PRINT December 2013

The Artists' Artists

The Best Exhibitions of 2013

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 2013.


Two thousand thirteen was a good year for art. Whoever says the opposite is an ignoramus. I like the artist Flame.

Annabeth Marks, Ace of Wands, 2013, oil and beeswax on linen, 60 x 58".


Alighiero Boetti (Museum of Modern Art, New York) I don’t see all that many shows, but I’d bet on MoMA’s recent “Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan” as one of the recent best. Boetti’s work and name are equally memorable, and to think that he was operating like this well before “self-branding” became a common aspect of culture! Nearly two decades after his death, the art world has still hardly caught up. His use of carpets, outsourcing, faux science, and even collaboration of a sort is unfailingly compelling—simultaneously ironic and deeply sincere, hermetic and universal. Though artists continue to mine aspects of his work, few have come close to putting it all together like he did.


Paul McCarthy, “WS” (Park Avenue Armory, New York) Curated by Alex Poots and filing out the entirety of this voluminous Upper East Side site, McCarthy’s show reinvestigated the myths of Disney, this time via a visionary environment, which, given its sprawling scale, attention to detail, and unrelenting abjection, I found both intensely original and disturbing. By appropriating elements of Hollywood pornography, McCarthy gave, to put it mildly, new perspective to these Disney stories that are so central to American culture.

Běla Kolářová, Slalom, 1985, matches on color reproductions, 16 1/8 x 12 1/4".


Living in New York this past spring on an ISCP residency, I went to visit the National Museum of the American Indian. Folkloric ornament was central to the paintings I had been making at the time, and I was curious to explore the museum for ideas about pattern. The building, the old US customhouse, was very empty and strange. In the special exhibition “Circle of Dance,” a mannequin was decked out for a Hopi ceremony. In her wonderful headdress, the juxtaposition of geometric design with figural butterfly imagery seamlessly integrated two opposing modes of representation in a way that I found mysterious and inspiring.

Untitled photograph taken by the artist at Terminal S, Paris Orly Airport, May 19, 2013.


View of “ON | OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice,” 2012–13, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing. Photo: Dora Tang.


Allan Sekula and Noël Burch, The Forgotten Space In a screening at the Whitney Independent Study Program, about a week before Hurricane Sandy hit New York, I had a chance to see The Forgotten Space (2010), the film Allan Sekula made as a sequel to his Fish Story (1996) in collaboration with film critic and director Noël Burch. I had never experienced as viscerally as I did with this film essay the ways in which the global economy, aided by container shipping (often under flags of convenience), ruthlessly pits exploited workers on one continent against those on another. That same evening, I was able to tell Allan how much his film had affected me (we had known each other since the 1970s). It was the last time we spoke. He left us on August 10.

Stables at Cuadra San Cristóbal, designed by Luis Barragán in 1966–68, Mexico City, 2012. Photo: Leonor Antunes.


The recent work of Andrew Dadson I admire Dadson’s approach to painting. It is good work simply produced in this corporate atmosphere that galleries and art schools have created. It is made without fifteen assistants, a registrar, or any production money from dealers. It is nice to see that abstract painting can still be interesting and might have a future, as something that is not simply decorative.

Darren Bader, penis and/with zombie movie, breast with/and camera, clitoris with/and play, anus and/with greyness, testicles and/with weekend (detail), 2013, live models and mixed media, dimensions variable.


Mono-ha and Arte Povera in “Prima Materia” (Punta della Dogana, Venice) Lee Ufan and Mario Merz, Nobuo Sekine and Michelangelo Pistoletto, Susumu Koshimizu and Giulio Paolini: These extraordinary pairings conjured the moment when style—l’esthétique italienne and le style Japonais, two most essential mythologies of Western modernism—became form. Bonjour, Monsieur Szeemann. In the second half of the ’60s, with the entire world proposing cacophonous revolution, the (Zen) silence of the Japanese and the sensual materiality of the Italians modeled an extraordinary mind-set with which to confront the chaos of the times. As Merz reminds, “Se la forma scompare la sua radice è eterna.” If the form vanishes, its root is eternal.

Dimitri Venkov, In a Different Time, 2010, digital video, color, sound, 6 minutes. From the 5th Moscow Biennale.


This photo of Meret Oppenheim’s fountain in Bern, Germany, was taken on her one hundredth birthday, on October 6, 2013.

Melissa Appleton and Matthew Butcher, “Writtle Calling/2 Emma Toc,” 2012, Writtle, UK. Photo: Tim Brotherton.

SAM PULITZER I’ll position this Tumblr archive for West Coast artist Tony Greene (1955–1990) between two quotes taken from its pages. The first is from commentator and keeper of the blog Richard Hawkins, expressing Denton Welch’s presence in Greene’s oeuvre: “It’s only then, once you’re drawn in and ensnared, that you get a good long whiff of all the corpses.” The second comes from Greene himself: “Memorializing is the best revenge.” While the visibility of a Tumblr may lack the pomp and circumstance of conventional institutional recognition (ripe as it is with the salvaging of artistic traces as biodiesel to fuel the seasonal habits of cultural programming), the information gathered here articulates in prim, tacky, and shit-colored puns an artistry in which life’s foreclosure to mortality breeds desire like a pungent vapor bringing swamp lilies to blossom.

Photo: Frederik Værslev.


Wael Shawky, Dictums 10:120 (Sharjah Biennial 11) Encountering Wael Shawky’s Dictums 10:120, 2011–13, one had the sensation of finding oneself in a musical where the setting—the courtyards and alleyways of Sharjah, filling up during the biennial’s opening days—was treated as part of the plot. I stared in awe, at close range. Thirty-two Pakistani musicians sat on cushions in a narrow lane, marking a syncopated beat with their hands in the air and singing a Sufi devotional song in Urdu, the lyrics of which were fragments of curatorial talks from the previous biennial: “Everything is in very good condition”; “Tell history fully through documentary media, tell history fully through documentary media.”

Yen Ruo Jin’s I just want to paint a portrait of a face in my mind, 2013, in Yen’s apartment, Taipei, 2013. Photo: Lee Kit.


“A Journal of the Plague Year. Fear, ghosts, rebels. SARS, Leslie and the Hong Kong story” (Para Site Art Space, Hong Kong) Laying out a local history of Hong Kong and its environs, curators Cosmin Costinas and Inti Guerrero wittily constructed a multilayered narrative that challenges common conceptions of this part of Asia. Works on view ranged from Ai Weiwei’s sprawling, mediagenic map of China made from cans of baby formula (which, due to the unreliable quality of foodstuffs elsewhere in China, is stockpiled by mainland visitors to Hong Kong) to Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s intimate ghost video aptly installed in a tiny, typical Hong Kong apartment, to the video interview—presented on a modest monitor with headphones—with local journalist Fionnuala McHugh on the subject of SARS. Some eighteen years after Para Site (which I helped to establish) was founded, it is heartening to see the current incarnation of the space so vitally engage the project’s original mission of tracking changing global conditions through the forces shaping Hong Kong’s local reality.

André Eugène, Military Glory, 2010, mixed media, 72 x 48 x 26". From “In Extremis: Death and Life in 21st Century Haitian Art.”


Photo: Toshiki Maeda.


Pablo Helguera (Kent Fine Art, New York) In his solo show this past fall at Kent Fine Art, Helguera presented Rogaland, 2012, a work appropriating sixty-three plates from a 1936 book by Norwegian archaeologist Jan Petersen. In an act of willful mistranslation, Helguera rewrote Petersen’s captions in English, replacing the Norwegian words with Anglo-Saxon substitutes based only on similarities in sound, no doubt under the spell of the illustrations themselves, which detail the excavation of medieval rural settlements. Helguera argues that his manner of translation reveals something fundamental about the nature of art because it forces poetic interpretations. But for me, it shows that poetic conflations can problematically pass as truth statements. Once embedded within a scholarly apparatus that bears the stamp of authority, any proposition, no matter how fantastical, is imbued with a patina of truthfulness.


Detail of Kurt Schwitters’s As You Like It, 1943–44, from “Schwitters in Britain,” Tate Britain, London, 2013.


Noah Kalina (17 Frost, New York) Kalina’s distinctive and effortless aesthetic, whether he’s photographing portraits for magazine covers or outdoor scenes to post on Instagram, is as present and natural-seeming and refined as falling snow or afternoon sunlight. 17 Frost, a new gallery in a surprisingly quiet area of central Williamsburg, hosted Kalina’s first solo show—the “one-night-only” “Flowers*”—this past August as part of its “Summer Series,” curated by Aakash Nihalani and Rion Harmon. As My Modern Met said of the show: “Simple flowers purchased from the corner market plus some dramatic lighting are all Noah Kalina needed to create this visually stunning series.”


Patricia Fernández, Box (a proposition for ten years), 2012–22, mixed media, 41 1/4 x 24 1/4 x 14 1/4".


Steve McQueen (Schaulager, Basel) Steve McQueen’s exhibition in Basel was like a time capsule. Entering the Schaulager, you were immersed in a semidarkened city full of films, which seemed to change your perception of future, past, and present. Western Deep, 2002, for example, takes you in real time to the center of the earth, while Giardini, 2009, shows an exhibition space at a moment when nobody seems to care about it (does it still exist?). Elsewhere, Static, 2009, suggested that sometimes time can last forever if you set yourself an impossible goal—can freedom ever really be reached? When I left the show some five hours later, I realized I had totally lost track of the day passing. Yet in that afternoon that slipped away, I may never have experienced the passing of time more intensely.

Lele Sevari’s newsstand, Hudson River Park, New York, September 6, 2013. Photo: Sandy Kim.


I am always looking for contemporary art practices that express community and social values that are outside the art market’s dominant modus operandi—efforts that do not simply reinforce the market’s preoccupation with the immortal object. These art practices are often contextual, and so I was particularly drawn to Blue Plastic Bag, an expressly local art project—developed by Ross Taylor and Madalina Zaharia with the residents of Archway in North London—that involved setting up a common space in a disused storefront and working with the nearby supermarkets to integrate various art strategies into everyday grocery shopping. Here in London at the moment, the avant-garde can seem like a distant historical memory, but Blue Plastic Bag suggests a true way forward—one that involves experimental risk taking within the very paradigm of the notion of practice.

Still from the animated invitation to Flame’s 2013 show at Real Fine Arts, New York.


Annabeth Marks, “Folding Down the Middle” (Culture Room, New York) Like a body doubling, overloaded, bent upright in strength, beautiful scars exposing wear. Annabeth Marks straddles boundaries with her diverse, painting-like pieces, which paradoxically appear at once aware and indifferent. Immense labors of love are ambiguously finished. The works are enigmatic in both dimension and shape, as fringe, foam, paper pulp, and little strips of canvas cohere to form multilayered objects. This past September, seven of these pieces were pinned to and propped against Culture Room’s adapted bedroom-cum-gallery walls. Where do these works begin and end? The art’s answer: whatever. Each piece literally blurring its own edges, like a painting that bleeds out of its frame, defining new form.

Ross Taylor and Madalina Zaharia’s Blue Plastic Bag, 2013. Installation view, 26 Junction Road, London. Photo: Stephen Willats.


It was a simple idea: Rescue an abandoned subway kiosk located in an underground station and replace the candy and conventional magazines with art. Bringing together all of his favorite publications, prints, music, and knickknacks in a place accessible to everyday commuters, photographer Lele Saveri opened the door for an exciting group of emerging artists while simultaneously exposing the general public to an amazing archive of underground art. Since the first newsstand takeover this summer, Lele has brought about a new contemporary art community. Educating people about the best established, unestablished, and rising artists around, he’s showing that good art can be simple and can thrive anywhere.

Steve McQueen, Western Deep, 2002, 8 mm transferred to digital video, color, sound, 24 minutes 12 seconds.


Pied-à-Terre (San Francisco) Poet and artist McIntyre Parker’s gallery Pied-à-Terre is located in the tediously quiet Inner Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco. Its program, throughout its four years of operation, hasn’t lacked consistency, and this year has been particularly special. Pied currently inhabits the garage underneath Parker’s apartment, which is treated with as much respect and reverence as any museum or gallery space I’ve seen. The resulting exhibitions are dependably homespun yet refined—a true rarity.


Patricia Fernández (Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles) You might assume that nostalgia coupled with formal romanticism would spell lock-and-key familial faithfulness. Blood is thicker than water; it’s unlawful to report on your family’s “dirty” deeds. In Patricia Fernández’s work, this is exactly the risk. How do you remain quiet when you discover your parents have politically “radical” pasts? Or, conversely, how do you remain quiet when you discover that they didn’t? In Fernández’s two concurrent shows at Commonwealth and Council this spring, one could easily be drawn into her delicate painterly aesthetic, enough even to overlook a paper-covered book containing correspondences with her parents—which hint at, but never reveal, the nature of their activities in the late 1960s.


This past summer, I received a shocking piece of news from my mother. Umenoi, a first-class restaurant specializing in eel in Gion district, Kyoto, had closed. It had just celebrated its hundred-year anniversary. Since Kyoto is not known for its eel, Umenoi was mostly a place for locals. It was always busy. My family had dinners and parties there many times. The reason given for closing was a decrease in the availability of wild eel. Drastic changes are taking place in Japan’s natural environment, and it’s such little things as the shuttering of a favorite restaurant that can be the most haunting—things not mentioned in the news.

Funerary procession staged, for Zanele Muholi’s untitled video commissioned by films4peace, in protest of hate crimes against the LGBTI community, Thokoza Township, South Africa, July 16, 2013.


Mary Ann Aitken, “Black Abstract 1983–2011” (What Pipeline and Trinosophes, Detroit) Mary Ann Aitken never had a solo exhibition in her lifetime. Born in Detroit in 1960, she lived for many years in Brooklyn, where she had a job as an art therapist working with drug addicts. She died last year at fifty-two. I managed to see this two-part exhibition this past summer. The gallery What Pipeline was exhibiting pieces she made earlier on (between 1983 and ’89), including works on newsprint, mixed-media collage, and various kinds of painting, while Trinosophes featured her later, more abstract objects made between 2006 and 2011. What Pipeline also produced a beautiful catalogue. Aitken’s work is not only exceptionally current and humble, it also demonstrates her total dedication as much as her badassness.


“In Extremis: Death and Life in 21st Century Haitian Art” (Fowler Museum at UCLA) Materials are a dominant inspiration for my assemblages, and I source them from flea markets and garage sales. I was overwhelmed and shocked by the materials used by the artists in the exhibition “In Extremis.” After the earthquake in 2010 left Haiti buried in debris, artists gathered mangled objects from their former lives. These remnants of lost souls—bicycles, toys, furniture, and instruments—were combined and embellished with human skulls and bones to create assemblages of grief and power. The works focused on vodun tricksters known as the Gede, embracing their aspects of death, rebirth, and sex. The materials became homages—scabs to heal the painful wounds of devastated Haiti.

Adrian Wong, Sak Gai (Chicken Kiss), 2007, ink-jet print, 23 5/8 x 35 3/8". From “A Journal of the Plague Year. Fear, ghosts, rebels, SARS, Leslie and the Hong Kong story.”


Wael Shawky, Dictums 10:120, 2011–13. Performance view, SAF Art Spaces, Sharjah, March 15, 2013. From Sharjah Biennial 11.


The final day of Michael Krebber’s “Les escargots ridiculisés” (The Ridiculized Snails) at CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain de Bordeaux, France, February 10, 2013.

Tony Greene, Untitled, 1987, mixed media, 40 x 32". Collection Ray Morales from the Estate of Norm MacNeil.


Melissa Appleton and Matthew Butcher, “Writtle Calling/2 Emma Toc” (Writtle, UK) In September 2012, artists Melissa Appleton and Matthew Butcher built a radio mast in a field outside the small town of Writtle, where the first radio station in the UK was based in the 1920s. Every night for a week, Appleton and Butcher curated events that were locally broadcast, and my husband, Fabian Peake, was one of five performers on the second night. As the audience—all eight of us—sat on hay bales in the early-evening twilight, the radio station squeaked and moaned to life, with an eerie sound of the wind blowing through the transmitters. This performance, delivered by the radio station itself, was followed by storytelling, readings, and a geology lecture about the location’s topology and what would become of this little built structure in a hundred thousand years’ time.

Photo: Ugo Rondinone.


Dimitri Venkov (5th Moscow Biennale) I first encountered Dimitri Venkov’s work this past fall at the Moscow Biennale. In videos such as In a Different Time, 2010, and Crazy Imitators, 2012, Venkov creates a psychic interchange between the marginalized, “abnormal” individual or group and “normal,” mainstream culture. He juxtaposes reality and fiction, alternately differentiating between and fusing the two. In his work, I sensed a lonely existence: the alienated state of today’s world.

Translated from Chinese by Lee Ambrozy.

View of “Prima Materia,” 2013, Punta della Dogana, Venice. Photo: Fulvio Orsenigo and Alessandra Chemollo.


“Darren Bader: Heaven and Earth” (Blum & Poe, Los Angeles) Being in an exhibition can sometimes feel like being in an elevator; it’s hardly ever a place where you feel free. In Darren Bader’s show at Blum & Poe—which included a tripod and a sous-chef sitting on a Persian rug, some guy with his balls plopped out on the weekend days of a calendar, and a woman holding up a camera to obscure her exposed breast—the live performers, the selected objects, and the viewers all became sculptures, engaging one another with an unpredictable energy that felt to me like a new form of aesthetics. This strange constellation of physical presences created a multilayered sculptural image that has stuck in my mind ever since.

Andrew Dadson, Black Painted Lawn with White Fence, 2006, digital C-print, 56 x 72".


Allan Sekula and Noël Burch, The Forgotten Space, 2010, digital video, color, sound, 110 minutes.


Donald Judd’s 101 Spring Street (New York) Donald Judd is an artist who has always held my attention. Being the same age as Judd and living in SoHo during the 1970s, I was very curious to see how a male artist and father lived, in contrast to my experience as a female artist and mother (a taboo combination at the time). This nineteenth-century building at 101 Spring Street was bought by Judd in 1968 for $68,000. A $23 million renovation was completed this year, and the current, permanent installation reveals the kitchen, bathrooms, a children’s marionette theater, and a wooden platform bed on the floor. The feeling upon entering this newly unveiled time capsule, after years of passing it by, was awesome.


“ON | OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice” (Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing; curated by Bao Dong and Sun Dongdong) Last year, the China Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum exhibition “Future” charted the rise of a generation of artists who came of age after the Cultural Revolution, during China’s period of “reform and opening up,” and launched their artistic careers in the new century. This year, “ON | OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice” took up where “Future” left off, featuring fifty works executed in various media by artists almost all born after 1975. Although the scope of the exhibition prohibited a comprehensive look at any one artist’s work—and despite the controversy surrounding the show—“ON | OFF” successfully embodied the spirit of Chinese contemporary art.

Translated from Chinese by Lee Ambrozy.

Two views of Andra Ursuta, “Solitary Fitness,” 2013, Venus Over Manhattan, New York.


Butterfly dance headdress from the Hopi tribe, 2011, National Museum of the American Indian, New York. Photo: Farah Atassi.


Běla Kolářová (Raven Row, London) The first major Běla Kolářová (1923–2010) retrospective to be held outside of the Czech Republic, proficiently curated by Marie Klimešová and Alice Motard at Raven Row, offered inspiring insight into the artist’s methods. Kolářová conceived of photography not only as a mode of reproduction but as a transformative way of thinking about language and image. She left a multifaceted and introspective oeuvre, consisting of camera and cameraless photography, assemblages, collages, and drawings, some aspects of which could be understood as abstract autobiography: Kolářová’s difficult life as a female avant-garde artist in postwar Czechoslovakia is reflected in her intellectually original and rigorous practice, which was itself a form of inner resistance.

Paul McCarthy, WS, 2013, production still from the seven-hour, color, four-channel, digital video component of a mixed-media installation staged at Park Avenue Armory, New York. Photo: Joshua White.