"Edvard Munch: The Modern Life of the Soul" (Museum of Modern Art, New York) In a rather cynical mode, I trudged uptown one day last spring to see the Munch show at MOMA for what I thought would be a cliche-ridden overview of Nordic gloom-goth. What I got instead was a hard punch to the gut: powerful color, radical ideas about the depiction of memory as space, paintings with emotional vanishing points rather than rational optical ones--The Scream was the least of it. I left slack-jawed. Munch came at me like a spider monkey!
"Fischli & Weiss: Flowers & Questions. A Retrospective" (Tate Modern, London) The physical balance and the constant conversation among their different works was a complete treat for all the senses.
Ishtar Gate (Pergamon Museum, Berlin) The best thing I've seen all year is this Babylonian wall, circa 575 BC. I suppose the original "artists" were slaves. I think the issues surrounding this object, not just who made it but also how and why such a creative endeavor should exist, are still relevant today. Plus, the structure itself is full of wonder.
"Set in Stone: The Face in Medieval Sculpture" (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) Oddity: that the Met would have so much important medieval art. Expanse: conservatives used it to go backward, liberals to go forward. Pleasure: sculpture used for pure expression to get to the bottom of emotion. Rarity: that a field so out of date could look so contemporary; the mix of familiar and unfamiliar.
Christian Boltanski and Jean Kalman, "The Last Class" (Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial, Tokyo) As is typical of Boltanski's work, visitors were drawn into a world of absence, memories, and lost time. He and his collaborator, Kalman, completely took over an abandoned school and transformed it with installations, objects, and eerie sounds. As I moved through the darkness, lit only by Boltanski's trademark yellow lightbulbs, I felt like the main character in a David Lynch movie. The show had a strong emotional impact, evoking amazement, sadness, fear, and fascination; it made me understand what is meant by unheimlich. Sometimes I still hear those bumping sounds coming from far, far away....
"Zaha Hadid: Thirly Years in Architecture" (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York) Picture a museum after art, where practitioners from other fields do everything artists used to do but do it backward, at the service of some other function. Picture a museum where paintings are meant only to result in buildings and cities, where reliefs are plans and models, sculpture and installation are by-products of furniture, video supports architectural animations, performance is replaced by the presence of an architect who walks and talks like a performer. This show anticipates that museum: It's coming, it's coming, it's already here ... isn't it? Now if only somebody hadn't stopped her from warping the edge of Wright's spiral.... But then again, the show would have become architecture; and architecture (or is it renovation, or is it combat?) is--and should be--elsewhere.
JODI, "Max Payne Cheats Only: Demo and Q & A" (Electronic Arts Intermix, New York) I've seen countless noise bands/performance acts, but the only one ever to clear a concert hall was JODI, playing in Barcelona in 2001. This year I went to another of their shows, and time hasn't dimmed their impact one bit: Was it a video screening? A demonstration? Were things working? What the hell was going on? This confusion, of course, is their work, and all the chaos, inconsistencies, and awkward silences reminded me that JODI are still the most important artists working with computers today.
Shaun El C. …