Obvious highlights of 2011 included Miro and Richter at the Tate, Leonardo at the National Gallery, Toulouse-Lautrec at the Courtald, Degas at the Royal Academy, Twombly/Poussin at Dulwich, Pistoletto at the Serpentine, Struth and Sasnal at the Whitechapel, New Sculpture at the Saatchi Gallery and the British Art Show at the Hayward. Good stuff too, all of which I’m ignoring in plumping for a lower profile selection:
* 10 London shows, 5 which featured in my recommendations and 5 which might have but for one reason or another (eg the timing of the show or of my visit) did not
* 10 from the ‘rest of the world’ – fairly narrowly defined, in this case as ‘the other places I happened to visit’ or, in Southampton’s case, be in.
5 favourites from my 10 recommended London shows per month:
Phyllida Barlow: RIG @ Hauser & Wirth (see top Photo)
Phllyida Barlow was something of an artists’ artist until she retired from her influential teaching practice at the Slade – Rachel Whiteread, Tacita Dean and Douglas Gordon are among her former students – revved up her exhibition schedule and got signed by Hauser & Wirth, for whom this was her first solo outing. The distinctive wood-panelled former bank proved an ideal host building for infestation by her trademark brand of pseudo-slipshod anti-monumental constructions. The scale of infestation was impressive over four floors of very physical sculptural experience – it got in your way – with political overtones: barricades with the feel of the street in a place with a capitalist history. What’s more, Christoph Buchel’s Piccadilly Community Centre was pretty much as effective in a different register in the same building…
Emma Hart: To Do @ Matt’s Gallery, 42-44 Copperfield Rd – Mile End
Feel-good show of the year was Emma Hart’s chirpily hypnotic cacophony of 27 ‘assistants’ – which is to say tripod-based sculptures with avian features, each showing a short film on a pocket camera in which Hart herself makes jokes and calls out instructions. Hart explains that the bird-cameras sprung from their visual similarities as small things with beady eyes, and their shared ability to influence our behaviour, eg we try to spot both. Fun aside, this also picks up on her ongoing concern for the camera as an active creator of events, and sneaks in surveillance as a darker theme by way of twitching. Hart is currently in residence at the University of Kingston, by the way, and you can catch her performing there on 25 January.
Pino Pascali’s Final Works, 1967 – 1968 @ Camden Arts Centre
The way in which the Italian arte povera artists used everyday materials remains highly influential in current practice, but Pino Pascali (1936-68) had hardly been seen in Britain before this show, despite his prominent role at the start of the movement, and despite – or is it because of? – his glamorous lifestyle and potentially myth-making early death in a motorcycle crash. It proved a startlingly fresh show, conceptually and materially (even though it used lots of steel wool, which should by rights have disintegrated by now). There was something right, for example, about the wrongness of a six-legged spider…
What If It’s All True, What Then? @ Mummery & Schnelle
This two part 12 artist show surveyed that fertile strand of abstraction which tweaks the distinction between painting and object. It had the incidental merit of invoking some excellent recent shows elsewhere (Angela de la Cruz and Peter Joseph at Lisson; Simon Callery at Fold; Rebecca Salter at the Beardsmore Gallery) and prefiguring (pre-abstracting!?) a couple to come (Jon Thompson at Anthony Reynolds, Paul Caffell at Mummery & Schnelle itself). Alexis Harding’s performances of paint, in which the canvas is turned as the paint congeals, were one highlight…
Jodie Carey: Somewhere, Nowhere @ The Pump House Gallery, Battersea Park
June was the perfect time of year to stroll through Battersea Park to the unique four floor gallery which – happily – survived a well-publicised grant reduction. Here Jodie Carey used a pared-back aesthetic to tease a fragile beauty from base materials, affirming life at the same time as evoking its vulnerability and potential addictions. Cumulatively, her installations – wallpaper patterns of cigarette ash; a marbled and surprisingly sparkly carpet of ground blood and dust; cast plaster slabs which incorporate the chance effects of coffee and lace – also brought a bodily presence to the architecture.
5 shows from London not previously featured
David Batchelor 2D3D @ Karsten Schubert
David Batchelor is known mainly as a sculptural bricoleur (eg of found light boxes) and colour theorist (eg his book ‘Cromophobia’). Novel as it was to see his paintings for the first time, their focus was, then, thematically unsurprising: pools of colour which provide the titles; a sculptural emphasis on how those pools wrinkle into intricate patterns when left to dry on sheet aluminium over several months; and a resemblance to forms on a plinth – whether they be abstract shapes, exhibited heads or, more cheerfully, liquorice allsorts.
Simon Periton & Alan Kane: The Asbo Mystery Play and Other Public Works @ Sadie Coles HQ
Sadie Coles might well be my gallery of the year, with an exceptional programme in both spaces. In cases such as William N Copley, Jonathan Horowitz, Andreas Slominski and Georg Herold that was no surprise, but I hadn’t know what to expect from Periton & Kane, though this was in fact the second collaboration between these artist-friends after an 18 year gap. An inventive and witty installation took as its theme the generation of absurd proposals for public works: how about giant cigarette lighters instead of streetlamps? Repainting the drains in disco colours? A tramp’s sculpture table? A pavilion based on a baseball cap? And so on, with many transparently affectionate ways to mock and yet pay obeisance to the possibilities of the monumental.
Simon Liddiment @ the Standpoint Gallery
The Standpoint Gallery awards artist residencies which conclude with a quickfire show over a single weekend. I caught Simon Liddiment’s, which included a set of ‘male’ and ‘female’ anthropomorphic / phallic / mammary coat hooks, which Liddiment he’s painting daily until the ‘closure’ of touching is achieved: he expects that to take three years. Add an ingenious frieze of beer labels and a shelving bracket holding up a panda poster (deconstructing the frame’s role and setting up a half-rhyme between brackets and bamboo) and you had a satisfyingly focused and witty whole.
Leah Capaldi @ The Hole
There’s a tradition of intense performance art in which the performer tests the endurance of themselves and the audience. Not so Leah Capaldi’s recent performances, as other people carry them out and they form part of the ambient scene. Her ‘Floor Piece’ at Simon Bedwell’s adventurous venue The Hole exposed just the crown of the head of an actor secreted beneath the floorboards in a memorable coup de theatre of exposure and vulnerability, offset by its humorous resemblance to a rodent. Capaldi also infiltrated both the Catlin Art Prize and New Contemporaries with overwhelming perfume, distracting viewers from the other works and pointing up those shows’ competitive edges.
Michiel Ceulers:MCHL CLRS DRNK TRBL @ Rod Barton
I happened to see three very different shows by the imaginative Belgian painter Michiel Ceulers. First, at Juliette Jongma in De Pijp, Amsterdam’s equivalent of the East End,were his included ‘matings’ of pairs of paintings found in the art college skip. Second, at Rod Barton in London, where what looked like crosswords-come-space invaders–come-abstract-geometries proved to be paint and vodka depictions of the QR codes which linked to an instructional video of how to make cocktails. So the paintings refer beyond themselves – to spirits in two senses, perhaps – and might even prove useful to the thirsty collector. Finally, at Maes & Matthys in Antwerp, he took an unexpected figurative turn.
Ten from Elsewhere
RH Quaytman: Spine, Chapter 20 (Basel) Cherchez Holopherne, Chapter 21 (Cologne) and I Modi, Chapter 22 (Venice)
It was something of a year of triples, as I also saw three chapter’s of RH Quaytman’s increasingly well-regarded site-specific sets of paintings: in Basel (in dialogue with the exhibition history of the Kunsthalle, and also making up a retrospective through self-reference), Cologne (linked to an antiquarian bookshop) and Venice (inflected with nautical themes). All convinced in their context – and Spine, her own illustrated account of Chapters 1-20 – bid fair to be declared monograph of the year for and its nuanced self-exploration and the way it formed part of what it recorded (the strength of her following was shown when the launch run of 2,000 sold out on her opening night in Basel at $100 a pop).
Eva Rothschild: Hot Touch @ The Hepworth, Wakefield
Wakefield’s new Hepworth Museum opened to general acclaim in May, and it certainly does its principal subject proud across six of the galleries. But there was plenty to be said, too, for the big solo show of Eva Rothschild’s ‘magic minimalism’, which took several cues from Hepworth whilst still infusing their materialism with a sense of looking for some mystery beyond. They seemed equally at home in Wakefield, whether laid on the floor, suspended from the ceiling by Buddhist hands, or constituted in large part by parodies of more orthodox plinths.
Catherine Yass @ the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill
Catherine Yass’s retrospective at the iconically modernist and recently restored de la Warr Pavilion included new work featuring a striking lighthouse platform a couple of miles out to sea in Bexhill. That was given added power by its being just about visible from the pavilion roof, and for me personally from the fact that, though formerly local, I’d never noticed it before! I was also struck by Yass’s innovative use of blues and browns: blue, she say, is the one colour which floats behind and in front of the plane… And a London version of this show opens soon (13 Jan – 11 Feb at Alison Jacques).
Neo Rauch@ Museum Frieder Burda, Baden Baden
There was no shortage of outstanding painting restrospectives in London in 2011: Leonardo, Poussin/Twombly, Richter and Sasnal spring to mind. However, the highly influential Leipzig painter Neo Rauch remains little-seen in Britain, so it’s a shame these 40 works didn’t tour. True, Richard Meier’s new museum provided an ideal setting for the meeting of surreal individuality with collective memory which drives Rauch’s brand of enigmatic post-pop incongruities with one ghostly foot in the communist past… but I still reckon it was a Hayward-sized show. Better news here is that Rauch’s underrated wife, Rosa Loy, has a solo show opening on 24 Feb at Pippy Houldsworth.
Mika Rottenberg: Cheese, Squeeze and Tropical Breeze: Video Work 2003-2010 @ Museum Leuven
The newly-extended museum Leuven, a university town twenty minutes from Brussels, has an interesting permanent collection and as many as six wide-ranging temporary shows on at any one time. This autumn those covered Gregorian chant and Dirk Braeckman’s photography as well as impressively sculptural installations of seven films by New York-based Argentinian Mika Rottenberg. Cue blissfully mad systems of manufacture which satirise capitalism and the roles it ascribes to women, such as the use of ultra-long hair in cheese making or recycling a bodybuilder’s sweat. Rottenberg’s most elaborate set-up yet – Squeeze – also features documentary shots of lettuce and rubber production made to seem almost as absurd as the invented elements.
Haegue Yang: Teacher of Dance @ the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford
The Berlin-based Korean brought a charged domesticity and an implied sculptural dance of folding and unfolding to Oxford’s airy space. Her ‘Non-Unfoldables’ are similar clothes racks transformed by covering and hanging items, while the ‘Dress Vehicles’ are boxlike groupings of venetian blinds on wheels, allowing the visitor to enter and move around the gallery. Was it too much to see the eponymous teacher as meditating on how much of our existence takes place in our relations with such commonplace objects?
Thomas Hirschhorn: Crystal of Resistance @ the Venice Bienalle
Thomas Hirschhorn’s almost absurdly ambitious Swiss Pavilion was a standout work at the Venice Bienalle. He provided plenty to read about how love, philosophy, politics and aesthetics operated through his rigorously excessive and illogically beautiful installation, inspired by a rock crystal museum, sci-fi B-movie sets, crystal-meth labs and a cheaply-decorated provincial disco. It was hard to know where – or, sometimes, whether – to look as the large space was overrun by broken glass, cotton buds, mannequins, disturbing war images, chairs, Barbies, mobile phones, beer cans and the crystals themselves ‘resisting visibility’ – with plenty of Hirschhorn’s signature tape to mummify things / bind them all together
Charlotte Posenenske @ the Hansard Gallery, Southampton
The gallery linked to Southampton University presented the fullest account yet seen in Britain of Charlotte Posenenske (1930 -85), a German artist who has become widely known only since she featured in Documenta four years ago. The show concentrated on the influential work she made in 1967 before giving up art for a career in sociology – Judd-like scultures with a manufactured aesthetic but also an anti-market stance (unlimited editions at cost price) and a participative dimension, most obvious in those which can be rearranged by the viewer. Cerebral, cool and challenging.
Boo Ritson: D is for Donut @ Southampton City Art Gallery
Two shows from Southampton may seem unbalanced but naturally enough I see everything in my home city, and it does have two excellent spaces. Body painting has become increasingly popular since Boo Ritson introduced her witty sculpture-painting-performance-photo narrative portraits of American characters five years ago. That may make them seem more mainstream than they are, so this, her first British retrospective, was a good chance to be reminded of their art credentials and punch – and of Ritson’s broader range from still lives to masks. It’s followed by a full show of new work at Poppy Sebire in the spring – to include landscapes on canvasses through which she puts people’s heads – such as ‘Bear Creek’ above.
My Winnipeg @ La Maison Rouge, Paris
Who’d have thought that the Canadian city of Winnipeg (pop 700,000), best-known for isolation, cold and having once housed Marshall McCluhan and Neil Young, had more than 70 recent artists worth exploring? Perhaps it hasn’t, but it has enough to make this big party of a show thoroughly enjoyable, mostly in a quirky way which casts the Royal Art Lodge (Dzama, Pylychuk, Farber etc) rather than the edgier General Idea (claimed for Winnipeg through college attendance, though more associated with Toronto) as the defining collective. Nor had I realised that Erica Eyres, Karel Funk and Kent Monkman were all born in Winnipeg. Highlights included the Guy Maddin docu-fantasia which provides the show’s name, and ‘Winter Kept Us Warm’, a basement full of work showcasing the potential for erotic action during the snow-bound months.
Vija Celmins: Desert, Sea and Stars @ the Museum Ludwig, Cologne
This was a severe, sublime, black-and-white-only retrospective of skies, oceans, deserts and webs from the American who has found a way to unite the conceptual with the traditional. It showed, said Celmins, her attempts to represent what interests her in the totally different – because small and flat – world of the image, and to make that world more real than the memory in your head. The beauty is an incidental bi-product of her meditation on how much she can see – of her drawing as evidence of thinking – but that beauty certainly helps draw viewers into their own intense looking.
Previously Editor at Large, Art World magazine, now writing for Saatchi Online magazine, ARTnews, ArtLyst and ArtUS