiographical narratives to radically different ends.

5 RAINER GANAHL (EL MUNDO, NEW YORK) On a freezing night this past January, Ganahl staged a classical-music concert in the unlikely setting of El Mundo, a now-closed East Harlem department store housed in a theater from the 1920s. Both the audience and the musicians were wedged amid densely packed racks and shelves of discounted goods. Ganahl’s work has long considered the intersections between art, daily life, and economic systems, themes that were subtly addressed and poetically amplified in what turned out to be a truly magical evening. You really had to be there. (Full disclosure: White Columns paid for the rental of the piano used in the performance.)

Loretta Fahrenholz, Ditch Plains, 2013, HD video, color, sound, 30 minutes.

6 LORETTA FAHRENHOLZ (REENA SPAULINGS FINE ART, NEW YORK) Shot amid the paralyzing wreckage of Hurricane Sandy in the boarded-up rows of farthest Brooklyn, Fahrenholz’s hypnotic film Ditch Plains, 2013, was made in collaboration with the Ringmasters Crew, a group of self-taught dancers and choreographers from East New York whose narcoleptic moves provide the film with both its staccato rhythm and its kinetic energy. Part allegory, part dance movie, part somnambulist fantasy, the film in all its self-conscious strangeness feels like a documentary, an honest and objective account of the prevailing instability of our present times.

7 GEORGE PACKER, THE UNWINDING: AN INNER HISTORY OF THE NEW AMERICA (FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX) Books about America’s post-9/11 spiritual and economic decline are legion, the theme having become something of a genre unto itself. By far the best I have read is New Yorker staff writer George Packer’s The Unwinding, a profoundly moving yet clear-eyed account of a half century’s malaise. Told through a kaleidoscopic series of portraits of Americans struggling to come to terms with an uncertain present, let alone future, Packer’s pessimistic account reads like a novel, one that offers no redemption or happy endings. Instead, it suggests that we’re all basically fucked.

8 PÁDRAIG TIMONEY (RAVEN ROW, LONDON; CURATED BY ALEX SAINSBURY) This two-decade survey may go some way in helping to unravel the conundrum that is Pádraig Timoney, whose mercurial art has few precedents (only the great alchemist Sigmar Polke comes to mind). The Irish-born, New York–based artist’s work isn’t as well known as it might be, a not-too-surprising scenario given the extent to which it privileges complexity, reveling in semantic games, narrative feints, and conceptual detours. At a time when so much of what we see in our galleries can be consumed in an instant, Timoney’s unabashedly uncompromising oeuvre asks that we slow down, look harder, and take the time to acclimatize.

9 SIMON DENNY (PETZEL GALLERY, NEW YORK) Originally presented at the Kunstverein München, Denny’s paradoxical project preserved for posterity the packed daily agendas and rapid-fire talking points of that city’s 2012 Digital Life Design conference, a high-tech summit of today’s most influential technology and social-media proselytizers. Though the event took place only a year or so before the debut of the artist’s work, Denny’s deadpan restaging—a maze-like installation of eighty-nine digitally printed canvas panels attached to Cady Noland–esque metal barriers—made it feel like ancient history. The work recast the utopian promise of technology as a form of melancholic entropy.

10 “‘GREAT AND MIGHTY THINGS’: OUTSIDER ART FROM THE JILL AND SHELDON BONOVITZ COLLECTION” (PHILADELPHIA MUSEUM OF ART; CURATED BY ANN PERCY) Outsider art, for want of a better term, probably had its Best Year Ever in 2013. The prominent positioning of pieces by self-taught artists—of all persuasions—at this year’s Venice Biennale and Carnegie International, and in Rosemarie Trockel’s traveling exhibition “A Cosmos” was, for many long-standing advocates of such work, a vindication of sorts. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Museum of Art staged “‘Great and Mighty Things,’” an uplifting exhibition drawn from one of the most important private collections of American vernacular art. The show served to remind us that not only does extraordinary work continue to be made just about everywhere, it doesn’t need to be displayed alongside contemporary art to retain its significance.

Matthew Higgs is an artist and the director and chief curator of White Columns, New York. He is currently working with curator Catherine Morris on a retrospective of the work of Judith Scott, which will open at the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art in fall 2014.