Daniel Mendel-Black, "The Paintings Are Alive" (Mandarin Gallery, Los Angeles) The eleven paintings in this show seemed to create a place for the palette of PlayDoh to oppress acrylic and oil into some perilous graphic universe of cynical optimism. Looking is like falling in these paintings; your eyes are asked to trust and mistrust hard and soft edges, cheap, edible color, and idiotic enunciations of "structure." The paintings then play morbid by reiterating the same activity in black, white, and gray. The artist has also written a response to David Salle's text "The Paintings Are Dead." There is a restless energy to Mendel-Black's writing that is analogous to the deadpan hysteria of his paintings, and I liked the non-fortifying presence of this discourse.
Ceal Floyer (Swiss Institute, New York) This show, on view toward the end of 2006 (too late to make last year's "Best of" issue), featured three diverse, precise installations. The most memorable, Double Act, 2006, consists of a large white spotlight fixed on a red theatrical curtain. But, in fact, this is an illusion: Spotlight and curtain alike are a projection on the wall. As spectators come closer, their shadows enter the work, and the viewers' participation becomes the subject.
"Maps and Atlases" (The Abbey Library of St. Gallen, Switzerland) Fantastical imagery of the world in an old cartographic inventory from the eighth to seventeenth centuries, including mappae mundi, manuscripts, and prints. The maps invoke a specific imagination of continents, seas, islands, mountains, towers, fauna, mythology, and history, which are detailed in extraordinary drawings, presenting the intersection of imperialism and mapmaking. And how remarkable to see maps made of the world when it was thought to be flat!
"Robert Gober: Work 1976-2007" (Schaulager, Basel) What gives the sinks their whiteness? Enamel, or sperm? A Winchester rifle, floppy like a penis after orgasm, is draped over a crate of apples. A metal drainage pipe pierces the lifeless body of the Madonna. The rest of humanity has fallen to pieces. Water flows, cleansing but not purifying. The serial killer is watching: He doesn't kill me this time; he takes me with him.
Shaun El C. Leonardo, "The Whole 'Dam Show" (March Gallery, New York) I'm into hero mythologies, so I was intrigued by Leonardo's poetic and at times violent exhibition, which somehow maintained an inner fragility. The works, mostly self-portraits, express a subtle hopelessness with each gesture toward an impossible ideal. This show elaborated upon his earlier El Conquistador vs. The Invisible Man performances; moving beyond the image of the wrestler, Leonardo depicted a number of godlike characters in a variety of media, including thoughtful and deftly rendered drawings.
JENNIFER ALLORA AND GUILLERMO CALZADILLA
William Bennett, Russell Haswell, and Toshiji Mikawa (IKKI Bar, Kitakyushu, Japan) This brutal sonic affirmation by the vanguard of noise music was nothing short of a revelation. That the performance took place in a small bar with a maximum occupancy of maybe ten people only made the resounding attack all the more monstrous!
"All in the present must be transformed: Matthew Barney and Joseph Beuys" (Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin) An amazing show that illuminated the commonalities between two artists of seemingly different styles and generations. Not merely the best exhibition of 2007 but the best I've seen in three years. I hope curators will emulate this approach, rather than recycle the same old themes. Be fresh, have a new point of view.
Isa Genzken, Oil (German Pavilion, Venice Biennale) This …