PRINT December 2015

Lynne Cooke

Joan Jonas, They Come to Us Without a Word (Mirrors), 2015, mirrors, wood, lead crystals, iron, HD-video projection (color, sound, 2 minutes 11 seconds). Installation view, US pavilion, Venice. From the 56th Venice Biennale. Photo: Kate Lacey.

1 JOAN JONAS (US PAVILION, 56TH VENICE BIENNALE; CURATED BY PAUL C. HA AND UTE META BAUER) The extraordinary richness of Jonas’s imagery has never been more evident or labile in its interweaving of performance and installation. Ghosts of the physically departed yet psychically present mingled with mute species at risk of extinction, and youth was counterpointed with age in hauntingly elliptical pictures and stories—makeshift mnemonic talismans constructed in the face of ineluctable change.

2 GREER LANKTON (PARTICIPANT INC, NEW YORK) Extensively researched, this landmark show recuperated a singular artist who’d been on the brink of disappearing. Exquisitely tailored life-size dolls, tender photographs of a stylish Lankton posing with these sculptural companions, and searing drawings of her sex change were juxtaposed with extensive documentary material and works by the artist’s East Village peers, allowing her mordant, unflinching rapier vision and fragile glamour to lodge themselves indelibly in one’s consciousness.

3 ON KAWARA (SOLOMON R. GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM, NEW YORK; CURATED BY JEFFREY WEISS WITH ANNE WHEELER) Rarely has a solo show so deftly taken advantage of Frank Lloyd Wright’s demanding spatiotemporal promenade. And the lines of young visitors stretching around the block attested to the fact that Kawara’s hallmark clarity of vision and purpose is perhaps more relevant than ever in today’s overheated art world.

4 JAMES “SON FORD” THOMAS (80WSE GALLERY, NEW YORK; CURATED BY JONATHAN BERGER, MARY BETH BROWN, AND JESSICA IANNUZZI GARCIA) Thomas (1926–1993), a Mississippi Delta-blues musician, sculpted clay skulls and coffin effigies that are as vivid and neighborly as the witty portraits he made of friends and acquaintances. Contextualized with film footage of Thomas talking, and framed by the freewheeling program that has made 80WSE a beacon, the first solo exhibition of his art in New York was refreshingly unburdened by debates about how to classify this resourceful maverick’s practice.

5 SONIA DELAUNAY (TATE MODERN, LONDON; CURATED BY ANNE MONTFORT AND CÉCILE GODEFROY) This exceptional retrospective (overseen at Tate Modern by Juliet Bingham with Juliette Rizzi) took on board Delaunay’s deep commitment to the cause of modernity and hence to fashion, textile and interior design, fine art, and mural painting. In her conviction that aesthetic production had the potential to effect social change, Delaunay was in sync with other avant-garde figures of her era, but in her radical vision of the forms these multiple arts might assume, she had few equals.

Co-organized with the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.

Horace Pippin, Mr. Prejudice, 1943, oil on fabric, 18 1/8 × 14 1/8".

6 “WHAT NERVE! ALTERNATIVE FIGURES IN AMERICAN ART, 1960 TO THE PRESENT” (RISD MUSEUM, PROVIDENCE, RI; CURATED BY DAN NADEL AND JUDITH TANNENBAUM) Tracking affinities and affiliations among groups of artists whose infectiously rambunctious spirits led them to operate at a remove from the mainstream art world, this show began with San Francisco’s Funk movement, Chicago’s Imagists, and Detroit’s Destroy All Monsters and ended on a dizzying, upbeat note with Providence’s Forcefield. The anarchic humor that fueled their congruent subversions has lost little of its bite and verve over time, suggesting that these maverick coteries are ripe for reappraisal.

7 NOAH PURIFOY (LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART; CURATED BY FRANKLIN SIRMANS AND YAEL LIPSCHUTZ) LACMA’s elegantly installed show provided context for Purifoy’s remarkable Outdoor Desert Art Museum, which comprises more than one hundred sculptures and installations that the artist created during the past fifteen years of his life, outside Los Angeles, in the desert near Joshua Tree. Sirmans and Lipschutz deftly alluded to the different strands in Purifoy’s multifaceted career—his fledgling years as a modernist interior and furniture designer, his commitment to experimental pedagogy in the devastated Watts neighborhood in the 1960s, and his role as an arts and social-services administrator—while giving precedence to his (intermittent) engagement with assemblage. In so doing, they exposed the political as well as aesthetic impulses underpinning the California artist’s arresting use of detritus, whether sourced from urban or rural locales.

8 “FIBER: SCULPTURE 1960–PRESENT” (INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ART, BOSTON; CURATED BY JENELLE PORTER) In the 1960s, a movement defined as fiber art—comprising large-scale, abstract, three-dimensional artifacts made by men and women trained in crafts practices—attempted to storm the bastions of fine art, with little enduring impact. By contrast, vanguard artists from Eva Hesse to Alan Shields, who in the same decade turned to fiber-based materials, continued to inhabit that privileged arena. So, too, today’s art school graduates mine the histories of tapestry, weaving, textiles, and related fields without risking forfeiture of their status. Spanning both eras, this pioneering show offered ways to productively recalibrate historical narratives that prioritize those whose work originates within the fold of art’s mainstream.

9 HORACE PIPPIN (BRANDYWINE RIVER MUSEUM OF ART, CHADDS FORD, PA; CURATED BY AUDREY LEWIS) In contrast to the early 1940s, when, albeit briefly, his work was much sought after by New York’s cutting-edge galleries and collectors, Pippin’s acclaim today resonates in more marginal ecosystems: within the realm of the self-taught creator, or among the pioneers of African American art history. However, his dexterity in working across a wide range of genres (not least history painting, to which he made a major contribution with his John Brown trilogy) and his ability to imbue canonical utopian visions, such as Edward Hicks’s paintings of the Peaceable Kingdom, with an unexpectedly contemporary valence (in his “Holy Mountain” series, 1944–45) argue that wider recognition is due. The recent retrospective at the Brandywine River Museum—the sanctum of the Wyeth family’s artistic legacy—offered an unexpected foil for pondering his absence from most art-historical narratives.

10 JANNIS KOUNELLIS, UNTITLED (12 HORSES) (GAVIN BROWN’S ENTERPRISE, NEW YORK) Feeling skeptical about the viability of restaging an event that took place on another continent almost a half-century ago (in Rome, in 1969), I was unprepared for the extraordinary charge of Kounellis’s piece. The quiet dignity of those long-term stablemates, stoically indifferent to their awed human audience, was deeply affecting. Kounellis’s characteristic subversion of the image—in this instance, eons of equine imagery stretching back to Lascaux—in favor of a materialist vision, a staging of living or raw matter, gave no quarter to nostalgia or romanticism.

Lynne Cooke is Senior Curator of Special Projects in Modern Art at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. She recently organized “Luc Tuymans: Intolerance,” a retrospective of the Belgian artist’s work for Qatar Museums. She is cocurator of “Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination,” which opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in November.