Friday, December 31, 2010

Art Exhibitions of 2010

Reflecting on the past year, I thought I would review some of my favorite art exhibitions which I went to see. Some of these have made an appearance on bklynbiblio, but not all of them. For instance, I think I can easily say that my favorite exhibition this year was Victoria & Albert: Art & Love at the Queen's Gallery in Buckingham Palace, which I saw with RL. The exhibition was extensive with nearly 300 works on display, and showed the royal couple not only as subjects in art but as active collectors, patrons, and makers of art as well. The catalogue (the cover of which you see here) is exquisitely illustrated, but also textually makes for an excellent reference source, including for instance a complete inventory of works of art that V & A gave one another as presents for birthdays and anniversaries during their 20 years of marriage.

Praising a Victorian-themed show shouldn't be a big surprise to my readers, but you may be startled when I say that my 2nd favorite exhibition this year was Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present at the Museum of Modern Art. This retrospective of the performance artist's career so thrilled me I went back to see it (and wrote about it) not just once but twice. (Note: I think my all-time record for returning to see a special exhibition again was to see Kara Walker's incredibly provocative 2007-2008 retrospective at the Whitney--I visited that show at least 3 times; this was before my blogging days.) I was stunned that Jerry Saltz didn't even include Abramovic's exhibition on his top 10 in New York magazine. The fact that he declared Chaos & Classicism at the Guggenheim to be the best show of the year reinforces my belief that by-and-large his approach to art is about novelty and the "hm...isn't that interesting!" factor. I went to see that show a few weeks ago with PR and RL, and we all agreed that it was anti-climactic. While there were a few interesting ideas and pieces on display, in general it was actually boring, and a number of works in the show were just not high-quality pieces. The 3 of us that same day also went to see Franz Xaver Messerschmidt show at the Neue Galerie. This we all loved, not only because the expressionistic sculptural heads were so fascinating (this is an 18th-century sculptor we're talking about) but because the minimalist Rococo/Neoclassical installation worked so beautifully with the busts.

RL and I took an overnight trip to Washington, DC a few weeks ago. We went to see The Pre-Raphaelite Lens: British Photography and Painting, 1848–1875 at the National Gallery (image: Julia Margaret Cameron, The Sunflower, 1866-70, Coll. National Gallery), which we both liked because it included exquisite works, but we found ourselves questioning the inclusion of some objects without explanations (e.g. why include 3 American photographs grouped together without an explanation as to their connection with British Pre-Raphaelitism?). We popped by the Phillips Collection as well (my first time there) to see the photographic pictorialism exhibition. And of course we headed to the National Portrait Gallery to see the now controversial Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. There has been an incredible amount of verbal and virtual ink spilled over this exhibition because some conservative Congressmen protested for religious reasons (note that in the current socio-political climate they can't protest the very idea of a 'gay'-themed exhibition) a video art piece by artist David Wojnarowicz because it showed blood and insects crawling over a statue of a crucifix. The NPG subsequently removed the work, leading to a number of activists angry at this governmental censorship of art. The artist, who died of AIDS, was protesting the government's and Church's very-real dismissal of the AIDS epidemic at that time (more than 20 years ago), so it seems rather ironic--in a sad way--that this still is going on decades later. Shermania has bookmarked a list of some of the better articles about the controversy, so I won't go into all of that here. The exhibition had some interesting points, and it led to some very engaging discussions between RL and me about art and sexuality, not to mention displays of exhibitions themselves.

This post is becoming longer than I anticipated, so let me wrap up by just mentioning a few other great shows from the past year that appeared on bklynbiblio: the American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity was beautifully installed at the Met and had its usual related Costume Institute Gala; abstract paintings by Meera Thompson and drawings by Jeff Miller at the Atlantic Gallery back in May; and the delightful Propagating Eden show on nature printing I saw with DC at Wave Hill park in July.

There were, sadly, the missed shows of 2010 also, art exhibitions around that world that I would have loved to have seen but didn't. Alas, one cannot be everywhere in the world each year (although we do try). The one exhibition held this year that I seriously regret not seeing was The Spectacular Art of Jean-Léon Gérôme which was at the Getty Center in California and subsequently went to Paris and Madrid. It's understandable how I was unable to see that show, I imagine, but there's no excuse for my having missed The Drawings of Bronzino at the Met. I'm still angry at myself for that one, even though I was quite busy then studying for exams.

As for 2011, my list has already begun. In England The Poetry of Drawing: Pre-Raphaelite Designs, Studies and Watercolours at the Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, Modern British Sculpture at the Royal Academy, and The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900 at the Victoria & Albert Museum are all on my list. More locally there is Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance at the Yale Center for British Art and The Changing Face of William Shakespeare at The Morgan Library & Museum (a show that has to do with the newly discovered portrait of Shakespeare about which I blogged back in March 2009).

And there you have it, a sampling from my personal world of art. Bring on the beauty, baby!


Sherman Clarke said...

Hope you felt the vibes earlier today. I was thinking of you as I looked at "The Sleeping Faun" by Harriet Hosmer in the MFA Boston galleries:
And I found Whitney Davis' new book Queer Beauty in the shop. I needed to spend more money on books like a hole in the head but I couldn't resist.

pranogajec said...

Thanks for the heads up about the Aestheticism show at the V&A--since I'll actually be there in May there's no excuse for me not to see it!

bklynbiblio said...

Thanks for the comments, gents!

Paul, definitely check out the show then, it should be a great combination of design, decorative arts, and paintings.

Sherman, the vibes were definitely going--I just ordered Whitney Davis's book on this morning! Must get back to Boston soon, to see the Hosmer and other works...