End of year lists allow a critic to consider the past year and tally up the most exciting cultural moments. I decided to take a less introspective approach and gave myself just five minutes to come up with a quick list of art exhibitions that I found especially affecting (or, at the very least, memorable). I present them here in no particular order:
1) Arthouse/AMOA: Lisa Tan, Two Birds, Eighty Mountains, and a Portrait of the Artist
New York artist Lisa Tan’s quiet exhibition of conceptual interventions managed to be simultaneously self-contained and romantic. Art historian and critic, Caitlin Haskell, put it best in her ArtLies review: “Two Birds… succeeds in large part due to its persuasive claim that, in the end, facts aren’t just facts: they are portents and symbols, rationally and irrationally sorted, coordinated and interpreted. Tan creates with impressive self-control, suppressing expressiveness while situating ordinary information in richly suggestive discourses.”
2) SOFA, Barry Stone Hum
I know it might be a little odd to choose a pick from my own space, but I really loved working on and living with Barry’s show. He culled information from his youth, experimented with processes, and matched it all with the intimate space of my living room. Barry remained whole-hearted and open in the creation of his photographs and collages but never got sentimental about the past. In fact, this show felt like something I’d never seen before.
Regina Rex is a curatorial collective that has a space in Bushwick, Brooklyn. They’ve been open a little over a year and have continually presented thoughtful and careful exhibitions. This show in particular was both intellectually rigorous yet tied to objects. Matching artists is no easy feat, but here it’s obvious that the geometric perspectives that appear in Mernet Larsen’s paintings correspond oddly and perfectly with the collapsed and painterly forms of Jonathan Butt’s sculptures. Also great is the pairing of an older, more accomplished artist (Mernet) with a young up-and-comer (Butt).
I already raved about LA artist, Amanda-Ross Ho’s exhibition here, but it’s worth mentioning again just how smart and simple this installation was. Taking over the Vaulted space at the VAC, Ross-Ho created a factory for the tasks of art making–stretching a canvas, making paper, and creating clay pinch pots. Students and faculty all took part in the exhibition which highlighted, in the end, process over product as the “nothing” in the title turned into something: a pile of potential. Awesome.
All Best was a collection of photographs by the young Austin artist Travis Kent (he’s also my friend). What Kent is best at doing is creating work that is seemingly matter-of-fact and materialist in nature. However, as the images unfold and accumulate–a photo of his grandfather dead in a casket, a pile of bright dishes in a sink, a green landscape at Hamilton Pool, a mundane family portrait–what arises is an elegiac portrait of a sensitive life observed.
Max Juren, an artist who lives in Austin, created an incredibly sweet film that is kind of like Albert Brooks’ Defending Your Life for the YouTube generation. In the film, written and directed by Juren (co-writing credit goes to co-star Michelle Devereux), the main character realizes that his life may very well be a movie that God is watching. Hence, he better make it interesting. A type of epic ensues with Juren riffing on the familiar tropes of film-making, creating a work that is both entertaining (it’s hilarious) and affecting (the somber ending stayed with me for a long time).
7. Zach Feuer, Mark Flood Mark Fluid
Houston based artist, Mark Flood’s recent exhibition at Zach Feuer in New York had a tremendous amount of swagger. Flood perfectly paired delicate lace paintings with a a manic preoccupation with celebrity culture all the while poking fun at the gallery system. It was a total rock star show.
8. Women and Their Work, Margaret Meehan Hystrionics and the Forgotten Arm
In this exhibition, Meehan wove a dense tale into her objects, photographs, and installations. But beyond the back stories (see: Victorian Pugilism, boxing, The Circassian beauties, and medical anomalies), I don’t think I saw a more elegantly installed exhibition all year. And that’s saying a lot, considering the gallery at Women and Their Work often feels stilted and constricting. Meehan essentially created a dramatic stage-set for both her works and the story she was longing to tell.
9) VAC Sound+Vision, Austin Video Bee Disco Desert
For this immersive video-installation, the Video Bees (an all-female video collective) went out into the desert with make-up and mirrors and recorded their encounters. A fire due to the drought created a dramatic back drop to some ritual desert dancing. The project was made extra dynamic by the variety of videos projecting onto a geodesic dome. Sitting in there was pretty nice.
10) Lora Reynolds Gallery, Colby Bird Dust Breeds Contempt
Playing around with sculpture and photography, Colby Bird proved in this exhibition that he will not be mired in one medium. Which, perhaps, is what made this show so transcendent. That is, Bird deftly conveyed a coherent aesthetic through a variety of styles and media.