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

Solo Shows

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

in Critic's Guides | 01 JAN 09

Jeff Koons, Rabbit (1986), Château de Versailles, Paris
Bill Arning The two solo shows I learnt most from were the R. Buckminster Fuller survey at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Harvard Film Archive’s survey ‘Bruce Conner: the Last Magician of the 20th Century’. In both cases these were artists that I loved without really knowing. Each exhibition left me feeling that I had entered their impossibly fecund minds. Clear curatorial choices, texts and presentation unlocked their inexplicable mental processes. Fuller seemed a goofier and more human figure than I had thought, still a prophet but somewhat absurd in his endless pontificating. Conner seemed a tougher, punkier artist – still poetic but with a significant dangerous edge. Mark Beasley The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s stunning survey of painter-as-poet Giorgio Morandi revealed a practice intimately engaged with the stuff of everyday, both wondrous and psychologically fraught. Eschewing all rules of what constitutes a solo show, I was struck upon repeated visits to the 2008 Whitney Biennial by one room, one artist and a title. Edgar Arceneaux’s The Alchemy of Comedy ... Stupid (2006), a multi-channel video installation, presented a beguiling portrait of popular African-American comedian David Alan Grier, star of the hit American television comedy In Living Color (1990–4). Arceneaux skillfully deconstructed the layered apparatus of the self, spinning together private and public personae. Teresa Margolles’ show at the Factory, Kunsthalle Krems, Germany, powerfully presented her ongoing interest in the victims of the Mexican drug trade. Lizzie Carey-Thomas The year opened magnificently with Frances Stark at greengrassi, London. Wolfgang Tillmans’ retrospective ‘Lighter’ at Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, reminded me why he has many imitators but no one else comes close. Also, Richard Wilson’s mini survey at The Grey Gallery, Edinburgh, along with his spinning architectural intervention for the Liverpool Biennial International 08 Turning the Place Over (2007).Fabio Cypriano Damien Hirst’s controversial Sotheby’s auction will be remembered as one of the major events in the history of art in the 21st century, independently of the quality of his works. Few artists manage to stir up the arts world in such a performance-like manner. With 30 works and a large installation on display, Beatriz Milhazes’ survey exhibition at the São Paulo Pinacoteca do Estado, under the curatorship of Ivo Mesquita, revealed that the artist’s recent works are marked by a strong degree of spirited experimentation, as exemplified by the vast room with coloured stained-glass windows. Max Delany ‘R-Balson-/41’, at Sydney’s Ivan Dougherty Gallery, saw the restaging of the emblematic 1941 exhibition by Ralph Balson, the first solo show of strictly non-figurative art in Australia. Bringing together 13 of the original 21 works, ‘R-Balson-/41’ was a simple yet brilliant project, at once empirical and revelatory. Disinterring the somewhat repressed history of non-objective art in Australia, this modestly scaled exhibition was notable for the intensity of the ensemble and for the carefully planned yet surprisingly loose painterly materiality. Turning to the present, it was the articulation of sculptural objects that figured among the most interesting solo projects in 2008: Linda Marrinon’s figuration of human foibles and fallibility at Roslyn Oxley9, Emily Floyd’s spatial elaboration of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch (1970), Ben Armstrong’s fecund sorcery at Gertrude Contemporary Art Space, Stuart Ringholt’s expressively absurd assisted readymades at Anna Schwartz Gallery, Frances Upritchard’s folk-modern-medievalism at Artspace, Sydney, Mikala Dwyer’s swamp geometry at Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, Ronnie van Hout’s existential conflation of portraiture, Minimalism, sci-fi and civic sculpture at Artspace, Sydney, Tony Schwensen’s ‘Fat Corner (Buoys/Beuys)’ at Sarah Cottier Gallery and Tom Nicholson’s refiguring of urban monuments. In Melbourne, ‘Comedies and Proverbs’, the Ian Potter Museum of Art’s survey of Vivienne Shark LeWitt, David Jolly’s ‘Hothouse’ paintings and David Rosetzky’s film Think of Yourself as Plural (2008), both at the Sutton Gallery, showed the ways in which illusion, deceit and urbanity impress on what used to be known as the human condition. Encompassing the real world of assemblage sculpture, allied to the fictive, psychological space of cinematic mise-en-scène, Martin Boyce’s We Are Shipwrecked and Landlocked (2007), the latest Kaldor Art Project at the RMIT University Alumni Courtyard, staged the civic square as graphic nature, with the memorial function of the monument restated in a more precarious and poetic sense – setting up while unsettling meaning, making objects and memory more complex and paradoxical, invoking an anxious psychological register.Tessa Giblin In the Netherlands, Sung Hwan Kim’s solo show at Witte de With in Rotterdam was beautiful to experience and representative of the many exhibitions over the last three years in which he’s been weaving together performances, videos, music compositions and installations with an equally great group of collaborators. Gabriel Lester’s exhibition at Galerie Fons Welters in Amsterdam was quite spectacular – his short film The Last Smoking Flight (2008) reiterated many of the early cinematic and sensual qualities of his previous moving-image works, masterfully unleashing new production and screenplay strategies. Ulla von Brandenburg’s exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin created an interesting vocabulary of gestures and symbolism throughout her space-bending installations and films, culminating in 8 (2007) an eerie 16 mm film loop in which spectres and apparitions continuously lie in wait. Massimiliano Gioni In random order: Paul McCarthy at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, with the Bang Bang Room (1992) upgraded. Maurizio Cattelan, with one of the most pessimistic shows in years, turned Peter Zumthor’s Kunsthaus Bregenz into a morgue. Paola Pivi at Portikus, Frankfurt, with her fountains of soda pop, continued her carnivalesque subversion of rules. Wolfgang Tillmans at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin perfectly combined beauty and political engagement. Jeff Koons at the Château de Versailles gave form once more to all the dreams and nightmares that animate the end of empires. Tacita Dean’s show at Dia Beacon, New York: immobility never seemed so eventful as in her films of Merce Cunningham dancing to John Cage’s 4’33”. Bart van der Heide Louise Bourgeois at Tate Modern, London, and Blinky Palermo at Kunsthalle and Kunstverein Dusseldorf introduced a year of spectacular retrospectives. The survey of Dutch artists Jeroen de Rijke and Willem de Rooij, curated by de Rooij, was divided into different selections (shown at K21, Dusseldorf, and the Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna) and featured an inspiring approach to appropriation and display. Finally, the touring show of Robert Rauschenberg’s cardboards at Haus der Kunst in Munich was the year’s golden seal. Titled ‘Travelling 70–76’, the exhibition showed a body of work that leaves contemporary artists with a lot to live up to. Sergio Mah First, Wolfgang Tillmans’ show at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin clearly demonstrated the creative energy of this German artist and his unique capacity to reinvent photography and its exhibitive conditions and possibilities. Second, Lucia Nogueira’s anthological show at Museu de Fundação Serralves in Porto displayed an oeuvre that oscillates between installation, sculpture and drawing. This first retrospective of Nogueira’s work was extremely well installed, and presented an excellent opportunity to explore the practice of this talented Brazilian artist who sadly passed away ten years ago. Susanne Pfeffer The Bernard Buffet retrospective at Frankfurt’s Museum für Moderne Kunst made a welcome break from the vehemently defended canon of art history and showed the familiar iconography of a time we had almost lost. Anthony McCall at the Serpentine Gallery in London let the viewer forget the self and be nothing but body. Reiner Ruthenbeck at the Kunsthalle Dusseldorf and at the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg, Germany, forced contemporary works to reposition themselves. Roberto Cuoghi at Turin’s Castello di Rivoli resurrected myths. Simon Rees Back-to-back exhibitions by Wilhelm Sasnal and Luc Tuymans at Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, proved the debt that Sasnal owes to Tuymans. Sasnal’s cycle of 8 mm films about Brasilia (Brazil, 2005), however, also showed the depth of his own practice. Markus Schinwald’s eponymous exhibition at Migros Museum, Zurich, deployed his uncanny, Viennese otherworldliness in the field of sculpture. At the gallery’s entrance, a rotating wall momentarily blocked the way in and bisected the view to the inside like an outsized rotascope. Biedermeier-style coat stands draped over marble plinths defied classification (soft-sculpture, horror-house props or obscure objects of desire?) suggestive of the evils buried in taxonomy.João Ribas The four early films of Lutz Mommartz shown at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, spanning the years 1967–75, remain the only real assessment of a prolific yet virtually unknown figure who was a master of the mediation of intimacy. The objects and documents relating to Wilhelm Reich’s ‘Orgone’ project, shown at the Jewish Museum in Vienna on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his death, prove him the genius of the orgasm. The Blinky Palermo retrospective at the Kunsthalle Dusseldorf was a delayed but flawless homecoming. Michael Clark’s Stravinsky Project (2007) at the Lincoln Center, New York, seemed a culmination of decades of brilliant irreverence. Beatrix Ruf Wolfgang Tillmans’ solo show, which made use of the Riek Hallen of Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof, was an absolute highlight of 2008, as was the accompanying catalogue, which, like most of Tillmans’ books, was designed by the artist himself. Tillmans is known for his outstanding ability to use space, and he managed to energize this endless sequence of rooms with a survey of works spanning his entire career, from wall pieces comprised of groups of multi-sized images to large-scale abstracts, from archives in vitrines to politically and sociologically activated sets of images. Ingrid Schaffner A toast to programming and a perfect day at the Whitney Museum of American Art this summer, starting with the R. Buckminster Fuller survey, which may have expressed Fuller’s vision more lucidly than he himself ever did. (How great to see the Dymaxion Chronofile, as ‘Bucky’ called his archives, and the last remaining Dymaxion Car from 1932) Then there was Chrissie Iles’ stomach punch of a Paul McCarthy exhibition – now just try not to see the role of architecture in this seminal performance artist’s work – followed by the more intimate insights of Sylvia Wolf’s ‘Polaroids: Robert Mapplethorpe’, in which all of the themes of the later photography appeared (instantly) in the early 1970s. Devika Singh ‘Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson’ at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and PS1: among the many complex installations, the multiform models displayed at PS1 opened a door onto the makeshift studio of the artist/inventor and contrasted with the gigantism of the overall project (complemented by a waterfall installation under the Brooklyn Bridge). Despite a monotonous hanging, the Francis Bacon retrospective at Tate Britain, London, was impressive for the number of works brought together and the magazine cut-outs assembled in its documentation room. Missing were the historical connections made in ‘Francis Bacon and the Tradition of Art’ at the Fondation Beyeler, Basel – something that was brilliantly achieved in ‘Picasso and the Masters’ at the Grand Palais in Paris. Michael Stanley There was a spate of great shows at the start of the year including the Paul McCarthy retrospective at SMAK, Ghent, which presented such an impressive sweep of the artist’s work in undoubtedly the gallery’s most ambitious installation to date. Other highlights included the long-awaited André Cadere exhibition, curated by Karola Grässlin and Astrid Ihle for the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Baden Baden, Germany, which toured to Musée d’Art moderne de la ville de Paris and Bonnefontenmuseum Maastricht. Also in Paris, the Grand Palais’ Gustave Courbet exhibition was wonderful, as was Richard Serra’s remarkable installation Promenade (2007), which was part of the museum’s ‘Monumenta’ series. In the UK, Adam Chodzko’s exhibition at Tate St Ives, ‘Proxigean Tide’, was a timely survey of this much underestimated artist. Gigiotto Del Vecchio Wolfgang Tillmans solo show at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin was great. A long sequence of emotions and a great number of works of unflinching intensity, this was the total vision of a total artist – the last of the Romantics. The show confirmed almost definitively who it is, today, that uses and understands images in all their possible nuances, citing poetry, reality, imagination, knowledge and background. Tillmans is not just a photographer: he is a complete artist. ‘Lighter’ proved this, creating a unique and excellently constructed itinerary, confirming his status not only as a major artist but a cultural beacon. Other shows: Tris Vonna-Michell at Kunsthalle Zurich; Alexander Rodchenko at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin; R. Buckminster Fuller at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Marc Camille Chaimowicz (in collaboration with Alexis Vaillant) at de Appel, Amsterdam; Rivane Neuenschwander at the South London Gallery. Pauline J. Yao I was moved by the Huang Yong Ping retrospective ‘House of Oracles’ – organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, where it was first shown in 2005 – presented at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. The stealth-power of Huang’s work won out over other, spectacle-driven solo projects in official venues – namely shows by Cai Guo-Qiang and Zhan Wang, both at the National Art Museum of China. Another high point was the humorous take on Olympic competition – involving watermelons, ping-pong and everyday objects – by the Xijing Men (Chen Shaoxiong, Gim Hongso and Tsuyoshi Ozawa). Other solo shows I enjoyed included Michael Lin at the Shanghai Gallery of Art, Zhang Peili at Boers-Li Gallery and Geng Jianyi at ShanghART Gallery in Beijing, and Xu Zhen at James Cohan Gallery in New York.