Art at Its Best 2013: A Top Ten List

by Corinna Kirsch on December 23, 2013 The Best

Installation view of Mike Kelley at MoMA PS1. Courtesy Joshua Abelow.

Installation view of Mike Kelley at MoMA PS1. Courtesy Joshua Abelow.

When George Washington crossed the Delaware, I imagine he turned to his troops and bravely announced, “Woot! We are the best.” In art, success doesn’t announce itself so easily; that’s why critics end up in a huff toward the end of the year, trying to sort out the “great” from the mere “good.” I’ve never been able to come up with a top ten list of exhibitions; big, lasting ideas don’t always take place in art on the wall. So keep that in mind with my best-of list; there’re exhibitions, sure, but my main requirement was picking “art” that I keep coming back to time-and-time again.

1. Mike Kelley at MoMA PS1 I’ve just got to go with the rest of the critics on this one. After seeing three floors-plus of Mike Kelley it’s impossible not to see how just so much art today has been influenced by this one guy. That’s a feat coming from an artist who doesn’t seem to care one nit about art history.

2. Macho Man Tell It to My Heart: Collected by Julie Ault at Artists Space

Opening just a few weeks ago, Julie Ault’s personal collection of artworks (and art in her friends’ collections) makes a compelling case that the best art will never end up on view in major museums or galleries. The hundreds of artworks in Artists Space tend to come from artists we know quite well (Felix Gonzales-Torres, Andres Serrano, Jenny Holzer), but these are works you’ll probably never see anywhere else: They’re often tiny, fragile, or in the case of Andres Serrano’s Klu Klux Klan portraits, not sanitary enough for a general public.

3. Bruce High Quality Foundation University

The free school for artists and thinkers returned this year, and when the first thing that comes to mind with art school is an Uncle Scrooge-size mound of debt, we should all be certain that the BHQFU is an utmost necessity.

4. Jeremy Deller’s English Magic at the Venice Biennale 

At this year’s Venice Biennale, Deller set his aims high: He wanted to adorn the pavilion with a history of Great Britain. That’s an impossible feat. Predictably, the exhibition’s spotty, but it offers a better portrait of a country than any other exhibition I’ve seen. That’s probably because Deller lets others tell their own stories.There were neolithic handaxes you could touch, displayed on a trolley with wheels; a video of Deller’s recent public art creation, an inflatable Stonehenge—a moon bounce, actually, where you can climb, jump, and flip all over—set to a soundtrack made by a steel-drum orchestra; and drawings of politicians made by convicted soldiers now in English prisons. Without sounding too hoity-toity, it tells the story of a country from the pre-human to those who’ve lost basic human rights.

5. Llyn Foulkes at the New Museum

Like Deller’s exhibition, I wasn’t sure how much I liked the exhibition at first. But Foulkes’ work offers a tough and simple ethical question: Can you like art that you disagree with (politically, morally, philosophically)? In this case, the artist’s skill was so great, I left with a resounding “yes.”

6. Sascha Braunig’s Wrister, Blister, Plaster at Foxy Production

I just really like these paintings. Recently Braunig’s work has been getting more and more abstract, and better and better.

7. PaddlesOn!

For decades, the digital arts have been stuck trying to figure out how to foster a collector class of digital art. Ta-da, Phillips de Pury may have fixed this situation with PaddlesOn. No doubt, with dozens of digital artworks reaching hammer prices in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars, this was an important event and I predict it’s one for the history books. With time, though, I really hope we start raising some tough, important questions about PaddlesOn: Was the work at all good? How was it a fundraising auction? Will those same artists will be able to garner comparable prices in the future, from dealers and other auctions?

8. Imgur Roulette

This was not invented in 2013, but I use it all the time, and it seems like art. I’m sure that Nam June Paik would have wanted to create Imgur Roulette, a place that brings you a random selection of personal photos from all over the world.

9. Ben Davis’s 9.5 Theses on Art and Class

Damn, you can’t doubt the class system of the arts after Ben Davis tells it like it is. The art world’s screwed up, guys, and it needs to change.

10. Feminism

This year proved that people still care about feminism: Critics rallied against museums and galleries for showing too few female artists and for hosting female-only shows. Some of us still have ethics (a soul, conviction, morals, whatever you want to call it), and I’m thankful for that.

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