PRINT December 2021



To take stock of the past year, Artforum asked an international group of artists to select a single exhibition or event that most memorably caught their attention in 2021.

Francesco Salviati, Bindo Altoviti, ca. 1545, oil on marble, 34 5⁄8 × 28 3⁄8". From “The Medici: Portraits and Politics 1512–1570.”

“The Medici: Portraits and Politics 1512–1570” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

My first trip to the Met in at least seventeen months provided placid, people-free galleries, tears of simple happiness, and blessedly bad network service. My special exhibition mission was not to merely relish Florentine masters on loan, but to attend an unofficial Bronzino survey (the routine-dulled Frick portrait [Lodovico Capponi] vividly reanimated), be repelled by a privately held Raphael, and—I expect like many—be wowed by the sensibilities of Salviati. Just three more words: oil on marble.

Deana Lawson, Young Grandmother, 2019, ink-jet print, 63 × 49 3⁄4".

Deana Lawson (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York)

The news that Deana Lawson would be the first-ever photographer to receive the Solomon R. Guggenheim’s Hugo Boss Prize was inspiration enough. But seeing “Centropy”—the exhibition she received as part of the award—was a revelation. Lawson’s images are a distinctly contemporary reimagining of the Black American experience. Just the sight of a blue Polo Ralph Lauren fragrance bottle in the corner of one of her pictures teleported me back to buying the same bottle from a mall in Atlanta with my best friend at the time. This and many other symbols conjure the personal and the universal all at once. “Centropy” is a profound reminder of the transportive power of Black portraiture.

View of “H. R. Giger and Mire Lee,” 2021–22, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin. Photo: Frank Sperling.

H. R. Giger and Mire Lee (Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin)
South Korean artist Mire Lee’s sculptures—corporeal entities made from a system of tubes that pump viscous liquids colored a sickening shade of Kardashian “nude”—appear as though they are on permanent life support. Her objects are on display alongside H. R. Giger’s hypersexualized 2- and 3D depictions of alien beings, seemingly primed to simultaneously kill and fuck with their arched backs and sinewy bodies. (In fact, Giger’s extraterrestrials make me think of the surgically enhanced Croatian beauty blogger Neven Ciganovic, who aspires to look like a male Bratz doll.) Putting these artists together, as curator Agnes Gryczkowska did for this presentation, was a stroke of dark genius. In an age when swarmbots are ruling the internet and algorithms determine social norms, this exhibition feels more like a rendering of today than a sci-fi imagining of tomorrow.

Janice Nowinski, Pink Bathing Suit #8, 2020, oil on canvas, 14 × 11".

Janice Nowinski (Thomas Erben Gallery, New York)
At first I was outraged that Janet Nowinski’s paintings were so small and that many were of reclining nudes, a subject I’ve seen too many times. Then I got intrigued because she makes the rest of us look like we’re trying too hard. In Pink Bathing Suit #8, 2020, the suit is so awkwardly attached to its owner that it exposes both swimmer and artist as vulnerable and human. It also signals Nowinski’s complete “liberation from any dependence on a living model”(per the press release). What gateways have suddenly swung open to allow such tenderness and grace to thrive in our madcap New York galleries? I left this show with a strong desire to recalibrate my standards.

Mehran Mohajer, Balloon and Sea, 2018, ink-jet print, 8 1⁄4 × 8 1⁄4".

Mehran Mohajer (+2, Tehran)

This summer was full of events and exhibitions to experience, and what I realize I appreciate the most are the surprises. While visiting family in Iran, we saw “Scaffolding,” Mehran Mohajer’s show at Dastan Gallery’s +2 space. The photographs stunned in their subtlety and insistence on imaging “in-betweenness,” to quote Mohajer himself. They were composed of the crevices that your dreams are made of but that cannot be recollected—the essence of the everyday, the textures of our being. These images are important because their framing is unlike any other. Mohajer has a continued commitment to a way of making that is antithetical to what we are conditioned to expect. His works possess a true freedom of expression.

Trevor Mukholi, Untitled, 2020, mixed media, 33 1⁄8 × 23 3⁄8". From the 2020 Kampala Art Biennale.

2020 Kampala Biennale (Virtual)

An attempted coup, rolling blackouts, that pandemic: The 2020 Kampala Biennale may have been repeatedly delayed, but it remained unafraid to open despite the surreality of our time. Finally launching in February 2021, “Get Up, Stand Up!” paid homage to Robert Nesta Marley, drawing on everything from the originality of sacred African caves to watering holes, intergalactic fantasies, forged mythologies, and a postindustrial dance floor. Under the curatorial madness of Simon Njami as “The Librettist,” I joined “Masters” Laurence Bonvin, Arnaud Cohen, Lavar Munroe, Lilian Mary Nabulime, Maurice Perfura, Andrew Tshabangu, and Dana Whabira to collaborate with “Apprentices” through themed virtual studios.

Alice Neel, Well Baby Clinic, 1928–29, oil on canvas, 39 1⁄4 × 28 3⁄4". © The Estate of Alice Neel. 

“Alice Neel: People Come First” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

This show, Neel’s first retrospective in New York in more than twenty years and, incredibly, the first such exhibition devoted to the work of a woman artist to be staged at the Met’s Tisch Galleries, served to reconfirm what many have known for decades: Neel was a truly great artist. Significant abstract passages in Neel’s portraits, landscapes, and still lifes offer an important surplus to the representational and political program of her work, contributing as much to the power of her paintings as does her daemonic acuity as a psychological observer. I found Well Baby Clinic, 1928–29, especially gripping for the intense interchange between line and form and, in terms of affect, between the pitiless and the empathetic. I walked around the show mumbling to myself, “Neel was a masterpiece machine.”

Akeem Smith, Social Cohesiveness (detail), 2020, still from the three-channel digital video component (color, sound, 32 minutes 53 seconds) of a mixed-media installation additionally comprising foam, resin, and plaster screens, steel, wheels, wrought-iron chairs.

Akeem Smith (Red Bull Arts, New York)
I stumbled over some images online with no caption that I much later found out were part of Akeem Smith’s sculptural installation Dovecote, 2020, which led up to his solo show “No Gyal Can Test” at Red Bull Arts in New York. The work was beautiful to the point that I needed to take breaks from it. The rusted gates covering the screens, the furniture, the video edits with the sparkled angelic faces of the dancehall queens and the squares within squares . . . There was such a depth to it.

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Citrine by the Ounce, 2014, oil on canvas, 21 1⁄2 × 17 3⁄4".

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (Tate Britain, London)
Lynette is an interdisciplinary icon. “I write about the things I can’t paint and I paint the things I can’t write about,” she once said. I didn’t know about Lynette’s literary life before poring over the rich, life-size portraits in this titanic retrospective in London last December, but the titles really captivated me. Each one feels like a single line of poetry. I remember wondering whether some hidden message might appear if one were to organize them into stanzas. I also learned that she does all her own hangs, which means that the order in which you encounter each of these figures is an artwork in its own right:

 Any Number of Preoccupations
A Toast to the Health of a Heathen
To Improvise a Mountain
In Lieu of Keen Virtue
Hard Wet Epic
Geranium Love Sonnet
Citrine by the Ounce
Tie the Temptress to the Trojan

Jack B. Yeats, A Summer Evening, Rosses Point, 1922, oil on canvas, 9 × 14". © Estate of Jack B. Yeats, DACS London, IVARO Dublin.

Jack B. Yeats (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin)
I was recently reacquainted with the work of Jack B. Yeats when I visited “Painting & Memory,” an ongoing survey devoted to the artist at the National Gallery of Ireland. Translucent figures inhabit swirling, impastoed landscapes rendered in a dazzling palette of magical blue. The narrative charm of these scenes vibrates in the rooms. So does the theatrical energy of Yeats’s depictions of performers, clowns, athletes, horses, and mythological characters—the pure joy expressed in his visionary recollection of the lost souls of immortal Ireland.

Sal Salandra, Say Your Prayers, 2020, mixed threads on canvas, 27 × 27".

Sal Salandra (Club Rhubarb, New York)
What happens when the sexually oppressive, sadomasochistic ways of the Catholic Church are foisted upon a young gay man who ends up translating his carnal fantasies into needlepoint? You get the dreamlike, delicately perverse “thread-art paintings” of Sal Salandra, whose captivating, embroidered tableaux were featured in a solo exhibition at New York’s Club Rhubarb earlier this year. Taking in the seventy-five-year-old artist’s work—which felt like a trip through Bluebeard’s castle, but only if the homicidal husband were a dark leather daddy into cock-and-ball torture—brought me back to my own frustrated Catholic childhood and generated within me a fountain of pure joy and so much pride for all my incredible queer kin.

View of “Sun Rise|Sun Set,” 2021, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin. Foreground: Henri Rousseau, La belle et la bête (Beauty and the Beast), ca. 1908. Background: Pamela Rosenkranz, Infection (Calvin Klein Obsession for Men), 2021. Photo: Andrea Rossetti.

“Sun Rise | Sun Set” (Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin)
“Sun Rise | Sun Set” was the first show I saw after lockdown lifted. I got Covid last October, and the experience of emerging from the delirium and the sensory deprivations of this period and coming into this show was like an explosion of the senses. Smells, colors, and sounds all merged together to address questions about our environment and, ultimately, our impermanence. Our fragility in this equally fragile world. Dark and seductive, yet affirmative.

Diane Simpson, Costume #2 (Architecture in Motion), 2019, perforated aluminum, copper, vinyl, felt, rivets, 57 1⁄2 × 54 1⁄2 × 28 1⁄2".

Diane Simpson (JTT, New York)
I have always felt a strong affinity with Diane’s work. Although our sculptures could not look more different, we share the practice of extensively documenting the built environment while traveling, later using it as source material. The highlight of “Point of View,” her show at JTT, was Costume #2 (Architecture in Motion), 2019. It reinterpreted the former Saint Paul Women’s City Club building in Minnesota as an architectonic ensemble (actually worn by performers!). While the rivets, hinges, and playful tension between structure and fluidity are all characteristic of Diane’s work, this piece could have appeared onstage in Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet (1922), during his Bauhaus tenure. It conjured the utopian feeling I had as a student learning about modernism. Despite its repeated “failures,” and humanity’s ongoing cycles of folly and tragedy, the courage to reimagine our material world is exactly what I’m craving in art these days.

Sarah Michelson, Sarah Michelson, 2021. Performance view, David Zwirner, New York, October 2021. Sarah Michelson. Photo: Paula Court.

Sarah Michelson (David Zwirner, New York)

 A game’s a game!
You can play!
Anyone can play!
You’re a great shot!
Aim and Fire!
You know what to do!
It’s easy!

Hey ArtConsumers, DumbDumbs bending over pitching quarters into a badly Sawzalled holeinthewall, debased to the level of LIVEperformer, who has abjectly (and in verycloseproximity to the BluestChips) extruded her LIVEbody through the cunty needleye of narrowly escaped Context for your benefit; it’s supergenerous of her and she should be thanked. And for pocketchange you will violently damage Painting (if only the L.Y.Canvases nextdoor got spun out of existence)! For that lowlowprice, there’s a fragmemory of an off-duty-dancer’s-dedication-to-friends-and-form story to keep you in the room. Bonus—she’ll exorcise the space with satsang of drone&repetition, raga building toward death-by-dance. BTW: Those animated drawings don’t represent dance, they ARE dance, duh. Michelson’s former elaboracalibrations should be a clue that this ragged-holed-filthy-matted-rat-pile-heap-of-bunny-shit situation is no less calculated. Her GertrudeSteinian/RichardFormanable mastery of live-mixing sound&image&text is as tightly and virtuosically choreographed as anything the NYBallet is wowing their audiences (and critics—WTF?) with, yet it refuses to rake in the dough. (Game) Over and out!

Anita Fields, On Behalf of Water, 2021, mixed media, seven figures, overall 12 × 51 × 3".

“The First Water Is the Body” (Visual Arts Center of New Jersey, Summit)
This show is a critical call-in, not only to remember our relationship to water and land as a society but to look to Indigenous women, queer, and femme artists as leading voices in the art world, and we need to pay attention. Curated by Maria Hupfield, an artist, educator, and member of the Anishinaabek Nation from Wasauksing First Nation, Ontario, this exhibition features leading Indigenous artists from across the US and Canada, including Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Anita Fields, and Shan Goshorn, who continue to push Indigenous visibility forward through their respective art practices and action-based community work.

View of “Sara MacKillop: Calendar Houses,” 2021, Laurel Parker Books, Paris.

Sara MacKillop (Laurel Parker Books, Paris)
This show of stationery-shop-sourced sculptural houses in various architectural styles—mounted all over the walls and somehow reminiscent of cuckoo clocks—could only have come from Sara MacKillop, who has long brought office paraphernalia to center stage. Magazine file boxes made up the houses’ “main bodies”; calendars, with pictures of cute pets or nice but faraway places, lay snugly over the top, as roofs. The deceptively simple construction of these objects gives way to a spiraling set of associations whose burgeoning intractability the artist handles with an apparent shrug. MacKillop reminds us that battening down the hatches and daydreaming always remains an option.

Douglas Watt, Downstairs (Bridged) (detail), 2021, mixed media, 60 × 20 × 2 1⁄2".

Douglas Watt (Downs & Ross, New York)
I’m moved by the intimate tiny universes Watt tinkers into existence. In his hands, the diorama is transformed, surpassing its function as educational tool to expose the multitude of ways public space is inhabited. The artist’s miniature natatoriums in “Deep End Epiphany” are finely made, and some of the prodigious and evocative material lists seemed larger than the works themselves. It was a thrill to pull in close to the works and think-feel my way through all the registers of meaning embedded in their individual components: paper clips, turkey bone, silk organza, sandpaper, glass, leather, toothpicks, and so on. Praise for the artist who can make any material sing, even a roll of toilet paper.

Cindy Ji Hye Kim, Crux Quadrata: Pascal’s Wager (verso), 2021, oil, acrylic, ink, oil pastel, charcoal, and graphite on silk, artist’s stretcher, 84 × 64".

Cindy Ji Hye Kim (François Ghebaly, Los Angeles)
Exquisitely executed and packed with literary references, ecclesiastical symbols, and goth humor, the works in “Soliloquy for Two” fold into Cindy Ji Hye Kim’s larger world-building project. Central to the show were seven paintings on silk, suspended from the ceiling to form a sort of floating chapel. Pulled across custom-shaped stretcher bars, these double-sided hangings revealed and partially obscured scenes of scorpions, bones, and bound bodies. I love the way Kim treats light in her work, both in its depiction and as a device to play with opacity and revelation. Spotlit, backlit, or engulfed in darkness, her figures oscillate between piety and perversity, grace and humiliation.

Manoucher Yektai, Tomato Plant, 1964, oil on canvas, 11 × 10". © Manoucher Yektai Estate. 

Manoucher Yektai (Karma, New York)
I knew Manoucher Yektai’s poetry before I knew his paintings, having grown up with his 1969 poetry collection Faalgoosh, whose title means “listening in the dark for one’s fortune” or “searching in darkness for light.” Yektai passed away at the age of ninety-seven in 2019, and this show, a miniretrospective of the artist’s paintings spanning the ’50s through the early 2000s, was his first solo exhibition in more than twenty years—and a gift to New York. He painted still lifes that aren’t still at all, the pigment vibrating in thick, dancing brushstrokes across the canvas; there is always a subject, but it’s nearly obliterated, the composition pushed to the limit of representation. These paintings are prescient, as if Yektai already knew that when a ray of light enters a room, it will never leave.

Kim Dingle, Wall Smasher (1), 2021, photo paper, oil, clothes, steel wool. Installation view, O’Flaherty’s, New York.

O’Flaherty’s, New York
I own the T-shirt, and I love the gallerist. Jamian Juliano-Villani’s gallery in the East Village is what one would expect from an artist who painted drag eyebrows on Yoda. She’s this intellectual who goes beyond the pretentiousness of being intelligent—her work is a Warholian synthesis of loud ideas and subtext that the viewer only starts to understand on the train ride home after seeing it. It’s iconic, really, and this attitude is what creates the iconoclast. Jamian is a childhood friend of my sister Ruby Zarsky. “Sister” in the sense that we are both girls who understand a certain thing about being “girls.” Ruby is a part of the engine that runs this gallery, along with Billy Grant. O’Flaherty’s debut exhibition featured Kim Dingle’s “Psycho-Tods.” The opening of the show was a chaotic, vibrant mix of everyone in New York. The new, the old, the artists, the artist wannabes. The opening felt like vintage New York, before art was presumptuous. It just existed everywhere you turned. And we didn’t make a big fuss about it, we just existed in it.

Frans Hals, Portrait of a Man, ca. 1635, oil on canvas, 31 1⁄4 × 26 1⁄8".

Frans Hals (Wallace Collection, London)
We need to discuss the Dutch painter Frans Hals. Partly because of his contained palette, Hals lures you in, rewarding you with gesture upon gallant gesture. He can casually make you fall in love, even with a ruddy seventeenth-century Haarlem officer. As I was gazing into one of the portraits at the Wallace Collection show, a woman next to me exclaimed, “It’s just so contemporary, isn’t it?” Liveliness and bravura are words often used to describe Hals’s signature portraits and brush techniques. Together, the two qualities, it turns out, can equal an enduring immediacy or, oddly enough, a contemporary nature.

Nellie Mae Rowe, Real Girl, 1980, photograph, crayon, pen, and pencil on cardboard, 14 × 11". © Estate of Nellie Mae Rowe. 

Nellie Mae Rowe (High Museum of Art, Atlanta)
For women whose days are occupied with both wage and care work, speculative world-making and play are not idle diversions. They are the vital, unshakable dreams of people unable to claim sufficient time for all the wonder and love they feel toward the world. After spending decades performing paid and unpaid domestic labor, Nellie Mae Rowe devoted her later years to creating an art-filled “playhouse” on her property outside of Atlanta. “Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe” is the first show to demonstrate just how “radical” Rowe’s art was in its scope and vision. The colorful drawings, soft sculptures, and notebook pages gathered here compose an iconography of femme power and feel inseparable from the maquettes of her now-demolished home and art environment, also fortunately on view in this generous exhibition.

View of “Luke O’Halloran: Dealing,” 2020, Kapp Kapp, New York. Wall, from left: Lady sawed in half, 2020; Cards in the air 08, 2020. Floor: Marble 01, 2020.

Luke O’Halloran (Kapp Kapp, New York)
I first saw Luke O’Halloran’s work at a basement show in Brooklyn a few years back. I was so taken with it that I followed him on Instagram immediately and did that thing where you comment with rows of hearts in colors that correspond to the work (I wanted him to know I was a REAL fan). Fast-forward to October 2020, when I visited his solo exhibition at Kapp Kapp in downtown Manhattan. I remember sitting on the gallery floor with Luke. We were having a long, fun conversation before his sculpture of a giant glass marble, which was executed to perfection; its swirling bands of blue, white, and green called to mind a crystal ball. Hung around us were a selection of elegant canvases that featured playing cards flying every which way inside azure voids—one even depicted a kitten in free fall. O’Halloran’s imagery was rendered with tenderness and great skill, a combination of sharpness and softness that yielded moments of exquisite visual splendor.