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For the last Weekend Words of the year, Hyperallergic Weekend invited its contributors to compose a brief meditation, exhortation, snatch of verse, or experience to share as a way of saying goodbye to 2015.
In my childhood, above clouds everyone lived on milky roads riding flying-high horses. Then they didn’t. After all, it’s tough building stuff out of milk and laughter. But this year, standing beneath a Tiepolo ceiling fresco, my dreams and what I could see squared with what used to be.
The price of the knowledge is the anonymity.
—Ben La Rocco
I can’t remember what happened in 2015, it’s all a blur, but today I saw a remarkable exhibition, Ornament and Illusion: Carlo Crivelli of Venice at the Gardner Museum in Boston. If you’re within range, do take a look — you will not be disappointed!
I was floored by Michael Heizer’s Scrap Metal Drypoints (1978) at the National Gallery’s Gemini G.E.L. retrospective. A geometric theorem dictates the forms of shapes printed from matrices of scrapyard aluminum and zinc, amply scratched, dinged, and corroding. Unexpectedly ethereal, the resulting prints suggest lunar topography and otherworldly vistas. At the moment (and for the foreseeable future) our culture is awash in junk; decay sets in everywhere; hidden algorithms govern our lives. Heizer’s prints seem to know all about us even as we’re transported elsewhere.
Dürer’s “Nemesis” in the RISD Print Room with a magnifying glass. Lines like inked spider silk. Sky unfurls under Nemesis’ orb; alpine village below in fervent, earthly detail. In the blank above, her majesty absorbs every line – into buttocks, breasts, belly, wings, cup, harness. Trailing drapery tangles with the sky.
The most recent installments of John Jesurun’s long-running series Shadowland, at La Mama E.T.C. in New York, made me hopeful for the future of performance. This exhilarating experience created by an artist in full control of his craft combined a sculpturally aware configuration of the playing space, a fine-tuned use of live video cameras and projections, and an intelligent, comedic and politically astute text.
—Paul David Young
Morgan Fisher’s “irresolvable” Negative Film Boxes at Bortolami (September 10 – October 24, 2015) bring to mind an earlier work, “H-piece” (2002), torn out of Color-aid paper. Ragged and ecstatic in its plainness, it converses with art history as well as the vast unknown. Like a miracle, his restraint of great vigor refreshes my mind.
If anything I realized this year what is to be gained from vastly expanding one’s view. Photography is good. Photography AND literature AND video art AND painting — that’s a lot better.
Missy Elliott’s triumphant comeback video WTF (Where They From) released this past fall dovetailed with my favorite artwork of 2015: Loretta Fahrenholz’s 29-minute film Ditch Plains (technically 2013, but more widely seen in this year’s Greater New York exhibition). Both works feature cutting-edge street dancing choreography that returns agency to an African American body too frequently—and as a result of social media, increasingly visibly—the surface for blunt force trauma.
2015 had me thinking about the disruptive power of unconventional display: the Whitney Museum’s radical reconsideration of Abstract Expressionism, inclusive of women; “Paintings in Trees,” with 100 artists’ work unsheltered in a Bushwick garden; and Julie Torres sharing how living room exhibitions inspired her to get back to art-making.
Unimaginative conformity and trend-chasing are as prevalent in the art world as hipster beards and man buns are across the broader landscape, so to buck up against art forms that are truly unusual, unexpected and resonant is always a treat. Encountering Japanese modernist Takesada Matsutani’s strangely beautiful, mixed-media “paintings” of the 1960s and 1970s at a museum near Osaka, Japan, served as a reminder that sometimes the freshest ideas come from the rediscovered past.
—Edward M. Gómez
Chitra Ganesh’s “Eyes of Time” (2014) at the Brooklyn Museum — a towering Kali goddess figure with a skirt made of glittering 3-D arms — felt radical even in the already fierce Sackler Center. At the opening, people beheld her in reverent silence, speaking in whispers and hushed tones.
The devotional is political. When art and spiritual experience meet, it’s physical and transformative. Patricia Cronin at the Venice Biennale, Amy Myers at McKenzie Fine Art, Loie Hollowell at 106 Green, to name a few: there is a revolution happening in feminist art.
Even by its own lofty standards, the St. Mark’s Poetry Project’s 2015 programming was exceptional. Newly named Program Director Simone White curates with model boldness, thoughtfulness, and urgency. Other arts organizations: take notes. 2016 begins with more of the same, including its timely January 6 consideration of the “White Room.”
Cuba’s detention of Tania Bruguera to prevent her from restaging Tatlin’s Whisper was traumatic for her personally, but it was amazing how the state response amplified every gesture, including her performance during the Havana Biennial’s opening festivities. It would seem to defy logic — but maybe that’s the larger message.
Ying Li is a master of materiality. Perhaps this stems from working year-round en plein air. What better way to understand weather than hefting painter’s supplies onto a hillside? She accounts for every inch and texture just as one might do carrying overloaded bags on a crowded subway platform.
Alberto Burri: Guggenheim (11/2/15)
The past strange straightens. It heaves, wrinkles. A plastic window-like hole.
The plastic light can see through, plastic a black matted skirt, pulled out in folds, of Italy post-war. Figures, burned-out, form outlines: three paintings in the atrium, their plastic translucent—nothing, disposable?—and indisputably material.
Osdany Morales’ El pasado es un pueblo solitario (Bokeh Press) makes me wrangle words I don’t recognize, reaching for the dictionary. On the left page, in English, identity verification questions. On the right page, Morales responds in Cuban Spanish, subverting the questions while illuminating the enormous distance between los dos lados.
Watching Steven Reker and his band Open House build a physical tower of sound at The Kitchen, I experienced art-awe, a collision of aesthetic languages stimulating a hunger for more. Young artists reconstructing the world, reminding us how.
Best of 2015
Talk: Isabelle Graw, “The Economy of Painting,” Jewish Museum
Text: Fernand Deligny, The Arachnean and Other Texts
Song: Soap & Skin’s cover of Omar Souleyman’s “Mawal Jamar”
Film: Asif Kapadia, Amy
Visual Art: Scenes for a New Heritage, MoMA.
Visual Art: Sibylle Bergemann, OSMOS Gallery.
I discovered The American Folk Blues Festival 1963-1966: the British Tour. Sonny Boy Williamson chugs into his harp with only a few teeth and sings “Please baby, keep it to your self; please darlin’, don’t mention it to no one else.” Next, Muddy Waters uses his octave-dropping voice to get his “mojo workin.” He’s dressed in a tailored suit, white shirt and tie, moussed hair. He flutters his eyelashes, and tells his five-piece band to “lay it on me.” His occasional snap-clap keeps the bassist firing, and lends the jam its defining skin on skin.
Two Divers and a Witness
“It is a ladder stretching back to land.”
—Robert Bly, “Nailing a Dock Together”
They arc like flying fish off the bow of a boat,
lovely bent-body dives into night water
where splashes of phosphorescence
stain the surface, bright like lichen.
The dock enters the water
with similar crooked grace, planks
aglow in moon shine, launching place
on Lake Katherine where the witness
who wears a blue bathing cap
later recounts the scene. “For a moment
they flew like Superman as if to rescue
a drowning girl. They were wonderful.”
After a painting by Kathy Bradford
Conversation with a Revolutionary
I had to agree that politics is a higher calling than art. But not, I insisted, a more productive one, since the chances of turning out to have made a good revolution are even less than those of having made a good painting.
We look down into the water. Acheson asks me, “Why are all these perch swimming around like this?” Deep belly laughter at the hopelessness of it. Watching silver bellies roil in the murk, we’re reminded that the boundary between poetry, wisdom, and plain experience is gone. We’ve left the garden.
Be it not criterion but cri de coeur that we uphold novelty over nullity
against the onslaught of ubiquity. Against deadening acts of bad art
and group think may we stay hyper vigilant, hyperallergic to the intestinal
fortitude of institutional attitudes.
I open a book of poetry
to remind me of now.