Best (and worst) art

And what we're looking forward to in 2010.

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Jenny Holzer, For Chicago

Photograph: Attilio Maranzano, 2009 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, Collection Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, commissioned through the generosity of the Edlis/Neeson Art Acquisition Fund

The best | The worst | Best of 2010?

Howard Halle, editor-at-large

Jenny Holzer, “Protect Protect” at the Whitney
The Whitney’s survey of Jenny Holzer grabbed viewers by the eyeballs, and refused to let go. A look back at a decade and a half of Holzer’s production, the exhibition juxtaposed the freneticism of her LED extravaganzas with the slower take of oil-on-linen paintings based on redacted government documents about the Iraq War. The resulting tour de force was a testament to Holzer’s stature as one of the most important artists working today. Read more

“James Ensor” at MoMA
The 19th-century master of the macabre brought his parade of creepy carnival revelers and ironic skeletons to MoMA in a show guaranteed to make an impression on young painters. But the big surprise of this survey of the Belgian artist—whose most creative period lasted only from 1880 to the mid-1890s—was how startlingly contemporary his work seemed to be. Read and see more

Alice Neel, “Selected Works” at David Zwirner + “Nudes of the 1930s” at Zwirner and Wirth
It had been nine years since the paintings of Alice Neel (1900--1984) last received a retrospective in New York, and with a 2010 Neel tour bypassing the city altogether, these concurrent shows offered a tasty and much needed sampling of her art. Both featured plenty of Neel’s signature portraits in which sitters were psychologically x-rayed in a sometimes brutal fashion, even as their essential humanity was left intact. But the nudes from Neel’s early career were particularly demonstrative of her raw style and willingness to strip both herself and her subjects bare. Read and see more

Mike Kelley and Michael Smith, A Voyage of Growth and Discovery at SculptureCenter
Kelley and Smith’s video installation took aim at Burning Man, centering the action on Smith’s long-standing character, Baby Ikki, an overgrown man-toddler in giant diapers. Wandering through the festival and across a vast desert landscape, Smith’s baby took in, but barely comprehended, such sights as a gigantic flame-throwing penis, a tent full of vampire goth chicks and a strange procession of masked figures emerging out of a dust storm. In the process, Smith hilariously transformed himself into an everytyke representative of an America in thrall to late capitalism’s sensory overloads. Read and see more

“The Generational: Younger than Jesus” at the New Museum
Granted, the decision to limit the choice of participants to 33 or under smacked of Logan’s Run, but “Younger than Jesus” proved to be the Toyota Prius to the Whitney Biennial’s GM Hummer: A nimble vehicle for young artists that crackled with electricity. Read and see more

T.J. Carlin, art writer

“Dan Graham: Beyond” at the Whitney
With a program of bands chosen by Graham performing during the run of the show, and an excellent sampling of work on view including a selection of his interactive pavilions, this exhibition revealed this music-critic-turned artist to be the populist rule-breaking renegade that he is. Read and see more

Lisa Yuskavage at David Zwirner Gallery
Yuskavage’s sumptuous, self-aware canvases, which are increasingly laden with narrative detail, took a 360-degree perspective on the cultural structures of desire, realizing the simultaneously enticing and potentially repulsive nature of sexual attraction. Color was an especially strong suit of this show; some of the paintings seem to fairly glow on the walls. Read more

“Kandinsky” at the Guggenheim
One of the ground-layers of abstract painting, Kandinsky mastered visual rhythms that were in fact one of the inspirations for the undulating forms of the Guggenheim. The dynamism he brought to his writings, which addressed the spiritual potential of artwork, came through loud and clear in this show. Read and see more

“Dorothy Iannone: Lioness” at the New Museum
The artist’s romantic relationship with German powerhouse Dieter Roth informed much of the imagery (sometimes explicit) in this show; however, larger questions of love, both platonic and sexual in nature, as well as the relationship between emotional exuberance and the production of artwork, were all at stake. Read and see more

The best | The worst | Best of 2010?

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Yinka Shonibare, MBE

The best | The worst | Best of 2010?

Howard Halle, editor-at-large

“Urs Fischer: Marguerite de Ponty” at the New Museum
This building-wide show by the Swiss bad-boy superstar never prompted you to ask yourself, What is the artist up to? Rather, it made you wonder, What was the New Museum thinking in giving this guy the run of the place? Read and see more

“The Hugo Boss Prize 2008: Emily Jacir” at the Guggenheim
Unconstrained by intellectual honesty, Jacir’s show built a case for the martyrdom of Wael Zuaiter, a PLO representative who was assassinated by Mossad agents in retaliation for the killings of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics by the Black September organization. A man of letters, Zuaiter was believed to be one of the planners of the attack. Never proving his innocence or even bothering to, Jacir choose instead to create a metaphorical act of revenge on his behalf—making it little more than a high-cultural addition to the unending cycle of Mid-Eastern violence. Read and see more

T.J. Carlin, art writer

“Yinka Shonibare, MBE” at the Brooklyn Museum
Shonibare wields identity politics as a sword against an encroaching army, but the longer one sat with the show, the more the Nigerian artist’s strategy seemed to rely on misplaced aggression and aggrandized theatrics. While the issues that he addresses have hardly disappeared, his approach seems to have fallen behind the times. Read and see more

Report card

Remarkably, given the economy, the art world managed to stay in business this year, and in the case of the fall auctions for contemporary art, even showed a slight uptick. However, there was little in the way of radical innovation in ’09, as artists and gallerist alike seemed to eschew risk for safe choices. Final grade: B

The best | The worst | Best of 2010?

See more Best and worst of 2009

The best | The worst | Best of 2010?

“Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913--1917” at MoMA (July 18--Oct 11)
The survey will examine the period in the artist’s career when he produced his most experimental and enigmatic works. And really, how wrong can you go with Matisse?

The 2010 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art (Feb 25--May 30)
Okay, with this one, you can go horribly wrong: They don’t call it the show everyone loves to hate for nothing. On the other hand, it will be the show everyone will talking about, no matter what. And with a smaller than usual roster of just 55 artist, this could be the tightest Biennial in years.

Greater New York at P.S.1 (April)
Details remain sketchy on P.S.1/MoMA’s competitor to the Biennial. But since the show happens only every five years, and previous iterations have marked the debuts of some of today’s biggest names in art, this sprawling survey will undoubtedly be worth checking out.

“The Imaginary Museum: Dakis Joannou Collection” at the New Museum (Mar 3--Jun 6)
This exhibit, which will take up the entire building, has already caused a shitstorm of controversy because it involves a sitting trustee (Greek Cypriot industrialist Joannou) using the musuem to showcase his private collection, which is usually considered a no-no. Furthermore, the show is being curated by one of Joannou’s favorite artists, Jeff Koons, whose work is also represented in the collection. Fasten your seat belts for this one.

The best | The worst | Best of 2010?

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