To quote Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” But there’s no point in generalizations, so we decided to ask some key cultural people we respect what they specifically loved and hated about the year that was.
Here are their responses (in no particular order):
AA Bronson (Berlin)
Best of 2015 – My two favorite exhibitions of 2015 were both at the same institution and both curated by the same person, Sabine Breitwieser, director of the Museum der Moderna in Salzburg, Austria. Her retrospective of Carolee Schneemann, Kinetic Painting, is a masterpiece of both scholarship and presentation. The depth and breadth of research is staggering, and everything from paintings to film to performances to publications has been knit together in a way that establishes Carollee Schneemann as a ‘painter’ and a thinker of major proportions who has largely been ignored, first because she has insisted on being a woman, second, because her work defies the marketplace, or perhaps ignores it. By fully representing the erotic, which is so much a part of the work, Breitwieser makes an exhibition that could never be shown in the United States. (Her exhibition E.A.T.: Experiments in Art & Technology is an equally staggering accomplishment.)
Worst of 2015 – My least favorite exhibition of 2015 was ill-conceived and shoe-horned into the right program at the wrong time. It is one of those projects that self-destructs under the weight of expectations it places upon the public, who are supposed to participate in exactly the way the artist imagines. Of course they rarely do. Out of politesse, I will resist naming the artist, the curator, or the institution.
Carolina Miranda (Los Angeles)
Staff writer, Los Angeles Times
Best of 2015 – There have been many this year, but I think the most interesting happening has been the wave of major institutional exhibitions of work by black artists in Los Angeles: William Pope.L at MOCA with his dangerously seductive flag; the precise mathematical grids of Charles Gaines at the Hammer Museum; a series of visceral inky black paintings by Mark Bradford, also at the Hammer; Kahlil Joseph’s meditative view of Compton at MOCA; Njideka Akunyili Crosby‘s rich collages at the Hammer and at Art + Practice, and Hard Edged, the exhibition of black abstraction at the California African American Museum. (It’s still on view, LA. Go see it!) Not one show was like the next. And collectively they energized and greatly expanded our views of art and art history.
Worst of 2015 – Between the refugee crisis (Syrian and Central American) and the xenophobic tone of the Republican primary, there were a lot of low points this year, but there is one that for me that stands out for the depth of its senselessness: the murder of Palmyra historian and archeologist Khaled Assad by Islamic State militants in August. Islamic State has committed untold atrocities this year, but this one really stung me on an almost personal level — a direct attack not only of a man, but of the hard-won body of knowledge he stood for. It felt like the dawning of the new dark age.
Chen Tamir (Tel Aviv)
Curator at the Center for Contemporary Art (CAA) and curatorial associate at Artis, Tel Aviv
Best of 2015 – Hito Steyerl’s “The Factory of the Sun” at the Venice Biennial. Her work never ceases to amazing me in its precision and its ability to encompass everything that seems to be prescient today. This hypnotic collage encompasses the digital age, migration, security, economics, drones, and simulations. And the exhibition design made you feel like an artwork.
Worst of 2015 – What was one of its saddest or most distressing moments? ISIS’s destruction of 2,000 year-old tower monuments in Palmyra. Terrible and heartbreaking.
Helen Toomer (New York)
Director, Pulse Contemporary Art Fair in New York and Miami
Best of 2015 – I love love LOVED the Picasso Sculpture show at the MoMA! I’ve visited three times and want to go back as each time I discover something new.
It made me fall in love all over again, with both the artist and the museum.
Worst of 2015 – Seeing Jerry Saltz’s bank balance.
Claudia La Rocco (New York)
Best of 2015 – Seeing Eleanor Hullihan perform this month in The Goodbye Studies, Tere O’Connor’s new ensemble work at The Kitchen — because Hullihan is a glorious, authoritative mover, both fierce and nuanced. New York dancers — I can’t really think of anything better. And she is the best of …
Worst of 2015 – Seeing Eleanor Hullihan perform this month in The Goodbye Studies, Tere O’Connor’s new ensemble work at The Kitchen — because it was the first time I had seen her dance since she badly injured herself performing the punishing steps (really just one step) in Sarah Michelson’s exacting, gorgeous “Devotion Study #1—The American Dancer“ at the 2012 Whitney Biennial. That piece won the Bucksbaum, helping to launch Michelson into a new career stratosphere and sending Hullihan into years of rehab. Workers comp paid for the medical costs, but that’s just the tip of the painful, exhausting recovery iceberg … and seeing Hullihan perform so serenely after her lonely fight back was both a tribute to the resiliency of dancers and a reminder of how shabbily — again and again — American dancers are treated by a field that purports to celebrate them.
Shumon Basar (Berlin)
Writer and cultural critic
Best of 2015 – It was definitely this. The Fake Arm Selfie Stick. I belong to the boring half/quarter/diminishing minority of the world who think that selfie sticks are the venal reification of our terminally vapid and narcissistic era. But I do admire selfie sticks because we do not know who invented them. Like, who designed the first one? Where is the author? We know only who produces and disseminates them — factories in China, where else. And yet, there is a fatal flaw in the crude Victorian design of the standard selfie stick: that stupid metal rod gets in the picture! Everyone knows you have no friends 🙁 With the Fake Arm Selfie Stick — author also unknown? — you’re in some never-ending Sound of Music style waltz with a phantom ‘Other,’ aka Thing from The Addams Family. Hurrah! Loneliness just got pimped.
Worst of 2015 – I’m predicting many people are going to say “the destruction of Palmyra by Da-esh [aka ISIS],” so, I’ll nominate something else which is causally connected. In this piece for the Guardian at the end of 2015, Timothy Garton Ash suggested that the year has been “like 1989 in reverse.” He’s referring (a) to all the barbed wire fences erected across (mostly) European nation states to keep desperate refugees out, and, (b) a resurrected mentality of defensive, xenophobic exclusionism. It’s as if the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall ushered in a new rabid lust for territorial wall-making (though the true heir of that salubrious accolade has to still be the Apartheid Wall built by Israel, hemming in the West Bank, and now fully annexing East Jerusalem).
Natasha Dhilon (New York)
Member of MTL Collective
Best of 2015 – On February 21, 2015 — the 50-year anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination — 40 artists and activists, most of them black, undertook an unauthorized counter-tour through the American Museum of National History, using collective bodily presence and poetic mic-checks to reframe the hallowed institution as an archive of white supremacy, settler colonialism, and ecological devastation. The tour was a performative staging of the deep historical analysis at work in the movement for Black Lives, and it offered a powerful prompt to bring together organizing work in the artistic sector related to BDS, anti-gentrification, climate justice, and worker’s rights in an emergent decolonial cultural front with anti-racism and collective liberation at its core.
Worst of 2015 – Earlier this year, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) prohibited Andrew Ross, Walid Raad, and Ashok Sukumaran from traveling to Sharjah to participate in the Sharjah Biennial and March Meeting, and from conducting research on labor abuses in Saadiyat Island where Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and other collaborations with Western institutions are being built. However, it is almost fashionable to condemn the UAE’s practice of denying entry and deporting artists. So I will mention another case. Over the summer, Palestinian-American artist (and MTL Collective member) Amin Husain was detained, interrogated, and deported by Israeli security agents when he attempted to visit his hometown in Palestine for research related to the forthcoming film The Coming Intifada. Husain’s case throws special light on the stakes of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement that is gaining traction in academic and artistic fields. Liberal-minded opponents of BDS frequently cite the charge that the campaign, in asking signatories to abstain from working with Israeli institutions, threatens to block free cultural exchange. Husain’s story, recounted last month in Blunderbuss, should give pause to such blandishments and cause us to ask: who is the real threat to art and culture — an apartheid state who prevents artists by force of law from visiting their families, or members of civil society who invite us to withdraw our tacit approval from the functioning of that state in the name of justice and solidarity?
Dread Scott (New York)
Best of 2015 – This was a tough call. There were many good exhibitions and developments: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration (MoMA); Yoko Ono (MoMA); America Is Hard to See (Whitney), which included a great deal of socially engaged work within a survey of the past 100 years of art — especially relevant was the work from the 30s and 60s; Jack Whiten (Walker Art Center); Hank Willis Thomas (Shainman); Pope L. performance outside of the Bass Museum at Art Basel Miami which was sublime; Ai Weiwei and Tania Bruguera each got their passports back; and Quentin Tarantino marched in a demonstration against murder by police and stood with over 100 families whose loved ones had been murdered by cops. Respond comes out on top for me because one of the pivotal questions confronting America right now is whether the police will be able to criminalize, brutalize, terrorize, and murder people, especially Black people, with impunity. Respond was a collective effort to respond to this and a way for part of the art world to join with people all over the country and declare that this must stop. The show was badass. (Full disclosure: I was one of the organizers of Respond).
Worst of 2015 – 2015 was a horrible year. There is a new generation stepping out to rebel against much of this horror, which is a very very good thing, but there are powerful forces that are dragging the people through hell. ISIS/Daesh butcher people in Syria and they have inspired jihadis to murder civilians in Paris, San Bernardino, and elsewhere. French, American, Russian, and other imperialist powers are bombing civilians in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. It is all a deadly dynamic that means people are caught in the middle and supporting either side of these conflicts strengthens both. Unending murder after murder after murder by US police, including the videotaped murder of Laquan McDonald in Chicago and the attempts by the police, the prosecutor, city council and the mayor to cover it up. A US election where a loudmouth fascist is viewed as a reasonable candidate and is given a round the clock platform to organize a vicious racist movement (all of which demonstrates the illegitimacy of the whole system). A male supremacist murders people at Planned Parenthood and strengthens the climate in which men are forcing women to have children against their will. And leaders of 196 nations enshrined toothless actions that condemned the planet to greater warming but at the same time they claimed a victory in stopping climate change. In looking at the world of shit people are up against, whatever lame show or problem in the art world I might point out, kinda pales in comparison.
Ellen Pearlman (Hong Kong/New York)
Instructor, doctoral candidate, School of Creative Media, Hong Kong City University
Duane Linklater (Northern Ontario)
Best of 2015 – I am unsure that this is a “best of” list of 2015, but I recall two experiences when thinking and reflecting about art and words in 2015. Since visiting the Venice Biennale in August, I return again in my mind to the offsite Jimmie Durham exhibition at Fondazione Querni Stampalia, Venice: Objects, Work and Tourism. The exhibition was installed within two sections of the building: the museum section, “characterized by the typical atmosphere of the 18th century residence of aristocrats” and other works situated in the contemporary art spaces. Taken together, the atmosphere produced a number of responses: desire, excitement, bewilderment, confusion, and anger from room to room and space to space. Walking through the museum section objects were strewn deliberately under desks and chairs, on various tables, and one began to search for the objects: Is this his work? What did he do in here? Was he here?
Some things were more obvious than others, but a search began for a man who was there and then not there. From this, a ghostly impression of Durham emerged, a man whom I have never met, an artist whom I have read about who has exiled himself from North America, an action which leads to a number of questions. As an artist from a younger generation, I do not quite understand the reasoning behind this exile. This ghostly impression has stayed with me and I continue to think through this exhibition and its works, its texts, the complexity of its maker, and his politics, not feeling quite pressed enough to look for any definitive understandings and meanings as I write this, but to let it sit near me from time to time, like having tea with a memory. It also produced a sadness and intense conversation between Tanya [Lukin Linklater] and I immediately afterwards, with Tanya asking what I was thinking, “why would he ever leave home and not come back? Why would he come here?”
At home in North America (and since contact), we as Indigenous people have been grappling with the way in which colonialism has interacted with Indigenous women, in short it is a relationship of violent conflict and erasure. The statistics are staggering, the reality of it is very difficult to grasp and to understand. In Canada at this time, there are an (under) estimated 1,181 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and sadly, I can assume that the statistics for the US, are equally as despairing. Despite the years of ongoing tragedy within our communities I watched and listened to someone who gave me hope on a cold day at the University of Toronto in late January. Audra Simpson, a professor of Anthropology at Columbia University, delivered a powerful lecture titled The State is a Man: Theresa Spence, Loretta Saunders and the Gendered Costs of Sovereignty in Canada. I have never attended a lecture where I was so thoroughly immersed in every word, where everything felt so immediate and so absolutely necessary. This was a forceful and articulate takedown by one of our leaders in this field, disassembling and harshly critiquing the media’s complicity in these matters, the government’s gross indifference to the situation, the tragic story of Loretta Saunders and her brilliant thesis work, and very thoughtful insight into hunger strike of Chief Theresa Spence during the Idle No More protests in late 2012 and early 2013.
I was equally interested not only in the content and its significance but also the way in which it was delivered to us in the audience. With Audra, there was a power and efficacy, a charm and sharp wit, and what was most impressive was the tempo of the articulation, an intense and fierce seriousness to it. And as with Durham, the context also played a significant role — the stuffy colonial institution, a historical university lecture hall, and ticketed seating for those who were lucky enough to enter. Simpson came in and dismantled it all with her words, transforming this space, charging the atmosphere. We were witness to something incredibly important and profound that day and I feel privileged to have been there. These are not easy things to think about, not easy things to read about, research, write, labor over, and deliver with a sharp articulation to an audience whom for the most part is ignorant of the enormity of the issues. But this is the work and labor that Audra has done and she has made a tremendous contribution to the discourse within her own field and beyond her discipline. It is incredibly generous. As an artist in the audience, I began to think about the relationships of academics and artists and how we both can help each other, how we can begin to develop overlaps and understandings that will not only be beneficial to both fields but to outside our respective places in society. That day I was certainly given so much. I hope to return it one day.
Claire Breukel (Miami/El Salvador)
Director and curator of Y.ES
Best of 2015 – A refreshingly un-glitzy shelter designed by Burkina Faso-born architect Diébédo Francis Kéré both protects and makes viewable to the public a 1 CE archaeological site on Meroe Island in Sudan. Kéré’s design is the real deal not only preserving the UNESCO site, but using locally made clay bricks that integrate with the natural environment and prove durability and sustainability. No carbon footprint, air-conditioning, or egotistical showiness.
Worst of 2015 – Banksys’s Dismaland raked in more than 20 million pounds for the town of Weston-super-Mare, yet Syrian refugees are gifted the leftovers of this gloom and doom fairground by the mega-star artist … presumably to lift their spirits!? Not only is the fairground a flatulent attempt at addressing social wrongs, making “Jungle” camp refugees players on an art projects publicity campaign is just tacky. Being anonymous still makes you accountable.
Kate Sutton (Zagreb)
Best of 2015 – I know for these kinds of lists it’s a bit of a cop-out to just fall back on historical surveys, but when I think back over the year, the exhibitions that really sent me spinning happened to focus on older work — albeit older work that felt fresher and more relevant than any other presentations I’d see this year.
Take for instance, curator Stephanie Barron’s New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic 1919–1933, which opened this summer in Venice’s Museo Correr and is now on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). While some of the startling, soul-kneading Christian Schad paintings made the rounds a few years back with the Neue Galerie’s Neue Sachlichkeit show, the bulk of the photographs in this exhibition — including many documenting the sexual permissiveness and gender fluidity of the era — were true revelations (as were, in my opinion, the series of cactus-on-windowsill paintings, though that may just be because I don’t use Instagram).
A second stunner was Hanne Darboven: Enlightenment, still on view at Haus der Kunst in Munich. Admittedly, Darboven’s work has gotten a little lost for me in the endless battery of biennales and “serious” group shows that use the pages of her dry calculations and alternative typologies as a kind of prop. (I mean what better way to counter the charge that the curator might not have done his or her homework than by including what looks like someone else’s?) Enlightenment — the first real retrospective since Darboven’s death in 2009 — has the audacity of actually playing the artist’s scores, reminding viewers that Darboven operated first and foremost as a composer and a writer, not the conceptualist she’s caricatured as. Her commissioning, calendar-making and classifying were not so much a discipline self-inflicted On Kawara-style, as much as purposeful steps towards the development of an alternative encyclopedia, reordering the ways knowledge is recorded and organized. This is the drive behind Kulturgeschichte 1880–1983, the set of 1,590 framed components and 19 sculptures, shown in their gobsmacking entirety for only the third time ever. The sheer enormity of the project never feels overwhelming, however, a testiment to curator Okwui Enwezor’s deft hand.
Another of the more ambitious shows this year was Massimiliano Gioni’s The Great Mother, which spent the fall in Milan’s Palazzo Reale as the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi’s answer to the Milano Expo 2015 (a dismal affair which parlayed its theme of “Nourishment” into the world’s most inefficient food court). While a confounding amount of press around the show was diverted to debating whether or not a male curator — Italian, no less — should be an authoritative voice on the subject of motherhood, too little attention was paid to the questions Gioni actually raised. The exhibition framed the political construct of maternity as an inside job, the direct result of the fear, confusion, and anxiety that arises when one half of a species is given the ability to make life. In other words, the woman’s body is actively objectified, politicized, denied, and defined all because of the perceived threat in biological function. The first half of the exhibition grounds this reading, through a historical overview loosely arranged around themes of psychoanalysis, Surrealism, “Bachelor Machines,” and the locker-room misogyny of the Futurists. Along the way, viewers are (re-)introduced to figures like Alice Guy-Blanché, whose profoundly weird film, La fée aux choux (“The Cabbage Fairy”) (1896), presides over the very first gallery; Enif Roberts, a pioneer in the expression of public desire; Mariko Mori, “Italy’s first female painter-aviator”; or Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, whose barbed-witted bohemianism has been brought into the social media spotlight after a recent article suggesting Marcel Duchamp’s most well-known work may have actually been symbolically swiped from “Baroness Elsa.” (Just imagine the course of 20th Century art history had he chosen to show one of her homemade dildos instead.)
Worst of 2015 – Speaking of rhetorical hobbling, this fall’s Istanbul Biennial was by far the most disappointing exhibition of the year. This had nothing to do with its stalwart roster of artists — Pierre Huyghe, Emre Hüner, Francis Alÿs, Aslı Çavusoğlu, Cevdet Erek, and Haig Aivazian, among them — and everything to do with the smug posturing and bombastic rhetoric of the curator, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev.
For her 2013 Documenta, Christov-Bakargiev pawned the unruliness of her exhibition-as-organism off as a curatorial strategy. And it worked, her network of artists and “agents” more or less successfully testing the myriad modes of inhabiting the traditional exhibition space of Kassel. When applied in half-assed form to Istanbul, however, this same strategy read like a shirking of curatorial responsibilities. (I guess to be expected from someone who prefers to think of herself as a “drafter” rather than a curator, which was the distinction she made during the Biennial’s press conference.) Armed with the promising title – “Saltwater” – and a premise that urged viewers to re-learn their experience of the city, taking to the Bosphorus rather than the three main streets they know off Taksim, the biennale had all the makings of a thinking (wo)man’s blockbuster. Indeed, the exhibition was more or less coherent in its central iteration in the Istanbul Modern, with a corridor rechristened “The Channel” operating much the same way “The Brain” did at the Fridericianum in Documenta. But Christov-Bakargiev didn’t stop there. Rather than build out her theme, taking to the many municipal ferries and stationing a route of works leading all the way up both sides of the Strait and out to the mouth of the Black Sea (where Lawrence Weiner’s lonely little lighthouse looked on, unvisited save for a few die-hards and obliged gallery directors), Christov-Bakargiev talked fast and loose about the scope (1,001 of the 1,500 advertised artworks were actually tiny drawings that made up one single display) and geographic spread of an exhibition that, in reality, was concentrated in Beyoğlu. The mere handful of offsite venues could hardly justify the curator’s warnings that one would need at least three full days to see it all. By exaggerating the scale, Christov-Bakargiev turned the conversation around the biennial into one of accessibility, not content or context. Even more problematically, detractors were blasted with the curator’s trademark disdain and the grossly unsupported claim that the target audience was never the international art world, but rather the local population. Like an art world Gwyneth Paltrow, Christov-Bakargiev’s efforts to connect with “the commoners” only reveals how out of touch she really is. It would be interesting to learn what percentage of the local population took their private speedboats out to visit Huyghe’s (invisible) underwater installation.
While Christov-Bakargiev’s tantrums and theatrics can ultimately be ignored, there was something more troubling about her proposal that war be thought of as waves washing up on shore, one after the other. Pretty, yes, we’ll give her that. But by sticking to conflict only in mostly calcified form (Armenian genocide, yes; Syria, no), she dismissed a tremendous aspect to the context: why is it so hard to travel up and down the Bosphorus? Why do the international art worlders only stick to those three streets they know off Taksim? Why is it politically valiant to speak of the Armenian genocide, but beside the point to mention current tensions? I can sympathize with not wanting to get bogged down (try to find a person who didn’t have their soul crushed by a glimpse of All the World’s Futures at this year’s Venice Biennale) but the privileges of this position are glaring. It’s easy to shrug off waves when you’ve only seen them from the hotel kiddie pool.
An Xiao Mina (San Francisco)
Advising editor, Hyperallergic
Best of 2015 – The selfie stick and the hoverboard hit mass markets. As highlighted in both Planet Money and Buzzfeed, the hoverboard is an example of the highly decentralized production processes made possible in Shenzhen’s ecosystem. And while the selfie stick might seem to have passed on in some parts of the world, it’s still very much thriving in others — according to WeChat, the selfie stick has been a bestseller in their platform as late as September 2015. Here’s what researchers Anna Greenspan, Silvia Lindtner and David Li had to say in the Digital Asia Hub’s new book:
The Huaqiangbei markets [of Shenzhen] are part of an open source ecosystem of manufacturing (known as shanzhai) that has emerged in China’s Pearl River Delta in the shadows of large contract manufacturing. This open innovation model of technology production has evolved over the last 30 years, feeding off of low barriers of entry, an outlaw spirit, and a corresponding high-speed mode of copy-and-mutate design and production. In the markets, versions of the products on display at the Shenzhen industrial design fair are available at a fraction of the price. Smart watches, wearable bands, and personal drones all can be found for a few hundred renminbi.
Barriers to production and distribution are lowering substantially, and as we’ve seen with the internet, this means all kinds of unexpected creations. Expect more selfie sticks, hoverboards, and other devices to go global almost as quickly as the viral videos about them.
Worst of 2015 – Back to the selfie stick (yes, there’s a lot more to this story than simply a stick floating around the web). Pictures of refugees using selfie sticks or, more generally, taking selfies were largely misunderstood as part of a broader question: “If they’re so in need, how can they have smartphones?” I think this embarrassing failure of imagination can be traced to dominant narratives about tech and design, which suggest that smartphones are largely luxury, narcissistic objects.
In reality, the very design of phones — small, light, easily connected — make them ideally suited to life in motion, whether that’s for a vacation or for economic and political refuge. Phones are the Swiss Army knives of the 21st century. But out of that conversation came an opportunity to speak more broadly about the role of mobile phones in lower-income parts of the world and in conflict regions. A number of articles have since come out in response, highlighting the critical importance of mobile phones.
Defne Ayas (Rotterdam)
Director of Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam
Best of 2015 – Artist Rana Hamadeh with her gender-bending solo performance at the 6th Moscow Biennale invoked the affect of the Shiite Ashura ritual for a restoration and call for justice (full disclosure: I was co-curator); the multidisciplinary Solar Fantastic, which is spearheaded by Övül Ö. Durmuşoğlu with artists Rossella Biscotti, Mariana Castillo Deball, Aslı Çavuşoğlu, and Emre Huner and attempts to decode two nation-state projects (Turkey and Mexico) using ancient solar imagery; the daring work of artists Hito Steyerl, Jonas Staal, and Ahmet Ögüt, who are all committed to the Kurdish cause in both word and deed, as well as the poetic manifestation of masters such as Etel Adnan, Füsun Onur, Anna Boghiguian, and Francis Alÿs, which were inspired by numerous sites in Turkey (Izmir, Bosphorus, Ani … ) and were part of this year’s 14th Istanbul Biennial.
Recent research conducted by Council (founded by Grégory Castéra and Sandra Terdjman) on Lebanon’s Article 534 regarding LGBT rights, as well as Kaelen Wilson-Goldie’s lucid texts and Kevin McGarry’s recent bold wire from Beirut scene are worth mentioning, too! So much for the region of my origin.
From the rest of the world, which is equally in flames, I am most impressed by the discreet work by Garage Moscow’s Kate Fowle for commissioning much needed research projects like Saving Bruce Lee: African and Arab Cinema in the Era of Soviet Cultural Diplomacy (a prologue) (curated by Koyo Kouoh and Rasha Saltiin, and in collaboration with Alexander Markov and Phillippe Rekacewicz, 2015); under-the-radar curatorial work by Francesco Stocchi, which included a provocative staging made with artist Alex da Corte (Magritte Meets the Collection, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, 2015); the heartfelt statement by artist Georgie Nettell at the Texte Zur Kunst’s 25th year anniversary conference, which took a subtle piss at the act of auto-canonization.
If the internet is the new geographical ambit, let me point to on-going framings as provided by Vasif Kortun, Martha Rosler, Octavio Zaya, Tony Chakar, Charles Esche, Mendi & Keith Obadike, Coco Fusco, Anjalika Sagar, Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez, and Jerry Saltz on Facebook, where we all co-work next to each other 24/7 (and for free) on communicating various facets of global crisis today — political, ecological, or cultural, and not only promoting our mortal projects and programs only.
In 2015, Alison Gingeras and Michael Auder continued to rock with their kickass Instagrams, so did thinker Evgeny Morozov and collector Alain Servais with their poignant tweets. For giving us an overdose, I offer a flower to e-flux’s Super Community and the Creative Time Summit, and two to the Documenta team for setting the bar high with their recently appointed constellation of editors, poets, curators, designers, and advisors. And last but not least, I am inspired daily by my fellow Wooden Horse Kids Club members, a loose network of artists, architects, and writers who have recently become parents.
Design and architecture this year? The tarot-set-inspired scenography by architect Andreas Angelidakis for the Alejandro Jodorowsky’s exhibition (curated by Maria Inés Rodriguez at Bordeaux’s CAPC MUSéE D’ART CONTEMPORAIN) and filmmaker Wes Anderson’s venture into interior design with the Luce bar at Rem Koolhaas’ posterity project Fondazione Prada in Milan (delicious display experiments all around the foundation, too!) deserve a highlight. And the ever-innovative AA Bronson, together with his expanded circle of collaborators, took his signature The Temptation of AA Bronson to the next level with his two-part exhibition in Austria — or so it seemed from the images I was able to see flooding my online feeds.
Worst of 2015 – Navigating an age of thugs, gangsters, and ubiquitously present Kalashnikovs against a background of a complete, global decay of human and citizens’ rights (where as marches and petitions act to only feed and bleed into government intelligence data) — I find this to be the hardest things this year, especially when you are the mother of a one-year-old child. On top of it, Aylan Kürdi was found drowned only 50 meters away from my family summerhouse, where I spent my childhood years playing. That really hit home.
Most distressing? When our publication for Respiro by Sarkis at the Pavilion of Turkey at the 56th Venice Biennale was censored. The news arrived to us on April 24 — the day of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Imagine the double pain and terror of working with the strict codes of the deep state, while trying to imagine a breathing space for all of us.
Stella Ioannou (London)
Curator and director of Lacuna Projects
Best of 2015 – My best art for the year has got to be two moments:
1. The London Ai Weiwei moment, which I was privileged to be part of, which included the installation of “Forever” in this year’s Sculpture in the City, which was done in partnership with the Royal Academy show.
2. Wandering into the Japanese pavilion in Venice and immediately feeling calm and refreshed after one of those ‘art overload’ days. The beauty of the installation by Chiharu Shiota was mesmerising.
Architecture and design wise I don’t have any highlights, but I do have one other cultural highlight to share: Hofesh Shechter’s Political Mother: Director’s Cut at the Brixton Academy — the iconic London music venue. What was unique about this experience is that I’d seen the dance piece when it was premiered at Sadler’s Wells in 2010. Five years later — and in a bigger venue — the piece ‘blew my mind’ for a second time! Such a powerful and evocative piece of dance and performance which managed to touch every sense whilst being both provocative and subtle in the way it addresses issues of state, society, and being human.
Worst of 2015 – For me the worst of the year has got to be the continuing destruction of antiquities in Syria and the fact that in this day and age it is allowed to happen. My mind can’t quite fathom the reality of the wiping out of millenia worth of human history and culture and what that means to us as a human race but also what it says about the people who are doing it. Truly saddening.
Rebecca Uchill (Boston)
Best of 2015 – The international activist movement may have placed as runner up to Angela Merkel for Time’s Person of the Year, but Black Lives Matter managed to permeate every crevice of the cultural imagination without anything approaching Merkel’s level of institutional backing. With strategic die-ins, haunting activist public art interjections, and other brutally moving memorial demonstrations, Black Lives Matter and BLM solidarity groups demanded that the names and absent bodies of victims remain present in the US cultural consciousness throughout 2015.
Artists are important to this movement, and to awareness-raising about its issues. Artist and educator Steve Locke eloquently reported on a frightening ordeal of being targeted for “fitting the description” of a criminal, conveying the all-too-common horror of police profiling in his blow-by-blow account. Artistic contributions to Black Lives Matter were the subject of a recent Hyperallergic post, on the occasion of a protest of the killing of Jamar Clark that closed stores at the Mall of America and caused delays at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. Strong affiliations of art, education, and activism contribute to the high visibility and impact of the movement. Its successes prove the continued efficacies of performative protest, making BLM an irrefutable list-topping force in social and cultural change. But, as we close out 2015 with the failure to indict any officials in the death of Sandra Bland or Tamir Rice, it is clear that we all still have a long way to go.
Worst of 2015 – “When did Boston get so fun?” asked a Boston Globe Magazine article at the start of Boston’s 2015 back-to-school season. Noting an upswing in the city’s cultural amenities, such as the Lawn on D park and event space, and the nightlife-enabling extension of MBTA public transit hours, the article proclaimed: “this is progress.” Some months later, the Lawn on D is openly fighting to continue its free programming and the MBTA is poised to cut its late night service due to budget constraints. In the meantime, a number of the city’s performing arts organizations found themselves in a “volcano-like eruption” after the divestiture of Citigroup and other partners concerned about financial viability. And, in the last months, Governor Charlie Baker vetoed the state’s Percent for Art initiative, enabling the MBTA to scrap public art projects underway in turn, citing a need to “be aligned with the governor’s priorities.”
Never mind the very real problem that these initiatives are often justified with language about placemaking and retaining “talented young people” that positions culture as a financial instrument — a philosophy that risks marginalizing publics that don’t promise a certain version of return on investment. To reduce public support for art, even when offered on problematic terms, is an affront to what should be a civic right to public culture. Because I live in Boston, I am holding my city to task for its part in cultivating an environment where the arts are forced to be fungible or dependent on non-public support. Unfortunately, reliance on private subsidy, and use of capital investment evaluation criteria, are widespread approaches to public art and public space, precipitating the recent cautionary words of Smithsonian head David Skorten and critique of overdetermined privately-owned public space by critic Jerry Saltz (a sad update to his 2008 lamentation for the loss of New York City’s peripheries).
Joao Correia (São Paulo)
Best of 2015 – The second floor of Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), which hosts the most valuable works of its collection, reopened December 11 after six months of renovations. The return of the glass easels designed by Lina Bo Bardi, which gained international recognition when they first appeared in 1968, represent the effort by the new management to recover the institution’s former glory. MASP has one of the best collections of European art out of Europe and the USA, and it includes works by van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Cézanne, among others. The glass easels themselves are secured by a small block of concrete, creating the impression that the art work is floating in the room, an opportunity for appreciation of the art with no interferences. The solution is an icon of Brazilian modernism and their design brings a sense of coherence to the internal mis en scène and the external architectural design of the museum that seems to float out of Avenida Paulista. Having the easels back after 20 years is part of the effort led by curator Adriano Pedrosa and MASP President Heitor Martins along a committee of enthusiastic members of São Paulo’s elite to help the museum reach its full potential. Locals are feeling proud of their museum once again and this definitely counts as one of Brazil’s most important artistic highlights.
Worst of 2015 – Galeria Crivo opened on July 21 of this year with a group show of three artists, among them, the photographer Choque. His photos feature scenes of the activity of pixação, a radical tagging art movement from Brazil. Those who write pixação say that Choque does not spend any time with them and because of that he has no authority to position himself as a “reporter” of their activity. Adding to the insult for many of the artists is the fact that Choque used his photographs for commercial use, which, according to many of the artists, was not agreed on when he took the images. This lack of transparency and the misuse of material makes it one of the worst shows of the year. It was no suprise that many of the artists who felt slighted invaded the gallery and punished the show in their own pixação way. It is said that the origin of this artistic conflict between Choque and the artists stems from the commercial use of material regarding the death of one of their collaborators, who fell to his death when writing graffiti. Despite requests by the artist’s family not to use the material, Choque went ahead and used it anyway. This is a good example of what we do not want to see in the art world.
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