in Critic's Guides | 01 JAN 09
Featured in
Issue 120

Group Shows

18 critics and curators choose what they felt to be the most significant group shows of 2008

in Critic's Guides | 01 JAN 09

Bill Arning
After so much over-produced art, my summer was made by seeing ‘Kiki: The Proof is in the Pudding’ at Ratio 3 in San Francisco – an elegiac recreation of crucial, surviving elements of the anarchic year and a half in which the late Rick Jacobsen decided that, since he had AIDS, he might as well do what made him happy and opened Kiki on 14th Street in San Francisco. While his right choices – giving crucial early shows to Catherine Opie, Keith Mayerson and D-L Alvarez – earn him posthumous credibility as an ‘eye’, it was his projects with non-professional visionaries such as drag performer Jerome Caja that I cherish today. Yoko Ono’s message to Kiki left on Jacobsen’s answer machine was magic.

Mark Beasley
A three-dimensional homage to Tony Shafrazi’s notorious 1974 graffitied ‘completion’ of Picasso’s Guernica (1937) with the words ‘KILL LIES ALL’, the exhibition ‘Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns?’, conceived by Urs Fischer and Gavin Brown for Shafrazi’s New York gallery, took trompe-l’œil effect to new and surreal heights. Printed wallpaper of a security guard shared space with the same guard while Francis Bacon and Richard Prince held court against the backdrop of Lily van der Stokker’s rising acrylic on wallpaper flood, Water Buh (2008). Rob Pruitt’s limp Viagra Falls (2008) gushed down the stairwell, counterpointed by his Eternal Bic (1999), a never-ending cigarette lighter clamped to a café table with a hidden reserve of lamp oil secreted below. The ICA London’s relentless ‘Nought to Sixty’ revealed the breadth of the UK’s cerebral play, wit and experimental artistic endeavour, from publications such as Alun Rowlands’ Communiqué 4 (2008) to Maria Fusco’s visceral Happy Hypocrite, and the video and film work of Stephen Sutcliffe and Matthew Noel-Tod.

Lizzie Carey-Thomas
My first visit to Kolumba – the art museum of the archbishopric of Cologne – offered a seamless layering of Gothic ruins, postwar reconstruction, ancient relics and Paul Thek, encased in an unfussy minimalist skin designed by the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor: a glorious, light-filled and perfectly integrated arrangement of things in space I could have happily basked in for hours. Also, Urs Fischer and Gavin Brown’s crafty intervention ‘Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns’ at Tony Shafrazi, New York.

Fabio Cypriano
In ‘The Age of Discrepancies: Art and Visual Culture in Mexico, 1968–1997’ at Estação Pinacoteca, São Paulo, the roots of the boom in contemporary Mexican art were parsed in a complex manner, with particular emphasis on their political context, to allow an understanding of where names such as Gabriel Orozco, Francis Alÿs and Carlos Amorales, among others, have emerged from. The exhibition, curated by the late Olivier Debroise, Pilar Garcia de Germenos, Cuauhtémoc Medina and Álvaro Vázquez Mantecón, was organized by the University Museum of Sciences and Arts of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. ‘This is Not a Void’, curated by Jens Hoffmann at Galeria Luisa Strina, São Paulo, took an ironic look at the curatorial premise of the 28th São Paulo Biennial, which as part of a process of institutional self-examination left an entire floor empty at the core of the Oscar Niemeyer pavilion. In the case of this smart gallery show, however, the void was full of works that questioned invisibility and transience. Brilliant.

Max Delany
‘Lost & Found: An Archaeology of the Present’, curated by Charlotte Day for Tarra-Warra Museum of Art, elicited excellent work from artists working in Australia and New Zealand. Simryn Gill’s rubbings, James Lynch’s animation, David Noonan’s montage paintings and Callum Morton’s funereal signage carried the viewer from philosophical engagement to existential dread. ‘United Artists’ at Melbourne’s Palais Theatre was organized by the Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts and featured short and sharp performances by local artists working with experimental sound and music. Developed by Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces with artists/curators Oren Ambarchi, Emily Cormack, Marco Fusinato and Alexie Glass ‘21:100:100’ (100 sound works by 100 artists from the 21st century), was a beautifully designed, aurally dense survey of recent international sound art and experimental music. Concluding the year on a more sombre tone at Melbourne’s Silvershot Gallery was curator Mark Feary’s trilogy of exhibitions ‘Life, Death, Thereafter’.

Tessa Giblin
In the Netherlands, ‘To Burn Oneself with Oneself: The Romantic Damage Show’ at de Appel in Amsterdam, curated by Mark Kremer with Ann Demeester, was a consistently surprising and intelligent proposition in the field of experiential group exhibitions, managing to be grim, fantastical, familiar and foreign throughout its journey. Also Lidwien van de Ven’s new film, Freedom of Expression (2008), focusing on the figure of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, was a stunning statement which thrust into the core of ‘Be[com]ing Dutch’ at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, exemplifying the research undertaken in the ambitious and extensive project curated by Charles Esche and Annie Fletcher. I have spent a lot of time over the last few years in exhibitions that in one way or another characterized themselves in relation to the provocation of the legacy of modernity; ‘Traces du Sacré’ (Sacred Traces) at the Pompidou Centre in Paris provided a refreshing counter-trajectory, re-contextualizing many well-known art works and artists in a spiritual, religious or even quasi-prophetic narrative.

Massimiliano Gioni
A large part of 2008 was dominated by the market, so the most interesting shows were the ones that questioned the canon without paying too much attention to the price-tag. Connie Butler’s ‘Glossolalia: Languages of Drawing’ at MoMA, New York, was a brilliant exercise in free associations, with a parade of great self-taught artists, reminding us that art is much bigger than we think. ‘Italics: Italian Art Between Tradition and Revolutions 196–2008’, at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, rewrote the history of Italian contemporary art in a minor key. ‘Action/Abstraction’ at The Jewish Museum, New York, was a rare combination of philology and entertainment. Beautifully researched – check out Clyfford Still’s letter – ‘Action/Abstraction’ was also a bit of retinal shock as it perfectly captured not only the way they painted but also the way they saw. My favourite group show this summer was a DIY affair: a 9,000-kilometre road trip from Marfa, Texas, to Michael Heizer’s Double Negative (1969–70), visiting as many earthworks as my girlfriend and I could find. Driving a few hours to get to Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels (1973–6), one cannot avoid thinking that integrity is a much more reliable index of quality than auction results.

Bart van der Heide
Nine Scripts from a Nation at War – a ten-part video installation commissioned by David Thorne, Katya Sander, Ashley Hunt, Sharon Hayes and Andrea Geyer – found its way to Tate Modern, London, where its display was much better than its original incarnation at documenta 12. The group exhibition at the Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, entitled ‘Concepts of Love’, explored the subject of falling in love. Inspired by the work of the German artist Judith Hopf, the show featured different attempts to pinpoint love by means of artist collaborations, ‘satellite universes’ and public events.

Sergio Mah
Initiated by MACBA in Barcelona in 2007, ‘A Theatre Without Theatre’, which I saw in 2008 at the Museu Colecção Berardo in Lisbon, was a remarkable exhibition for the quality of the works, the extensive and relevant documentation, and the themes and correlations it drew between fine arts, architecture and theatre.

Susanne Pfeffer
‘After Nature’, curated by Massimiliano Gioni, at the New Museum in New York: Daring! Poetic! Open! ‘Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia’, curated by Jennifer Mundy, at Tate Modern, London, showed early analogies and profound differences. ‘As soon as I open my eyes I see a film: Experiment in the art of Yugoslavia in the ’60s and ’70s’ at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, curated by Ana Janevski and with a clear-cut exhibition design by Monika Sosnowska, gave trenchant insights into two decades of experimental art-making in former Yugoslavia.

Simon Rees
‘Not So Subtle Subtitle’, an exhibition ‘considered’ – rather than curated – by artist Matthew Brannon for Casey Kaplan’s summer show, provided an insider’s view on the workings of an artist’s mind. The selected works, by 26 artists, shared an esprit: small-to-medium in size, there were numerous collages and posters, lots of text (a book made in conjunction with Tom Burr, Brett Easton Ellis, Liam Gillick, Isabelle Graw and Philip Monk was one portion of the project), and plenty of predictions and pronouncements – Shannon Ebner’s stencil graffiti ‘Wallpaper Bankruptcy $ale’ (Wallpaper Bankruptcy Sale for Eileen Myles, 2008) proving the most prophetic. Michelangelo Pistoletto’s silkscreen print of a skinned rabbit, Coniglio appeso (Hanged Rabbit, 1973), suggested a dark and critical edginess in the arrangement – the carnivorous implication of the dealer/gallery setting perhaps?

João Ribas
‘Notation’ at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin brought together notational and sign systems across a variety of disciplines – music, painting, choreography, film etc. – dating from the beginning of the 20th century to today and taking in Robert Walser, György Ligeti, Walter Benjamin, Marcel Proust, Rudolf Laban and Viking Eggeling among the 100 artists. If the Romantic notion of the artist needs to be laid to rest, then ‘To Burn Oneself with Oneself: The Romantic Damage Show’ at de Appel in Amsterdam only further proved why an anachronistic stance is so seductive.

Beatrix Ruf
I was not able to see ‘After Nature’ at the New Museum in New York, but I loved its ‘catalogue’. Curator Massimiliano Gioni’s themed project was inspired by W.G. Sebald’s book After Nature (2003). For the exhibition’s publication, Gioni arranged to purchase existing copies of Sebald’s three-part prose poem, first published in German in 1988, and then inserted colour prints of works from the show between their pages and wrapped them in a new fold-out dust jacket containing information about the exhibition.

Ingrid Schaffner
Hands down, the most important themed show was also a historic one: ‘Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution’ at P.S.1 in New York (first shown at Geffen Contemporary, Los Angeles, in 2007). It gained major institutional ground both for Feminism and for a radicalized view of the Postmodern and global present that curator Connie Butler continues to advance. See her current installation of the MoMA’s permanent collection; the near absence of colour reads like a powder keg. Stripping down to one big idea was ‘An Unruly History of the Readymade’. Curator Jessica Morgan’s exhibition at the Jumex Foundation Collection last autumn expounded on Marcel Duchamp’s legacy in modes explicit and poetic. The best thing about show was the installation itself: a yellow grid on floor and walls designating readymade parking spots for over 100 works of art.

Devika Singh
The Hannah Barry Gallery, which opened in 2008 in the London suburb of Peckham, hosted a show titled ‘Optimism’ that debunked the cynicism and apathy that the art world is often accused of. Its placebo effect responded perfectly to the financial crisis. The works – all by young artists – ranged from bold abstract compositions by Shaun McDowell to an apocalyptic video installation Our Son’s Their Father’s Failing Language See (2007) by James Balmforth. In New York ‘Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art’, curated by Okwui Enwezor at the International Center of Photography, was a highlight, as much for its content as for the connections it made between history, memory and the potentially deceptive nature of photography.

Michael Stanley
In New York, Creative Time’s exhibition-cum-rally-cum-performance ‘Democracy in America: The National Campaign’ was set within the remarkable context of the Convergence Center at Park Avenue Armory and revelled in the possibilities and limitations of protest, featuring the enigmatic Reverend Billy, intelligent and compelling work by Sharon Hayes, and Paul Ramirez Jonas’ witty yet poignant contribution. Back in the UK, Gavin Wade’s inaugural show, ‘This is the Gallery and the Gallery is Many Things’, at Eastside Projects, Birmingham, reignited a playfulness and imagination characteristic of his practice, bringing together established names Mark Titchner and Lawrence Weiner with emerging artists Tom & Simon Bloor and Karin Kihlberg & Reuben Henry.

Gigiotto Del Vecchio 
For some years now, the private Milanese space Galleria Zero has been one of the most active and innovative exhibition locations in Italy and beyond. ‘Part of the Process 3’ (which included works by Hany Armanious, Micol Assaël, Cezary Bodzianowski, Hubert Duprat, Gino De Dominicis, Francesco Gennari, João Maria Gusmão & Pedro Paiva, Colter Jacobsen, Jorge Peris and Thiago Rocha Pitta) had the merit of offering an uncompromising reflection on the evolution of the concept of making art and, at the same time, on what it means to be a gallery today. It deserves kudos for its well-defined project, free experimentation, thorough research and curatorial approach.

Pauline J. Yao
‘Between the Light and the Dark’ at Arario Beijing presented the work of three artists of varying degrees of ‘Chineseness’: Amsterdam-based Ni Haifeng and Tiong Ang, and Beijing-based Wang Jianwei. The modestly sized exhibition offered an oblique exploration of identity and place through new and existing installations and video, and was a welcome departure from other sprawling curatorial fare. Despite its insipid title, ‘Subtlety’, curated by Karen Smith at Platform China in Beijing, deserves marks for its notable effort of commissioning nine new works, among them strong showings by Qiu Xiaofei, Wang Wei, Xiao Yu and Zhuang Hui.

Main image: 'Who's Afraid of Jasper Johns?', 2008, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York