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9 Underappreciated New York Art Shows & Events of 2010

There’s the stuff this year everyone is applauding (Sarah Sze’s show at Tanya Bonakdar, Primary Atmospheres at David Zwirner, etc. ) … yawn, I know they’re brilliant … but I wanted to point out some things that I think deserve more attention and why. Here’s is my list of the 9 Most Underappreciated 2010 Art Shows & Events in New York.

Martin Wong, "Top Cat" (c. 1990) (via ppowgallery.com)

Martin Wong’s Everything Must Go at PPOW Gallery — The shows at the beginning of the year often get left off these top lists in favor of more recent fare that is still percolating in the minds of the art world. As soon as I saw this show last January I knew it would make an appearance on my year-end picks. Wong is an fascinating artist whose personal history is as intriguing as his art. He was the collaborator (and rumored lover) of renowned Nuyorican poet Miguel Piñero, a collector of graffiti, and a Chinese American who often integrated characters from the Lower East Side’s Hispanic community into his work. His art combines his era’s love of new forms of visual language with sexuality. His realistic style is often combined with hieroglyphic-like forms, including sign language, and decorative details to communicate American identities that were far from the mainstream. I sense that Wong’s work will look better and better as time goes by.

Jim Torok, (left) "Life is OK, Except for the Clowns" (2010), and (right) "I Don’t Want to Die" (2009) (via pierogi2000.com)

Jim Torok’s You Are A Vibrant Human Being: Portraits and Clowns at Pierogi — I didn’t think this show would make this list but it has lingered in my mind since I saw it earlier this year. I explained in my March 29th review that I am not a big fan of Torok’s realist portraits but his clown paintings made me want to look again and again. The roughly drawn clowns are escapist fantastias that poke fun at artistic stereotypes while feeling relevant and insightful into contemporary life. His clowns feel trapped in absurd cliches but the paintings themselves feel fresh.

Yevginiy Fiks giving the low-down on Jackson Pollock (image via jameswagner.com & used with permission)

Yevginiy Fiks’s Communist Art Tour of MoMA at MoMA — I missed this event but I followed the live tweets from the participants in this guerilla tour in the high temple of Modern Art. Yevginiy Fiks is known for his constant reexamination of the lost or overlooked chapters of Soviet and communist identity, and this project was one of his most interesting yet. Barry Hoggard has one of the best reports from the tour (or was it a performance?) and he explains that Fiks made sure to point out that Pablo Picasso, “joined the French Communist Party in 1944 … Over his lifetime he donated millions of francs to the party and participated actively through peace conferences as well as publications and petitions. He was refused a visa to visit the the United States in 1950 due to his communism. Picasso and Leger contributed drawings to a French brochure honoring the Rosenbergs after their execution.” Artists should always interact with the masters and Fiks has devised an intelligent way that both illuminates his own work and the art of people we thought we knew everything about.

Specter "side-bursts" a Swoon street piece (image via robotswillkill.com/streetspot)

Specter’s Unwanted Collaborations/Sidebusts series around Brooklyn — This series was conjured up by one of the most talented street artists around, Specter, who hacked (is that what he did?) street works by Swoon, Bast, Skewville, Obey, and Faile. His additions were so well done that unless you knew the original artist’s work you may not have realized — and many didn’t, including some graffiti artists — that they were poking fun at the originals. We often talk about dialogue as an essential part of street art but this added a whole other level of editing, remixing, and critiquing to the public conversation.

Takashi Murakami is so out there he really deserves his own list. (image via arrestedmotion.com)

Takashi Murakami’s floral performance during the Macy*s Thanksgiving Day parade — Murakami is an artistic giant and his balloons for the famed Thanksgiving Day parade got most of the attention but his solo performance dressed as a giant flower just proved his genius — in other words, if the art world was a cruise ship he would be the guy whipping around in a blinged out speedboat. He hasn’t just collapsed high and low (if they even exist in his world), but he’s blended them into a milkshake and forces us to sip it every chance he gets. The dude is the high priest of something, I’m not sure what, but he’s the big dog flower.

A view of Myk Henry's “White Power” (2009) performance at the 2010 Maximum Perception performance series at English Kills Art Gallery.

Maximum Perception performance art series at English Kills Art Gallery — We all know about the performance art orgy that is Performa but where do you find the edgier and less polished side of the city’s performance scene? In Bushwick, of course. The 2010 Maximum Perception festival was curated by Peter Dobill and Phoenix Lights (aka Chris Harding), and it was presented over the course of two days during which time short works that included musical performances, narrative works, and impressionistic actions took place at the English Kills space. This January, the third installment of Maximum Perception will be taking place, and the organizers promise all new performance art faces. We love this series so much we jumped at the chance to get involved, so Hyperallergic will be a media sponsor. Stay tuned as we will be liveblogging the one-night only event in January.

Superflex, "Flooded McDonald's" (2009) (image via peterblumgallery.com)

Superflex’s Flooded McDonald’s at Peter Blum — The Danish collective Superflex targets the soft spots of global capitalism and then stages a surprise attack. Whether they’re setting up free stores, making Creative Commons beer recipes, or looking for the connections between Danish banks and Hurricane Katrina, they seem intent on making statements about our current financial climate. In the work they exhibited earlier this year at Peter Blum, “Flooded McDonald’s,” which had a life online before it did in the gallery, they hit a high note as they went beyond their often dry graphics to pair their artistic vision with aesthetic accomplishment. The resulting work is a surreal cinematic tableau that transforms a cookie-cutter fastfood restaurant into a metaphor for environmental disaster and corporate hubris.

Abramović does her final twirl at the conclusion of “The Artist Is Present” (2010) … and curtain … (screenshots from MoMA’s online cam)

Marina Abramović‘s retrospective at MoMA — I know it’s wrong to characterize this media frenzy as overlooked but the reason this exhibition is included is because it is easy to overlook that this show may have changed the social media landscape of the art world forever. Whether through the posting of photos on Twitter, the livestreaming of the performance on the MoMA website, or the online chatter that surrounded this retrospective (and specifically the central “The Artist Is Present” performance) … not to mention the blog posts and tributes and riffs … this show gave us a window into the future of possibilities for museums in the internet age. Say what you want about the show — and I really liked it — but it was a game changer. Extending the museum beyond its walls is something everyone is talking about and no one is quite sure what that will look like. Well, I’m excited to think this is one of the possible directions.

Three large bronze sculptures on display are (left to right) Lorenzo Lorenzetti’s “Boy Diving” (before 1931), Guido Galletti, “Prometheus Unbound” (c. 1935), and Marino Marini, “Pugilist (Fragment)" (1934) at Guggenheim's "Chaos & Classicism" show.

Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918–1936 at the Guggenheim — Ok, another one that has garnered some attention but not enough in my opinion. It was refreshing to see art from so many lesser known names that were included based on thorough research and a clear artistic thesis. The show set out to chart the role of classicism during a tumultuous period in the history of European Modernism, and the curator included works of every political stripe, including work from untrendy ideologies that were thankfully not quarantined into “you should hate this” rooms. Visitors were allowed to see the work on its own terms, yet everything was accompanied by easy to read and insightful wall text. It’s easy to see European fascism and the art associated with it as a grotesque aside if you see the period through the black and white lens of some latter day anti-fascists, but in reality their world wasn’t so alien. This show helped to expand our sometimes simplistic perspectives of the period and made us more aware that fascism isn’t as unfamiliar as we might like to think.

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