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 “Fra Angelico”
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.
The Short List
Best Apocalyptic Art
Takashi Murakami’s “Little Boy: The Art of Japan’s Exploding Subculture”
Murakami, who was known primarily for his cute “superflat” paintings and cutesier handbags for Vuitton, traced his wide-eyed otaku culture back to the A-bomb in the group show he assembled at the Japan Society.
Best New Chelsea Gallery
Freight & Volume
Ground-floor newbies in Chelsea are growing rare, at least if you’re not counting galleries opening their fourth branches—so the arrival of former LFL partner Nick Lawrence’s Freight & Volume last fall was a pleasant surprise. His first show (paintings and videos by Ludwig Schwartz) was open for all of one evening, but the schedule quickly settled into a more conventional rhythm (look for monthlong stints by Asuka Ohsawa and the team of Andrew and Elizabeth Neel this winter).
Best New Non-Chelsea Gallery
A gallery named for a fictitious artist, herself the brainchild of a collective called the Bernadette Corporation, Reena Spaulings would seem to personify the maddeningly insiderish side of the art world. But the Grand Street gallery, opened in 2004, is more than just a prank. In the past year it’s come of age, launching the careers of Seth Price and Klara Liden, among others, and Spaulings (or rather, the gallery’s founders, John Kelsey and Emily Sundblad) will play a prominent role in the next Whitney Biennial.
Best Chelsea Megagallery
Larry Gagosian may have more square footage, but this year, Marks came closest to turning his gallery into a mini-museum. The Chelsea pioneer’s spring lineup included photographs by Peter Hujar (anticipating a current P.S. 1 show), sculptor Robert Gober’s first New York show in eleven years, and the first presentation anywhere of new paintings by Jasper Johns since his 1996 MoMA retrospective. The Modern itself even acquired the whole Gober show as a single installation (running water, lactating headless Jesus, and all).
Best (and Most Ridiculous) Opening
Damien Hirst at Gagosian
With a queue down the block by 7 p.m. and Hirst skull T-shirts for sale inside, the Brit art star’s New York opening (of “Damien Hirst: The Elusive Truth”) on March 11 might as well have been a sold-out rock show. The after-party at Lever House, where hedge-fund guys ogled gallerinas and bemused curators whispered about the rumored sale prices ($2 million for one of those lousy canvases?!), was aptly described by an Artforum reporter: “celebrating the end of art.”
Smartest Curatorial Acquisition
Laura Hoptman, by the New Museum
Looking forward to settling in at its new home on the Bowery, the New Museum of Contemporary Art has made another shrewd move—luring this talented curator back to New York. Hoptman’s “Drawing Now” show for MoMA (where she was an assistant curator for six years before jumping to the Carnegie Museum) anticipated the most significant art-world trend of the past few years, and her Carnegie International last winter made Pittsburgh a mandatory stop on the collectors’ circuit.
Best Group Show
“Bridge Freezes Before Road”
Group shows are often just scheduling placeholders, for those summer months when everyone’s out of town. But Neville Wakefield’s show for Barbara Gladstone proved unexpectedly popular, as art lovers (and a few celebrities) braved the heat to see work by young artists under the sway of seventies conceptualists like Robert Smithson.
Best Surprising Career Move
Debra Singer goes to the Kitchen
Just after pulling off an acclaimed (for once) Whitney Biennial with Chrissie Iles and Shamim Momim, curator Deb Singer jumped to the Chelsea space known more for live performance (think Laurie Anderson) than visual art. In her first year and a half on the job, cheaper tickets, video work as good as anything at neighboring art-only galleries, and special events like a block party with Friends of the High Line have re-established the Kitchen as an accessibly avant-garde, truly interdisciplinary venue.
Best Show Title
“I find a Burberry scarf and matching coat with a whale embroidered on it (something a little kid might wear) and it’s covered with what looks like dried chocolate syrup crisscrossed over the front”
For the record, the name of David Ratcliff’s show this past April at Team comes from Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho.
The Five Best Paintings*
Dana Schutz’s Presentation, from “Greater NY” (now at MoMA), left.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (Boxer), from the Brooklyn Museum’s “Basquiat,” top middle.
Elizabeth Murray’s Do the Dance, from her MoMA retrospective, top right.
Luc Tuymans’s The Secretary of State, at David Zwirner, bottom middle.
Adam Cvijanovic’s Love Poem, Ten Minutes After the End of Gravity, at Bellwether this fall, bottom right.
*from this year’s shows
The Five Best New Buildings
The city’s five best new buildings have some things in common. None is in the familiar fillet neighborhoods of Manhattan—most were built along one two-mile stretch of the West Side waterfront, and the others are in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Four out of five are all about glass, and the same four were designed by New Yorkers. None is large.But they are also quite different, ranging from an evanescent exhibition space built for $80 a square foot to institutional buildings ($300 and $400 a square foot) to hyperluxurious condos ($4,000 a square foot). And the architects run the gamut as well, from little-known yeoman to mainstreaming avant-gardist to bona fide name brand.
The Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections at the New York Botanical Garden, the Bronx, by Mitchell-Giurgola. High-tech Victoriana—two greenhouses containing eight computer-controlled “growing zones.” The public is allowed inside only one section, but the view from outside at dusk is splendid.
The West Midtown Ferry Terminal, Pier 79, by William Nicholas Bodouva. The city is the client, a former Port Authority architect is the designer—and this elegant, sui generis thing results? From the West Side Highway you see a pair of clear-glass bookends on each side of the old Art Deco Lincoln Tunnel ventilation towers—but the glass loops around on the river side as well, enclosing a café and waiting area for six new ferry slips.
Higgins Hall Center Section, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, by Steven Holl. For once, a “deconstructivist” gesture makes beautiful sense, functionally and poetically: Because the new structure needed to connect two nineteenth-century buildings whose floor plates don’t match, the asymmetry was expressed on the exterior and turned into lively multilevel studio space inside. (Disclosure: I’m a Pratt Institute trustee.)
165 Charles Street, by Richard Meier. The third and largest and sleekest of Meier’s three modernist condo jewel boxes on the West Side Highway. The profligacy ($20 million townhouse-size duplex penthouse, 55-foot swimming pool, 35-seat screening room) is almost enough to ruin the pleasure of ogling it.
The Nomadic Museum, Pier 54, by Shigeru Ban. Constructed from shipping containers, two-foot-thick paper tubes, and a 40-foot curtain made from a million tea bags to contain one photographer’s wildlife pictures, it was simply awesome. And it existed in New York only for the spring.
The Year of the Spectacle
The year began with a winter festival, as Christo and Jeanne-Claude swaddled Central Park in orange. No one ever adequately explained the why or wherefore of The Gates, but explanations were never the point of the exercise. Fervently promoted by Mayor Bloomberg, The Gates generated a huge amount of attention, drawing thousands of visitors to New York. It became a citywide distraction and conversation piece—a spectacle for spectacle’s sake. Later in the year came Robert Smithson’s Floating Island, a less flashy but more penetrating work of public art than The Gates. A tugboat pulled what looked like a small piece of Central Park around Manhattan—a lovely and resonant gesture, akin to a religious procession, that seemed to trace out something essential about New York’s nature.
Not all serious artists or curators are seduced by public spectacle, of course, but many of the most ambitious today want splash. The Guggenheim doesn’t just do a Russian show, it does “Russia,” and even that isn’t enough. It must be “russia!” On a New York City pier, the photographer Gregory Colbert opened his own “Nomadic Museum” in which he depicted animals and humans meeting in a kind of cosmic kiss. Larry Gagosian is the emblematic art dealer of the moment. His last show was Mike Kelley’s “Day Is Done,” billed as a gallerywide “musical” and composed of 32 blinking video projections inspired by the extracurricular activities in a typical high school. Another American spectacle.
It seemed odd that the outsize performance works that bracketed the year—The Gates and Floating Island—were conceived long ago, in the seventies, and then came to fruition only in 2005. But their emergence now was not just a coincidence. We’re becoming a culture ever more hungry for public spectacle, and it’s not surprising that art itself—no stranger historically to extravagant effects—partakes of that hunger. (The most monstrous extravaganza of the age was surely the attack upon the World Trade Center: Terrorists, too, depend upon the politics of spectacle.) The result of this craving can be as vulgar as reality TV, in which fools make spectacles of themselves, or as sublime as Smithson’s quixotic ritual.
The Industry Award
Matthew Higgs, White Columns
In the year since the English curator Matthew Higgs arrived at White Columns, he’s turned New York’s oldest alternative space into an intergenerational, international hive of talent and energy. He combines considered trend-spotting with a punky spirit informed by his years in the late-seventies northern-England music scene (at 16, he promoted New Order’s first U.K. gig). His shows have included “Trade,” which cheekily sent up the art boom by featuring works swapped by artists; “Post No Bills,” a boisterous aggregation of poster art; and “Odd Lots,” curated by Cabinet magazine and devoted to cult figure and White Columns founder Gordon Matta-Clark. (The Whitney has even shown Higgs’s own text-based art.) “I’m interested in the space between the commercial galleries and the larger institutions,” Higgs says. “Here in New York, I think, there’s a really huge gap.”