The Artists' Artists: To Take Stock of the Past Year, Artforum Contacted an International Group of Artists to Find out Which Exhibitions and Events Were, in Their Eyes, the Very Best of 2009
MATTHEW COOLIDGE Lucy Ravon.chino Town Shown this year at the Bureau of Land Management in Ely, Nevada, and outdoors in the center of LA's Chinatown (among other venues), this photo-animated video is about the passage of copper ore around the world, from an old mining community near Ely to a smelter in China. It describes our global position at the fulcrum of transition where holes are dug in the American West to wire the developing world, and it does so while recognizing the local, at both ends as well as along the way. Raven allowed this wide-eyed and open-minded project to be led by evidence of the conditions she encountered. Work like this bypasses the veneers of media, taking us closer to the true stories of the land we transform and inhabit.
"Art of Two Germanys" (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) Aside from this show's sociopolitical importance, and how carefully it travels through the complicated and layered history of twentieth-century Germany, what really won me over was seeing many of my favorite contemporary artists--Genzken, Trockel, Schutte, the Bechers, Palermo, Farocki, and Polke--under one roof and contextualized by their historical antecedents in a single exhibition. Just as compelling were obscure works by Hermann Glockner, whose brilliant cut-up and folded cardboard pieces easily diverted my attention from the work I knew I liked. Using only crude materials, this East German modernist managed to create objects that completely transcend the political, epitomizing a kind of vibrant existence that I recognized in traces throughout this great survey of German art.
"Don Grgham: Beyond" Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles Lying on the carpet in the back corner of a dark screening room, hiding from other museum visitors and absorbing the shot of Black Flag's Henry Rollins writhing onstage at the beginning of Rock My Religion, 1982-84, I thought: How could Dan Graham have made this twenty-five years ago? Walking back through the galleries, two of his glass-and-mirror works stopped me in my tracks: Girls' Make-Up Room (1998-2000) and Public Space/Two Audiences (1976). I left the show slack-jawed.
Leon Kossoff (Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York)
Within Kossoff's paintings, scale looms large. His figures are monstrous, their mouths and nostrils agape like horrendous voids. Due to the overtly physical presence of paint and the thinglike quality of the individual, heavily laden brushstrokes, these works are literal in their process. Yet the coalescence of medium and figurative depiction could be considered ghostly--breathing human beings morbidly decomposing into discrete, pictorial elements--and also geologic: The images of his models are fixed in a mass of earth-toned color that hardens to become rocklike matter. Kossoff's figures echo the fate of all human bodies: They become ground and fossilize.
Michael Rakowitz (Modem Art, Oxford, UK) This spring, I came across a table of small handcrafted objects from 2007 with a title that began "The invisible enemy should not exist." Those same words can be found on the ancient Ishtar Gate, which once led to the temple of Babylon and now resides at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Although Rakowitz is an American artist whose work has been widely shown, including in New York, I'd never heard of him until this year. Refashioning missing relics--in this case, from the National Museum in Baghdad--out of commercial wrapping, bags, and boxes from Middle Eastern products, he says his interest is in a "politics of visibility." Rakowitz makes copy-objects that can only be described as poor and pathetic--and strong.
SUSANNE M. WINTERLING
Anja Kirschnei rind David Panos, "The Last Days of Jack Sheppard" (Badischer Kunstverein. Karlsruhe, Germany) I loved Christoph Schlingensief's Mea Culpa, Thomas Kilpper's "State of Control," and Vaginal Davis's "Rising Stars, Falling Stars," but, as a filmmaker, I have chosen instead to write about an exhibition anchored by a film: Kirschner and Panos's farcical costume drama about Jack Sheppard, now cast as a hero of "escapism. …