BY Tom Morton in Critic's Guides | 18 DEC 14

Highlights 2014 – Tom Morton

EXHIBITIONS In a year in which documenta 14’s Artistic Director Adam Szymczyk announced that his 2017 edition of the quinquennial mega show will be partly staged in Athens, the Greek capital played host to some fantastic exhibitions, not least in the independent spaces Kunsthalle Athena (‘This is Not My Beautiful House’, curated by Marina Fokidis), State of Concept (a solo show by Basim Magdy, curated by Iliana Fokianaki) and Totàl (‘They are indeed the principle of things, and yet they are not interpretable and empty as mirrors’, curated by Michelangelo Corsaro).

BY Tom Morton in Critic's Guides | 18 DEC 14

On a trip to Milan in March, I was fortunate enough to catch both the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi’s screening of Stan VanDerBeek’s immersive Cine Dreams: Future Cinema of the Mind (1972) at the city’s planetarium, an extraordinary explosion of projected images that felt like a premonition of a networked future, and the quieter pleasures of Uri Aran’s solo show ‘Puddles’ at Peep-Hole. Curated by Xander Karskens, ‘Superficial Hygiene’ at De Hallen Haarlem, was especially notable for the inclusion of Erkka Nissinen’s hilarious and utterly sui generis video Inner Materials … (2013) – I can’t wait to see what this Finnish artist does next. My full review of Nicolas Bourriaud’s Taipei Biennial appears in the January-February 2015 issue of frieze, but suffice to say that this intellectually ambitious reckoning with ‘the coactivity amongst humans and animals, plant and objects’ was a major event. I had been looking forward to Alessandro Rabottini’s Robert Overby show (‘Robert Overby – Works 1969–1987’) at the Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève for some time. I wasn’t disappointed – taking the idea of skin (whether of a building, painting or S&M gimp suit) as its presiding metaphor, this survey of a neglected pioneer of postwar American art made him feel utterly fresh.

In Britain, Glasgow International was a heaving buffet of treats (perhaps the choicest among them being Simon Martin at Kelvingrove and Alistair Frost’s working nail bar at Mary Mary’s offsite space), while Wysing Art Centre’s group show ‘Annals of the Twenty-Ninth Century’, with its weirdly successful cheesy-nightspot-meets-holodeck exhibition design, pointed towards the rural Cambridgeshire not-for-profit’s ongoing invention, and at BALTIC, Gateshead, a survey of Simon Bill’s goofily lyrical oval paintings felt long overdue. In London, some favourites brought their A-game (Erik Van Lieshout at Maureen Paley, Pierre Huyghe at Hauser & Wirth, Andro Wekua at Sprüth Magers, Ed Atkins at the Serpentine Sackler, Cullinan Richards at 5 Howick Place), while I was surprised, and delighted, to enjoy Richard Deacon at Tate Britain quite as much as I did. At the capital’s David Roberts Art Foundation, ‘Geographies of Contamination’ – a group show of artists including Nicolas Deshayes, Marlie Mul, David Douard, Magali Reus and Rachel Rose, curated by Vincent Honoré, Laura McClean-Ferris and Alexander Scrimgeour – made a persuasive case for a kind of grubby, seeping post-digital order, and Trisha Donnelly’s solo at the Serpentine still has me wondering, in the best of ways, at this most elusive of artists’ intentions. Taking its cue from a photograph of the Victorian ethnologist Augustus Pitt Rivers’ artefact-strewn billiard table, the group exhibition ‘On the Devolution of Culture’ at Rob Tufnell introduced a host of domestic scale sculptures (by, among others, Aaron Angell, Brian Griffiths and Mike Nelson) to the green baize in a complex, trans-temporal game of bait and switch. ‘Rembrandt: The Late Works’ at The National Gallery was, of course, incredible – these are paintings that would still glow if they were installed in a skip. Also of note were Camille Henrot’s ‘The Pale Fox’ at Chisenhale Gallery, Adam Linder and Jonathan P. Watts’s dance / text performance at Silberkuppe’s Frieze Art Fair stand and the first UK solo show of American sculptor Melvin Edwards at Stephen Friedman Gallery.

I’d sort of promised myself that I wouldn’t repeat any names from 2013’s highlights, but this has proved impossible. Andreas Angelidakis (at EMSTE, Athens), Jessie Flood Paddock (at Carl Freedman, London), Catherine Story (again at Carl Freedman), Matthew Darbyshire (at Stanny House, Iken), Alex Dordoy (at Inverleith House, Edinburgh) Alexander Tovborg (at Overgarden, Copenhagen): these shows were all too good to let pass without mention.

Craig Burnett’s Philip Guston: The Studio was a thoughtful, often funny and beautifully written addition to Afterall Books’ ongoing ‘One Work’ series, while Gilda Williams’s gem of a primer How to Write About Contemporary Art will, I hope, feature on the Christmas wish lists of many of my students. Ned Beauman birthed a new sub-genre, the south London corporate thriller-cum-chemical romance, in his characteristically clever novel Glow, while also writing some wonderfully odd journalism, such as this piece on New York’s Westminster Kennel Club dog show: Set in a Damien Hirst-less alternate universe, Jonathan Gibbs’s fictional history of the yBas Randall, or The Painted Grape was ecstatically reviewed by the British broadsheets, providing another hit for Norwich-based indie publishers Galley Beggar Press to follow Eimear McBride’s 2013 A Girl is A Half-Formed Thing. (Full disclosure: Gibbs is the husband of my mother’s cousin’s daughter – nothing like keeping these lists in the extended family). Will Wiles’s sophomore novel The Way Inn fused J.G.-Ballard-meets-Alan-Partridge musings on chain hotels with Lovecraftian horror to intriguing cut-and-shut effect, while listening to Lorrie Moore read from her short story collection Bark at London’s Purcell Room was one of my highlights – literary or otherwise – of the year.

HBO’s True Detective was superb, right up until the final episode, in which slow burn nihilism gave way to hackneyed sub-Thomas Harris horror. Ultimately more satisfying was The Leftovers (also HBO), an almost unbearably bleak post-rapture drama, and the second season of BBC America’s enormously fun genetic engineering dramedy Orphan Black. In the cinema, The Grand Budapest Hotel was the best film that Wes Anderson has made for years, while Guardians of the Galaxy became the new benchmark for superhero movie making, eschewing Christopher Nolan-style grandeur for a kind of Tarantino-goes-family-friendly take on the space opera. British standup Richard Herring continued to issue podcasts of brilliant comic invention. Like his (rightly lauded) former double act partner Stewart Lee, he is at heart a formalist, although Herring cakes his rigour in a thick layer of hilarious, schoolboy smut. Alongside millions of others, I’ve found myself waiting breathlessly for each new episode of This American Life’s podcast Serial, in which a real Baltimore murder case is investigated in weekly installments. The format is so simple – and so arresting – it seems incredible that it has not been tried before.

Ten tracks that kept me company during 2014: Rick Ross ‘Sanctified’; Todd Terje (feat. Bryan Ferry) ‘Johnny and Mary’; St. Vincent ‘Digital Witness’; Future Islands ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’; Taylor Swift ‘Out of the Woods’; Beyoncé ‘Drunk in Love’ (the Feb ’14 Kanye remix); M.I.A. ‘Double Bubble Trouble’ (that video!); Caribou ‘Can’t Do Without You’; War on Drugs ‘Red Eyes’; FKA Twigs ‘Two Weeks’.

Tino Seghal at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Roger Hiorns curating a show themed on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (or mad cow disease) at the Hayward Gallery, London; Elizabeth Price’s Contemporary Art Society Award show at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Mary Ramsden at Pilar Corrias, London; Charles Avery at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague; Ronald Cornelissen at Tropicana Rotterdam, Christian Marclay at White Cube Bermondsey; Tom McCarthy’s novel Satin Island, and Adam Thirlwell’s novel Lurid & Cute.

Tom Morton is a writer, curator and contributing editor of frieze, based in Rochester, UK.