Art: The best (and worst) of 2008

GRIN REAPER A scene from Masters of None by Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn

GRIN REAPER A scene from Masters of None by Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn Photograph: Courtesy Elizabeth Dee Gallery


Howard Halle, editor-at-large

Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn at Elizabeth Dee Gallery
Standouts in an otherwise execrable Whitney Biennial (see the Worst), this L.A. team quickly followed up with a show of their own featuring loony videos of family groups wearing hostage hoods. Offering a surreal take on our terrorized millennium, Dodge and Kahn pictured an America brought to its knees by fear and stupidity.

“Gilbert & George” at the Brooklyn Museum
This 40-year retrospective of the Brit Conceptualist duo’s films, videos, drawings and signature stained-glass photomurals opened just as the economy began to tank; their sardonic take on the miserableness of the human condition provided black-comic relief for hard times.

“Jasper Johns: Gray” at the Met
Never one to see the world in black and white, the painter was at his cerebral, ambiguous best in this survey of works featuring his favorite color.

John Miller, “The New Honeymooners” at Metro Pictures and Friedrich Petzel Gallery
In his best show in years, the artist turned over a new leaf, trading in his trademark fecal-brown-covered paintings and objects for pieces smothered in fake gold: a piquant comment on our receding Gilded Age art market, which even now hasn’t completely lost its Midas touch.

Pipilotti Rist, Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters) at MoMA
Rist flooded the Modern’s second-floor atrium with giant dreamlike video images that linked functions of the body with the natural world and our debasement of the environment.

“Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns?” at Tony Shafrazi Gallery
Conceived by artist Urs Fischer and gallerist Gavin Brown as a trompe l’oeil, tongue-in-cheek tribute to the time the ’70s bad-boy artist turned ’80s superdealer defaced Picasso’s Guernica, this knockout show was an exegesis of the love/hate relationship between artists: Its title was the name Barnet Newman originally wanted to use for Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?

“William Eggleston: Democratic Camera—Photographs and Video, 1961--2008” at the Whitney
The Memphis artist largely credited with introducing color to fine-art photography got the full retrospective treatment, revealing not only a technical pioneer but a visual poet of the New South.


Olafur Eliasson, The New York City Waterfalls
It was bad enough that the Berlin-based Icelandic artist’s surveys at MoMA and P.S.1 exposed him as a slick purveyor of shallow spectacles, but his public-art monument to hydrological engineering proved that his limited bag of tricks could be quite costly, too. Surely, Mayor Bloomberg, there were more cost-effective and less-pretentious methods of luring tourist dollars to New York.

“theanyspacewhatever” at the Guggenheim
The title of this survey of artists linked to so-called relational aesthetics said it all: whatever.

Whitney Biennial 2008
This year’s iteration of the show everybody loves to hate was so listless and flaccid that the only reaction it inspired was indifference.


T.J. Carlin, Art writer

“Louise Bourgeois” at the Guggenheim
Few artists can successfully wrangle the Wright spiral; the doyenne of soft-sculpture easily molded the space into a private lair of fantasy.

Barkley L. Hendricks, “Birth of the Cool” at Studio Museum in Harlem
A little bit of funk, a lot of vibrant color and some necessary cultural politics combine in these paintings, at once period pieces and highly relevant works today.

David Smith, “Sprays” at Gagosian Gallery
“If at first you succeed, keep trying, you might do it even better.” This seemed to be Smith’s motto in this show of works on paper, which cycled through an incredibly thorough investigation of form through material.

“Buckminster Fuller: Starting with the Universe” at the Whitney
For the spirit of greater good that this great man aimed to represent, you didn’t have to look any further than the film featured in this show, in which Fuller addressed hippies in Golden Gate Park.


Cai Guo-Qiang, “I Want to Believe” at the Guggenheim
More circus than survey, the overblown scale of Cai’s installations left little room for imagination.

Report card

The art world began the year in a universe where the prices of works could only go up, and ends it facing an uncertain future. In between, the city saw the opening of its first major new museum building in more than 40 years—the New Museum for Contemporary Art on the Bowery—and the continued expansion of the gallery scenes in Chelsea and the Lower East Side. And the art? Well, with so many venues, something good was bound to beckon viewers, as indeed it did, thanks to strong shows from such women artist as Mary Heilman and Cindy Sherman.