Art Fag City at The L Magazine: The Best and Worst Exhibitions of 2011

by Paddy Johnson on December 21, 2011 · 7 comments The L Magazine

Alexander McQueen at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This week at the L Magazine I’ve put together a list of the best and worst exhibitions that stretches the term “exhibition” well beyond its intended use. That’s okay; art is not easily categorized. As for reflections, this was a good year for art. A lot of much needed change is here and on the horizon. From Occupy Wall Street, to ArtPrize, to Hennessy Youngman’s youtube channel, 2011 is the year art’s started to unravel a little.

1. Occupy Museums
Occupy Museums is more of an activist movement than it is an exhibition, but they top my list regardless. Objecting to the disproportionate role the wealthy take in shaping what we will preserve of our culture, the group organized protests that included Bring Your Own Manifesto at MoMA; a séance to channel distant voices of extinct dinosaurs and a mass dinosaur die-in at the American Museum of Natural History; and a Phillip Glass-led people's mic reciting a chorus of Ghandi quotations at Lincoln Center. Brilliant!

2. ArtPrize in Michigan
Yes, I'm placing a contest in which a giant metal praying mantis was a top ten finalist in my year-end list. Located in Grand Rapids, ArtPrize’s methods of engaging the public are anything but conventional; citizens vote by phone and online to determine the winners of the cash prizes. I'm a little worried the city will elect a sparkling pig as its number one art mascot, but fuck it. This organization has managed to get their citizens involved enough in art that they are actually asking for resources that will make their votes more informed. That's already a huge win for everyone.

3. Alexander McQueen at the Met
Caring about clothes doesn't make you a pussy or materialistic but I have to wonder whether these preconceived notions kept a few friends away from that exhibit; despite penning a glowing review of McQueen's posthumous retrospective and sending several personal emails to friends, I couldn't get a single bestie out to see the thing. That’s their loss I guess, but this is the kind of exhibition you want to share with everyone, so it made me really sad that anyone missed it. No one made sexier clothing, no one combined texture, patterning, and exquisite tailoring like McQueen. Sculptors, painters, printmakers: for god's sake, pick up the 240-page exhibition catalogue.

To read the full list click here. And from the worst:

1. Rashaad Newsome's Rap Joust at Marlborough Gallery 
This performance made me feel sorry for anyone within a five mile vicinity of Chelsea. The scene: a near uniformly under-qualified panel of judges vote on the best rapper. The mics barely work and a crowd of rapper friends and icky mucky-mucks drink champagne and dance. Newsome wears a crown and conducts nothing from a stage above.

There’s more where that came from here.


Sven December 21, 2011 at 2:32 pm

@paddy:disqus , regarding yr dekooning review. i remember you saying something about his alcoholism being overlooked (maybe?), and I recall being somewhat nonplussed by that statement as a dekooning fan. However, after seeing the show, I actually had the same reaction, so good call. Though I still loved seeing some of the work, I couldn’t help having the feeling that it seemed like something (perhaps an alcohol problem) derailed him a number of times, that some lack of clarity in his decisions over the years led him astray a few times.  Besides that, one point I didn’t see brought up was the originality of his color schemes from the semi-figurative portraits of the late 30s to early 40s. Those odd acerbic pinks, oranges and greens seemed to come out of nowhere (recalling 70s interior design schemes to my mind), and I was wondering if you had any idea about their origin.

Paddy Johnson December 21, 2011 at 10:15 pm

I didn’t mention anything about his alcoholism, though I did say I thought he seldom painted outside his palette comfort zone. In a lot of ways I found his early “less-experimental” work the most interesting. You could see he was establishing his palette, you could see how careful he was with paint. Where that came from though…that I don’t know about. 

Sven December 21, 2011 at 11:38 pm

“Biography can work in a retrospective, but when MoMA’s show offers up nearly 200 paintings without even mentioning de Kooning’s fight with alcoholism, the attempt seems halfhearted.”

Paddy Johnson December 22, 2011 at 10:35 am

Wow, it’s amazing what you can forget you’ve written. I reread the piece too, but skimmed it and missed that bit. Jesus. 

Sven December 22, 2011 at 1:54 pm

lol that was the line I remembered most. Anyways, to me it wasn’t really his palette that was the comfort zone, it was more the expressionism (in the lush and seductive paint handling),  that perhaps became too comfortable.

Gallery Girl December 22, 2011 at 1:18 am

I very much agree with your choice of Newsome and Cattelan. I wonder if their shared downfall may have been exacerbated by the preceding hype and publicity and subsequent unmet expectations. I was underwhelmed at Newsome’s gallery show which seemed uninteresting kitschy-glam at best and outdated stereotypes of wealth at worst.
Cattelan was equally (if not more) disappointing given the lack of coherence and intention from someone who usually seems so thoughtful in his installations.

Paddy Johnson December 22, 2011 at 10:37 am

Yeah, I’m getting the feeling that Newsome is a bad artist who happens to have made a couple of good works. Cattelan I’ve never liked. 

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