We were pretty sure 2016 was a stinker until we sat down to reflect on all that was good. Going through the images on our phones and our archives, we learned there’s actually quite a bit to celebrate. So much so, in fact, it took us an entire week to assemble this post. That’s quite a bit of time, but it was worth every minute. Here’s to all the artists, curators and performers that made our days and lives better this year.
Best Solo Shows
Venue: Jack Shainman
Exhibition: Meleko Mokgosi: Democratic Intuition: Lerato & Democratic Intuition: Comrades II
Dates: September 8 – October 22, 2016
AFC Review: From Botswana with Love*: The Gaze in Meleko Mokgosi’s Marxist Oil Paintings
The New-York-Based, Botswana-born Meleko Mokgosi is arguably one of the decade’s best painters. His larger-than life canvases are a rich mélange of textures, techniques, and semi-narrative imagery. They could be “watched” like an addictive telenovela for hours. The works subtly place oil painting in dialogue with collage, cinema, news media, and even installation art—but at heart offer a revised take on history painting. Here, the domestic life of people living through a changing postcolonial Botswana is given greater weight than the sometimes obscure larger political themes politely skirting the scenes’ backgrounds. As viewers, we’re hesitantly invited into these tableaus, given just enough information to pique our interests, and just enough mystery to keep us thinking. And that interpersonal-level thought process is the root of “democratic intuition” beyond representation. – Michael Anthony Farley
Venue: Andrea Rosen Gallery
Exhibition: Tetsumi Kudo
Dates: October 14 – November 16, 2016
21 of the 29 pieces in Andrea Rosen’s Tetsumi Kudo show are bird cages filled with paper mache birds shaped like dicks and living off pharmaceuticals, masks of hung over faces, and knitting figures. The rest are cum like sculptures that evoke images of sex, reproduction and orgasms. The show’s thesis, if there is one seems to be that the man made and the natural are now interchangeable, that our desire to reproduce is on steroids and producing creepy shit, and that we are forever stuck in these systems that don’t work for us.
The work was made between 1966-1987, but its dystopian vision certainly fits 2016. Is this the year we all become disillusioned? – Paddy Johnson
Venue: 3 Legged Dog Art & Technology
Exhibition: Peter Burr and Porpentine, Pattern Language
Dates: September 26th – September 29th
AFC Feature: Hot As Hell: Peter Burr’s Subterranean Utopias
It was easy to miss Peter Burr’s massive five channel video installation at 3 Legged Dog Art & Technology. The show was located in the financial district—far outside the regular New York gallery neighborhoods, and only ran for a week. But if you made it, what a treat. It was like stepping inside a videogame underworld in which you’re not quite sure if its residents are trapped or simply complacent. Whatever the case, the rules are different.
Text from Porpentine makes that clear. Opinions don’t exist, sewers are designed with the “care and cleanliness of optic fibers”, the sun never shines. Meanwhile, Burr’s black and white patterns and animations of people inside architectural spaces race across the screens while a soundtrack of arpeggiated and drone music play in time.
While inside the piece, I spent a good deal of time thinking about Koyaanisqatsi, a 1982 film without dialogue or vocalized narrative by Director Godfrey Regiio and Musician Philip Glass. Like the film, Burr’s piece is about systems and landscapes. But it also evokes that strange feeling of elation and wonder that only the best art imparts on the viewer. It’s so visually overwhelming, so enveloping, that I began to feel outside my body and inside the matrix. – PJ
Exhibition: David Hammons, Five Decades
Dates: March 15-May 27th
AFC Review: David Hammons, Sellout or Seer?
Nobody’s better at giving the man the middle finger than David Hammons. He’s shown pretty much everywhere, not that he cares. “The way I see it, the Whitney Biennial and Documenta need me, but I don’t need them.” Hammons told Peter Schjedahl in a 2002 interview. He was in both.
His show at Mnuchin Gallery, which is located in a townhouse uptown, demonstrates as much. You can’t get within 50 feet of the place without smelling the money, but once inside, you know Hammons was there. As was noted by AFC contributor Rob Goyanes, “In the Hood”, a 1993 work in which Hammons nails the torn hood of a hoodie to the wall, is situated directly across from an image of Hammons taking a piss on Richard Serra sculpture. If “In the Hood” suffers from an ease of reproducibility—and it does, Goyanes has a shot of two collectors posing with their wine in front of the hood—its pairing with the work suggests that, actually, the two women posing are in fact his unknowing performers.
Hammons show is three floors of punk rock fuck yous—bedazzled basketball hoops, fur coats violently splashed with paint and tarp wrapped paintings. That’s an awful lot of space, but I still left feeling like I wanted more. There are not enough Hammons in this world. – PJ
Artist: Katherine Bradford, Fear of Waves
Dates: January 9 – February 14, 2016
Katherine Bradford was my first art Instagram of the year, and I only remember that because the show was so good I haven’t stopped thinking about it for the past 12 months. There’s a spiritual quality to the swimmers, who are cast under starlight, in great bodies of water, and even in small pools. The figures seem relaxed—or at least focused—as if no worry could pierce their reality. Past all this, the paintings are produced with such economical brushwork, it’s hard not to marvel at the sheer skill of these works. What a great way to have started 2016. -PJ
Best Group Shows
Venue: Hauser & Wirth New York
Exhibition: A Modest Proposal
Dates: 23 June – 29 July 2016,
Featuring works by: Lucas Blalock, Naotaka Hiro, Sanya Kantarovsky, Nicola L, Tala Madani, Jakub Julian Ziolkowski
This collection of contemporary and master figurative works is pretty much as good as it gets as far as group shows are concerned. All the art has a wry, almost abject humor to it—a reference Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay “A Modest Proposal” and the show title. In Swift’s piece, he suggests that the Irish should respond to extreme poverty and famine in Ireland residents by eating their children.
This show isn’t quite so macabre, though it’s not all fun and games either. “Girl with Eel,” a watercolor depicting just that by Sanya Kantarovsky, for example, doesn’t scream absurdity in the face of desperation. But, like most works in the show, there’s a humorous discomfort to the image. This is best seen in the vinyl ghost figures by Nicola L and a photograph of meat manipulated to resemble a head by Louis Blalock, but it’s almost everywhere in the show. The playful approach to suffering ties the works in this show together, but so does the economical use of line, color and shape in these works. It sounds simple, but it’s rare to see a group show hang together so well formally, while simultaneously revealing a shared sensibility and way of viewing the world. The curation looks effortless and easy. – PJ
Exhibition: Jared Buckheister and Saul Chernick
Dates: May 28–June 19, 2016
I hate to begin this recommendation on an awkward note, but the disclaimers needed here could be a paragraph long. Saul Chernick is a friend and an AFC board member. Jared Buckheister was included in our recent show Strange Genitals, as was Chernick. If the artists or gallery were better known, we wouldn’t mention the show at all, because enough people would see it with or without a nod from us. But to exclude a show of such excellence that readers might not otherwise know about would be doing our readers a disservice. And so, this show gets the mention it fully deserves.
Jared Buckheister’s waist-height urinals in the shape of bent over football players and Saul Chernick’s erotic drawings of such things as a breast vagina mound on an altar pair well. Both turn tradition and eroticism on its head through inventiveness and craft. Buckheister’s work is a little less explicit than Chernick’s, though arguably more erotic. The urinals in particular are inviting, while his watercolors of bodybuilders solicit voyeurism. Chernick’s work is more reverential, His drawings often seem to suggest that the touch of God comes directly through a cock. There’s a bit of John Wesley in Chernick’s drawings—they share a similar line quality and quirkiness. The reference deepens the work, but you don’t need it to enjoy looking at the show. On some level, this exhibition gets a mention, simply because it makes looking so pleasurable. – PJ
Best Museum Shows
Venue: The Met Brauer
Exhibition: Kerry James Marshall, Mastry
Dates: October 25, 2016–January 29, 2017
Kerry James Marshall’s “Mastry” may be the best museum show I’ve seen in the last fifteen years. Statements like this can’t help but sound hyperbolic, but it’s not any less true. The historical depth to these paintings and the political importance of a show that so deftly depicts and places black figures within art history, simply can’t be overstated.
An unapologetic nerd, Marshall brings purpose and learning to every work of art. His paintings draw from art history, black history, black literature and comic books—each specific in their aim and intended impact. It’s no accident. As Marshall says in the Met’s audio guide, “The pursuit of art is as much an intellectual exercise as it is an emotional investment. I think that the most important aspect about the work is that making art isn’t just about self expression, it’s about solving problems also. What I want people coming out from the work understanding, is that the journey was a thoughtful one. ” – PJ
Venue: MUAC, Mexico City
Exhibition: Jeremy Deller: El ideal infinitamente variable de lo popular (The infinitely variable ideal of the popular)
Dates: Aug 22, 2015-February 27, 2016
It’s refreshing to see work that could be described with buzzwords (“accessible”, “community-building”, “social practice”) opt instead to revel in nuance and pop weirdness. Deller manages to make the case for public-friendly work by not-quite-exactly making the case for it. Equal parts sociologist, party promoter, and obscure subculture aficionado, Deller mines everything from nationalist political marches to underground raves and bouncy castles for evidence of why and how people come together. With video documentation of past projects interspersed throughout works on paper, installations, and flowcharts that attempt to convey the artist’s circuitous thought process, Deller managed to make a show that both “explained” his broader nebulous practice and felt like a social space unto itself. Highlights included a recreation of the artist’s adolescent bedroom—punk posters and all—and a totally bonkers mural of a drag queen luchador holding a bleeding heart up in an Aztec ritual, a commission executed by a local graffiti artist. – MAF
Venue: The Whitney
Exhibition: Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art
Dates: Oct 28, 2016–Feb 5, 2017
I’m not sure Dreamlands succeeded to be the “series of historical moments…that create a story” the Whitney described, but as a document that traces the influence of cinema and related ephemera on contemporary art, it can’t be beat. From Oskar Fischinger’s sketches for the Disney animated classic “Fantasia” in 1940, to Stan VanDerBeek’s immersive maze of screens in his 1967 installation “Movie Mural,” to Alex Da Corte and Jayson Musson’s 2014 showroom and film critiquing class, social culture, and the value of artmaking titled “Eastern Sport” we see a 100 year lineage of art making that’s built upon itself. Walking through the show, it’s easy to identify the enduring threads—science fiction, evolving technology, and collaboration—but curator Chrissie Iles’ real triumph maybe simply in identifying the works of art that have so eloquently reflected the culture at that moment. Never has our history of anxieties, pleasures and intellectual pursuits been so thoroughly exposed. – PJ
Venue: The New Museum
Exhibition: The Keeper
Dates: July 20, 2016 – Oct 02, 2016
AFC Review: Hoarding for History: The Keeper at the New Museum
It took me until the last day this show was open to see The Keeper at the New Museum and boy am I glad I made it. The show takes off where curator Massimilano Gioni’s Venice Biennale, The Encyclopedic Palace left off—cataloguing visual history through collections and art. It seems Gioni was not quite finished.
As Emily Colucci wrote earlier this year, the exhibition looks like “the aftermath of a Hoarders Anonymous meeting”—or perhaps more precisely, what happens when an obsessive librarian gets a hold of a hoarder’s treasure. The show is four floors worth of catalogued images, stacked images, framed images, personal collections, flora and fauna, furniture, unusual assemblages and pretty much anything else anyone’s ever thought to keep.
Given the show’s title, it’s not surprising to learn that the real subject of the show isn’t limited to what’s on display, but rather extends to what we can learn about people through what they collect. If this show’s any indication, it’s mostly that as a group, we’re a weird but thoughtful bunch. No where is this more evident than the show’s centerpiece, collector Ydessa Hendeles’s “Partners (The Teddy Bear Project)”. This work took over the better part of the second floor with a vast collection of photographs picturing family photos with teddy bears. Arranged thematically within a library like setting complete with wooden vitrines and library stairs and balcony a viewer could literally spend days studying the photographs. What it would amount to I’m not sure, but at least one conclusion would have to be the astonishing amount of learned and mimicked behavior we all share. I had no idea teddy bears had such a longstanding presence in our culture, but given that nearly every store sells them, that shouldn’t have been a surprise. Sometimes the most obvious lessons can only be learned through being presented with a literal library of evidence. -PJ
Venue:The New Museum
Exhibition: Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest
Dates: Oct 26, 2016-Jan 15, 2017
AFC Review: Pipilotti Rist at the New Museum: Feel Good Feminism.
A dazzling show of multi-channel video work that makes female desire and anger feel good, fun and accessible. Take Rist’s best known pieces, such as Ever Is Over All, (1997) a dreamlike sequence in which a woman in a blue dress joyfully smashes the windows of cars, and Sip My Ocean, (1996) a two channel video in which Rist swims underwater while singing a squeaky rendition of Wicked Game. Each seem like fantasies a viewer might want to share, rather than fear. That impulse reaches its pinnacle in selfie-friendly “Pixel Forest” on the third floor, in which a maze of tinkle light oysters hanging from the ceiling blink as the single pixel contained within changes color with the projected video. Beside this forest, two erotic videos capture a naked man and woman underwater, a hand on barbed wire, a woman’s fingers tracing through the sand. It’s an out and out female fantasy, and Rist had all of New York share in the experience. – PJ
BONUS: KAI ALTHOFF AT MOMA
Venue: Abrons Art Center
Exhibition: American Realness Festival, Destruction.
Dates: January 15
AFC Review: M. Lamar Brings Down the House at Abrons
M. Lamar convinced me on the use of a coming apocalypse, in his stunning operatic masterpiece “Destruction” last January. The libretto (co-written by Lamar and Tucker Culbertson) tells a retribution story from the perspective of a black descendant of slaves. Distraught over the loss of life that occurred during times of slavery and segregation, he calls the dead back to life. When the wake, they are ready to take arms.
The whole piece is sung from behind a piano and Lamar looks like he means business. He wears a studded black leather jacket while backed by projections of coffins, dead people and church windows obscured by fire and flame. It was terrifying, but also truly awe inspiring. As I wrote back in January, the building literally shook as Lamar sung out, calling for the resurrection of those who had been murdered. There’s no happy ending here for white people, but perhaps that’s as it should be. Perhaps the best aspect of this performance was that it is extreme enough to match our times. These days, that takes some doing. -PJ
Venue: The Jewish Museum
Exhibition: Weirdo Night with Dynasty Handbag, Jaimie Warren, and Morgan Bassichis
Dates: June 30.
This one night show of comedy single-handedly reaffirmed my faith in all that is good in art. I say this knowing that any explanation will utterly fail to communicate why this experience was so transformative. Morgan Bassichis began his routine by telling us all it was his dream to have diarrhea at the Jewish Museum. Like many in the audience, he got stuck on a train on his way to perform. His nerves got the best of him.
Poop jokes aren’t my thing, but Bassichis’s finely tuned sense of delivery made pretty much everything that come out of his mouth hilarious. Camp also makes poop funny, which is good because shit really flowed that night. Literally. Jaimie Warren performed as GG Allin, which involved spreading fake shit all over the stage and eating it. NO FEAR. Dynasty Handbag offered a hilarious summary of the audience reaction to that act in a series of ums and awes. before beginning her own. In sum, the night was the most abject, crazy and ROFL art performances I’ve ever seen. Calling it Weirdo Night, as they did, doesn’t begin to explain it. -PJ
Best New Artist Run Space
Venue: ‘sindikit, BALTIMORE
Exhibition: Cheeny Celebrado-Royer and Cindy Cheng
Dates: July 15 – August 20, 2016
A lot of artist run spaces say they focus on strengthening artist’s ability to collaborate and create simply by giving artists a studio or a show space. ‘sindikit, a new artist run space in Baltimore founded by Tim Doud and Zoe Charlton is a little more directed in their curatorial approach. In one gallery they invite an emerging artist from Baltimore to collaborate with a more established artist from another city. In another gallery, they invite artists to create a show from work that would normally be considered an outlier in their regular studio practice.
I love this approach to showing because it focuses on strengthening an artist’s studio practice without paying heed to the market. In other words, shows like this are hard to sell because they break from the artist’s “known” production, but are good for the growth of artists. We need more spaces like this. – PJ
Best Public Art
Venue: The Brooklyn Navy Yards
Producer: Creative Time
Exhibition: Duke Riley, Fly By Night
Dates: May 7- June 19
It’s a small mystery why Duke Riley’s “Fly By Night” did not tar viewers with pigeon poop. For the public art work, Riley attached LED lights to thousands of trained pigeons that flew in patterns above the audience. The pigeons were directed by volunteers at dusk. The result is pretty much what you’d expect—a meditative, fluttering back and forth of blinking starry lights in the sky over the Brooklyn Navy Yard—but there’s no underestimating the power of that simplicity. It was elegant, beautiful and maybe even a bit poetic. I remember feeling lucky to be there—and not to have been shat upon. PJ
Venue: Brooklyn Bridge Park
Producer: Two Trees
Exhibition: Deborah Kass, OY/YO
Dates: 2015-Aug 2016
I’ll admit to initially being skeptical of the merit in Deborah Kass’s public artwork “OY/YO”. It’s almost too simple a concept: a look at the sculpture facing into Brooklyn reads as the working class greeting, “YO”. Turn it around for a work commute into Manhattan and “OY” is what you get—back to the grind, as it were.
Unlike most Brooklynites who commute to Manhattan, AFC’s offices are located beside the park, so living with this sculpture every day has not only convinced me of its merits, but that the eight-foot-tall, five-foot-deep, and 17-foot-wide yellow aluminum text might be the best public art that’s ever graced the fields of Brooklyn Bridge Park. Past the fact that it never seemed to get old, the sculpture was so beloved that the grass around it was worn down to sand due to foot traffic. The sculpture was taken down in August after its run, but not before a petition addressed to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ran to make the piece permanent. Perhaps we need to redirect that request to Two Trees, though, the company that originally commissioned the project. Bring “YO/OY” back! -PJ
Best Art Protests
Venue: Punto Gozadera-La Gozadera, Mexico City
Performance: Julio Láudano “Ama Sistem A Canibal, junto a Yurex.” performed during BATAFEMS Jornadas contra la violencia de género (Workshops against gender violence)
Dates: February 2016
There are few performers with the ability to conjure as much sensation of body horror as Mexican artist Julio Láudano. His explorations of the mutable body through makeup, costuming, movement, and various prosthetic interventions are both visually striking and deeply unsettling. Here, as part of a conference protesting gender violence in Mexico, the artist was led on a leash, contorted into a feminine figure out of a Francis Bacon painting, by a performer costumed to evoke macho nationalism. Láudano proceeded to scoop out chunks of a papaya, positioned between his legs like an oversized vagina, and devour himself. He was then fed a sickeningly decadent all-red meal, largely consisting of blood-hued noodles, that were then vomited onto the floor. At one point, the artist became a gory angelic figure, where remnants of puke noodles and red yarn formed shredded, tragically unusable wings between his torso and arms. I can’t recall a more “can’t-look-away”, fully-realized, committed performance (for a small audience, no less) in all of 2016. – MAF
Venue: 6th Ave L subway station
Exhibition: Matthew Chavez’s “Subway Therapy”
Dates: June 2016- Dec 2016
AFC Review: The Heart of New York Lives on a Sticky
After the devastating results of the election, Matthew Chavez brought pens and sticky notes into the 6th Avenue L train station, inviting passers-by to share their thoughts. Although it sounds like it could’ve been cheesy, it ended up being a much needed, moving expression of collective grief—and just a little optimism. Untold thousands of New Yorkers shared their thoughts, hopes, fears, and words of encouragement with one another. The collective artwork became a place of congregation, and in a city of emotions running high, that alone has value. -MAF
BONUS: Yoko Ono’s Response to the election of Donald Trump
When Yoko Ono posted this video (really, a still image of the artist screaming along with an audio track) on November 11th, she managed to sum up how so many of us felt. Namely: pissed off and sad and confused and at a loss for words all at the same time. Yoko Ono’s always been a slightly-out-of-step voice of the times, and sometimes that voice needn’t be coherently verbal to communicate effectively. -MAF
Best Art Fair
Venue: Knockdown Center
Exhibition: Internet Yami-Ichi
Dates: Nov 6, 2016
Can we consider the Yami-Ichi an art fair? Yes and no. Most art I see at art fairs I expect not to like. The scale of art fairs simply doesn’t work for a high volume, high quality art experience. Whether we’re talking about models recognized for their excellence such as Art Basel Switzerland or SPRING BREAK, or lesser traveled fairs like Pulse and Satellite—they all show a good deal more crap than they do solid work.
This October I realized there is one very notable exception to this rule: The Internet Yami-ichi. Billed as an Internet “flea market”, the fair invites vendors to present their technology inspired wares at little to no cost. (This year’s booth rate was $20.00.) Given that there’s just as much bad net art out there as any other kind of art, there’s no reason to think that the affair would yield different results than an art fair. And yet, for the second year running, the Internet Yami-ichi presented more good art over the course of a day than I have seen at any art fair, ever.
In fact, a good 60-65 percent of the participating vendors showed work that would almost certainly be a press magnet at any of the traditional art fairs. This ranged from sales of test tubes holding huge internet viruses such as “the iloveyou”, and “SLQ Slammer”, by Virus Labs, to Sarah Marshall’s books documenting her internet searches from 2007-2013, to Daniel Temkin’s curtain-like “Internet Directory”, a printout of registered domain names. Too late for this now, but The Armory, would do well to invite the Internet Yami-Ichi to participate in the curated portion of their fair. They’ve long held a reputation for presenting stale art—the Yami-Ichi would be the perfect antidote to that.