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Issue 128

Solo Shows 2009

frieze asked 13 critics and curators from around the world to choose what they felt to be the most significant solo shows of 2009

in Critic's Guides | 01 JAN 10

Katrina Brown Last year was marked by a succession of remarkable shows by American artists: from ‘Roni Horn aka Roni Horn’ at Tate Modern at the beginning of the year, through Lynda Benglis at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, (see it in Dublin or Dijon, France this year) and the brilliant ‘Dan Graham: Beyond’ at the Whitney Museum, New York, to John Baldessari at Tate Modern and ‘Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting’ at London’s Hayward Gallery. ‘Roni Horn aka Roni Horn’ was one of the most perfectly put-together shows I can remember: from the selection of works to its pitch-perfect installation and its surprisingly autobiographical title. 

Lauri Firstenberg Watts House Project (WHP), founded by Los Angeles artist Edgar Arceneaux, started as a series of collaborative public projects and is now an organization dedicated to artistic collaboration and urban redevelopment, akin to the model and ambitions of artist Rick Lowe’s Project Row House in Houston. WHP will mount projects on the block adjacent to one of LA’s key monuments – Simon Rodia’s iconic Watts Towers, including work by Alexandra Grant and Mario Ybarra Jr.’s collective Slanguage. On the occasion of the gallery’s 20th anniversary, Glenn Ligon’s exhibition ‘Figure’ at Regen Projects, Los Angeles, featured a new corpus of coal dust paintings continuing the artist’s ongoing investigation of James Baldwin’s 1953 story ‘Stranger in the Village’ and a negotiation of the burden of representation. 

Alexandra Grant, Love House, 2008. Courtesy: Watts House Project, Los Angeles; Honor Fraser Gallery, Los Angeles, and the artist

Susanne Gaensheimer In Germany, the great solo exhibitions of the year were Isa Genzken’s ‘Sesam, öffne dich!’ (Open Sesame!) at Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Thomas Demand at the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, and Ai Weiwei’s ‘So Sorry’ at Haus der Kunst, Munich. All three exhibitions showed an incredibly strong spatial sensibility, and the respective site-related displays and presentations suggested that every artist should have a deep involvement in the curating of their work. 

Margot Heller Just making it into 2009, Ays˛e Erkmen’s retrospective at the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, revealed the refreshingly eclectic breadth of the artist’s output over the past three decades, as well as its predominantly un-commercial nature. It begged, but perhaps also answered, the question of why this artist is so highly regarded in certain parts of the world yet barely known in others. In London, ‘Gerhard Richter Portraits’ at the National Portrait Gallery was sublime: a concise, meaningful selection of extraordinary works, beautifully presented to create a quietly brilliant show. Also in London, exhibitions by Ulla von Brandenburg at Chisenhale and Anna Barriball at Frith Street Gallery are indelibly imprinted on my memory. The opening of the expanded Whitechapel Gallery was cause for celebration with Isa Genzken’s solo show making a powerful introduction to the new programme. 

Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith Two years after Lawrence Weiner’s revelatory US retrospective, ‘As Far as the Eye can See’ at the Whitney Museum, New York, made its Atlantic crossing to K21, Dusseldorf, the equally admirable retrospective of his friend and colleague, John Baldessari, débuted at Tate Modern, London, is heading in the opposite direction (it opens 20 June at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and 17 October at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). I used to think of Baldessari as the West Coast fox to Weiner’s East Coast hedgehog. This was silly. It grossly underestimated the wily multifariousness so evident in Weiner’s cornucopian retrospective, whereas Baldessari’s show bore witness to a remarkable consistency of attitude over the past half-century. The Tate exhibition, like its accompanying catalogue, was classically organized, plainspoken and, above all, delightful. At the end of a weekend trip to an art-packed Munich boasting major institutional shows by Monica Bonvicini, Tom Burr, Zoe Leonard, Thomas Schütte and Thomas Zipp. I walked into Lutz Bacher’s solo show, ‘Do You Love Me?’, at the Kunstverein. It was so brimful of semi-demented energy that it trumped everything I’d seen over the previous two days. 

Elizabeth Ann Macgregor In Australia, 2009 began with the much-anticipated Andreas Gursky show at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. At the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, David Noonan’s strange, unearthly, cut-out figures stepped off the canvases and onto the stage of the gallery to great effect. The exhibition was a welcome return home for an artist now living in the UK. Other notable shows were the 20-year survey of the work of Kathy Temin at Heide Art Museum, Melbourne, and Rosemary Laing at University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane. 

Huang Yong Ping, Arche, 2009. Courtesy: Galerie Kamel Mennour, Paris and the artist

Huang Yong Ping's incredible menagerie was shown to great effect in the Chapelle des Petits-Augustins of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France - Bob Nickas

Bob Nickas Huang Yong Ping’s incredible menagerie, Arche (2009) – some of which had been burned in a fire at the famous Parisian taxidermist, Deyrolle – was shown to great effect in the Chapelle des Petits-Augustins of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Surrounded by the architecture, the paintings and, most suggestively, the marble statues of animals, this Noah's Ark of an installation was an eerie still life. In New York, the conceptual dandy Guy de Cointet lived on at Greene Naftali. The level of craftsmanship and strangeness in the work of Barry X Ball (at Salon 94, New York), is always high, but the recent stone sculptures based on two Baroque masterpieces, Antonio Corradini’s La Purità (Purity, or the Veiled Girl, 1720–5) and Orazio Marinali’s La Invidia (Envy, c.1700), are unlike anything being done today. Next up is his transformation of the Roman-era Hermaphrodite sculpture in the collection of the Louvre. William Eggleston at Fondation Cartier, Paris: he takes a picture in Paris and it might as well be Memphis. Many of the French visitors were not amused. Huma Bhabha and Jason Fox at Andrea Rosen, New York: the poetic/politics of the macabre. Dan Graham at MoCA, Los Angeles. Lutz Bacher, ‘My Secret Life’ at P.S.1, New York. Josh Smith: masterful, improvisatory wall paintings at the Centre d’art contemporain in Geneva. Basil Wolverton’s insane drawings, mostly from the 1950s and ’60s, many of which were for Mad magazine, at Gladstone Gallery, New York, organized by Cameron Jamie; a small side room of drawings filled with apocalyptic visions was superb. ‘Emory Douglas: Black Panther’ at New York’s New Museum, organized by Sam Durant. Verne Dawson, one of our finest time-travelling storytellers, at Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York. Unica Zürn at The Drawing Center, New York, organized by João Ribas. Gustav Metzger, the pioneer of auto-destructive art, at the Serpentine Gallery, London, if only for the installation Kill The Cars (1996), and the chance to hear the piping voices of little kids as they chant: ‘Kill – the – cars! Kill – the – cars!’ I can’t believe I missed Isa Genzken at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, and John Miller at Kunsthalle Zürich.

Solveig Øvstebø In 2009, two solo presentations of 20th-century Modernist masters turned out to be fresh and relevant in light of contemporary art: ‘Color and Light. Josef Albers Homage to the Square’ at the Instituto Tomie Ohtake, São Paulo, and ‘Alexander Calder, The Paris Years, 1926–1933’ at the Whitney Museum, New York. Martin Boyce’s fantastically enigmatic presentation, ‘No Reflections’, for the Scottish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale was also memorable. This group of works, comprising a unified installation, beautifully integrated in the exhibition spaces of the Palazzo Pisani.

Adriano Pedrosa In Argentina, Eduardo Basualdo’s magnificent solo debut at Ruth Benzacar Galería de Arte, Buenos Aires, was full of poetic and formal plays with narrative and theatre through drawing, ranging from incisions in copper leaves lit by individual microlight bulbs to precarious machines with their own light sources that randomly illuminated the underground gallery in ever-changing ways.

Alessandro Rabottini Ree Morton at Generali Foundation, Vienna, curated by Director Sabine Folie, revealed an almost unknown gem in the history of American post-Minimalism. In the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Roman Ondák’s installation Loop (2009) blended politics, architecture and nature so brilliantly as to amount to pure poetry: this was institutional critique – if that’s in fact what it was – at its best. Also at the Venice Biennale, although not a solo show in strict terms, one individual work in Daniel Birnbaum’s ‘Fare Mondi Making Worlds’ that I really enjoyed was Lara Favaretto’s Momentary Monument (Swamp) (2009); it was as radical and enigmatic as a black hole for the consciousness. Victor Man’s exhibition at Gladstone Gallery, New York, was a perfect orchestration of ambiguity and loss, from one of the most distinctive artistic voices in Europe right now. Stefano Arienti is probably the best-kept secret of Italian art from the last 20 years; in Mantua, Arienti took over the architectural jewel of the Palazzo Ducale with a masterful lightness of touch. The fragility of his works simultaneously corrupted and exalted the building’s monumentality.

James Rondeau Jim Lutes’ survey show at The Renaissance Society, University of Chicago; Tehching Hsieh’s solo turn at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Katharina Fritsch’s exhibition at Kunsthaus Zürich; Roger Hiorns’ Seizure (2008–9) for Artangel, London; and Robert Mangold’s presentation of ‘X, Plus and Frame Paintings’ from the 1980s at Parasol Unit, London, were all exceptional. At the Venice Biennale, nothing affected me as deeply as the deceptively simple intervention Loop (2009) in the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic Pavilion by Roman Ondák. The artist’s integration of flora and the built environment staged a canny reversal – effectively hiding the Pavilion in plain sight. By far the most ambitious and rewarding solo presentation of 2009 (on view until 2033) was ‘Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective’, organized by Jock Reynolds and Joe Thompson, at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. This beautiful exhibition – comprising 105 of LeWitt’s large-scale wall drawings spanning his career from 1969 to 2007, installed over an acre of specially built interior walls – is a delightful monument to the artist's intellectual rigour, formal elasticity, and innovation. Finally, with ‘Roni Horn aka Roni Horn’ London’s Tate Modern never looked better. The ideas, the materials, the light, the installation – every work, every detail was impeccable. Horn – a true thinker and a maker of complex, rewarding forms – is, as this show made clear, one of our greatest living artists.  

Roger Hiorns, Seizure, 2008-9. Courtesy: Artangel, London, and the artist; photograph: Marcus Leith

Alexis Vaillant Roger Hiorns’ Seizure, produced by Artangel, was a brilliant and immersive crystalline landscape made of 75,000 litres of copper sulphate in a London council flat. This clever, sensuous blue labyrinth reminded me of something J.G. Ballard wrote: ‘What you see depends on what you are looking for.’ But in this unexpectedly modified context, the sentence became: ‘What you are looking for depends on what you see.’ John Kleckner’s ‘The 40 Seasons’ at Peres Projects in Berlin fused Goth sex and physical decomposition with hard fantasy. Sparkling with allusion and vivid details, Kleckner’s recent watercolour works penetrated reality from its indeterminate counterparts. Ellen Gronemeyer’s fictional, distorted, whimsical portraits at greengrassi, London, were as fascinating as they were recalcitrant. Activating autobiographical encodings and a radical treatment of the politics of identity, they made me go ‘a hundred times in any direction’, to quote one of her unpredictable and encompassing titles. Curated by French conceptual photographer Pierre Leguillon for the Kadist Art Foundation, Paris, ‘Diane Arbus: A Printed Retrospective 1960–1971’ featured portraits taken for and reproduced in magazines including Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire and The Sunday Times. Found mostly on eBay, each double-page spread was detached from the original magazine and exhibited behind a thin piece of glass on a larger plywood board. It was a clever way to curate and question the site-specific, contextualized dimension of a retrospective of Arbus’ works for and in magazines without falling into the trap of simple documentation.

Carol Yinghua Lu Gu Dexin’s exhibition ‘2009–05–02’ at Galleria Continua, Beijing, was the last public project of the artist’s career. Born in 1962, Gu is widely considered to be one of the most prolific and reflective Conceptual artists in China and his consistent refusal to offer any explanation about his work has never diminished his popularity. Unsurprisingly, this unnerving exhibition was a highly metaphorical and austere contemplation on existential issues and refused to provide any comforting answers. For the artist, it marked his departure from the art world, which, typically, he refused to discuss.

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