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

Themed Shows

frieze asked the following 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
The travelling art-historical survey ‘Art Feminism’, which I saw at Liljevalchs Konsthall, Stockholm, was impressively old school, in both approach and apparatus. The curatorial team delved deeply into the archives of feminist Swedish art and found long-forgotten activist art from Sweden’s 1970s forerunners, including pieces by the outstanding experimental filmmaker Gunvor Nelson, as well as more contemporary work. At a time when curators tend to fetishize the documentation of historical work, this show left me impressed by how much it means to see such work, and made me reassess my understanding of early feminist art.

Stuart Comer
‘The Secret Public: The Last Days of the British Underground 1978–88’, at Kunstverein Munich, and the Centre of Attention’s ‘Fast and Loose (My Dead Gallery)’, at the Fieldgate Gallery in Whitechapel, indicate the need to re-examine a London that has fallen into the cracks between the prolific histories of Punk and yBa. Both were thrilling and incomplete, and one hopes there will be many more similar efforts to come. ‘Tomorrowland: CalArts in Moving Pictures’, ran throughout the summer at New York’s MoMA and revealed Los Angeles’ glorious schizophrenia in film programmes that ranged from work by heavyweights at Pixar and Laika to more Conceptual efforts by the likes of Christopher Williams and Jack Goldstein.

Bice Curiger
‘Five Billion Years’ at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, was the first exhibition by the new director of the gallery, Marc-Olivier Wahler, and amounted to a coolly playful experience.

Dominic Eichler
When I reviewed the rather problematic show ‘The Eighth Square: Gender, Life and Desire in Art Since 1960’ at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, I greedily didn’t mention a painting, hoping to keep it back for myself: Paul Thek’s Portrait of Peter Hujar (c.1963).

Charles Esche
My visit to Bert Theis’ Isola Art Center initiative in Milan has stayed with me. As a concrete example of working right there, right now it’s hard to beat in Western Europe. Elsewhere, BAK Utrecht’s elaborate project, ‘Concerning War’, comprised a show, debates and a fabulous small book to remind us why the public sphere remains vital to art’s future. ‘People, Land, State’ at Digital Arts Lab, Holon, Israel was the most coherent of the numerous group shows that sought to construct an international context for the Zionist tragedy, successfully undermining the formal and political claims for its exceptionalism. Finally, the most effective action in the cultural field was the Alarm Call just before the elections in Belgium. One hundred art institutions sounded their fire alarms at exactly 3pm, three days before the vote, successfully drawing sympathy and front page press coverage to the cultural community’s resistance to Belgium’s hard-core nationalist parties.

Douglas Fogle
The meta-history of modern art is intimately bound up with the history of the institutions that were founded to support it. Although MoMA-bashing seems to be in vogue lately, it might be more illuminating to consider the parallel histories of Modernism that did not quite manifest themselves in such a monolithic form. In this light the exhibition ‘The Société Anonyme: Modernism for America’, at the UCLA Hammer Museum, was something of a revelation. Organized by the Yale University Art Gallery, this exhibition provides a kind of hidden counter-history of the birth of Modernism in the US by exploring the influence of The Société Anonyme, Inc., founded by Katherine S. Dreier and Marcel Duchamp in 1920 to support contemporary art in Europe and America by sponsoring exhibitions, lectures and publications. One can only wonder what Duchamp and Dreier’s version of a museum of modern art would look like today.

Jennifer Higgie
London’s Hayward Gallery impressed with ‘How to Improve the World: 60 Years of British Art’ and the utterly fascinating ‘Undercover Surrealism’, which brought to life the pages of Georges Bataille’s magazine Documents – his ‘war machine against received ideas’.

Raimundas Malasauskas
For Camp Campaign, Rene Gabri and Ayreen Anastas went camping in the USA for two months to find out to what extent the state of exception (a term derived from Giorgio Agamben’s notion of the ‘camp’, which describes ‘exceptional’ spaces in society, such as detainment camps or gated communities) has become the norm. ‘Prophets of Deceit’, curated by Magali Arriola at the CCA Wattis Institute in San Francisco, examined how cults and religious visionaries utilize technologies to influence reality and history.

Helen Molesworth
At the Kunsthalle in Vienna curator Sabine Folie decided to buck the survey and the monograph and opted instead for the old-fashioned compare-and-contrast. Her choices were two American artists of the 1960s: Dorothy Iannone and Lee Lozano. Both women pursued representations of sexuality and the body with shame-defying gusto. Iannone’s cartoon representations of heterosexual love filled the first galleries with a kind of happy optimism about the humorous and loving nature of sexual desire, whereas Lozano’s work revels in the abject, offering drawings and paintings in which the body is hyper-charged and oozing at every turn. Folie laid the two versions side by side and let the viewer complete the work.

Simon Njami
There are a surprising number of initiatives in the Middle East for contemporary art. The Khalid Shoman Foundation, through its art centre Darat al Funun, is an amazing example of the work that is done in the region. The exhibition ‘The Wall and the Check Points’ dealt with fear, hatred, love and division. Presenting a selection of work by four Palestinian artists, it was a clever response to the totalitarian discourses found in the Western media regarding the situation in the Middle East. There is no war between barbarism and civilisation, and art is possibly the best medium to initiate dialogue among human beings. Curated by Soha Shoman, the show reflected the intelligence of a Middle East where not everyone is a fundamentalist.

Olu Oguibe
Notable was the small show, ‘Distant Relatives/Relative Distance’ at Michael Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa. Featuring the works of African artists such as Odita, Julie Mehretu, Senam Okudzeto, Wangechi Mutu and Barthélémy Toguo as well as the more established Kwesi Owusu-Ankomah, the exhibition deftly called attention to the disparities between artists who are otherwise often lumped together in an endless cycle of Afro-mega-road tours across Europe and America with little exploration of their individual peculiarities.

Daniel Palmer
At the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, ‘Adventures with Form in Space’, the Balnaves Foundation Sculpture Project 2006, curated by Wayne Tunnicliffe, featured a series of visually stimulating work. Hany Armanious, Damiano Bertoli, Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro, Jonathan Jones, Nick Mangan, John Meade and Nike Savvas exhibited a range of sculpture from vibrating coloured balls to light sculptures inspired by Aboriginal motifs – reinventing Modernist experiments with shapes, voids, colours and materials. In Melbourne, notable shows included Juliana Engberg’s ‘Unquiet World’ at ACCA and Zara Stanhope’s ‘We Know Who We Are’ at Gertrude (whose title is an ironic appropriation of our unlovable Prime Minister’s phrase about ‘Australian values’, endlessly repeated in the face of overt racism).

Cristina Ricupero
‘Le Voyage Intérieur’ was an eccentric and possibly radical step in curatorial experimentation. Alexis Vaillant and Alex Farquharson managed the difficult task of transforming the awkward space of l’Espace EDF Electra in Paris into a crazy labyrinth where fascination, beauty and artifice reigned. The itinerary began with ‘The Metaphysical Corridor’ – a gloomy, dark-blue walkway of moving curtains punctuated by Darth Vader’s voice – succeeded by a series of other spaces such as ‘The Time Machine’, ‘The Black Vampire Rubber Zone’ and even ‘The Infinite White Cube’. Contemporary art was seen through the prism of Symbolist decadence in a highly fictitious domestic environment where the overabundance of fascinating, threatening or repulsive objects could provoke embarrassing sensations and realised one of the curatorial intentions: ‘décor as a form of resistance’.

Ali Subotnick
‘The Société Anonyme: Modernism for America’, at the UCLA Hammer Museum, honouring the early ‘experimental museum of modern art’ founded by Marcel Duchamp and Katherine S. Dreier with Man Ray, was a timely and overdue endeavour. Their contribution to American art and the introduction of early 20th-century European art to America was invaluable. There are mis-steps and strange tangents, and all of this seen together makes for an enlightening trip back in time to a moment when everything was new and anything was possible. And the recreation of the first exhibition, which featured Duchamp’s jokey inclusion of white doilies on the frames, truly transported visitors to that time and the incredible potential of the moment.

Jochen Volz
Carolina Grau at the Galeria Luisa Strina, São Paulo, curated a delicate group exhibition of small-scale works themed around appropriation and prohibition, entitled ‘Contrabando’ (Smuggling). The show discussed in a playful but precise way strategies of subversiveness, and included excellent works by Alexandre da Cunha, Carlos Garaicoa, Jorge Macchi, Lawrence Weiner, Marepe and Urs Fischer.