PRINT December 2014

Lynne Cooke

Robert Gober, Untitled (detail), 2003–2005, plaster, fir, wool, linen, photolithograph on paper, oil paint, enamel paint, watercolor, pastel, graphite, bronze, cast plastic, polyethylene, lead crystal, fiberglass, nickel-plated bronze, wood, water, recycling pumps, stoneware, urethane, rubber, cement, feather re-creation of American robin, blown glass, Flashe paint, aluminum, pewter, beeswax, human hair, pigment, socks, shoes, dimensions variable.

1 ROBERT GOBER (MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK; CURATED BY ANN TEMKIN WITH PAULINA POBOCHA) Enormously impressive, this exhibition evidences an exceptional level of commitment on the part of the artist, curator, and institution. Though Gober’s mapping of the American sociocultural landscape by way of themes of sexuality, politics, religion, and domesticity is often trenchant, even bleak, it is leavened by its resilient generosity of spirit.

2 KARA WALKER, A SUBTLETY (THE FORMER DOMINO SUGAR FACTORY, NEW YORK) This brilliantly sited and contextualized project was that rare thing, a truly public contemporary sculpture. Walker’s monumental sphinx generated manifold readings—testimony to its formal and conceptual complexity. Indelible.

Organized by Creative Time, New York.

3 MIKE KELLEY (THE GEFFEN CONTEMPORARY AT MOCA, LOS ANGELES; CURATED BY ANN GOLDSTEIN; FIRST EXHIBITION CONCEPT CURATED BY EVA MEYER-HERMANN) Deftly integrated into the Geffen’s sprawling spaces, this unforgettable retrospective (originated by Goldstein at the Stedelijk and overseen here by Bennett Simpson) paid homage to one of LA’s most fecund and influential artists. Thrilling, thanks to the dizzying range of issues and subjects Kelley addressed with seemingly unchecked wit and invention, the show was also deeply haunting: professional success at a devastating price.

Organized by the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, with the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, Los Angeles.

4 CHARLES JAMES (METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, NEW YORK; CURATED BY HAROLD KODA AND JAN GLIER REEDER) America’s first great couturier is still unsurpassed, as this stunning tribute made clear. On one floor, the retrospective featured extraordinary ball gowns that manifest the structural wizardry at the heart of James’s design process. Challenging the taste and self-confidence of even the more daring of his patrons from the 1 percent, these gowns were complemented by the radically inventive, elegant cocktail dresses, coats, and ensembles showcased on the floor below. Though pitched to a more decorous dresser, their allure remains undimmed.

5 “HENRI MATISSE: THE CUT-OUTS” (TATE MODERN, LONDON; CURATED BY NICHOLAS SEROTA AND NICHOLAS CULLINAN WITH FLAVIA FRIGERI) Generously installed, Tate Modern’s presentation of Matisse’s late work surpassed every expectation. How remarkable that this make-do technique, deployed with apparently effortless ease to sculpt robust figures in boundless space, could conjure decorative schemes of sumptuous grandeur.

Co-organized with the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Kerry James Marshall, Green (Untitled), 2012, acrylic on canvas, 8' × 17' 10". From the series “Who’s Afraid of Red, Black and Green,” 2011–12.

6 SARAH MICHELSON, 4 (WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART, NEW YORK, JAN. 24–FEB. 2; CURATED BY JAY SANDERS) As David Velasco so eloquently put it in these pages: “In the wild, singular, stylish, alloyed land of Sarah Michelson, you don’t surrender to the genuflection of the bow.” Michelson’s best works live on in our heads, less as fixed memories than as mutable, ever-immediate experiences that, with each recollection, open up anew.

Co-commissioned with the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

7 LUCIO FONTANA (MUSÉE D’ART MODERNE DE LA VILLE DE PARIS; CURATED BY CHOGHAKATE KAZARIAN AND SÉBASTIEN GOKALP) For Fontana (to paraphrase art historian Anthony White), little separated the utopian from kitsch. In this unusually comprehensive retrospective, his flamboyant early ceramic sculpture, often freighted with ersatz religious echoes, competed for our favor with gorgeous spatialist canvases, whose rich, creamy facture and sun-shade palettes, riven with incisions and perforations, secured the artist’s place in vanguard histories.

8 KERRY JAMES MARSHALL (MUSEUM VAN HEDENDAAGSE KUNST ANTWERPEN; CURATED BY NAV HAQ) Giving free rein to Marshall’s driving, protean vision, this midcareer survey put to the test the artist’s ambition to “operate inside the discourse of artmaking but outside the art world” (as Barry Schwabsky has put it), without fully revealing its hand. Marshall’s shape-shifting roving across a dizzyingly broad range of mediums and genres attests to his refusal to be tied to the signature monumental paintings with which his reputation was secured, and to his relentless questing for idioms and vernaculars in which to voice his desire to insert African American narratives into mainstream American discourse.

Co-organized with the Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen; Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona; and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.

9 “KENNETH CLARK: LOOKING FOR CIVILISATION” (TATE BRITAIN, LONDON; CURATED BY CHRIS STEPHENS AND JOHN-PAUL STONARD WITH JOHN WYVER AND INGA FRASER) This fascinating show probed Clark’s enduring influence as a public servant (he directed the National Gallery in London from 1934 to 1945), private patron (he commissioned work by Henry Moore and his fellow neo-Romantics), wealthy collector (of antiquities, old-master paintings, and late Impressionists), scholar, author, and ecumenical broadcaster by way of the immensely influential 1969 TV series Civilisation, a potent guide for generations of viewers. In canvassing Clark’s many roles, the show revealed how modern art in Britain, like this lordly tastemaker, was circumscribed by tradition, heritage, and privilege.

10 RAY YOSHIDA (JOHN MICHAEL KOHLER ARTS CENTER, SHEBOYGAN, WI; CURATED BY KAREN PATTERSON) Redolent of the spirit in which Yoshida displayed his collection of some 2,600 objects in his home, this exhibition assembled a vast trove of folk art, ethnographic artifacts, and sundry flea-market and junk-shop finds, plus works by the Chicago Imagists (many of whom Yoshida had mentored during his four decades as a teacher at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago) and a sampling of his own paintings. The whole display was infused with a maverick vitality—the hallmark of Yoshida’s Midwest coterie of artist-collectors.

Lynne Cooke, recently appointed Senior Curator at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, is currently at work on a project focusing on the interface between American self-taught artists and the mainstream art world, and, with Christine Kim, is cocurating a Diana Thater retrospective that opens at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in November 2015.