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The Top Nine Shows (and One Event)

6. Jeffrey Wells
For his sleeper show, Wells projected barely visible auras of light, shifting blips, and flickering effects on the white walls and onto the furnishings. Visitors experienced the vision that happens without lenses, the glitches, negative images, flashes, and floaters our eyes produce.

7. Fia Backström
In her White Columns outing, Backström mined the scraps of her life, using art by friends, copies of e-mails, texts, and other bits of print. In the process, she transformed appropriation art for the Web era, saying (as one bit of her text puts it), “Sometimes words are more than enough, or not sufficient at all.”

8. Carroll Dunham
A survey of Dunham’s paintings from the eighties illustrated the ways this artist carried on a shamanic call-and-response between his inner self and his materials. He didn’t just paint over wood; he painted in concert with it, augmenting grain, knots, and irregularities—in a sense, speaking with trees and art history. His technique paved the way for many artists who used material as a living thing rather than just something to cover up.

9. The Olympics: Opening and Closing Ceremonies
Two performances were as far as possible from the gallery system, but both sent a big message: China rules. On 8/8/08, in one of the most terrifyingly totalitarian events ever organized, the Beijing Olympics began with 15,000 perfectly synchronized performers. Sixteen days later, Great Britain laid out a sad pastiche: a double-decker bus, Jimmy Page playing “Whole Lotta Love,” and David Beckham kicking a football into the crowd. No comparison.

10. “Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns?”
Alternative spaces staged a lot of good group shows this year, from Sculpture Center’s “We Burn, We Shiver” (pictured) to “Minus Space” at P.S. 1. But the gold goes to “Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns?” at Tony Shafrazi, where aesthetic hierarchy ran wild, art hung over pictures of other art, and Shafrazi nearly apologized for vandalizing Guernica—then didn’t.


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