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Best of 2011: Part 4

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We asked a number of artists, curators, critics and frieze contributors for their picks of 2011.

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Max Delany

Max Delany is Director of Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne, Australia, and most recently curator of ‘Slave Pianos | Punkasila | Pipeline to Oblivion’: 3 projects by Danius Kesminas and Collaborators.

Ross Coulter, 10,000 Paper Planes (2011)

Michael Stevenson, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia (6 April – 19 June 2011)
Perfectly pitched for our era of financial and social anxiety, the first major survey of the Berlin-based New Zealander brought together early allegorical paintings and conspiracy-laden posters, alongside major sculptural installations and films of the past decade, to explore the decadent workings, myths and demise of avant-garde aesthetics and political economy. Stevenson’s work finely balances a sceptical, forensic and absurdist demeanour with wild yet compelling invention, in quasi archival/archaeological assemblages in which history, fiction and biting political insight collide.

Ross Coulter, 10,000 Paper Planes – Performance event at the State Library of Victoria and a single-channel video at Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne, Australia
A performance and video work involving scores of volunteers conscripted to fold paper planes over a series of months, and 180 people to launch them, Ross Coulter released 10,000 paper planes from the octagonal balconies of the domed Reading Room of the State Library of Victoria. With the slow-mo ebb and flow of a multitude of cascading paper projectiles, carefully filmed by eight cameras panning from ceiling to floor, Coulter’s finely choreographed event introduced an indelible moment of poetry into this most inspiring of colonial edifices, neatly encapsulating – and embellishing – the drifting lines of flight, thinking and dreaming that have been sustained within its walls.

Eugene von Guérard: ‘Nature Revealed’ and ‘Tjukurrtjanu: Origins of Western Desert Art’, both National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
If the National Gallery of Victoria’s emphasis on contemporary art continues to frustrate expectations, its major historical exhibitions were classical models of curatorial research, connoisseurship and display. ‘Eugene von Guérard: Nature Revealed’ presented one of the most significant painters of the 19th-century Australian colonial landscape, an artist and explorer who exemplified romantic European traditions of the sublime. Marrying expressive poetry and empiricism, Von Guerard’s majestic paintings continue to convey wonder and compel conviction, whilst being equally valuable for their meticulous attention to detail. At the opposite end of the historical and cultural spectrum, ‘Tjukurrtjanu’ was a landmark exhibition of
a watershed moment in the foundation of the western desert art movement. Presenting 200 of the first paintings produced at Papunya between 1971 and 1972, gathered for the first time from public and private collections internationally, ‘Tjukurrtjanu’ was an articulate arrangement of modestly scaled paintings profound in spiritual significance and cultural assertion, and dazzling in formal invention – at once secret and sacred, sexy and alive.

Callum Morton: ‘In Memoriam’, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
With an appropriately morbid title announcing this survey of two decades of Callum Morton’s sculpture, architectural models and interventions, drawings and digital photomontages, (and a scale model of Le Pine Funeral Services signage greeting visitors upon arrival to the museum and park), ‘In Memoriam’ was a disinterring of good things past, and a dance upon ruins – melancholic mischief convincingly staged in the archival context of landmark modernist architecture, art history and spectacle.

‘In Camera and in Public’, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne
As the ability to take photographs in public becomes increasingly restricted and contested, whilst the ever-expanding apparatus of surveillance photography continues unabated, curator Naomi Cass’s review of the genre of candid photography was a timely examination of photography’s relationship to questions of ethics and aesthetics, voyeurism and surveillance, desire and truth, regulation and control. In camera and in public explored the fraught contract between the photographer and unassuming subject, and glimpses upon things otherwise hidden or ignored in a tight but rich array of clandestine photography – declassified Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) photographs of ‘persons of interest’; Kohei Yoshiyuki’s infamous 1970s series ‘The Park’, night snapshots of voyeurs watching couples cavorting in park bushes; Luc Delahaye’s photographs ‘stolen’ in the Paris Metro; Bill Henson’s profoundly intimate untitled photographs of crowds; Dennis Baubois and Walid Raad’s respective detourning of surveillance photography; and composer Percy Grainger’s extraordinary ‘Lust Branch’ photographs, hand-printed between 1933 and 1942, which document the composer’s sadomasochistic self-expression, ‘private matters’ subsequently sealed in an envelope ‘not to be opened’ until ten years after his death.

‘Picasso in Palestine’, International Art Academy, Ramallah
Whilst not an exhibition I actually witnessed, the project of negotiating the safe passage and exhibition of Picasso’s Buste de femme 1943 in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, travelling from the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven through an Israeli checkpoint to a purpose-built reinforced chamber in Ramallah, was an extraordinary project at once artistic, curatorial and political. Orchestrated by Khaled Hourani, artist and director of the art academy in Ramallah, in collaboration with curator and Van Abbemuseum museum director Charles Esche, the implications of presenting Picasso in Palestine – which remains without statehood, let alone a museum – invokes the nexus between art, history and politics, and the establishment of an (albeit temporary) museum as a critical force in decolonization. Buste de femme was attended by armed Palestinian guards whose machine guns inevitably underlined the extreme and distorted living conditions in the occupied West Bank. Esche noted how ‘Our Picasso will be changed by its journey to Ramallah, it will take on extra meaning and the story will remain part of the history of the painting from this moment on’. The same might arguably be true for Ramallah, and ongoing efforts to establish an autonomous cultural infrastructure and polity.

‘Metabolism: the City of the Future’, Mori Museum, Tokyo, Japan
The visionary architecture and urbanism of a group of architects renowned for their radical experimentation based on principles of flexibility, organic change and technical innovation was a major undertaking, dynamically conceived. Issuing from the 1950s, and the context of Japanese postwar reconstruction, and culminating as a group in the space-age and environmental urban megastructures of the Osaka Exposition of 1970, the example of ‘Metabolism’ is especially timely and critical to the contemporary situation in Japan since the disasters of the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima, which requires new forms of urban planning, visionary thinking towards a new society, and new ways in which to live.

Laresa Kosloff, ‘CAST’ (with Jennifer Allora, Hany Armanious, Richard Bell, Karla Black, Christian Boltanski, Mikala Dwyer, Dora García, Thomas Hirschhorn, Anastasia Klose, David Noonan, Michael Parekowhai, Grayson Perry, Stuart Ringholt, Renee So, Kathy Temin, Luc Tuymans, Angel Vergara, Catherine de Zegher), Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne
One of three pop-up projects convened by the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art for Venice, Laresa Kosloff travelled from Melbourne to the Venice Biennale with her leg in a cast, labouring valiantly on crutches through airports, on vaporetti and across bridges on a quest to encounter the art of ‘ILLUMInations’, and possibly to rub shoulders (or in this case limbs) with luminary artists. A form of situationist intervention, endurance performance and bodily sculptural cast, Kosloff’s project was presented subsequently as an installation of 22 wryly insightful documentary photographs, and the cast itself as an artifact on a revolving plinth, adorned with the autographs of the above-cited artists (and one curator). The project neatly encapsulated debates that have dogged the Australian art context for decades – its marginal, peripheral status; the desire to connect with international contexts,and related ideals of fandom and identification; whilst at the same time enacting a subtle critique of spectacle and celebrity associated with ‘biennalisation’. As curator Juliana Engberg noted: ‘Undoubtedly her project acknowledged the handicap that still accompanies the Australian artist in the midst of internationalism. Laresa’s fandom approach to being near her colleagues, whom her gesture elevates to heroes and authentic artists, as opposed to her awkward, imposter, unofficial self, registers that sense of outsider-ness that haunts the antipodean.’

Opening of Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Hobart, Australia
On an institutional level, 2011 was also notable for the opening of MONA, a spectacularly expansive, private subterranean museum set within the landscape in Hobart, Tasmania. The brainchild of gambler, collector and patron David Walsh, and somewhat akin to the Sir John Soane Museum on steroids, MONA’s labyrinthine collection encompasses artefacts from classical antiquity, Egypt and the Middle East, presented alongside a most ambitious (and eccentric) collection of contemporary international art. With a predilection for ethical debates concerning life and death, sex and morality, and the daringly choreographed juxtaposition of works set within beautifully designed spaces, MONA looks set to shake up the mainstream institutional landscape in Australia.

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Matthew Higgs

Matthew Higgs is Director of White Columns, New York, USA

Some Books I Read in 2011:

This past summer I read the entire series of Kurt Wallander crime novels by the Swedish writer Henning Mankell starting with the final installment The Troubled Man (2011). Read back-to-back over a period of only a few weeks I’m now in withdrawal, left craving more time with Mankell’s deeply pessimistic anti-hero Wallander.

In December I read four unrelated music books. At the top of the pile was Will Hermes’s Love Goes To Buildings On Fire (2011), a pitch-perfect account of the overlapping New York music scenes between 1973 and 1977 – one of the best books, of any kind, I have ever read. The first half of Niles Rodgers’ autobiography Le Freak (2011) which focuses on his childhood and adolescence was an exhilarating rush, and was let down only by how ordinary the second half of the book was (which was all the more frustrating given that Rodgers created some of the most innovative music ever recorded during this period). I ended up feeling depressed after reading Sean Ryder’s autobiography Twisting My Melon (2011), a strangely maudlin tale, that should – in theory – have been one of the greatest stories ever told. Thankfully Robert Greenfield’s un-put-down-able The Last Sultan (2011) really does tell one of the greatest stories ever told, i.e. the extraordinary career of Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, essential reading for anyone who loves life.

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Jessica Morgan

Jessica Morgan is the Daskalopoulos Curator, International Art, Tate Modern, London, UK

Charlotte Posenenske

• The first retrospective of the unsung Lebanese Modernist Saloua Raouda Choucair at the Beirut Exhibition Center, Lebanon. Outside the artist’s studio, this was the only opportunity thus far to view six decades of her prolific and experimental production of sculpture, painting, tapestry, jewellery, furniture and works on paper form the early 1940s on.

• Birgit Jürgensen at Bank Austria Kunstforum, Vienna, was a revelation. From her self-transformation documented in photography to her dramatic large-scale, immaculately executed drawings, her work demands for a reappraisal of macho Austrian art history.

• Sheela Gowda’s two exhibitions ‘Therein and Besides’ at Iniva, London, and ‘Suboverseer, Ambarish TV, Highcourt, Battery, Naatikothambari and Others’ at GALLERYSKE, Bangalore, India. I was lucky enough to see both shows by one of the most interesting artists working today. Gowda expertly used found imagery of the Hakki Pikki tribe in her Bangalore show (whose creative use of naming their children provided the title for the exhibition) as well as her characteristic sculptural work combining found and fabricated objects in a subtly politicized installation.

• The tightly curated show of Charlotte Posenenske’s work at Southampton’s John Hansard Gallery pointed to the artist’s re-thinking of the relationship between industrial process and artistic production.

• Christine Tohme and the Ashkal Alwan Home Workspace Program, Beirut. Tohme has brilliantly succeeded in establishing a new form of educational space free of any formal tuition and situated in a custom-designed flexible architecture.

• Nil Yalter’s collages, drawings and videos from the 1970s at Galerie Hubert Winter in Vienna, Austria, revealed a rarely seen body of work that self-consciously incorporates the fragile and poetic with an acute anthropological gaze.

• Sanja Iveković, ‘Sweeet Violence’ at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. I admit that as it opened only on 18 December I haven’t actually seen this exhibition, but knowing the work I cannot imagine it will fail to impress once I get there and unless I include it here, it will miss the annoying calendar-biased round-ups by the time 2012 rolls around.

• Marina Fokidis, founder of Kunsthalle Athena and co-curator of the 2011 Thassaloniki Biennial, whose undiminished enthusiasm promises to keep the Greek art scene critically engaged.

• Gauri Gil ‘What Remains’ at Green Cardamom, London. Gil reinvigorates documentary photography by combining her work with the ephemera, stories and relationships she builds with those she photographs. Here she included her own work as well as photographs and text produced by the Indo-Afghani community she was working with.

• Alina Szapocznikow, WIELS. Beautifully installed and intelligently curated; don’t miss one of the touring venues over the coming years.

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Tom Morton

Tom Morton is a writer, curator and contributing editor of frieze based in London.

Rupert Ackroyd and Daniel Pasteiner, ‘Garage Project’, at Rod Barton Gallery, London

Exhibitions
‘Modern British Sculpture’ at the Royal Academy, London (curated by Penelope Curtis and Keith Wilson) was audacious, argumentative, knowingly perverse, and will be chewed over for many years to come. ‘Monodrome’, the third Athens Biennale (curated by Nicolas Bourriaud, Xenia Kalpaktsoglou, and Poka-Yio), did big things on a very small budget, creating a complex and emotive response to all sorts of decline, both in Greece and the wider world. At Amsterdam’s Smart Project Space, artists Nathaniel Mellors and Chris Bloor curated ‘:Hypercolon:’, a visceral and often very funny group show in which Smart’s gallery spaces were reimagined as human body parts. Sculptor Rupert Ackroyd presented three projects in London this year made with three very different collaborators – Alison Turbull (at The Russian Club), Daniel Pasteiner (Rod Barton Gallery) and Owen Bullett (Art House Foundation) – that just about made up for this excellent artist not having a solo show in 2011. Also very much worthy of note: Trisha Donnelly, Frances Stark and Yael Bartana at the Venice Biennale, Jeremy Millar at CCA, Glasgow, and in London Peter Hujar’s photographs of Paul Thek’s studio at Maureen Paley, Paul Noble at Gagosian, and James Richards at Chisenhale.

TV
Two British sitcoms, both of which returned for a sophomore series in 2011, stood out. Set in a grimy bedsit, the BBC’s increasingly dark and claustrophic Him & Her focuses on a sweetly indolent young unemployed couple (Russell Tovey and Sarah Solemani, both great) beset by a gallery of grotesques. Channel 4’s Phoneshop, about the employees of a high-street mobile phone store, is more hyperactive, but equally eloquent in its articulation of all the best sitcoms’ central theme: class.

Film
Released in the UK in 2011, Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a 3D documentary about the Neolithic paintings in the Chauvet cave complex, was incredible, not least as a witty and supremely intelligent response to the new cinematic reality ushered in by James Cameron’s Avatar (2009). Also rather wonderful were James Marsh’s Project Nim, a documentary about an attempt by a louche ‘70s academic and his all-too-pliant research assistants to teach a chimp to speak, and Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block, in which a posse of South London hoodies see off an alien invasion.

Books
Brian Dillon’s novella Sanctuary (Sternberg Press) saw a much-admired critic and essayist finally turn his hand to fiction. The result – a meditation on the ruins of a Brutalist building that just might be St. Peter’s Seminary on the outskirts of Glasgow – was predictably smart, mournful and beautifully written. Also impressive was Simon Bill’s Brains (Cabinet), a very funny novel about a drunken and dissolute painter on a residency in a neurology clinic that contains perhaps the best hangover scene since Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim (1954). In comics, the event of the year has undoubtedly been ‘The New 52’, an attempt by publisher DC (home to Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman among other costumed adventurers) to reboot over 70 years of mindboggling baroque storytelling continuity by starting each of its 52 monthly titles again from scratch. Whether this will revive the industry’s fading fortunes remains to be seen, but Scottish writer Grant Morrison’s Action Comics, in which Superman is reimagined as blue-collar socialist hero straight out of a Bruce Springsteen number, is clever, fresh and fun.

Music
Like almost everybody, I thought PJ Harvey’s concept album about war past and present Let England Shake was fantastic (the repurposing of Eddie Cochran’s line about taking ‘my problems to the United Nations’ on the track ‘The Words that Maketh Murder’ is worth the admission price alone). Elsewhere, The Weeknd’s mixtape House of Balloons did surprising, melancholy and oddly enchanting things with the tropes of commercial R&B, while tracks by Azealia Banks (‘212’), tUnE-yArDs (‘Bizness’), Destroyer (‘Kaputt’) and M83 (‘Midnight City’) were enduring pleasures, despite the latter’s use as title and incidental music on Channel 4’s horrendous – and horrendously watchable – ‘structured reality’ Sloane-athon Made in Chelsea.

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Emily Pethick

Emily Pethick is the director of The Showroom, London. Forthcoming events and exhibitions include ‘Signal:Noise’ (20–21 January 2012) and Lawrence Abu Hamdan, ‘The Freedom of Speech Itself’ (31 January – 24 March).

Rabih Mroué, ‘The People Are Demanding’, Iniva, London

In a year that began with the Arab Spring and ended with large-scale strikes against pension reforms in the UK, it felt like there was a certain level of intensity in the different forms of political engagement pervading numerous exhibitions, programmes and gatherings in 2011.

Shortly before its opening, Rabih Mroué changed the title of his first solo exhibition in the UK at Iniva, London, from ‘I The Undersigned’ to the phrase that was ringing throughout the Middle East at the time: ‘The People are Demanding’. Later in the year, Iniva also staged The Otolith Group’s ‘Militant Image’, curated by Kodwo Eshun and Ros Gray (which developed from an issue of Third Text that they edited earlier in the year), profiling revolutionary filmmaking practices of late-20th-century liberation struggles, which were particularly poignant when watched in a full house in the context of the biggest bout of industrial unrest in the UK since 1979.

Over two weeks in December, the womens’ film distributor Cinenova presented ‘Bodies Assembling’, a series of screenings and workshops organised around films that they distribute and new works by artists and activists, at London’s Auto Italia. It offered diverse viewpoints on the struggles and feminisms contained within Cinenova, an organization that is not only centres on feminist film, but also on the communities, discourses and politics that circle around these, which were clearly present in the dedicated contributors and followers attending.

Other striking works I encountered in 2011 include: Smadar Dreyfus’s School (2011), a dense series of documentary recordings of seven lessons and a school break from mainstream schools in central Israel that were presented in a series of dark rooms and installed above a shop in the Folkstone Triennial. In London: Basque artist Asier Mendizabal’s first UK solo exhibition at Raven Row, which brings together a substantial body of work that draws on oppositional and subcultures and relations between form and ideology; Janice Kerbel’s stage play for lights, ‘Kill the Workers’, at Chisenhale Gallery; ‘Downtown New York’, curated by Lydia Yee at the Barbican, which incorporated live works by Trisha Brown; and Hassan Khan and Nida Ghouse’s two-week marathon ‘14 Proper Nouns’, organized by The Delfina Foundation, which comprised 14 conversations drawn from Khan’s work 17 and in AUC (2003), ranging in subject from Egyptian TV to William Blake.

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Robert Snowden

Robert Snowden is curator at YU, a new contemporary art centre in Portland, Oregon, USA. He is having a birthday party for Donald Barthelme on April 7th. Don will be 81.

An LRB cover by Peter Campbell

1. Michael Baxandall
Because he received new messages, in picture writing. Because he dilated what art historians bring under their tiny microscopes. Because his version of Art History goes beyond aesthetic judgment (‘this picture is pretty’) and, when done right, it also goes beyond mere interpretation (‘this is what this picture means’). It reaches for a kind of sympathy with the activity of art making (‘this is how this picture means’, as writer Teju Cole puts it). Because he was probably the person who taught me that you can wax’n‘whistle about art history with basic decency and fairness for the English Language.

2. Peter Campbell
Because he was a joy-polygamist. Because he moved around quite happily. Alertly, but happily. Because he sustained our attention as the in-house designer, illustrator, and art-rhetorter for the London Review of Books. Because a critic can be a plain walking around person. Because he died on October 25th. (He was 74.) Because we might unlearn our post-post-modern-modern-vocabulary and recapture some pre-ironic way of being.