Let’s face it: there’s Brooklyn, and then there’s the rest of New York City. (Sorry, rest of New York City!) While the former holds a special place in our hearts, we readily acknowledge that the city’s other boroughs have tons of art to offer. So, for this list, we’ve expanded from a top 10 to 20, taking in galleries in Chelsea and the Lower East Side, museums all over, and even an adventure on the East River. We wouldn’t say this list is exhaustive (exhausting, maybe), but it’s a brief inventory of what we saw and loved this year.
#1 – Greer Lankton: LOVE ME at Participant Inc.
November 2–December 21
This incredibly rich and dense exhibition felt like the revelation of 2014. Most of us had heard of Lankton, either from surveys of the 1980s East Village scene or after paying a visit to her installation at the Mattress Factory, but few were prepared for the visceral power of her intensely personal, intimate, and generous work. Participant Inc. packed in as much work as possible, from the grotesque and macabre dolls to the irreverent videos and a great wealth of ephemera, yet managed to leave us wanting more. That, incidentally, is our resolution for 2015: more Greer Lankton! —Benjamin Sutton
#2 – Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe at the Guggenheim Museum
February 21–September 1
Futurism has long been a misunderstood art historical movement; I think most people’s conceptions of it revolve around either Boccioni’s landmark sculpture “Unique Forms of Continuity in Space” (1913) or its involvement with Fascism. Which means that this show, the first in-depth look at the movement in the United States, was poised to be a crash course — and for me, hopefully for others, it was (I stayed until the guards kicked me out). Futurism contained misogyny and women practitioners; it generated a lot of mediocre art and some really excellent work; it was much larger than its place in art history makes it out to be. Futurism grew from the challenges faced by artists attempting to confront their rapidly changing technological world. Sound familiar? —Jillian Steinhauer
#3 – Kent Monkman: The Urban Res at Sargent’s Daughters
May 4–June 14
You could easily spend hours picking out all the details in Monkman’s narrative paintings, which portray jarring and thrilling collisions between Western art history (both classical and modern) and the contemporary lived experiences of First Nations Canadians and Native Americans in the US. In “Death of the Female” (2014), for instance, a group of men rendered in a figurative, photorealist mode rush to help a nude woman who could have fallen right out of a Cubist-era Picasso painting, while a Renaissance-style angel flies ominously overhead and the culprit, a muscle car-driving bison, speeds away. Look beyond the immediate drama and you’ll notice things like the incongruous pair of Adidas sneakers sported by the chief in ceremonial garb at right, the apparent cave drawing scrawled on the side of the house, or the distorted, Francis Bacon-evoking figure cautiously peeking from the front door. I could go on, but you get the point. —BS
#4 – Maria Lassnig at MoMA PS1
March 9–September 7
Were it not for co-curators Peter Eleey and Jocelyn Miller’s chronological installation, you’d have had a hard time telling 1970s Lassnig from 2000s Lassnig, and not because the work got repetitive or boring, but rather because pieces painted 40 years ago seem just as fresh, funny, weird, vulnerable, and technically masterful as those from the last few years of her life. In this exhibition, the earlier, abstract works provided a window into the subtle experiments with color that came later, while her really early figurative work, from her school days in Vienna, gave a sense of the rigid formal training underlying the wild works to come. Lassnig’s death two months after the exhibition opened added a ghostly dimension to her self-portraits, making the glint of life in their intense eyes all the more arresting. —BS
#5 – Marie Lorenz at Jack Hanley Gallery and Frieze New York
April 18–May 18; May 9–12
Making artwork about water and the environment seems like something of a trend lately, but Marie Lorenz does it better than most. In The Valley of Dry Bones, her solo show at Jack Hanley Gallery, Lorenz filled the space with wooden pillars and mysterious icons made of trash, projecting her dystopian video of an aquatic future on the walls.
I was drawn in, but it was at Frieze New York that I was truly transported. There Lorenz chatted with visitors while she rowed them along the shore of Randall’s Island in her handmade boat. Sometimes when art makes you see the world differently, it does so quite literally. —JS
#6 – Here and Elsewhere at the New Museum
July 16–September 28
Sure it had its flaws, but the New Museum’s Here and Elsewhere exhibition made a splash, while introducing the art of a whole region to a city — and its art public — that knows little about these artists, many of whom have illustrious careers in other parts of the world. The curatorial undertaking was impressive and the catalogue is extensive. Works by Etel Adnan, Kader Attia, Ahmed Mater, Hrair Sarkissian, Khaled Jarrar, Rokni Haerizadeh, Akram Zaatari, and others were some of the standouts in the show, but there was literally something for everyone. Even if the conceptual framework had many faults, the show rewarded multiple visits and generated an important conversation about the politics of representation and framing. The fact that the exhibition was on during this year’s Israel–Gaza conflict only made it more poignant. —Hrag Vartanian
#7 – Genesis BREYER P-ORRIDGE and Pierre Molinier at Invisible-Exports
September 5–October 12
Beginning in the 1950s, Pierre Molinier was collaging bodies and body parts in ways I would never dream. A trippy black-and-white orgy of legs in fishnet stockings, feet in high heels (often with dildos attached), faces, and asses, Molinier’s work shocks without giving off the impression that it’s trying to — in fact, it feels oddly, resolutely natural. Aside from the obvious resonances, he outshone Genesis BREYER P-ORRIDGE by a mile in this two-person show, but that was fine; his work was strong enough to carry it alone. —JS
#8 – Living with Pop. A Reproduction of Capitalist Realism at Artists Space
June 8–August 17
This was the sort of dense, art-historical survey so comprehensive as to possibly be a little off-putting. But its staying power is undeniable; those who put in the effort to engage with the exhibition (which landed in both Artists Space locations from the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf) found a rigorous and insightful assessment of a fertile moment in 20th century art — German Capitalist Realism. Among its many resonances with the present, Capitalist Realism delivered two of today’s major artists, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter, without their contemporary gloss, members of a larger group of young artists trying to make sense of their role in a society upended by the Second World War and accelerated by a humming capitalist engine. And in its conception, Living with Pop also evinced a welcome nonchalance about the strictures of historical exhibition-making: the high dose of archival ephemera was joined by few original artworks, with many of the works shown as reproductions mounted on cardboard (both an assault on aura and an affirmation of thrift, given the prohibitively high values of some of the works in question); wall labels too were eschewed for a diagrammatical pamphlet and index. And with the addition of a selection of videos curated by the American artist Christopher Williams, the exhibition avoided a scholarly orthodoxy, mingling period films like the Society of the Spectacle (1973) with recent works like Allan Sekula and Noël Burch’s brilliant The Forgotten Space (2012) and the less brilliant but very amusing The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006). —Mostafa Heddaya
#9 – Kader Attia: Show your injuries at Lehmann Maupin
November 8–December 14
This Algerian-French artist is strongly focused on the politics of post-colonialism and his artistic language is rich and varied. I saw his wonderful show at the Beirut Art Center last summer, but his two-part exhibition at Lehmann Maupin’s Chelsea and Lower East Side spaces was more developed (some of the works were the same) and it probed the boundaries of dominance, resistance, and dissemination. In the Chelsea part of the exhibition, the artist had created a dead-end labyrinth that wound the viewer through rooms created at a scale and arrangement that felt jarring. Inside the spaces Attia’s works (slideshows, sculptures, assemblage, video, collage, reductionist paintings, and more) explored a multilayered reality perpetually poised between two worlds, genders, or realities, and acting as a bridge between them. —HV
#10 – Skylar Fein: The Lincoln Bedroom at C24
November 1, 2013–February 22, 2014
Queer history is the subject of Skylar Fein’s art, particularly the untold stories and omitted passages that may never be known. His project at C24 Gallery included a recreation of a small house (and even smaller bed) that US President Abraham Lincoln shared with another man. Fein didn’t blatantly suggest that something romantic or sexual might have happened between the two, but it’s hard not to read between the line and understand that history never mentions this curiosity. Seeing it at full scale drives the point home perfectly. After the exhibition closed, Fein destroyed the installation as an “act of symbolic destruction.” “This, after all, is where queer history goes, in 2014: the garbage,” he told Hyperallergic. —HV
#11 – Regina Bogat: Works 1967–1977 at Galerie Zürcher
June 4–July 25
Nowadays it seems like there’s a formerly overlooked woman artist being rediscovered every week. The story may get old, I suppose, but if we’re lucky, the art doesn’t. That’s the case with Regina Bogat. When I interviewed Bogat two years ago, she talked about living in suburban New Jersey and using colorful materials from the fabric store (there was no art supply store) to make her grid paintings. Some of those fantastic pieces were on view at Galerie Zürcher this summer — adhering to the grid yet pushing against it, mixing typically masculine artistic conventions with materials traditionally considered feminine, riotously colorful, slyly suggestive, and looking like they could go on view in Bushwick tomorrow. —JS
#12 – Eva and Franco Mattes: By Everyone, For No One, Everyday at Postmasters
April 26–June 7
The strongest work in Eva and Franco Mattes’s solo exhibition at Postmasters was also the oldest: “The Others” (2011), an over-two-hour-long video projecting 10,000 photos stolen from personal computers. As the anonymous, seemingly generic pictures flickered by, my senses of mystery and horror mounted. Who were these people? Would I find my own photos here? The other pieces in the show — the infamous reaction-driven “Emily’s Video,” contracts for the purchases of concepts, Google Image Search merch — jabbed at similar questions of what an image means and is in an age of so many. It all added up to a memorable whole of artistic humor, existentialism, and despair. —JS
#13 – Jessica Stoller: Spoil at PPOW
January 9–February 8
Try to picture the most decadent spread of cannibal confectionery — human body parts piled, plated, and adorned like cakes — you can imagine; Jessica Stoller’s S&M ceramics are dirtier than that. And prettier. And more fragile. The tensions between these varying elements in her works make them irresistible. Her macabre tea party spread at PPOW, juxtaposed with a line of small female figures that would have been kitschy if not for the assorted torture methods they appeared to be enduring, made for a visually delightful and psychologically distressing show. —BS
#14 – Sam Durant: Invisible Surrealists at Paula Cooper
September 12–October 18
Here was something much appreciated this year: an historical consideration of marginality within a major, if demoded, European art movement. Sam Durant reads Surrealism and its legacy through a critical lens, attuned to questions of postcoloniality and class, a research-based approach enlivened by his fluent aesthetic strategies. And the in-gallery conversation with UCLA historian Robin D. G. Kelley, who wrote the essay that inspired the show, was also a welcome contribution to a particular art landscape in which outside scholars tend to be both passively cited and Anglo-European. By turns visually and intellectually stimulating, Durant’s exposition of the socio-historical dimensions of Surrealism was a persuasive demonstration of the fact that the movement’s essence lies far beyond the dripping nullities of Dalí. —MH
#15 – Joy Curtis and Ian Pedigo: Cosmopolitan Sleep Positions at Klaus von Nichtssagend
December 15, 2013–February 2, 2014; March 14–April 20
Klaus von Nichtssagend gallery organized a number of excellent shows this year, and their Joy Curtis and Ian Pedigo exhibitions were among the best. The gallery’s ability to show work that’s both formally and intellectually challenging without falling victim to trends is worth a nod. Curtis explored the architecture of display in her white sculptures, while Pedigo focused on strategies of creating a sense of value in the art object. Both were very much on point. —HV
#16 – Adam Shecter: New Year at Eleven Rivington
September 2–October 5
Animation is not big in the art world, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me — maybe there’s a lingering feeling that it’s not quite highbrow or intellectual enough. Adam Shecter’s stunning work “New Year” (2014), the only piece in his Eleven Rivington show this fall, demonstrated how damned artful animation can be. Hand drawn, 3D animation, and digital video; a panoramic scroll set to a soundtrack and a film; a science fiction short story and a collage — the piece is so many things, it merits multiple viewings to take in all of them. —JS
#17 – Lebbeus Woods, Architect at the Drawing Center
April 17–June 15
The Lebbeus Woods retrospective at the Drawing Center was a welcome examination of the influential architect’s theories and unbuilt projects. His maquettes — which often look more sculptural than architectural — and beautifully rendered drawings easily lured you into his conceptual world, where he battled the violence and conventions of contemporary society at every turn. —HV
#18 – Diana Al-Hadid: Regarding Medardo Rosso at Marianne Boesky
February 8–March 19
Diana Al-Hadid filled Marianne Boesky Gallery’s Upper East Side townhouse with works that felt like an amalgam of painting and sculpture. Her art normally probes the difficulty of representing space and perspective, but here the works took on another more personal meaning outside of a white box gallery and in a more domestic setting. The show paid homage to an artist who shared many of Al-Hadid’s interests, Medardo Rosso, and it is easy to see the similarities between them as they were or are — in Al-Hadid’s case — constantly fighting up against the limitations of art in three dimensions. What became obvious in this show is that Al-Hadid’s sculptures are often elaborate drawings in space. —HV
#19 – Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010 at Museum of Modern Art
April 19–August 3
This retrospective was as multipronged and diverse as the German artist Sigmar Polke‘s large body of work. Critical of power, consumerism, and history, Polke is often hard to characterize since he doesn’t follow trends, though his work looks more poignant now than ever. The exhibition’s curators did a great job of focusing attention on his largely overlooked films (many of which were being shown for the first time) and it inadvertently raised questions about what we edit out when we define an artist as “great.” The room devoted to the large Watchtower paintings and the other to his to work with hallucinogens were two of the highlights in a show that had many peaks. —HV
#20 – Other Primary Structures at the Jewish Museum
This two-part exhibition was a reconsideration of the Jewish Museum’s important Primary Structures show from almost 50 years ago. The 1966 exhibition focused on what we now call Minimalism, but it told an incomplete story since it focused on the “new art” from the United States and the UK rather than taking a global look at emerging styles and movements. This show tried to remedy that original oversight and expand the geography. It was a tough exhibition to digest since the two parts were exhibited in the same space consecutively, but it was full of excellent work that raised questions about the political, cultural, and geographic dimensions of a movement that continues to impact the world today. —HV
Shamus Clisset: Space God/Magic Guy at Postmasters
September 6–October 11
To encounter Shamus Clisset’s digital universe rendered in an impressively large format is like looking through a window at a parallel universe. The high-resolution images appeared to be directly in dialogue with the history of painting — particularly portraiture — and lingered on the meanings and limitations of representing American masculinity. It is hard to find an artist who can examine masculinity these days without reducing their art to a testosterone-infused mess of bro-titude, but Clisset does it effortlessly. —HV
JR’s work at Millions March NYC
Artist JR’s orchestrated project for the recent #BlackLivesMatter march (December 13) in Manhattan was one of the most poignant art projects I had ever seen at a protest. It made Eric Garner a central symbolic figure in the protest (rather than merely a conceptual one) and unified the whole event by interspersing the signs with groups of people at various points along the march. Protests can sometimes be difficult to feel connected to, but this type of gesture created a sense of unity in the maelstrom of emotions on the streets of the city that day. —HV
Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova Placed on Russian “Wanted” List
Tolokonnikova has long been a thorn in the side of Vladimir Putin’s regime.
Vivan Sundaram, Veteran Indian Contemporary Artist, Dies at 79
Sundaram is celebrated for his multidisciplinary studio practice steeped in activism and political consciousness.
The Rubin Museum Presents Death Is Not the End
Tibetan Buddhist and Christian works of art made across 12 centuries explore death, the afterlife, and the desire to continue to exist. On view in NYC.
What’s Iconoclastic About a Blackface Madonna?
Artist Tony Rave’s work comes to remind us that piety is not strictly White.
The Most Stirring Press Photographs of 2022
Photographs captured war-torn Ukraine, the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, and an Iranian woman defying the mandatory hijab law.
When I Am Empty Please Dispose of Me Properly
Ayanna Dozier, Ilana Harris-Babou, Meena Hasan, Lucia Hierro, Catherine Opie, Chuck Ramirez, and Pacifico Silano explore the myths of the American Dream at Brooklyn’s BRIC House.
NY Governor’s Proposed Budget Slashes Pandemic-Era Arts Funds
The cuts to the New York State Council on the Arts budget are attributed to the expiration of pandemic relief programs, but advocates say arts organizations need more support.
MoMA Apologizes for Kicking Out Black Artist From Installation
Museum security asked Heather Agyepong to leave the installation Black Power Naps, meant as a safe space for Black people, after a White visitor called her “aggressive.”
Pratt’s 2023 Fine Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition Is On View in Brooklyn
The two-part exhibition features the work of 41 graduating artists across disciplines, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and integrated practices.
New York’s BIPOC-Led Arts Orgs Are Grossly Underfunded
Proposed cuts to arts funding across the state would hit entities of color the hardest.
New Directors/New Films Festival Takes an Experimental Turn
A host of documentaries exemplify ND/NF’s unconventional programming philosophy.
The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation Presents The Feminine in Abstract Painting
Curated by Jennifer Samet and Andrea Belag, this group exhibition in NYC explores the feminine through aesthetics, as opposed to identity or gender.
Memories So Fair and Bright
Kimetha Vanderveen’s paintings are about the interaction of materiality and light, the bond between the palpable and ephemeral world in which we live.
Artists Contemplate Sovereignty in Santa Fe
The Santa Fe Art Institute’s 2024 International Thematic Residency focuses on what sovereignty means for artists from across the world.