Art in America’s critics write their way through the best of 2011. We’ve asked leaders in the fine arts to highlight the top works in their areas of special focus. Fionn Meade is a curator and writer based in New York. He is a faculty member at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, and in the MFA program for Visual Arts at Columbia University. He was formerly curator at the Sculpture Center.
1) “Henrik Olesen,” Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel
Olesen’s work in collage, sculpture and spatial interventions enacts Foucault’s “effective history” by re-introducing “discontinuity into our very being” and revealing unified historical subjects as the normative and coercive fictions they are. This survey spanned some 15 years and included Olesen’s signature investigations into representations of gender and power relations.
2) “Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964–1977,” CCS Bard Galleries and Dia: Beacon
Repeat opportunities to take in the metal paintings at Dia and the sculptural objects, fabric paintings and documentation of architectural interventions at CCS Bard reveal the shape-shifting and playfulness of an artist whose provisional formalism was both a precursor to institutional critique and a deeply felt, expressive response to influences ranging from Constructivism and Pop to the role of the readymade in postwar Germany.
3) “Cathy Wilkes,” Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
The strange life-size figures that greet the viewer in this gem of an exhibition are guardians who exist between the living and the dead, presiding over memory tables that feature relics of everyday life, archival clues to a receding traumatic history, and directly communicated paintings that nevertheless seem to defy gravity and representation.
4) Béla Tarr, The Turin Horse, New York Film Festival
If this is truly Tarr’s last film (as he’s declared), his searing black-and-white materiality will be missed. The Hungarian auteur is one of the great cinematic allegorists. The Turin Horse continues Tarr’s dark comic collaboration with novelist László Krasznahorkai, and departs from the myth of Nietzsche’s mental collapse after seeing a horse brutally punished, to imagine the animal returning home with its master to a baleful rural landscape where time elongates and gesture becomes parable.
5) One memorable gallery show was Nairy Baghramian’s “Formage de tête” at Galerie Buchholz, Berlin, with its grotesque silicon casts existing between body parts and more neutral formless slabs, accompanied by absurdist cooking references. Another was Kai Althoff’s “Punkt, Absatz, Blümli” (Period, Paragraph, Blümli) at Gladstone Gallery, New York, where the galleries were transformed into some domestic elsewhere populated by hybrid beasts, artistic alter egos, and surrogate couplings of self and other that unfolded via sculpture, painting, drawing and a fairytale scaling down of architecture.
6) Marc Camille Chaimowicz, “Jean Genet . . . The Courtesy of Objects,” featuring work by Alberto Giacometti and Tariq Alvi, Lukas Duwenhogger, Mathilde Rachet and Wolfgang Tillmans, Nottingham Contemporary.
A masterful scenography presided as Chaimowicz responded to Genet’s writings. This included his own new works in sculpture, film and slide projection, as well as an impeccable selection of works by other artists.
7) Regarding the increasingly prominent role of montage and archive in contemporary exhibition display, a few direct engagements with and critiques of the virtual and facsimile come to mind. “Atlas – How to Carry the World on One’s Back?” (and its exquisite catalogue), curated by Georges Didi-Huberman, Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid; “This Exhibition Is an Accusation: The Grammar of Display According to Lina Bo Bardi,” essay by Roger Buergel, Afterall (Spring 2011); “Beirut Art Center: Due to Unforeseen Events,“ organized by Sandra Dagher and Lamia Joreige, New Museum, New York; and “Harun Farocki: Images of War at a Distance,” MoMA, New York.
8) Manhattan’s Lower East Side offered some of the best inquiry-based programming of the year, including Tobi Maier’s programs at Ludlow 38 (his shows will be missed when he departs), the Jimmie Durham season at The Artist’s Institute, a project by Hunter College, and the research-based work and presentations of works by Suely Rolnik, Melanie Gilligan and James Richards, among others, at Cage 83.
9) Mark Leckey, “See, We Assemble,” Serpentine Gallery, London
A musician’s ear, a comedian’s timing, and a surgeon’s precision are Leckey’s primary tools in dissecting the flimsy materiality and tired branding endemic to late capitalism.
10) Artists whose work in video, sculpture and installation enlivened upon each encounter. We will no doubt see more significant work in this coming year by Uri Aran, Sung Hwan Kim, Laure Prouvost and Grace Schwindt.