Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Art Exhibitions of 2013

What better way to end the year then by catching an art exhibition! JM and I fought the crowds at MoMA this afternoon so we could catch Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938, about the pivotal years in the Belgian Surrealist's career. The work you see here is entitled The False Mirror, 1928 (image: MoMA) and gives a quick sense of how Magritte's images and titles are plays on one another (the eye is a reflection of the soul? what one sees? of anything?). Alas, his images have become so ubiquitous in reproductive form that upon seeing an outpouring of his paintings such as in this exhibition they become almost tedious and disappointing. Frankly, the curators could have done a better job engaging the viewer with the works (i.e. shouldn't we be addressing the misogyny and violence toward women in his paintings?). We also popped in to see Isa Genzken Retrospective, which turned out to be another prime example of the art style I classify as "Self-Indulgent Crap." Some of her large-scale minimalist sculptures in concrete and wood were interesting, but the rest of it was just mind-numbingly awful. I can't believe this is the same artist who produced the boldly delicate Rose II as part of the New Museum's Facade Sculpture program.

Readers of bklynbiblio know that I visit a number of art exhibitions, but only some stand out for me as the best of the year, and a smaller number ever make it onto this blog. (I attempted to start a "best of" in 2010 but couldn't keep up with it; hopefully we will in the future.) In writing about my top favorite exhibitions, you probably won't be surprised to see that most largely reflect art of the past. But living in NYC I have become more and more attuned to "modern/contemporary art," so I'm always happy when I discover some new artist or great exhibition that can excite me about art post-WWI or post-1980. All that said, it should come as no surprise that my favorite exhibition of the year was clearly Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Art and Design, 1848-1900, which I saw at the National Gallery of Art, but which had opened in London the previous year at the Tate. Although I was readily familiar with most of the works in the show, it was great to see so many of them from different museums and private collections brought together again for an exhibition that documented the accomplishments of these talented artists who sought to be modern through inspiration from the past. The image you see here is the book jacket for the exhibition catalogue. (See more of my thoughts on the show here.) My second favorite exhibition this year--and I hesitate to call it that, as it is more of an installation and performance--was Janet Cardiff: The Forty Part Motet. Held at the Cloisters, this sound-based piece captured the spirit of its medieval origins not only with the musical composition but with the architectural space, a medieval chapel. They were made for one another. Listening to all of the recorded voices individually as they surrounded you made you feel as if the entire recorded motet was a living, singing sculpture, albeit one that existed in space and time and not in person. You had to close your eyes to experience it best, and it came close to a transcendental art experience.

My third favorite exhibition of the year was Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity at the Met. The idea that the Impressionists and their contemporaries were inspired by current trends in fashion and the rise of bourgeois industry were first explored in art history nearly 20 years ago. But the bringing together of important French paintings from the 1860s and 1870s and juxtaposing them with fashion from the day--including some of the same gowns or accessories depicted in the paintings--made for a fabulous exhibition. The mannequins wearing the clothes helped make the paintings come to life. In addition to seeing great paintings by Manet, Monet, and Morisot, lesser-known brilliant artists like Tissot were given their due acknowledgment as well. This was definitely an exhibition worth seeing. (Image: installation view of Gallery 3: The White Dress, Met Museum).

Among my other favorite exhibitions of the year were Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument and Edward Burtynsky: Water, excellent photography shows curated by my friend & colleague Russell Lord in New Orleans. The Parks show played with a journalistic story and opened your mind to understanding so much more about how photographs are manipulated and reframed to tell a story. In contrast, the Burtynsky large-scale photographs of water-themed images were simply mind-blowing and beautiful. (Read more of my thoughts on these shows here.) At Brooklyn Museum, the exhibitions on to El Anatsui's monumental sculptural detritus installations and Sargent's jewel-like watercolors turned out to be a counterpoint in beauty (see more of my thoughts here). And Edwardian Opulence at the Yale Center for British Art was an extravagant, jam-packed plethora of art and cultural artifacts from the post-Queen Victoria period (see more of my thoughts here). Honorable mentions for this year also go out to: David d'Angers: Making the Modern Monument at the Frick, a small but informative exploration into the life and career of this 19th-century French sculptor; Beauty and Revolution: Neoclassicism, 1770-1820 at the Staedel Museum, Frankfurt, a show of important classical paintings and sculptures, Canova and Thorvaldsen taking center stage (part of my Zurich/Frankfurt tour this year); NYC 1993 at the New Museum, on art of a century ago; and monographic shows on the ever-queer Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt at MoMA P.S.1 and Eleanor Antin at the Wallach Gallery at Columbia. 

As always, there were great shows I missed, which I shall regret, including The Boxer: An Ancient Masterpiece at the Met and the Rain Room at MoMA. But fortunately there is still time to see a few shows that have opened and are ongoing for a few weeks or months more, especially The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution at the New-York Historical Society. Hm...I may even go to see that on New Year's Day!

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