Must-see art events of 2016
The German artist who stuck a giant rose on the facade of the New Museum reaches back into her floral bag of tricks with this pair of gargantuan orchids measuring 34 and 28 feet high, respectively. Last installed at the 2015 Venice Biennale’s, these meditations on nature versus artifice popping up just outside Central Park just in time for Spring is on the way.
Isa Genzken, Two Orchids, 2015
Photograph: Courtesy Walla Walla Foundry
As part of Whitney’s series of projects using its huge fifth floor as a single continuous gallery space (i.e no dividing walls), the museum resurrects Actual Size: Munich Rotary, a 1970 installation by earth art master Michael Heizer. The artist had been doing a group of photographs that were the actual size of the things they depicted, which in Heizer’s case meant landscapes populated by giant boulders reaching 20 feet in height and more. For this particular site-specific work created in Munich Germany, Heizer began by excavating a conical hole 18 feet deep, displacing 1,000 tons of soil in the process. Situating a camera at the bottom of the pit, he took a 360-degree panorama of the horizon line created by the crater’s lip. The black-and-white images were then stitched together in a kind of gargantuan slideshow diorama projected, yes, actual size. The results, recreated here, transforms terrain into an abstract curtain wall of soil and rock.
Michael Heizer, Actual Size: Munich Rotary, 1970
Photograph: Whitney Museum of American Art
Incredibly, this show is MoMA’s first-ever monographic exhibition of this Impressionist giant who became one of the most enduring and popular figures of 19th-century art. The exhibit spotlights a little-know aspect of the artist’s work: His experimentation with monotypes, a technique invented in 17th-century Italy. A monotype is created by laying paper down on a metal or glass plate covered with a design in wet paint or ink, then running them through a press to produce a one-of-a-kind print. Degas exploited the full potential of the monotype: Some of the most haunting and abstract images here were the result of initially inking the entire surface of a plate, then creating a subtractive image using brushes, rags or finely-pointed tools. He also add colored pastels in some cases once the monotype dried. All of Degas’s family subjects are here, including ballerinas, theater scenes and landscapes.
Hilaire‑Germain‑Edgar Degas, The Singer (Chanteuse de café-concert), 1875-1880
Photograph: Reading Public Museum
This Romanian artist’s sculptures and installations frequently (and sometimes controversially) touch upon the intersection of eros and thanatos. But more to the point they deal with the relative value—or lack thereof—of human life as viewed by the powers that be. She caused a stir, for example, with a life cast of herself naked, except for sneakers. Sprawled on the floor like a dead body at a crime scene, the piece depicted the artist crushed beneath some unseen weight, while also being covered by white waxy blobs whose evocation of bukkake porn was unmistakable. More recently, she created a group of white obelisks anthropomorphized with facial features—eye sockets, nasal bones, teeth—taken from human skulls. This show for the New Mu’s fourth floor combines new and old examples of Ursuta’s sly brand of feminist Grand Guignol.
Andra Ursuta, Commerce Exterieur Mondial Sentimental, 2012, detail
Photograph: Blaise Adilon
This two-decade retrospective makes a good case for why Eisenman won a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Award” in 2015. One of the premier painters of her generation, Eisenman’s figurative canvases are unique blend of autobiography, fiction, queer aesthetics, feminism, pop culture and references to artists ranging from Giotto to Picasso. Her style collapses realism, Surrealism and Expressionism into bold, imaginative and ambitious meditations on that timeless tale—the human comedy of errors.
Nicole Eisenman, Coping, 2008
Photograph: Jens Ziehe
This is the first retrospective in 50 years of this giant of 20th-century modernism. Born in Hungary, Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946) became an instructor at the legendary Bauhaus, before his teaching eventually brought him to Chicago. A pioneering painter, photographer, sculptor, filmmaker and designer, Moholy-Nagy was a key innovator in the fields of kinetic sculpture and cameraless photography, and the use of ephemeral materials like light and plastics. He held to the utopian belief that art could change the world by marrying it to technology.
László Moholy-Nagy, B-10 Space Modulator, 1942
Photograph: Kristopher McKay
The Brit bad-boy artist best-known for such Conceptualist pranks as his empty-room installation in which the only thing happening is an overhead light switching on and off, is taking over the Park Avenue Armory’s massive Wade Thompson Drill Hall as well as other parts of the building to create his largest installation to date.
Martin Creed, Work No. 1094, 2011
Photograph: Courtesy the artist/Hauser & Wirth
Conner (1933–2008) is among the most important postwar artists you’ve probably never heard of. A pioneer of the West Coast scene and an early practitioner of found-object assemblage, he delved into rise of consumerist culture and fears of nuclear armageddon during the height of the Cold War. His work encompasses painting painting, sculpture, photography, performance and film. With respect to the last, his 1958 classic, A Movie, employed rapid-edit montages of appropriated TV commercials and movie footage put to an musical soundtrack; the darkly ironic result was startlingly ahead of it time. This show—the artist’s first monographic museum exhibition in New York, the first large survey of his work in 16 years and the first complete retrospective of his 50-year career—brings together over 250 examples of his groundbreaking work.
Bruce Conner, Crossroads, 1976/2013
Photograph: Courtesy the Conner Family Trust © Conner Family Trust
A dreamy, surreal amalgam of Expressionist and Symbolist tropes characterizes the art of this German artist who works in multiple mediums, including ceramics, weaving, drawing, painting and sculpture. His creations range from discrete objects to room-size installations that seem to grow out of the artist’s fantasies, reveries and personal memories. The term unique is too often applied to artists, but in the case of Althoff’s oeuvre, the label fits perfectly. Some 200 works spanning Althoff’s career is brought together in this survey, his first in an American museum.
Kai Althoff, Untitled, 2011
Photograph: © Kai Althoff
Along with Georgia O’Keeffe, Martin (1912–2004) is arguably the most important women artists in American art history, and certainly one of the most important painters of the 20th century, period. Her compositions utilized geometric grids, bands and lines, usually rendered in soft, subtle colors to create diaphanous objects of contemplation. She’s usually hailed as a forerunner of Minimalism, but she considered herself an Abstract Expression, who, like Barnett Newman, meditated on the nature of vision and perception. This retrospective is the first comprehensive career survey since her death.
Agnes Martin, Little Sister, 1962
Photograph: Kristopher McKay