To take stock of the past year, Artforum asked an international group of artists to select a single exhibition or event that most memorably captured their eye in 2017.
Rei Kawakubo (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) This exhibition was an ecstatic explosion of imagination and ingenuity with a radical reconsideration of form at its core. Much of Kawakubo’s work is joyful and energetic, yet it is far from escapist; her practice is deeply grounded in the social, aesthetic, and material history of clothing and in the importance we humans have assigned to appearance and comportment. Kawakubo confronts restrictive or heavily coded styles and fashions to break through to new forms, exaggerations, and combinations that reinvent clothing. I walked out of the show refreshed, inspired, and feeling shockingly optimistic––rare in these troubled times. Every shape and color in the street seemed freshly charged with possibility. What has resonated is the sharply articulated idea that we can think new forms into being; history does not have to repeat itself.
Colette (Mitchell Algus Gallery, New York) This exhibition was at once intimate and aggressive. The messy arrangements of fabric and mannequins together functioned like a loose sculptural drawing of a bedroom, pulling you along with softness and femininity; but the work also bore a madness that punched holes in its supposed fragility––sometimes even literally puncturing through the surface of a photograph floating in a light box. It recalled a dream of staring down at yourself sleeping. Darts of humor and shrewdness emerged as the artist reframed her own words from a 1980 WET magazine interview: “‘Whose garbage do you love the most?’ ‘My own.’ ‘What garbage do you keep that most people throw away?’ ‘Old boyfriends.’”
Wake Up the World Tour (various venues) In a year when public art feels urgent everywhere, its audience has proved in many cases more nuanced and challenging than the works themselves. Suddenly I found the discursive, imminent space of protest more engaging and more productive than working in my studio. You can’t have a conversation alone. First at Standing Rock, then back home in Los Angeles, I spent time in crowds, listening to other people speak and being moved by music. The music of the movement is young and rawthe voice of indigenous teens maced by policeand was propelled by twenty-six-year-old rapper Nataanii Means, son of the late American Indian Movement leader Russell Means. On a tour sponsored by Winona LaDuke’s organization, Honor the Earth, Means and hip-hop artist Witko freestyled over a Lil Wayne hook, re-creating the menace of the frontline camp at Standing Rock and the improbably joyous sounds of resistance. Nataaniia rare, humble authority who knows how to throw his voice so that it seems to speak from his audienceraps with a disarming emotional openness.
Women’s March (Washington, DC, January 21) This was the very first march I attended in my life. I never thought that I would go to any political demonstrationever. As an immigrant woman, I became so worried after the last US election. When I heard about the Women’s March, it felt so right to join them. I went with my good friend, who kindly knitted me a pussy hat. When I was walking down the streets in the crowds, I felt such a strong sense of belonging. Thank you, Women’s March!
Ayşe Erkmen (Skulptur Projekte 2017, Münster, Germany) Ayşe Erkmen’s On Water, 2017, was a submerged walkway connecting two sides of an inland harbor, bridging the gap between the industrial and the more gentrified shores. The structure was nearly invisible, so walking across it was like walking on water. It is a seemingly simple idea yet not easy to achieve: The complexity of rigging the project would have discouraged many from pursuing it. The result was amazing and unique, and led to the most memorable interaction I’ve ever had with an artwork, elating but not without a good dose of anxiety. It literally provided an immersive experience and a moment of suspended disbelief.
Guan Xiao (Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin) Guan Xiao once described rhythm as a way to “understand associations between things.” Her rhythm is as attentive as it is intuitive and radically free-form. Perhaps this is what enables her to sprout a practice of transitions, an irregular kick drum that will make you feel its asymmetrical logic.
KERRY JAMES MARSHALL
Francis Picabia (Museum of Modern Art, New York) I have in my phone pictures of twenty-nine paintings from the Francis Picabia exhibition I saw at MoMA last December. That they are still there is a testament to how thrilling the show was for me. Here was a selection of works that fully embody the adventure of making arthow not to perform to expectation, masterfully. A rumination by Georges Seurat looped through my mind: “The more of us there are, the less original we will be, and the day when everybody will be using this technique, it will have no more value and we shall have to seek again.”
Cy Twombly (Centre Pompidou, Paris) When the physical act of drawing—independent of meaning or representation—is propelled by the subconscious or by madness to become a painting, you will hear the commotion buried deep within yourself.
Yto Barrada, Lyautey Unit Blocks (Play), 2010 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) To encounter this work is to encounter deconstructivism. The architectonic forms, the relentlessness of operational color theory, and the illusions of play embody Barrada’s proposition of exposing systems of power through formal experimentation and interrogation. I was able to visit the installation of Lyautey Unit Blocks (Play) many times. In a year that brought several discussions to the surfaceincluding those on the impact of public monuments on the collective psyche and conversations about the research of Nikole Hannah-Jones on school segregation and resegregationBarrada’s work became a proposition, unfolding in ways impossible to turn away from.
Oslo For the first time since high school, I’ve been spending longer periods at home in Oslo, and I’m fascinated by the interdisciplinary scene there. It spans visual art, TV, music, magazines, and fashion: Julie Andem’s breakout series Skam, Ida Ekblad’s gallery Schloss, Rhea Dall’s shows for UKS (the Young Artists’ Society), Agatha Wara’s publication Agatha, and Elise By Olsen’s magazine Recens Paper (designed by Morteza Vaseghi) are some highlights. Fashion designerslike Michael Olestad and the collective HAiKand musicians like Nils Bech round out its list of protagonists.
Venkatappa Art Gallery, Bangalore, India Since March 2016 protests and events have been held by artists in Bangalore resisting a takeover of the city’s Venkatappa Art Gallery (VAG). Artists in Karnataka formed the VAG Forum to oppose the decision by the state government to give away a significant public cultural institutionthe official state galleryto a private collector to rebuild and rebrand in order to house a private collection. Despite constraints of time and resources, several exhibitions, meetings, and interactive art installations were organized by the gallery, reinforcing its presence as an inclusive art space. The protests have marked an important moment in the arts-and-culture landscape not only in Karnataka but in India: As of September, the collective had been successful in stalling the transfer of the gallery.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s last performance of The Greatest Show on Earth (May 21, Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, NY) After 146 years, The Greatest Show on Earth—a wandering axis mundi and pre-Copernican model of the universe with roots in Paleolithic astronomy and culture—dropped its king pole for the last time, bringing down the big top. A monstrous art extravaganza, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s circus imprinted generations of children’s minds with images of archetypes from the ancient world, whose central zodiacal ring has now been dismantled—leaving the planet wobbly and a celestial clock stopped. Large animals have hopefully been retired to a better life; the ringmaster has been silenced; clowns, jugglers, magicians, and other circus stars have all gone to fixed positions.
Ettore Sottsass (Met Breuer, New York) Ettore Sottsass finally arrived in New York, on the hundredth anniversary of his birth. For more than six decades, the richly sensuous and deeply rigorous objects he made chronicled the rapid-fire sequence of world-changing ideas flowing through the visual culture of his era. In the 1950s and ’60s, he created ceramics influenced by Hinduism and Beat poetry, all the while designing computer office systems for Olivetti. The following decade, he briefly veered toward a Kubrickesque, science-fiction aesthetic before retreating into high-hippie life in the Spanish desert. For his work with the Memphis Group, during the ’80s, he turned to parody as a last refuge in a post-utopian age. Finally, during Sottsass’s last decades (well documented at the Met Breuer), he settled into a refined old-age style that involved limited editions, commissions for unique objects, and exquisite private houses. These late works are a freewheeling, kaleidoscopic synthesis of all that came before.
Hadi Fallahpisheh, “Everything Is True” (Kai Matsumiya, New York) Hadi Fallahpisheh’s works generate endless discoveries; open to the viewer’s projections, they both celebrate and avoid judgment. For this show, “Everything Is True,” through a cameraless photographic process in the darkroom, Fallahpisheh created painterly works that depict not just characters (each represents a fictional Hadji) but narratives (emphasized in scrawling letters and in the jokes that title each piece). Hadji, the term for a Muslim who has completed a pilgrimage to Mecca, is an honorific address that has also become a derogatory term, used by Fallahpisheh to caricature Middle Eastern society. With so many Hadjis along the walls, the reflection of homosociality became humorously critical, hideously poetic, and truthfully scary. The work collapses the artist’s personal and cultural memories in its complex layering of languages. As I left the show I repeated to myself a favorite line of a Persian poem: “One who has seen the world tells many lies.”
Sibylle Bergemann (Reinbeckhallen, Berlin) I think Sibylle Bergemann’s photos have something in common with the music of Catherine Ringer. They are so provocative, and they show that Romanticism can develop into something meaningfulan attitude of rebellion that clashes with a world of convention. It’s clear from many of Bergemann’s pictures how worn-out the former GDR was: The women look insubordinate, flouting social norms as a way of symbolically drawing attention to the injustice of their situation. I like the images’ raw atmosphere.
Apparently Bergemann once photographed her black-clad models looking sullen and moody on the island of Rügen for a fashion magazine, and the Central Committee was so upset by their expressions that the comrades retouched the photo.
“Salon, Salon: Fine Art Practices from 1972 to 1982 in ProfileA Beijing Perspective” (Inside-Out Art Museum, Beijing) There are two art worlds in China: the “official” art world and the “contemporary” art world. The former continues the tradition of socialist realism. The two don’t mess with each other, and neither do their written histories. “Salon, Salon” was an ambitious attempt to bring these spheres together by focusing on the moment when the split happened, as well as by placing people from both sides in the same exhibition and discussion spaces. The trigger for this division was more about an emerging tension between individual will and state will than it was about different artistic pursuits. Today, the tendency of these entities to merge is rather worrisome, as perhaps this reflects a reconciliation between the individual and the state.
Kerstin Brätsch (Museum Brandhorst, Munich) and Felix Kraus in “PIECE OF CAKE” (KulturBahnhof, Kassel) There are two remedies against nerve-racking painting shows: Kerstin Brätsch and Felix Kraus. Both put frontier-crossing fun back into art, where it belongs. Current painting islike the New Righta self-styled victim of other disciplines, ruling and immuring itself in narcissistic acts of self-legitimation. The aforementioned artists take a different turn, each rejecting an artistic “identity” and genre-specific territory. For them, painting is not fantasy but science fiction: Multiple actors and extraterrestrial collaborators transport them to other dimensionsthrough black holes, time tunnels, and mad planets’ nebulae. Brätsch acts as a looking glass, Kraus as an electro-hypnagogic spacewalker through painted matter: over and out!
Cheyenne Julien (Smart Objects, Los Angeles) Boi-oi-oi-oing! Cheyenne Julien’s comic formalism sprang into action in her show “Homegrown.” Weaving through the physical and mental interiors depicted in her work, she slowly acquaints us with the lineage of her perspective. Julien approaches the task of translating a legacy of familial tension and cultural confinement with refreshingly playful sincerity. She pairs communicative immediacy with the urgency of gesture, the tense formula activating the environments her figures inhabit. Energetic brushwork animates each scene, conveying the depth of her characters. I found her confident honesty inspirational and invigorating.
“Pan Yuliang: A Journey to Silence” (Villa Vassilieff, Paris) This group exhibition, curated by Nikita Yingqian Cai, opened in Paris before traveling to the Times Museum in Guangdong, China. Pan Yuliang was one of the first Chinese women to receive a scholarship to study art in France. For the show, several contemporary artists created new works from archival materials, exploring subjects relevant to Pan and her practice. The exhibition confronted my temptation to identify with Asian women living in extreme alienation. It openly encouraged empathy, departing from the messiness of the experiences of anger, fear, and shame that I find myself submerged in daily.
Celeste Dupuy-Spencer (Marlborough Contemporary, New York) If someone were to wake me out of a stupor, shine a flashlight in my eyes, and ask, “What have you seen lately culturally speakingthat impressed you?” I would instantly blurt, “That show by Celeste Dupuy-Spencer!” We humans, increasingly unmoored, operate within a fragile social fabric now stretched to the ripping point across an abyss of our own making. Dupuy-Spencer depicts this uneasy truththe coping, the camaraderie, the pain, the lovewith visceral humor, breathtaking empathy, and energetic painterly skill. Sarah, 2017a crotch-shot masterworkand its companion drawing, Come Here, Comrade (January 20, 2017), describe moments of addled domestic bliss, the relief of playfully escaping with your partner into each other’s daylit nakedness, in triangulation with your cat.
Irving Penn (Grand Palais, Paris, on view through January 29, 2018) As did most of us who work in fashion, I discovered Irving Penn through his work with Vogue. This exhilarating show displays not only the exquisite beauty of his photographs but his provocative nature and meticulous attention to composition and nuance. He saw beauty in everythingin people of all walks of life from around the world; in nature; even in cigarette butts. Of all his portraits, the one of Picassostrong and sensitive at the same timeis my favorite. The media was so different then. Penn’s photographs of people from his trips to France, South America, and Africa were also published by Vogue at the time. Magazines like Vogue were once not just about fashion but were a window to the world.
T-shirt by Winslow Laroche If you haven’t lurked Winslow Laroche, you’re lying; if you have, you owe them money. Winslow designed and screenprinted a few T-shirts back in late March that read ABUSE OF WHITE POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE. I look at mine daily. White thievery and co-optation are canon; Winslow steals language that has already been stolen. Relationships in art can only be understood through transactions of theft and debt. I’ll never be able to pay Winslow back for what I have learned from them, but I’ll close all my tabs on them until I can offer them sufficient compensationand so should you.
ReConstruir México Mexico’s response to the earthquake on September 19 of this year was an overwhelming display of solidarity. After the initial crisis it became evident that thousands of historic buildings, many of them listed as World Heritage Sites, were at risk. A community of one hundred architects created ReConstruir México, which is currently working on the most immediate tasks of recovery and rebuilding: to prevent the destruction of centuries-old buildings and to find housing for the displaced. Brigades of architects and builders are now visiting damaged areas and using wooden trusses to shore up walls that would otherwise fall, ensuring that in the future, this country will also have a past.
“Blue Black” (Pulitzer Arts Foundation, Saint Louis) There are specific moments in time when an exhibition engages the viewer and the city in which it is situated on a multitude of levels. Glenn Ligon’s curatorial effort at the Pulitzer was a striking and beautiful reconsideration of works by a range of prolific artists under the umbrella of the concept of blue and black. The artist-writer’s contemplation revealed a longtime engagement with ideas and observations within his own work, and created a discourse within a city where past curatorial indifference had temporarily engendered an intellectual vacuum in the midst of protracted violence, strife, and ongoing failures of justice. This is how meaningful exhibitions can reflect the times we live in, and inspire.
Belkis Ayón (El Museo del Barrio, New York) Belkis Ayón expressed universal truths by mining the specific symbology of the Abakuá secret society, an Afro-Cuban fraternity that originated in the mid-nineteenth century. Rich in iconographic significance, her works lack pictorial depth; through Ayón’s meticulous and laborious collographic technique, unseen materials and objects create intricate impressions on paper. In this sense, her process was analogous to the conduct of the elusive figures she imagined. The mysterious allegorical scenes unfold as strong formal arrangements. Ironically, Ayón’s investigation into the shadowy society generated extremely illuminating works.
Lee Relvas (Callicoon Fine Arts, New York) Lee Relvas’s work reminds me of a lemon a lemon that you see from afar and that immediately triggers a sourness in your jaw. Their show at Callicoon Fine Arts was composed of eight figurative sculptures, poised in mundane actions such as crying, waiting, lifting, holding, and shifting weight from one pelvis to another. Actions were embodied by soft, abstracted lineslines made out of scrap plywood, laboriously joined and perversely sanded by hand. These infinite loops were animated by their stillness, eliciting an impulse to mirror their bodies in yours.
Stanley Brouwn (anonymous art space, New York) I don’t know if Stanley Brouwn, who passed away this year, would have objected to me writing this. No reproductions, no extra words. An underground space in Chinatown that hosted a show of his work in October operates with similar resistanceno photos allowed; art is experienced in person only, and to scale. With thorough subjectivity, Brouwn developed his own unit of measurement to archive our world: The length of his forearm = 1 sb cubit. His foot = 1 sb foot. I’ve often felt emotional, dizzy, browsing through the meticulous records of his movements across lands or rooms, or flipping through the exact numbers that separate people. If you too find pleasure in vertigo, try picturing the amount of aggregated data every millisecond of our existence leaves behind.
Jarbas Lopes (Galeria Luisa Strina, São Paulo) “Circulovisão” (Circlevision) was the first show I’d seen by Jarbas Lopes. In a time when the tragic neoliberal state of things threatens to swallow our personas, minds, bodies, and sensorial capacities in its policed hurricane eyevia an endless feed of images that don’t even have time to become imagesI was taken by the slow, freeing power of Lopes’s theatrical work. I loved its nonrepresentational questions and its hallucinogenic, transformative answers. Against all forecasts, mysterious and funny things can still exist inside a commercial space while tearing apart the reality outside.
“We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85” (Brooklyn Museum, New York) “We Wanted a Revolution” was a long-awaited and imperative account of the experiences of black women in opposition to the typically monolithic feminist stance. In the words of Alice Walker, “Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.” This exhibition provided historical context and space for the voices of black women artists who were discounted from the movement’s white, largely middle-class mainstream. In their own diverse and distinct ways, each of the artists tackled the intersectionality of their experiences. It’s telling that this exhibition was the first of its kind in a museum context, and it signaled the need for a greater awareness and conversation within the art world.
“Ettore Sottsass: The Glass” (Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice) This show had so many rules, you’d think there wouldn’t have been any oxygen left in the room: works by one (dead) artist, all of the same material, of similar size (too large to be decoration, too small to be sculpture), with the same function (none, except maybe you could put flowers in some of them), and displayed in the same manner (side by side, in plain daylight). No biographical relevance, no politics, no theory. But what this approach allowed instead was a refreshingly clear recognition of how the understanding of a material (glass) and a lifetime of experience with it can exemplify what creation is all about. Showing the artist to be completely in control of the specificity of handblown glass, Sottsass’s imagination was all there, concentrated like syrup: over two decades of beauty, invention, variation, and tacit humor. This modest show delivered evidence of what the Venice Biennale was trying so strenuously to claim: Art is an independent way of using your intellect.
What if there were an excellent Paula Modersohn-Becker show at the National Gallery here in Oslo?
Jen Durbin (Silas von Morisse, New York) In a storm of humble materials (twists of reeds, wood sticks, and pink mohair), Jen Durbin manifests the violence and devastation recorded, frame by frame, in JFK’s assassination. While her sprawling installation plays with what we know, it also places vision and loss at the center of the whirlwind. Durbin’s painstaking mapping of the trajectories of Jackie Kennedy’s iconic pink pillbox hat and their incorporation in her dynamic assembly overwhelm the viewer with physical presence. Memorials to survivors are paradoxical by definition, yet Durbin’s work suggests that bereavement and loss are worthy of memorialization. Her materials wouldn’t survive the elements as public sculpture, but I can’t help thinking how resonant Durbin’s sculptures might be presented in close proximity to our memorials to (mostly) men and their ideas on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
Luke Willis Thompson's autoportrait (Chisenhale Gallery, London) “Every image can be torn to shreds and rebuilt within a different discursive constellation,” reflected Luke Willis Thompson as he considered Diamond Reynolds’s Facebook live stream of Philando Castile’s brutal shooting and the video’s parallel afterlivesthe evidence was utilized as a rallying “prayer” for justice, misused on hate sites, and presented in court, where Reynolds’s partner’s killer was tragically acquitted. Thompson’s poignantly silent “sister image” to this footagea 35-mm filmed portrait made with Reynolds and shown at Chisenhaledistilled the ongoing political effects of Silicon Valley’s restructuring of communication, as individuals, institutions, and communities attempt to understand the demands of conflicting narratives.
“Mirror Behind Hole: Photography into Sculpture vol. 4, Hiroko Komatsu” (Gallery αM, Tokyo) Hiroko Komatsu’s photographs were installed wall to wall, spread over the entire surface of the floor, and hung from the ceiling. I was swallowed up by the elaborately planned space while I stepped hesitantly on the prints. Komatsu’s presentation of “photography as material” was overwhelming. The show critiqued the usual activity of the photographer as limited to selecting a single good photograph from many. All the photographs were taken in the storage facilities of industrial zones. Engulfed in a maelstrom of repetitive images of construction materials, scraps, wood, steel, aluminum, plastic, and concrete, an inexpressible sensation filled my body, unlike anything I had ever felt.
KALEN NA’IL ROACH
Devin N. Morris (Terrault Contemporary, Baltimore) This interdisciplinary solo exhibition was so full of wonder, tenderness, and imagination. Morris’s collages were the first things to catch my eye. Their colors and shapes were childlike, while their flexible perspectives recalled the hierarchical proportion of medieval paintings. Each composition seemed to have a specific story to tell, with iconography all its own. These stories felt intimate, and I wanted to decode every one of them. I was reminded of my aunt, who collaged in a similar manner and told accompanying narratives. Morris created a rich world. I could go on foreversuch a beautiful show.
NuMu postcards This year one of the most charismatic museums ever went on tour, eventually arriving in my inbox. Nuero Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (NuMu), the egg-shaped museum in Guatemala City conceived by artists Stefan Benchoam and Jessica Kairé, presents exhibitions in a former egg shop with a diameter of only eight feet. I chipped in to NuMu’s Kickstarter campaign to fund its road trip from Guatemala City to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art because I believed it would bring great art to communities along the three-thousand-mile journey. As an uplifting bonus, NuMu sent regular updates as digital postcards, giving me a chance to experience its trip from my desk.
Rosemarie Trockel (Gladstone 64, New York) One of the strengths of Rosemarie Trockel’s work is that it engages the viewer on so many levels. Maybe the most important for me is also the most immediate: You never know what you are going to get. Her show “Plus Quam Perfekt” ran parallel to the last scenes of 2001: A Space Odysseyobjects made by outsiders were presented to humans to make them feel comfortable in their new surroundings. Everyday things were there, but there was something off about them; they became a detached abstraction of knowns. At the same time, the exhibition was a pointed reflection on the contemporary, offering the faces of our history, perhaps Shakespeare or Einstein, as ceramic masks mutating into carnal forms.
The H-Word: The Peripeteia of Hegemony by Perry Anderson (Verso) Along with The H-Word, Perry Anderson published two other books this year: The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci, a reedition of his 1976 essay of the same title with a fresh new preface slamming the long line of attempts to misconstrue Gramsci as a reformist; and The Mosaic of Islam, a lengthy interview with Suleiman Mourad on the history of Islam, which is approachable and totally fascinating. The H-Word is a roving history of the political uses of the concept of hegemony, from ancient Rome to nineteenth-century Europe, ancient China, feudal Japan, the age of communist revolutions and decolonization, through midcentury American foreign policy, ending with a caustic epigram on Obama’s reign of liberal hegemony.
“Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” (Tate Modern, London) This exhibition, curated by Zoe Whitley and Mark Godfrey, was a spectacular example of how vitally important it is for curators to listen to artists. The energetic exchanges between the two camps were apparent throughout; the rooms were completely silent but you could hear the conversations taking place between the paintings and sculptures, photographs and drawings. They spoke of process and working methods, contested histories and political strategies, friends and family, love and magic, all interwoven with the publications and iconic scores constantly informing the artists’ lives. The show lifted the quality of the debates and the complexity of our emotions higher than ever before––it was an unforgettable experience.
ADRIÁN VILLAR ROJAS
Monuments of Buenos Aires In 2013, the progressive government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner decided to remove the Buenos Aires monument to Columbus from the eponymous park behind the executive mansion and replace it with one to Juana Azurduy de Padilla, a forgotten Bolivian mestiza heroine of the nineteenth-century wars of independence.
In 2015, Mauricio Macri was elected president on a reactionary platform, and this May, his government removed the Azurduy monument and suggestively resettled it in front of the Centro Cultural Kirchner. From a certain angle, the beautifully ferocious patriot seems to blend with the center’s neoclassical facade to create a junkyard of dismantled symbolsbut from another angle, she is still the warrior, now fighting twenty-first-century capitalism.