The Worst Shows of 2016: What’s the MoMA Björkgate of the Year?

by Michael Anthony Farley on December 30, 2016 Lists

Exhibition view of GesammttkkunnsttMeshuggahhLaandtttt, Charlemagne Palestine, 2015. Photography Aad Hoogendoorn. Credit: WDW

It’s that time of the year, when arts publication editors sit down and compile best and worst lists. One would think, in such a soul-crushingly awful year, coming up with a “Worst Shows of 2016” list would be easy. But in 2016, most of the disappointing shows left me saying “meh” rather than with any memorable bad taste in my mouth. In short: 2016 seems to me to lack a polarizing failure of epic proportions, such as Björk’s infamous retrospective last year at MoMA.

But thankfully for me, AFC contributors found plenty to say about the year’s less-than-stellar exhibits. Here’s a round-up of Art F City’s worst reviews of 2016:

Public, Private, Secret at International Center for Photography

When the ICP moved downtown to the Bowery, they opted to christen their new digs with a show chock-full of cheesy curatorial missteps. From Rhett Jones’s review: ” this show is filled with wrong-headed assertions, painful hanging choices, and eyeball-straining design.” Those poor choices include mounting most of the show on mirrors? Ouch.

Art AIDS America at Bronx Museum of the Arts

Brett Reichman, And the Spell Was Broken Somewhere Over the Rainbow, 1992, oil on canvas.

Somehow the Bronx Museum of the Arts managed to make an exhibition about the art of the AIDS epidemic a sterile exercise problematized by wrong identity politics. Emily Colucci: “The exhibition feels as if you’re flipping through an art history textbook. It’s also just as cold and impersonal. It should, instead, fill viewers with grief, sadness, rage and other complicated emotions.”

Take Me (I’m Yours) at The Jewish Museum

Are people starting to get sick of artworks reliant on viewers consuming them? I hope so, unless there’s pad thai involved and it’s damn good. Emily Colucci: “The whole show feels like a gimmick designed to lure people in the door by offering them free swag. Meanwhile, the Museum is presenting the idea that they are challenging the traditional relationship between art and its viewers, which not only isn’t true (it’s been done to death), it distracts from the sociopolitical critiques made by many of the artists in the show. Simply put, the show is a disaster.”

Philip Guston: Painter, 1957 – 1967 at Hauser & Wirth

My sole contribution to this list is my review of Hauser & Wirth’s ill-executed Phillip Guston retrospective. I left feeling bored and ambivalent, but Paddy (a bigger Guston fan than me) was downright insulted by the monotonous curation. How did I react to a roomfull of near-identical paintings? “…at worst, less refined paintings appear to be studies for the more resolved works in each series. At best, a painting might shine in contrast to its muddier peers… Never had I felt more like the obsequious assistant in The Devil Wears Prada, being scoffed at for her inability to decide between two absurdly alike turquoise belts.”

Charlemagne Palestine: GesammttkkunnsttMeshuggahhLaandtttt at Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art

After describing what sounds like the most cliched art school sophomore installation on budget steroids, RM Vaughan posed: “All of which asks the obvious question: What is left to say about abandoned children’s plush dolls?”

Tony Oursler: Imponderable

Opinion remains divided about Tony Oursler’s foray into narrative “5D” cinema. Rhett Jones, however, has pretty much convinced me I couldn’t sit through this: “It’s easy to forgive an experiment for not proving its thesis; it’s harder to forgive a work that manages to be boring while it stimulates the viewer on every sensory level.”

Golem at the Jewish Museum, Berlin

What happens when a curator tries to graft Jewish mythology onto contemporary talking points? RM Vaughan explains: “Mild academicizing around and about the creature, a reading of its story as a template for so-very-now concerns, replaces any insight into the creature as a figure with its own dynamic and chaotic story to tell.”

The Berlin Biennale

Anna Uddenberg, Installation view Transit Mode - Abenteuer, 2014–16 Journey of Self Discovery, 2016 Verschiedene Materialien Mixed media Courtesy Anna UddenbergFoto/Photo: Timo Ohler

OK, I haven’t seen the Berlin Biennale in person, but I have seen enough documentation and discussion to question whether it should’ve been written-off as quite as superficial as many critics claim. That being said, RM Vaughan’s well-argued review is one of the most scathing, and for that it’s a fitting end to our Worst of 2016:  “DIS has called their Biennale ‘the present in drag’. Well, I am gay, I’ve done drag, and, sorry kids, but what you got here ain’t fucking drag. Drag is an act of defiance. The DIS Biennale is an act of passive compliance; compliance with the engagement strategies of global capital, brand and fashion currencies, future and present constructions of money moving, and all corporatized technology’s blinking, twinkly toys.”

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