Traveling to fairs, festivals and out-of-town venues can provide curators with a crucial overview of what’s happening in the cultural world, and what’s on the horizon. For our Best of 2016 series, Wex curators were asked to cite the work that made the strongest impact on them out of town. First, Michael Goodson has some thoughts to share on this and the act of list making. He assumed the role of Senior Curator of Exhibitions on July 1; his first show generated for the Wex will debut on May 20, 2017.
The effectiveness of any given “top ten” list to somehow definitively convey the “best” of any given thing is certainly suspect. It’s a fiction of sorts. The attempt to provide a denuded view of the best of anything is inevitably corrupted by taste. But we all know that, yes?
Still, I love them. When I was a kid (kind of a little kid—10 or 12 years-old, before loss and punk rock really started to twist and eventually clarify my perspective), I was obsessed with rock ‘n’ roll “top” lists. Not Casey Kasem-esque weekly pop music countdowns. I wasn’t at all curious about that. I wanted a “top” list to gobble a larger swath of time and to discuss, upon deeper reflection, what records and artists had really come to matter.
Rolling Stones, Exile On Main Street; Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On; The Clash, London Calling; Gram Parsons, Grievous Angel; Janis Joplin, Pearl; Funkadelic, Maggot Brain…
Using the thing that I loved the most, those lists always taught and challenged me.
In a way, the list that follows is no different. The time is one year: 2016. The limitation is the aforementioned boundary of taste and, of course, what I was able to see from my somewhat rooted life in Columbus.
5. Albert Oehlen: Woods Near Oehle, The Cleveland Museum of Art, December 4, 2016-March 12, 2017
This is, I believe, the largest exhibition of Albert Oehlen’s work in the United States to this point. Deftly organized by Reto Thüring, the museum’s Curator of Contemporary Art, it is also, very interestingly, the largest exhibition of a living artist’s work in The CMA’s history.
The show features important bodies of work within Oehlen’s oeuvre, yet still manages to include many new works and, remarkably, to comfortably embrace the inclusion of curatorial, musical, and written contributions by four of Oehlen’s closest friends and fellow travelers: curator Julie Sylvester, artist Christopher Williams, author and critic Diedrich Diederichsen and Musician Michael Wertmüller. The latter, in collaboration with Oehlen, has produced a new composition as part of the exhibition.
(Pictured, Untitled (Baum 18), 2014, © Albert Oehlen. Private Demsa Collection. Photo: Stefan Rohner)
4. Marcel Broodthaers: A Retrospective, The Museum of Modern Art, NY, February 14–May 15, 2016
Marcel Broodthaers (pronounced “Brotars”) came to art relatively late. He once famously said, “I’m no good at anything. I am 40 years old.” So, from about the middle of his life 'til the end in 1976, he was an artist.
One very curious and pleasant thing that this exhibition elucidates is how oddly American and steadfastly contemporary Broodthaers’ work is. It foreshadows the work of artists like Andrea Bowers and Rachel Harrison in its insurrectionary oddness.
The tableaux that closes the exhibition— A Conquest by Marcel Broodthaers, from 1975— clearly indicates how funny, disturbing and ahead of its time Broodthaers’ work was. It’s in two parts. The “Nineteenth Century Room,” contains palm trees, a pair of antique battle cannons and a taxidermied boa constrictor, uncoiled and standing erect as if about to strike. The second, smaller room, “Twentieth Century Room”, is furnished with suburban lawn furniture along with an arsenal of handguns and rifles. You had to have been there, I guess, but still, this and other works struck me as the perfect synopsis of where we are and how we might have arrived here.
3. Nicole Eisenman: Al-ugh-ories, The New Museum, NY, May 4- June 26, 2016.
The New Museum’s mid-career survey of Nicole Eisenman’s work gave viewers a clear sense of the artist’s well-honed eye for human foibles – political and otherwise. A seasoned and somewhat incorrigible borrower from art history, Eisenman blends Expressionism, Surrealism, pop culture and feminism to consider the duplicitous fugue state of contemporary American life. This show was organized before the 2016 election, but it seems prophetic nonetheless.
As Peter Schjeldahl stated perfectly in his review of the exhibition in The New Yorker, “She is a pragmatist in service to creativity that remembers the past, glories in the present, and eagerly addresses the future.”
2. Hilma af Klint in The Keeper, The New Museum, NY, July 20 – October 2, 2016
The Keeper was an exhibition that parsed the impulse to collect in terms of the line that distinguishes between controlled selection and unrestrained accumulation; between connoisseurship and pathology. It was a fascinating show, but one gallery in particular containing the work of Hilma af Klint makes my list.
Spiritual love was the force behind the work of the Swedish mystic (1862-1944), whose 16 paintings here are the largest number, I believe, ever seen in New York. They, alone, are worth a visit. The paintings chosen for the New Museum exhibition are from two series, The Dove and The Swan, and focus on the most abstract paintings from each series. Influenced by Goethe’s color theories and his claim that he saw black and white emanate through a prism, af Klint uses color symbolically.
Like Forrest Bess, af Klint believed she was a liminal device who received messages from a province beyond our plane. Her purpose was to listen to these messages and make paintings that might convey them to future generations.
1. Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, Met Breuer, NY, October 25, 2016–January 29, 2017
Save the few photographic works, every work in this incredible survey is a rich and utterly authoritative painting, completely worthy of entry into the canon of Western art.
The history of Western painting contains precious few black faces and bodies. To this, Kerry James Marshall’s career—the entirety of his oeuvre, in fact—acts as a beautifully sound corrective.
This retrospective, which is organized collaboratively by Helen Molesworth, Chief Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (and former Chief Curator at the Wexner Center); Ian Alteveer, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Met; and Dieter Roelstraete, a former Senior Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, is a nearly perfect survey of arguably the greatest living painter.
One incredible attribute to seeing the exhibition in New York, as opposed to its earlier Chicago stop or its upcoming appearance in Los Angeles, is that here, Marshall has curated an interior exhibition comprised of works from the Met’s collection. Among other works, this small show within Mastry contains a strange and lovely Balthus portrait, the grisaille version of Ingres’ Odalisque and Toulouse-Lautrec’s Woman in the Garden of Monsieur Forest.
(Pictured, The Lost Boys, 1993. Collection of Rick Hunting and Jolanda Hunting, © Kerry James Marshall. Photo: Dominique Provost, © MCA Chicago)