Friedlander has a New York eye. A wandering New York eye. He relishes the kaleidoscopic street, and he has a restless, expansive sensibility. His photographs don’t seem to settle anything once and for all, but, instead, lead to ever more glimpses, insights, and perspectives. He’s often on the move, roaming the country, taking pictures that capture the character of person and place. The retrospective of almost 50 years of his work at the Museum of Modern Art added up to an unforgettable portrait of twentieth-century America.
2 Elizabeth Murray
The painter’s retrospective at MoMA celebrated the slangy energy of an art that seems forever impatient with museum walls.
3 Jane Freilicher
Freilicher’s retrospective at the Tibor de Nagy gallery—mostly images of Water Mill and New York City—demonstrated that traditional painting can be as fresh as the seashore landscapes she often depicts.
*with a New York show this year
Best Museum Show
“History of History”
Organized by the photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto, this show at the Japan Society was the most original of the year. Sugimoto brought together about 80 objects, including exquisite fossils, traditional works of Japanese art, and his own serene seascapes. He even introduced his own photographs into other works. A starkly poetic meditation upon time and its artifacts, the show was also a reminder that museums too often bake art into a predictable academic pudding. Here, though, the individual imagination reigned. Rather than teach the history of art, Sugimoto made an art of history.
2 “Vincent Van Gogh:
The Drawings” and
That the Metropolitan Museum of Art could mount two shows of such power in the same month is more proof that the Met is now the best traditional museum in the world.
3 “Greater New York”
Organized by P.S. 1 and MoMA, “Greater New York” was a salon that few people loved—but that did the hard, necessary work of bringing new art into public view.
Best Emerging Artist
The revolution in digital and Internet technologies hasn’t had a major impact on art yet, but the geeks are hard at work. Not surprisingly, they often bring a Dada-like sense of play to their pop projects. The title of Cory Arcangel’s show at the gallery Team was “Welcome to my Homepage Artshow,” a sign of his move from the Internet into the art world. Arcangel first made a name working with hacked Nintendo cartridges but is now moving toward creating larger digital environments, often made in collaboration with other artists, that include video and music.
2 Adam McEwen
McEwen is part of a new generation of scabrous young nihilists. His show at Nicole Klagsbrun—a furious screw-’em-all view of the powerful—included fake, blown-up obits of various celebrities, ranging from Bill Clinton to Jeff Koons.
3 Phoebe Washburn
Washburn is an artist–pack rat who responds in a sly and comic way to a society constantly overwhelmed by stuff. She transforms abandoned materials into chaotic, fantastical constructions.
Best Single Work
‘Forty-Part Motet,’ Janet Cardiff
If “best” means “most surprising,” then Janet Cardiff’s Motet deserves the nod. Her sound sculpture, now in the contemporary galleries of the Museum of Modern Art, actually makes some visitors choke up. Of what other contemporary art can that be said? For Motet, Cardiff separately recorded each of the 40 vocal parts of Thomas Tallis’s great religious choral work Spem in Alium nunquam habui (1575). She then assigned each voice to one of 40 standing electronic speakers, which resemble a grouping of abstract figures. What happens when the singing starts is uncanny. Your body becomes woven into an environment of layered sound. You receive a physical, as well as spiritual, caress.
2 Rudolf Stingel
If “best” means satirizing the art world, then Stingel’s installation at the Paula Cooper gallery—a photo-realist portrait of Cooper herself placed like an altarpiece in a churchy minimalist space—is the winner. This deft conceptual work was simultaneously an homage and a brickbat.
3 Shirin Neshat
If “best” means creating serious political art, then Neshat’s Zarin at the Gladstone Gallery—a video about a prostitute’s developing madness—gets the award. Neshat’s work is becoming increasingly lush, emotional, and cinematic, which may dismay some of the cooler eyes in video art. Her imagery is powerful. It can claim your imagination before you know what you think.