BY Terence Trouillot in Reviews | 09 DEC 20

The Top Ten Shows in the US of 2020

From a survey of Zarina’s five-decade career to Ficre Ghebreyesus’s display of ethereal paintings, these are the best exhibitions of the year

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BY Terence Trouillot in Reviews | 09 DEC 20

Like many of us, I’d prefer to forget 2020. It’s been an extremely difficult year, to say the least. Yet, folks persevered, and things got done. Despite the COVID-19 health crisis, Black Lives Matter protests ensued globally, monuments fell and the art world was forced to reckon with the systemic racism that permeates its culture. While all this was happening – with the occasional pivot – galleries and museums continued with their programming as best they could, managing to produce a remarkable roster of exhibitions. Here are just a few of this year’s highlights.

 

Zarina, Veil, 2011, 22-karat gold leaf on bamboo blinds, 361 × 122 cm. Courtesy: © Zarina and Luhring Augustine, New York
Zarina, Veil, 2011, 22-karat gold leaf on bamboo blinds, 361 × 122 cm. Courtesy: © Zarina and Luhring Augustine, New York

Zarina
Pulitzer Arts Foundation
St. Louis, USA

‘Zarina: Atlas of Her World’ was a brilliant and long-overdue survey of the printmaker’s five-decade career that further explored her fascinations with architecture and mathematics. ‘The serene, meditative volumes of Tadao Ando’s Pulitzer Arts Foundation’, wrote Murtaza Vali, ‘are the ideal setting for this retrospective, which explores Zarina’s refined and restrained experiments with paper and printmaking, and her meditations on the comforts and vicissitudes of home.’

 

Noah Davis, Single Mother with Father Out of the Picture, olil, acrylic and graphite on canvas, 102 × 77 cm, 2007–2008. Courtesy and © the artist and The Estate of Noah Davis
Noah Davis, Single Mother with Father Out of the Picture, oil, acrylic and graphite on canvas, 102 × 77 cm, 2007-2008. Courtesy and © the artist and The Estate of Noah Davis

Noah Davis 
David Zwirner
New York, USA

Expertly curated by Helen Molesworth, ‘Noah Davis’ at David Zwirner was one of the most celebrated shows of this year. ‘This luminous exhibition’, wrote Erica N. Cardwell, ‘the largest ever presentation of work by [Davis], makes me wish I could have spent time with the artist’s brilliant mind. Absent of that possibility, the 20 paintings on display here demonstrate not only Davis’s technical skill but his lifelong dedication to Black art and artists.’

 

Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds, Color in Sky East, 1991, 15 pastel drawings on paper, 2.8 × 2.3 m. Courtesy: the artist and Fort Ganservoort, New York
Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds, Color in Sky East, 1991, 15 pastel drawings on paper, 2.8 × 2.3 m. Courtesy: the artist and Fort Ganservoort, New York 

Edgar Heap of Birds
Fort Gansevoort 
New York, USA

‘Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds works simultaneously in place and on the move,’ wrote Lou Cornum of the Oklahoma-based artist, who has shown internationally for decades. His survey exhibition at Fort Gansevoort displayed some of his most iconic works, including his pastel text drawings and mock street signs, that investigate issues around place and indigeneity. ‘Through powerful verbal juxtapositions, Heap of Birds articulates a political position in support of land-defenders and against militarism and corporate development as well as an ethical position, accountable to the land and the people who live off it.’

 

Nicole Eisenman, Procession, 2019-2020, installation view, ‘Nicole Eisenman: Sturm und Drang’, The Contemporary Austin. Courtesy: the artist, Vielmetter Los Angeles and Anton Kern Gallery, New York; photograph: The Contemporary Austin / Colin Doyle
Nicole Eisenman, Procession, 2019–2020, installation view, ‘Nicole Eisenman: Sturm und Drang’, The Contemporary Austin. Courtesy: the artist, Vielmetter Los Angeles and Anton Kern Gallery, New York; photograph: The Contemporary Austin / Colin Doyle

Nicole Eisenman 
The Contemporary Austin
Austin, USA

Curated by Heather Pesanti, ‘Sturm und Drang’ presented a slew of Eisenman’s paintings and sculptures that question grand historical narratives. ‘For Eisenman’, wrote Shiv Kotecha, ‘historical memory sometimes works like a blunt instrument. Against the many crises her painting and sculpture insistently refer to – climate collapse, the imbroglio of electoral politics, the dilapidated conditions of migrancy – we receive, unequivocally and without restraint, the gamut of the artist’s own experience saturated with the calamity of our collective present.’

 

Performance of Autumn Knight at The Kitchen, New York, 2020. Courtesy: the artist and The Kitchen, New York; photograph: © Paula Court
Performance of Autumn Knight at The Kitchen, New York, 2020. Courtesy: the artist and The Kitchen, New York; photograph: © Paula Court

Autumn Knight 
The Kitchen
New York, NY (Online)

In light of COVID-19 restrictions, Autumn Knight decided to live-stream three new performances on Twitch in lieu of her more interactive work. In her review of the show, Madeleine Seidel wrote: ‘This live feed is interspersed with security footage of The Kitchen’s bathroom and animations of hand gestures by the artist Adebukola Bodunrin. Knight’s actions frame The Kitchen as a complex setting: the institutional space is simultaneously described as a ‘cage’ in which racial, gendered and classist power mechanisms are at play, yet it also provides a blank slate for her artistic exploration of these societal ills.

 

Simon Denny, Amazon worker cage patent drawing as virtual King Island Brown Thornbill cage (US 9,280,157 B2: “System for transporting personnel within an active workspace”, 2016), 2019, powder-coated metal, MDF, plastic, UV print on cardboard, iOS augmented reality interface, 120 × 100 × 270 cm. Courtesy:  Studio Simon Denny
Simon Denny, Amazon worker cage patent drawing as virtual King Island Brown Thornbill cage (US 9,280,157 B2: “System for transporting personnel within an active workspace”, 2016), 2019, powder-coated metal, MDF, plastic, UV print on cardboard, iOS augmented reality interface, 120 × 100 × 270 cm. Courtesy: Studio Simon Denny and De Young Museum, San Francisco

‘Uncanny Valley’
De Young
San Francisco, USA

With works by Ian Cheng, Simon Denny, Agnieszka Kurant and others, ‘Uncanny Valley’ deftly examined the dangers of AI technology. ‘The show’s title’, wrote Fanny Singer, ‘is a nod, of course, to nearby Silicon Valley – of which San Francisco has increasingly become an annex – but also reflects the show’s intent: to look not broadly at how technology has seeped into art, but at how the definition of what constitutes “humanness” has been blurred by advancements in artificial intelligence and how artists are metabolizing these developments.’

 

Thenjiwe Nikki Nkosi, Suspension , 2020, video still. Courtesy: the artist and Stevenson Gallery.
Thenjiwe Nikki Nkosi, Suspension , 2020, video still. Courtesy: the artist and Stevenson Gallery. 

‘FIVE’
We Buy Gold
New York, USA (Online)

This online exhibition, curated by artist Nina Chanel Abney, featured works by Nick Cave, Azikiwe Mohamed and Sondra Perry, among others. ‘It brings together more than a dozen moving-image works’, wrote Anthony Hawley, ‘centred around a quintet of pressing sentiments for this moment: anxiety, stillness, isolation, escapism and fear. The works in this exhibition explore these emotional states in complex and shifting configurations. In the best possible sense, nothing ever fully settles in ‘FIVE’, and the result is a curated online project as elusive as the gallery itself.’

 

Mangia Libro , c.2007 Acrylic on canvas 54.25 x 48.1 inches (137.8 x 122.2 cm
Ficre Ghebreyesus, Mangia Libro, c.2007, acrylic on canvas, 137.8 x 122.2 cm. Courtesy: Galerie Lelong & Co., New York

Ficre Ghebreyesus
Galerie Lelong & Co.
New York, USA

The late artist’s first solo show in New York presented 21 lush paintings that retraced the histories of his life in his home country of Eritrea. Rebecca Rose Cuomo wrote in her review: ‘Ficre Ghebreyesus’s art conjures liminal spaces where water and earth, beginning and end, reality and fiction converge […] The shallow pictorial space coupled with the loose, ethereal rendering of the scene complements Ghebreyesus’s own process of fusing real and imagined elements of his past: a synthesis of fact and fiction.’

 

Timur Si-Qin, La Guardiana del Río Rinquia, 2020, ABS, enamel, 83 × 241 × 180 cm. Courtesy: the artist and von ammon co., Washington, D.C.
Timur Si-Qin, La Guardiana del Río Rinquia, 2020, ABS, enamel, 83 × 241 × 180 cm. Courtesy: the artist and von ammon co., Washington, D.C.

Timur Si-Qin
von ammon co.
Washington, D.C., USA

As part of his ongoing ‘New Peace’ project, the artist presented a suite of new works that speak to the West’s exploitation of the natural world. ‘Si-Qin’s solo show’, wrote Ian Bourland, ‘continues a run at the [von ammon co.] of new-media work that would feel bleeding edge even in Berlin, where the artist is based […] Si-Qin’s tech-mediated oeuvre, high gloss aside, confronts us head on with the sublime terror of collapsing ecological and social systems and the non-European forms of knowledge that may restore them. Don’t turn away.’

 

MARIANNE BOESKY GALLERY BOESKYGALLERY.COM 212.680.9889 347.296.3667 TELEPHONE FAX NEW YORK | ASPEN Sanford Biggers Lady Interbellum , 2020 White marble on custom cedar plinth Marble, 157.5 x 114.3 x 104.1 c
Sanford Biggers, Lady Interbellum, 2020, white marble on custom cedar plinth, 157.5 × 114.3 ×104.1 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Marianne Boesky, New York

Sanford Biggers
Marianne Boesky & The Bronx Museum
New York, NY

With two concurrent shows up in New York – ‘Codeswitch’ and ‘Soft Truths’ – the artist celebrated an institutional survey of his quilt-based works and a gallery exhibition showcasing his most recent sculptures in marble. ‘Especially stunning’, wrote Rahel Aima, ‘are the four works from Biggers’s latest series, ‘Chimeras’ (2020–ongoing). Made from cool Italian and Portuguese marble, these figurative sculptures synthesize African and European forms and suggest an inversion of Frantz Fanon’s Back Skin, White Masks (1952) […] Biggers’s chopped-and-screwed process makes time and history feel elastic and multidirectional, even as it adds a new verse to a very old song.’

Main Image: ‘Noah Davis’, 2020, exhibition view, David Zwirner, New York. Courtesy: the artist, The Estate of Noah Davis and David Zwirner, Paris /New York/ London/ Hong Kong

Terence Trouillot is associate editor of frieze. He lives in New York, USA.

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