in Critic's Guides | 01 JAN 07
Featured in
Issue 104


frieze asked critics and curators from around the world to choose what, and who, they felt to be the most significant shows and artists of 2006

in Critic's Guides | 01 JAN 07

Sara Arrhenius
Being a bit late is not always a bad thing. Stockholm’s Moderna Museet’s outstanding retrospective of Paul McCarthy’s work, ‘Head Shop/Shop Head’, was in the planning stages for quite some time. Finally realised this year, it landed right after the most intense wave of revivals of McCarthy’s work and artistic strategies. This slight time lapse left room for an exhibition that took an immense body of work and carefully carved the inherent skeleton of underlying themes, recurring issues and central strategies out of it. An old guard house outside the museum space was the setting for an unforgettable installation of the artist’s films in a series of raw, dark chambers.

Luca Cerizza
Giovanni Anselmo, Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Bologna; John M. Armleder, ‘About Nothing’, ICA, Philadelphia and ‘Amor vacui, horror vacui’, MAMCO, Geneva: the gift of an endless mise-en-scène and continuous reinvention of reality. DADA, Centre Pompidou, Paris and Fischli/Weiss, ‘Flowers and Questions: A Retrospective’, Tate Modern, London: it was nice to see how many Swiss people have a great sense of humor! (Also see Armleder.) ‘The Environments of Gruppo T: The Origins of Interactive Art’, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome. When Italy was modern: a story still to be told. Yves Klein, ‘Body, Colour, Immaterial’, Centre Pompidou, Paris; Jonas Mekas, CAC, Vilnius; ‘Albers and Moholy-Nagy: From the Bauhaus to the New World’, Tate Modern, London. This show confirmed Moholy-Nagy as a much more complex and intriguing artist than Albers, and proved that Modernity can be formalistic and political. Carlo Mollino, GAM and Castello di Rivoli, Turin: probably the only decadent Futurist ever. Steven Parrino, ‘Retrospective 1977-2004’, MAMCO, Geneva: when Punk met abstract painting.

Stuart Comer
Minutiae, Robert Rauschenberg’s 1954 free-standing set for Merce Cunningham, used to tour with the Cunningham Company on the roof of their Volkswagen bus. Now housed in a private European collection, it hit the road again for Paul Schimmel’s brilliant survey of Rauschenberg’s combines and stopped me in my tracks at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in March. Paul McCarthy’s mega-survey at Moderna Museet in Stockholm was made even more rewarding by seeing Alan Kaprow’s instructions, actions, mediations, scores, videos, correspondences, restagings and reconstructions in McCarthy’s old stomping ground at Munich’s Haus der Kunst. And finally seeing ‘art dreamer’ Lee Lozano’s work in depth at Kunsthalle Basel confirmed that she succeeded in her ambition for art ‘to make people high’.

Bice Curiger
Christopher Wool’s show at the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, Strasbourg: his work is now inspiring a generation of New York artists whose anarchic energy fuses with this knowledge of the intellectual fetishes of a specifically American culture of painting. The kind of artists presented, for example, in ‘Uncertain States of America’.

Dominic Eichler
Cerith Wyn Evans’ ICA show ‘take my eyes and through them see you’ was not a retrospective but had, conceptually, some retrospective qualities, and dark introspective ones too; precisely the kind you experience while looking out of windows.

Charles Esche
Amongst a host of serious institutional shows that succeeded in giving a thorough impression of an individual consciousness were Edward Krasinski at the Generali Foundation in Vienna, George Brecht at the Museum Ludwig in Köln, and Bas Jan Ader at Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam. All were effective, the first two offering some real elements of surprise and discovery.

Alex Farquharson
Large survey shows by Pierre Huyghe and Fischli/Weiss at Tate Modern and
Richard Tuttle at Dallas Museum of Art predictably failed to disappoint. Hilma Af Klint’s loopy early 20th-century theosophical abstracts at London’s Camden Art Centre were a revelation. Sister Corita Kent at Between Bridges (eye-popping spiritual Agit-prop poster-poems) – nun, Pop artist, activist, educator, proto-relational aesthete and subject of a brilliant new study by Julie Ault (Four Corners Books) – was the outstanding omission from Catherine Grenier’s thorough ‘Los Angeles 1955–85’ at the Pompidou. Despite a cramped, ungainly installation, the exhibition served to show the many ways Los Angeles appears refracted in its art, while also revealing the distorted mirror-image that West Coast tendencies consistently hold up to their more canonized East Coast counterparts.

Douglas Fogle
End-of-the-year reviews are always more than a little unfair to exhibitions that open in November and December. As a corrective, I am going to say that the yet-to-open-as-I-write-this retrospective ‘Hélio Oiticica: The Body of Color’ at the MFA in Houston is at the top of my list for 2006. If you put Oiticica’s work together with that of the Arte Povera artists of the 1960s, you get a kind of unconscious historical genealogy of the contemporary art world of the 1990s (think Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Gabriel Orozco and so on). I have to say that I also left the exhibition ‘Robert Rauschenberg: Combines’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, with two words on my lips: Rosetta Stone. Fischli/Weiss also brilliantly undermined the retrospective impulse in their survey show at Tate Modern by reworking (and at times remaking) ‘old’ work and transforming it into something new. Their film The Right Way (originally made in 1983), featuring the two artists dressed in rat and bear costumes, is at once incredibly silly and wonderfully compelling.

Jennifer Higgie
Fischli/Weiss, ‘Flowers and Questions: A Retrospective’ at Tate Modern: few artists today (apart, perhaps, from the wonderful Frances Stark) combine words and images to such effect. (My favourite title of a sculpture? Anna O Dreaming the First Dream Interpreted by Freud.) Hans Bellmer at London’s Whitechapel Gallery was eye-poppingly weird and wonderful, as was the majestic Holbein show at Tate Britain – the largest collection of the artist’s work to be seen in Britain in over 50 years. The Pierre Huyghe retrospective, ‘Celebration Park’, also at Tate Modern, was a landscape of discovery, as was the utterly fascinating Hilma af Klint show at Camden Arts Centre. Her abstract paintings from as early as 1906 anticipate work by Henri Matisse, Wassily Kandinsky, Kasimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian, yet stemmed from quite a different source: a spirit guide, Ananda, who in 1904 told the Swedish artist ‘she was to execute paintings on the astral plane’.

Raimundas Malasauskas
Cerith Wyn Evans’ ‘... in which something happens all over again for the very first time’ show at MAM/ARC Paris was a retrospective that had as much light at its end as at its beginning. The Velvet Grind: Selected Essays, Interviews, Satires (1980 – 2005) by David Robbins, published by JRP/Ringier and Les presses du réel, is also a retrospective of sorts, spanning, as it does, several decades, and introducing each article or an interview as an elaborate project in itself. After reading it I don’t want to be the fifth Beatle anymore, I would rather be a second David Robbins.

Helen Molesworth
The highlight of the year was hands down the Eva Hesse drawing show installed at the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas. Renzo Piano’s dark wood floors make almost anything look good, but this show was exceptional. From her earliest mechano-morphic pictures, which channel the bride and the bachelors of Marcel Duchamp, to the simultaneously de-skilled and erudite drawing of ‘X’s in graph paper, through to the nearly Amish intensity of the grey and white washes of concentric circles, this show articulated the intensity of Hesse’s worldview. The most ravishing drawings came at the end: luminous white on white windowpanes made as she was dying. Brief flashes of colour appear in the one made for her dear friend Gioa Timpanelli. It’s a heartbreaker.

Simon Njami
Everybody knows the work of Bill Viola, but I am always struck by the imaginative and architectural power of his videos and installations. His recent retrospective at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, ‘Hatsu-Yume (First Dream)’, co-curated by David Elliott and Obigane Akiko, is, in my opinion, a perfect example of what art should be, and goes a long way to prove why Viola is considered the godfather of video art: his mastery of the medium is simply astonishing. ‘Hatsu-Yume (First Dream)’, is an intensive show that displays 16 of the artist’s works and covers more than 20 years of his production, starting with Hatsu-Yume, which he created in 1981 following a one-year fellowship in Japan, and ending with The Raft from 2004. The installation is sensitive and allows us to enter the world of an artist whose main focus is mankind.

Olu Oguibe
Although billed as part of John Baldessari’s curatorial selections from the Hirshhorn Museum’s collection in their newly launched series, ‘Ways of Seeing’, there is a mini-retrospective of the artist’s works adjacent to the main space where his selections from the collection are displayed. Among the more interesting pieces is the multi-format presentation of his Cremation Project from 1970 in which he burnt all his paintings and turned the ashes into cookies, one of which was eaten by a friend. The rest sit in a jar in the exhibition, beside elaborate documentation of the cremation process. The Cremation Project was Baldessari’s most significant work for defining a different stratum of Conceptualism when the genre was singularly preoccupied with the translation of ideas through image and text. The idea behind the project, namely that art should be eaten and recycled, is certainly in tune with the aesthetics of cultures such as the Igbo of West Africa who believe that art, like all things, should decay and return to the earth. In this sense Baldessari challenged the essence of art and art making on a far more radical note than any of his contemporaries or the leading Conceptual artists of the day, including Joseph Beuys.

Daniel Palmer
Juan Davila’s survey at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, only focused on his painting but revealed his obsessions: outsider figures of mixed race and gender, and his unique fusion of Latin American and Australian political history (he arrived from Chile in 1974) with repressed sexuality. The show moved from his fragmented Pop collage style to more recent semi-mythical paintings around Australia’s infamous Woomera refugee detention centre. At the same venue James Angus’ ten-year mini-retrospective proved what a great artist he is, with sculptures ranging from a full-size model of a yellow rhinoceros mounted sideways on the wall to a basketball dropped from 35,000 feet. The highlight was a life-size model of a 1920s’ Bugatti sports car – distorted and overturned – invoking F.T. Marinetti and other speed-loving Modernists as much as the sheer joy of a virtual form in space.

Cristina Ricupero
Jean-Luc Godard’s exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou was just as controversial as one would expect. Re-titled by Godard himself as ‘Travel(s) in Utopia, JLG, 1946-2006, In Search of Lost Theorem’, the exhibition worked towards its own undoing and was an ongoing construction of its deconstruction. Three rooms re-creating a domestic setting with unmade beds, green plants, hanging electric wires, models of the cancelled show and numerous plasma screens showing extracts of films by Godard and others, presented the audience with a sort of accelerated and personalised history of cinema. The exhibition drew no conclusions as the ‘phantoms’ of a non-realised project became the exhibition itself.

Ali Subotnick
‘Robert Rauschenberg: Combines’ at LA MOCA was beautifully installed, and presented some of the most exciting and influential works of art made in the 20th century. Rauschenberg’s originality and courage to take risks and share his vulnerabilities and idiosyncrasies, coupled with his tremendous capacity for moving two-dimensional paintings into the third dimension, laid the ground for so much art that would follow. His impact on the future was finally celebrated and cemented in this important survey. And the Hans Bellmer exhibition at the Whitechapel was truly astounding in reminding us of the depth of his disturbed perversions and early explorations of the beauty of horror.

Jochen Volz
Cildo Meireles’ travelling exhibition ‘Babel’, curated by Moacir dos Anjos for the Museu Vale do Rio Doce in Vila Velha, Espirito Santo, was one of the most important retrospectives of the year in Brazil. It was based on two major installations, Marulho (1997) and Babel (2001–6), and once again showed how precisely Meireles discusses notions of space by introducing a physical dimension, geopolitical reflection and his very own Conceptual poetry.