Best of 2011: Part 7
We asked a number of artists, curators, critics and frieze contributors for their picks of 2011.
Michelle Cotton is senior curator at Firstsite, Colchester, UK.
Nick Relph, Thre Stryppis Quhite Upon ane Blak Field (2011)
• Richard Hawkins, ‘Third Mind’, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, USA
• Danh Vo, ‘JULY, IV, MDCCLXXVI’, Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany
• Lynda Benglis, The New Museum, New York, USA (not strictly-speaking a 2011 show but I missed it in Dublin)
• Nam June Paik, Tate Liverpool, UK
• Mike Nelson, ‘I Impostor’, British Pavilion, 54th Venice Biennale, Italy
• Nick Relph, Thre Stryppis Quhite Upon ane Blak Field, ‘ILLUMInations’, 54th Venice Biennale
• Gelatin, ‘The Gelatin Pavilion’, ‘ILLUMInations’, 54th Venice Biennale
• Henrik Olesen, Museum fur Gegenwartskunst, Basel, Switzerland
• Mark Leckey, ‘See We Assemble’, Serpentine Gallery, London, UK
• ‘The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World’, Tate Britain, London
• Wim Crouwel, ‘A Graphic Odyssey’, Design Museum, London
Bob Nickas is a critic and curator based in New York, USA. His most recent book, Catalog of the Exhibition: 1984–2011, a complete survey of all his curatorial work, was published by 2nd Cannons Publications in 2011.
The Dirtbombs, ‘Sharevari’
2011 highlights, in no particular order …
• Chris Watson – El Tren Fantasma (Touch)
Field recordings from a month-long train ride in Mexico provided the raw material for the music on this amazing CD. Watson may have taken the title from a silent film made in Mexico in 1927, which translates as ‘The Ghost Train’, and the route he recreates, travelling across the country from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast, is now only a memory, as the service was discontinued some time ago. From the percussive clatter of the tracks themselves to the whoosh of the train as it glides through mountainside tunnels, the musical nature of the journey and the landscape come to life.
• The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World (History Always Favours the Winners)
Leyland Kirby, a.k.a. The Caretaker, continues to make some of the most haunting music today. On this album he samples and overlays crackly old recordings from the 1920s and ’30s for a heady dose of spectral sadness. The covers of his albums almost always feature a painting by Ivan Seal, an artist whose enigmatic minimalism makes the loneliness of Edward Hopper look positively cheerful in comparison. Kirby’s sonic preoccupation with loss, horror and transcendence dates back more than a decade, to 1999’s Selected Memories From the Haunted Ballroom, and best exemplified by the hotel bar room scene in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980). But on An Empty Bliss…, and without recourse to any facile shock tactics, he has finally arrived at that film’s perfect soundtrack.
Ed Bereal, American Beauty (1965)
• ‘Now Dig This! Art & Black Los Angeles 1960–1980’, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, USA, and
‘Under the Big Black Sun’, Museum of Contemporary Art, LA
These were two of the best shows in the great Pacific Standard Time series, but my favorite piece was Ed Bereal’s American Beauty (1965), which was in an otherwise by-the-book exhibition at the Getty. Over at MOCA, Stephen Kaltenbach’s Portrait of My Father (1972–9) was a stand-out; one of the most poignant and tripped-out paintings of the ’70s remains unchallenged for the title today.
• Sherrie Levine – ‘Mayhem’, Whitney Museum, New York
This show has gotten a lot of annoyed and so-so reviews, but apparently it’s not the show that Levine wanted to do. While she herself has been criticized for strong-arming the museum, the opposite seems to be true. One complaint was that there weren’t enough of the early photos of photos, and her classic appropriation, but allegedly the Whitney was nervous about legal repercussions in the wake of the recent decision in the case against Richard Prince. They originally offered Levine the exhibition for the pioneering work she had done, and then seemed to have gotten cold feet about showing it. When it came time for the lender’s dinner, in the presence of the director of the museum, the curators, board members, and the artist’s dealers, Levine was a no-show. While we all understand that a museum appropriates the meaning of everything they own, Levine insisted on being unequivocal: they don’t own the artist. This is easily the single most awesome statement that anyone in the art world made in all of 2011.
• Ty Segall – Bowery Ballroom, New York (29 September)
Hard to tell who was having more fun – the audience or Ty Segall. By the end of the show he happily had a pile of kids on stage for an anarchic romp through the Misfits’ song, ‘Where Eagles Dare’ (1979) before himself diving into the super-charged crowd. The perfect end to an ecstatic, electric show. Why his _Goodbye Bread _album (Drag City) isn’t on more ‘Best of the Year’ lists is a total mystery. That said, Ty live is a thing to behold.
• The Dirtbombs – Party Store (In The Red)
Motor City garage rockers led by Mick Collins bring their gnarly stripped-down sound to Detroit techno (Carl Craig, Juan Atkins, et al), and the result is a bona fide classic. Their cover of A Number of Names’ ‘Sharevari’ (1981) is one of the record’s best tracks, and be sure not to miss the video for it on YouTube. It’s phenomenal.
• Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972 and Dropped Pianos (Kranky)
Ravedeath, 1972 is the complete composition, nine tracks spread over a double-album recorded in a church in Reykjavik on a single day, with Hecker making use of its pipe organ, and later manipulated in the studio. On the second, a single album of ‘Ravedeath sketches’, Hecker’s preparatory work was accomplished on a piano, and its starkness and intimacy make for a great accompaniment to the glacially cinematic quality of the finished work. The covers for both feature an image of a piano being pushed from a rooftop at MIT in the early ’70s, but for Dropped Pianos it’s printed black on black, as if what’s pressed into the grooves is the equivalent of a photographic negative. Hecker has stated that ideas of decay and the disposability of music animated his project, and although there are two pieces identified as ‘Hatred of Music,’ the sounds here are so majestic and exquisite that you would be hard pressed to find anything nearly as reverent and emotionally thrilling today.
• David Hammons – L&M Arts, New York
The word on the street a while ago was that Hammons had begun to make abstract paintings. You had to wonder what was up, and at the same time you were so curious. Luckily for him – and for us – he can do whatever he wants and the only expectation is: bring it on. And he did, perfectly staged as always. One ascended the grand curving stairway of the faux-colonial mansion that is this uptown gallery’s digs, tiptoed past the uniformed guards, and was met with paintings that looked as if they were shrouded under studio drop-cloths or black plastic drapery, waiting to be unveiled. Leave it to Hammons to lead you to the moment when the curtain is drawn aside, and then let it hung there. People were peeking in from the sides like impatient kids, scratching their heads, raising eyebrows. One painting was actually jammed in by a large fancy armoire. Talk about ‘up against the wall, motherfucker’. Even so-called anti-painters don’t get that in-your-face. The names dropped were either famous white artists – Willem de Kooning and Robert Rauschenberg – or rebellious (and white) upstarts – Gedi Sibony and Josh Smith. But in the end it was pure Hammons. And it was some performance.
• Richard Prince – ‘american prayer,’ Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France
The best Richard Prince show in years had very little of his own work; it was primarily comprised of literary ephemera and first editions drawn from his amazing personal collection, everything from a prison letter written by Perry Smith (the In Cold Blood killer) to a copy of Ed Ruscha’s Various Small Fires inscribed to Andy Warhol. Fleshed out by books and papers from the Bibliothèque collection (Prince had the key to the house!), the show was accompanied by a soundtrack from his own ‘jukebox’, including Nico, Hank Williams, the Clash and a 1947 recording of Jack McVea and His All-Stars, who demand: ‘Open the Door, Richard!’
• Mark Morrisroe – ‘From This Moment On,’ Artists Space, New York
Organized by Richard Birkett, Stefan Kalmar and Beatrix Ruff, and documented with a thorough publication from JRP/Ringier, this show was overdue but very welcome, a return of the dispossessed in his adopted hometown. The abstract and saturated psychedelics of his photograms from 1985–88, and the immediacy, classicism and otherworldliness of the ‘sandwich prints’ he made between ‘82 and ‘88, retain all their strangeness and fascination. A facsimile re-print of Morrisroe’s hilarious glam fanzine, Dirt, was the coup-de-grime.
• Karlheinz Weinberger – Swiss Institute and Anna Kustera Gallery, New York
More lusting after innocent, and not-so innocent, trade by one of the great furtive camera eyes of the ‘50s and ‘60s, who worked for more than 40 years, right up until the mid-90s. But it’s the classic ‘rebel youth’ of Zurich that cemented his fame when he was rediscovered later in life, and this pair of shows, accompanied by a new Rizzoli book with an intro by his admiring fan, John Waters, prove Weinberger to be one of the preeminent homoerotic photographers of our time.
• Kleenex/LiLiPUT – 1977–1983 (Mississippi Records)
This box-set brings together the complete recordings of the great Swiss punk/post-punk ladies, Kleenex and, after the tissue company made them change their name, LiLiPUT. All of their studio albums, singles and some rare live recordings are made available here, along with an oversized glossy photo album. Liner notes or an essay would have been welcome, and changing the sequence of the songs from the original albums seems unnecessary, but this is a great vinyl addition to the growing archive of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s scene which brought joyful noise, feminism and everyday life into shambolic view. In a similar vein, Huggy Bear seem absolutely ripe for and deserving of full retrospective treatment as well.
• Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz – No Future / No Past (2011)
The only work in the Venice Biennale that entertained and made me laugh, and then just as suddenly made me cry, this double feature, screened in a little theatre way off the beaten path, deserves a wider audience. Made by two young Swiss women, and featuring an all-female cast in the parts of Alice Bag (from LA punk band, the Bags), Darby Crash (from the Germs), Joey Ramone, and Poly Styrene (from X-Ray Spex), the film is a rumination on poisoned Utopias and the queer politics of time. When Fruity Frankie of Lesbians On Ecstasy, in the part of Poly Styrene, delivered her central speech, a shiver went all the way up my spine. Directed to stand and speak, she says, ‘Basically I have one feeling … the desire to get out of here. And any other feelings I have come from trying to analyze why I want to go away … It’s not going to any other place or any other sensation, or anything like that, it’s just to get out of here.’ As Darby Crash (Ginger Brooks Takahashi) responds: ‘People don’t have the time to think about the cosmos and the universe when you haven’t gotten any money to live on. The world is a big joke when you only have 50 cents.’
• Steven Shearer – ‘Exhume To Consume,’ Canadian Pavilion, 54th Venice Biennale
In the context of the granddaddy of all biennials, and in a biennial and art fair-bloated world, Shearer’s fantastic billboard poem said it all:
SCULPTED IN FOUL MIST
DEHYDRATED SPECTRAL BIRTH
AT WAR WITH FALSE METAL
FUCKED AND QUARTERED
ERECTION OF POSSESSED FLESH
ROT MUNCHING ARCHITECTS
FLUORESCENT DISCHARGE OF
ENDLESS BLEEDING JOURNEY
SHIVERING WHORE OF LIGHT
DRUNK ON VOMIT OF HEAVEN
AS TONGUE MEETS ASH
Andra Ursuta, installation view, Ramiken Crucible, New York
• Davina Semo – Martos Gallery, New York, and Rawson Projects, Brooklyn / Andra Ursuta – Ramiken Crucible, New York
Davina Semo and Andra Ursuta are two artists to watch. Both have a way with the physicality of objects, with material as subject matter, with the psychological trappings of sculpture and a kind of performative body-operating. The more narrative work of Andra Ursuta, a New Yorker by way of Romania, was also memorable in the ‘Ostalgia’ exhibition at the New Museum (one of their best thematic presentations and hopefully a sign of smarter, more rewarding shows to come). While Davina Semo’s abstractions offer a distanced and implied violence, she is also capable of pure poetic gesture. If their individual sensibilities share any common ground it’s a fatalism entwined with determination that seems emblematic of our times.
• Ryan Gosling in Drive
In the first part of the film he somehow manages to fuse Jimmy Stewart, an actor from the silent era, and an android. Really. And he’s signed on for another project with director Nicolas Winding Refn, a remake of Logan’s Run!
• Music From Saharan Cellphones (Sahelsounds)
Homemade music from Mali, Bamako, Algeria, Mauritania, the Ivory Coast and Niger, all traded as MP3s on cellphones. Many of the tracks mix traditional rhythms and instruments with synths, programmed drums and rap, proving that the Saharan crossroads are not only geographical but transport by means of musical time travel as well. The opening track by Group Anmateff, young Tuareg musicians, is a case in point. The sinuous hypnotics of these nomadic people are propelled by a Groovebox, an electronic drum machine. The recordings were collected in Mali by Christopher Kirkley, who also contributes a brief but great essay, and although there must be more where these came from, he concludes philosophically:
‘The network of cellphones, travelers, truck drivers, immigrants, and refugees is like the internet, but independent of the internet. It is a parallel network, a metaphoric web of connections and transmission. This small selection represents some of the songs that are and were popular at a moment in time – a brief foray into that perpetually churning and changing sea. Like the texture of the city itself, strategies for the transmission of culture will continue to evolve. West Africa and its desert cities are increasingly connected to the larger network of the internet, and soon the cellular phones themselves are likely to provide points of access. Music from Saharan cellphones may be, if it is not already, a thing of the past.’
• SunnO))) Meets Nurse With Wound – The Iron Soul of Nothing (Editions Mego)
I stopped listening to SunnO))) a while ago. Leave it to Steven Stapleton and Colin Potter to bring me back to the drone. But then there’s probably nothing by Nurse With Wound that I won’t make time for, and this is one of their best of recent releases. In their hands, the original material becomes a kind of compositional quartet, unfolding its dreamy languor, visceral violence and drama over the four sides of this double album, each one its own movement, parts to the whole. NWW remain in a class of their own.
• Melvins – Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn (June 6/7) – performing Lysol, Eggnog, Houdini, Bullhead and Stoner Witch
Five classic records performed in all their live glory, rearranged and deranged, earth-shaking, head-banging sound sculpture. The Melvins really are the masters. All these years later, this earlier material is anything but a bad trip down memory lane; it’s still a revelation and a joy to experience, as if for the first time. One of their many saving graces is that they don’t take themselves overly seriously, and it’s one key to why the Melvins have been around for so long and continue to amaze, and, just as importantly, keep their audience guessing from one record to the next. Now that they’ve re-played and re-mastered these classics (one last time), they can move on. And speaking of which …
Most Unexpected Arrival in Heaven: Ken Russell
And last but not least: the Occupy Wall Street Movement
Jonathan Watkins is Director of Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK.
Sophie Lisa Beresford, Workplace Gallery, Gateshead
• Semyon Faibisovich, ‘Three in One’, Red October, Moscow, Russia
Part of the Moscow Biennial 2011, this was a perfect match between paintings by Faibisovich – a remarkable Russian artist who is as deft as he is inventive and knowing – and a vast industrial space, an ex-chocolate factory. His treatment of his subjects, homeless people and others victimised by a corrupt economy, is refreshingly unsentimental.
• Edvard Munch, ‘The Modern Eye’, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
I am a huge fan of Munch, an artist much more interesting to me than Picasso, Braque et al, and the curators of this exhibition brought impressive intelligence and clarity to his work. Its proposition was fresh, and the selection very smart. The first two rooms – featuring different versions of paintings of the same subjects – were a stroke of genius. The use of photography and film was unusually well integrated into the hang overall and the self-portraits incredibly moving. Ditto, a room dealing with Munch’s defective vision towards the end of his life. One of the best shows I’ve ever seen.
• Grayson Perry, ‘The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman’, British Museum
A wonderfully generous exhibition. Not too big and not too small, it was ambitious in its range – from prehistoric artefacts through to contemporary popular culture, from all over the world – and endearingly candid. Perry’s argument that artistic experience is derived from a religious impulse is irresistible. His own art work is ambitious and unpretentious, and makes the British art world a better place.
• The Museum of Everything, Selfridges, London
Contentious and radical, I found most of the work in this exhibition, made by individuals deemed unwell by ‘normal’ people, completely compelling,
• Sophie Lisa Beresford, Workplace Gallery, Gateshead, UK
This was an exhibition of work by a very promising young artist. There are lots of comparisons to be drawn between her and others, but above all is Beresford’s creative energy and fearlessness. She uses what she needs – especially video and found objects – to make what are essentially variations on a theme of self-portraiture without descending into self-indulgence.