We never get tired of traveling around Brooklyn to see art. From the scrappy galleries of Bushwick to the emerging nonprofits of Red Hook, here are our picks for the best art in our beloved borough this year.
#1 – Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks at Brooklyn Museum
April 3–August 23
Even though writing (graffiti or otherwise) was an important part of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s formation, people often ignore his notebooks and overlook his use of language as an integral part of his visual art.
Lists made up the bulk of this exhibition, as pages from Basquiat’s hardcover notebooks were displayed for the world to read. After a while you got into the rhythm and saw the style he cultivated on every page. He effortlessly played the strings of words to create visual music, and the exhibition was just dense enough to demonstrate larger patterns and how much he was engaging with mass media and corporate brands. Basquiat the poet painter came very clearly into focus. —Hrag Vartanian
#2 – Iri and Toshi Maruki, The Hiroshima Panels at Pioneer Works
November 13–December 20
Painted between 1950 and 1982 by the artist couple Iri and Toshi Maruki — who visited the city days after the US dropped an atomic bomb on it in August 1945 — the harrowing Hiroshima Panels have lost none of their power in the intervening years.
The vast main gallery at Pioneer Works was ideally suited to this display of a selection of six of the 15 panels. Sprawled across folding screens, they depict different scenes of the bomb’s impact and its aftermath in the couple’s distinctive mix of figurative imagery (Toshi’s area of expertise) and fluid, monochrome ink painting (Iri’s medium of choice). —Benjamin Sutton
#3 – Performancy Forum Quinquennial at Grace Exhibition Space & Panoply Performance Laboratory
Dissatisfied by the convention of art conferences, the organizers of the Performancy Forum Quinquennial tried something different and invited participants to explore and discuss performance in any way they chose. Some opted for drag and performed commentary on the nature of art criticism (Daniel Larkin); others responded to their environment through choreographed movement and action (Kaia Gilje). Another performer asked the audience to help her make grape leaves (Florence Nasar), and someone else cooked bacon (during a conversation about hunger, bacon, and its cultural meaning). There was even a performer who allowed us to watch her urinate on stage as a commentary on privacy (Amanda Hunt). The conversations organized around this 12-day affair flowed naturally, there was risk-taking aplenty, and people had a lot to say about the limitations of verbal language when discussing performance art. —HV
#4 – Jeff Greenspan, Andrew Tider, and Doyle Trankina, “Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument 2.0” in Fort Greene Park
Placed in Fort Greene Park atop an empty plinth alongside the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument (version 1.0, circa 1908), this sculpture bust of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was only on view for a few hours before the Parks Department took it down, but that was more than enough time for it to strike a chord and go viral. It has been making the rounds ever since, from greeting visitors at the entrance to a Manhattan gallery, being the centerpiece of a surveillance-themed art fair in Williamsburg, and, in record time, being historicized through its inclusion (beginning February 17) in the Brooklyn Museum exhibition Agitprop! —BS
#5 – Matt Freedman and Tim Spelios, Endless Broken Time at Studio 10
Monthly and ongoing
Endless Broken Time is an ongoing performance series by Matt Freedman and Tim Spelios. Freedman spins a wonderful and different yarn on each occasion, while making charcoal drawings on a giant pad that is attached to his torso and which faces out to the audience. The drawings are torn off and flutter to the ground to the accompaniment of Tim Spelios setting the pace on drums. The wonderful part is really Freedman’s personality and what he chooses to talk about. Clever, funny and engaging, he allows himself to meander from one place to the next, and his narrative, which seems like a multitude of amusing digressions, is somehow loosely but beautifully tied together by the end. —Susan Silas
#6 – Zanele Muholi: Isibonelo/Evidence at the Brooklyn Museum
May 1–November 8
Zanele Muholi’s Sackler Center solo show felt like an emotional roller coaster, which was most certainly the point. In the first gallery, viewers faced a stunning wall of portraits: black-and-white photographs taken by Muholi of LGBTQ individuals in her native South Africa. The subjects’ hairstyles and outfits vary, but what they share is an incredible presence as they allow themselves to be counted, despite horrific violence documented in text on two nearby walls. Around the corner, Muholi showed us the flip side of this darkness: weddings of South African same-sex couples, elaborate ceremonies bursting with color and joy. My favorite work was a video that captured one such wedding in all its delightful and drawn-out detail. In the moments when the new spouses stole glances amid streams of dancing friends and family, you could feel the intimacy of their union aligning with its societal significance. —Jillian Steinhauer
#7 – Dawn Clements: Mother’s Day at Pierogi Gallery
February 27–March 29
Dawn Clements is a master draughtsperson, and this show was particularly strong, as it gave us an opportunity to see how the artist always transforms her drawings into something more — something that, I’d venture to say, has a depth and personality that makes them more monumental than their size would suggest. When I reviewed the exhibition, I wrote: “There is a precision in Clements’s renderings in these large watercolors that stops them from slipping into stereotype, giving the faces an intimate fan art quality and the plants a wilting personal grace.” Her fascination with contemporary screen culture is particularly poignant today. —HV
#8 – Jared Bark: Photobooth Works, 1969–1976 at Southfirst Gallery
September 26–November 15
Inspired by Eadweard Muybridge’s stop-motion photography and the growing interest in conceptual photography during the 1970s, Jared Bark made pared down images that are quite the find by curator Maika Pollack. The small exhibition was the first opportunity in decades to see this series that has languished in the artist’s storage for decades.
Documenting a process as much as fashioning a finalized image, Bark often hid the “performance” of his photographs, but you can sense his presence even in the most minimal of these serial images. Each frame has a moodiness that gives it the personality of a sketch. —HV
#9 – Chris Lux: Postcards…from the Museum of Gas at Interstate Projects
May 8–June 7
This exhibition on two floors had a really odd premise (“This suspension of the rule of law and the smuggling of the sweet potato is said to have marked a key shift in the development of a globalized world … Mann uses this seemingly outlandish story to describe how China was able to break out of the Malthusian Trap … “), but the result was impactful and slipped somewhere between a dystopian market and an underwater fantasia. Sculptures on the lower floor were paired with related and stylized photographs, and upstairs the narrative of the entry of sweet potato into China was told with absurd imagery. As a whole, Postcards… stayed with you as its universe of legends and environmental decay transformed into a resonant historical allegory. —HV
#10 – The Royal We at Los Ojos
June 26–August 2
This texturally rich and unexpectedly appetizing group show featured Lance Marchel’s sculptures embedded with found items of all sorts — including enough cashews to spruce up even the most lackluster trail mix — a series of Caroline Wells Chandler’s drippy, gooey Moon paintings — which, on an empty stomach, also look like melting, moist, psychedelic cookies — and Sam Vernon’s monochromatic installation of sculptures against xeroxed images and photographs. The tension between Marchel’s and Chandler’s polychromatic works and Vernon’s stark black-and-white intervention gave the exhibition a sharp edge and strange coherence that made it stand out amid Bushwick’s unwieldy summer group shows. —BS