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Best of 2011: Part 6


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


Jonathan Griffin

Jonathan Griffin is a writer based in Los Angeles, USA.

John Divola

One of the best things about moving to a new city is that its history is just as fresh to a greenhorn like myself as its present. This year, LA’s Pacific Standard Time project has alerted me to scores of artists of whose work I was largely ignorant. Among these belated ‘new discoveries’ were:

• John Divola (in particular his ‘Zuma’ series from 1977–8, in MOCA’s ‘Under the Big Black Sun’)
• John Altoon (his febrile, kinky drawings from the 1960s at The Box)
• William Leavitt (an overdue, hard-won MOCA retrospective)
• Alexis Smith (her excellent show of collages at Thomas Solomon)
• Robert Heinecken (thanks to Marc Selwyn Fine Art and Cherry & Martin’s joint mini-retrospective)
• Lee Mullican (also at Marc Selwyn Fine Art)

It’s also been, for me, a year of inspiring and wide-ranging conversations with artists, most of which are ongoing. Anthony Pearson, Alexandra Grant, Mario Ybarra, Sean Kennedy and Mateo Tannat have all been particularly generous in sharing their thoughts and enthusiasms (not to mention time).

The energetic non-profit Human Resources in LA’s Chinatown continues to put out an unpredictable programme of art, film and music. Memorable exhibitions in 2011 included artist-curator Peter Harkawik’s packed group show ‘Touchy Feely’ and Scott Benzel’s thoughtful solo project ‘mal-dis-tri-but-ion’.

The Venice Biennale: Quit your grumbling, haters. There were some brilliant things here. Rebecca Warren paired with Jean-Luc Mylayne, Urs Fischer’s big candles, Christian Marclay’s The Clock (2010), Carol Bove’s sprawling table-top of wonders and Frances Stark’s My Best Thing (2011). What’s not to like?

It’s an exciting moment for LA’s art market. Commercial galleries opening this year included Ambach and Rice, Marine Contemporary, Redling Fine Art (which, after a short hiatus, relaunched in new premises) and Night Gallery (which stepped into the commercial sector with a dizzying, immersive installation by Samara Golden). In addition, January will see the opening of Thomas Duncan Gallery as well as Matthew Marks’ West Coast outpost.


Michael Harris

Michael Harris is based in Vancouver, Canada, and writes on the arts and civil liberties for The Globe & Mail, The Walrus, and Vancouver magazine. His first novel will appear in the autumn of 2012.

Martin Creed, Work No. 850 (2008)

Visual Art
Ever since Bob Rennie (one of Canada’s preeminent collectors) opened his private art museum in Vancouver’s Chinatown, the city’s greatest (and most literal) beacon of hope has been the fluorescent text work by Martin Creed, which blazes from the Rennie Collection’s rooftop: ‘Everything is Going To Be Alright.’ (It’s also become a vibrant/ironic point of debate in the class wars going on in Vancouver’s East Side.) So I wasn’t the only excited one when the museum put on a massive solo Creed show. A cavern full of cauliflower prints, a wall-length installation of chattering metronomes, and youths in yogawear bolting through the gallery space every minute or so, made this exhibit both brilliant and a jolt of much-needed chutzpah in Vancouver’s scene.

Industrial design wunderkind Omer Arbel may have made his name (and a small fortune) producing his ubiquitous Bocci lights – those dream-like glass spheres that show up in every shelter magazine produced in the past three years – but he blew me away this year with the completion of his first house, Project 23.2, out in Surrey (the Canadian one). The home’s skeleton is built from massive timbers (some 20 metres long), locked together in a series of uneven triangles. The result: a small, unlikely triumph and an utterly new living space.

Often, the greatest landscapes are the ones we stop ourselves from touching. I travelled to the deep, dark woods of Jasper this year to look at the heavens from within their newly minted Night Sky Preserve – a place where light pollution is now considered a criminal offence. It’s the largest such preserve in the world and, there, whole galaxies can whorl above your head like they’re meant to.

During Modernism Week in Palm Springs (which is Xanadu for the Dwell set) I found myself dining at the Viceroy Hotel’s restaurant, Citron. After being tantalized with gossip about visiting celebs (you wouldn’t believe who was playing Twister poolside just a week before) someone at the table insisted I try the beignets. Thirty minutes later a deep-fried marvel arrived. (Was it the pile of icing sugar that actually kept those holy pastries from floating off the plate?) We ripped them open and smeared them mercilessly with banana curd: bliss.


Nathaniel Mellors

Nathaniel Mellors is an artist.

Through a cold-induced snot-membrane I can see my Xmas Avatar on the sideboard. It says: ‘Nice Style’s performance High Up On a Baroque Palazzo: A Lecture Demonstration at Henry Moore Institute, Leeds. Socrates That Practiçes Music’s debut LP Further Conclusions Against an Italian Version (BAT), which augurs a new British music-genre – ‘Metagoth’ or ‘Hampshire Gothick’. My friend and collaborator Gwendoline Christie getting cast as the MAN-smashing Brienne of Tarth in Season 2 of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Xabier Arakistain’s work during his time as director of Monterhermoso, Vittoria-Gasteiz. Tala Madani at Pilar Corrias, London & SMBA, Amsterdam. Mark Pilkington’s Strange Attractor Salon at the ICA, London. All of this year’s vinyl releases on DJ Donga’s three post-house labels: Well Rounded Records, Well Rounded Housing Project and Well Rounded Individuals. Breaking Bad, season four. Eastbound & Down, season two. Seeing David O Reilly’s The Exterior World at the Milan Film Festival. The Finnish, Hong Kong-based visual artist Erkka Nissinen’s grotesque video works Rigid Regime and West Project, which mash live action and CGI. Jean-Luc Mylayne’s bird photos and the rest of Bice Curiger’s Venice Biennale, ‘ILLUMInations’. Katerina Gregos’s Danish Pavilion. Mike Nelson’s British Pavilion. English-language viruses, specifically the malapropism ‘pacifically’ and the Ron Manager-ism ‘to be fair’. Ed Keinholz’s Five Car Stud in Pacific Standard Time, Los Angeles. The extra-capital art-educational work being done at Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam; The Ruskin School, Oxford; and Leeds Metropolitan University. Mark Beasley’s pant-dropping MC-ing and Bedwyr Williams’ stand-up turns for Performa 2011.’


Dominic Molon

Dominic Molon is Chief Curator at the Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis, USA.

1. Karla Black’s Scottish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale
Following Martin Boyce’s virtuoso installation in this space in 2009 would have been a mighty prospect for any artist, but Black’s go-for-broke distribution of material textures, fragrances, surfaces and colours within seemingly every corner of the space made for a spectacularly transcendent and visceral experience.

2. Wayne Rooney’s bicycle kick goal, Old Trafford stadium, UK, February 12, 2011
It wasn’t just the timing and the significance of the goal that allowed Manchester United to beat their noisy neighbours, Manchester City (and move closer to a record-breaking 19th Championship). It was the pure style and aesthetics of the thing: the anticipation of the slightly deflected cross from Nani, the striking acrobatics to meet the ball, and the elegant arc into the net that resulted.

3. David Hartt’s MCA Screen project at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, USA
An installation combining sculpture, photography, video, and sound that takes the viewer into the dynamically designed offices of the Johnson Publishing Company (publishers of the popular African-American magazines Ebony and Jet). It deftly intertwined a sense of privileged visual access into a hitherto mostly unseen space with the provocative revelation that corporations, in the best and most unusual instances, still possess the potential for a sense of positive individual identity to occur. The installation was wildly successful in matching the sophisticated originality of its subject.

4. Tacita Dean, FILM, Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, London, UK
Dean successfully resolved a space that has challenged numerous artists since Olafur Eliasson’s tour-de-force Weather Project in 2003. Not only a joyous exploration of the inherent properties of film itself but also a work that provided a thoroughly resolved physical/sculptural experience as well.

5. Juan William Chavez, Pruitt-Igoe Bee Sanctuary, Los Caminos, Saint Louis, USA
Comprising various plans, films, and sculptures, this project-in-progress reconsiders the legacy of the failed Modernist project of urban planning through an appreciation of the more positive socially collective activity and structure of insects.

6. Rick Perry’s ‘Oops’ moment, Republican Presidential Debate, November 7, 2011
Three things I love about this moment: the self-sabotage of one of the scarier prospects in the 2012 American Presidential Election; its astonishing mixture of hilarity and weirdly empathetic unease; and … uh …

7. Bertrand Goldberg: ‘Architecture of Invention,’ The Art Institute of Chicago, USA
Desperately overdue survey exhibition dedicated to the visionary architect best known for Chicago’s iconic Marina City (1959–67) buildings.

8. Michael E. Smith, Michael Benevento, Los Angeles, USA
If ever there was a beautiful marriage of ‘furtive reconfigurations of abject everyday objects’ and ‘insanely brilliant installation tactics,’ this would be it.

9. Robert Heinecken at Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York, USA
A perfectly installed presentation of a long underrated and underestimated pioneer of photography. His ongoing critical reassessment (arguably begun at the MCA Chicago in 1999) is remarkably welcome and long overdue.

10. The semi-impromptu performance of ‘Lean On Me’ by Stephen Colbert, Brian Eno and Michael Stipe, The Colbert Report, November 10, 2011
My new ‘happy place’ in gloomy times. Pure sweetness and light.


Amalia Pica

Amalia Pica is an artist who lives and works in London, UK.

Abraham Cruzvillegas,
The Simultaneous Promise

‘ATLAS: How to Carry the World on One’s Back’, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain (co-organized by ZKM Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe y Sammlung Falckenberg Phoenix Kulturstiftung)
Curated by Georges Didi-Huberman, both the catalogue and the exhibition are jewels. I went back to see it several times wish I could have seen it again and again in the other venues it travelled to.

‘Muda’, Catalina León, Galería Alberto Sendrós, Buenos Aires, Argentina
This is León’s second show at the gallery. During her first show, the artist and the gallerist fell out and León took her works and sold them at a vegetable store next to her studio in the neighbourhood of Abasto. Years later she returned to the gallery with an eccentric installation. She is very much an artist of her own kind and I find the singularity of her work and process admirable.

‘Autoconstrucción: The Optimistic Failure of a Simultaneous Promise’, Abraham Cruzvillegas at Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, UK
I tend to always remember one piece more than another from an exhibition. However I remember everything and their symbiotic relationship to the gallery space and its walls from this beautiful show.

‘My Teacher Tortoise’, Shimabuku, Wilkinson Gallery, London
I particularly liked the sinking and floating revolving vegetables. It seemed like a very casual piece but speaking to the artist I found out there was no way of knowing in advance which apples would float and which ones would sink so he had to buy a lot in order to test which ones were right for the show.

‘Kill the Workers!’ by Janice Kerbel at Chisenhale Gallery, London
I was amazed at the narrative aspect of this stage play for lights. Even though the plot was indecipherable it was quite clear that the play had different characters, moods and moments and it felt quite special to see them unfold in such abstract manner.

Máximo Pedraza at ‘Beca Kuitca’ open studios at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella, Buenos Aires
I was quite taken by his sculptures made of bronze figurines and fresh clay. This was my favourite presentation at the Open Studios and made me wish I had seen Pedraza’s exhibition in the gallery, a few months earlier.

Fritzia Irizar-Rojo’s project for Viewpoint at CIFO, Miami, USA
Her project involved the search for the ideal spectator for an art work. I obviously didn’t see it, as it was intended only for the final candidate of her quest who had to undertake many tests, but I was lucky to hear the account of the process from the artist herself. I was very moved by how real and important the question behind the piece felt.

Oscar Tuazon’s para-pavilion hosting a painting by Ida Ekblad and the room with Gabriel Kuri’s sculptures and Luigi Ghirri’s photographs at ‘ILLUMInations’ at the 54th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy
These were subtle conversations between very different artists that really came together and created some great moments in the show.

Lithuanian Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy
The involvement required to pick and see the pieces in this pavilion was mirrored by the effort needed to find the location and get there so it all felt part of the same Venetian experience.

Conquista de lo inútil’ (Conquest of the Useless) by Valeria Conte MacDonell outdoors in San Martin de los Andes, Argentina
Conte MacDonell created a wire structure that she watered every night so that when it froze it formed a house made of ice. She created a facebook group and blog where we could follow its development. In 2011, this area was severely affected by the volcanic ash from Chile, which caused a terrible natural and financial disaster for the area and made it impossible for the artist to raise the money to build her real home from mud as planned. I admire the resilience of artists working in remote locations and I feel this piece captures that struggle in a very poetic way.


Devika Singh

Devika Singh is a critic and art historian based in Paris, France, and Cambridge, UK.

Rania Stephan, The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni (2011)

‘Danser sa vie’ (Dance in Life), Centre Pompidou, Paris
Dance and performance art have received a lot of attention in recent years, so much so that pastel-coloured dancewear has become a fixture in contemporary art exhibitions. This historical overview of the interaction between dance and modern and contemporary art is the most ambitious I’ve seen, with works ranging from documentations of Rudolf Laban’s early-century experimentations to films by William Forsythe and Daria Martin.

Rania Stephan, The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni (2011)
Stephan’s appropriation of Egypt’s 1960s and 1970s film icon is made up of clips from old VHS tapes. Divided into three parts, the assemblage of Hosni’s glamorous on-screen incarnations, narrates the tragic real life story of the actress, up to her murky death.

‘Madame Grès: La couture à l’oeuvre’ (Seam in Action) Musée Bourdelle, Paris
Grès was one of France’s top haute couture designers, yet few people remembered her before this show. Set against Bourdelle’s stout sculptures, Grès’s fluid draperies, made of up to two dozens meters of cloth, stood out for their vivid colours and asymmetrical shapes, as well as the formerly labour-intensive fashion industry they now stand for.

‘Absentee Landlord’, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, USA
Granted, famous guest curators don’t always make for good shows, but John Waters’ selection was a great opportunity to see some of the best works from the museum’s collection, including classics such as Carolee Schneeman’s Meat Joy (1964).

‘Homai Vyarawalla’, National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai, India
Vyarawalla was India’s first female photojournalist; now in her 90s, she gave up photography in 1970. In the mid-20th century she documented the public life of the late nationalist struggle and early independence years; state pomp but also candid shots of Jawaharlal Nehru, and the bereaved Mountbattens sitting beside Gandhi’s funeral pyre. The retrospective was organized with the Alkazi Foundation, one of India’s few world-class art institutions.

Jan Švankmajer, The Garden (1968) at the Danish Pavilion, 54th Venice Biennale
This black and white surrealist parable on political oppression made shortly before the Prague Spring felt particularly relevant this year. It was by far one of the most poignant works of the Biennale.

Camille Henrot, Le Songe de Poliphile (The Dream of Poliphile, 2011)
Henrot was one of 17 French artists invited by the Centre Pompidou to produce a work for the ‘Paris-Delhi-Bombay’ exhibition. Her quick paced-film splices images of snakes, pharmaceutical labs and Kathakali dance, and other free associations on the fear and fascination that India has exercised on the West. The result is a hypnotic portrait of India-inspired phantasmagoria.

Zarina Hashmi, Galerie Jaeger Bucher, Paris, and Lakeeren, Mumbai
Now based in New York, Zarina Hashmi has produced minimalist graphic works for the last five decades. The Lakeeren show presented some of her rare earlier works on paper, while the Jaeger Bucher exhibition included lesser-known sculptures.

‘Haute Culture: General Idea – A Retrospective, 1969–1994’, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
The exhibition was the first retrospective of the Toronto-based artist collective active from the late 1960s to 1994 (when two of its three members died of AIDS). Their subversive use of media and design beats Jeff Koons by a long shot and has inspired many younger artists.