“That is, all time
Reduces to no special time. No one
Alludes to the change; to do so might
Involve calling attention to oneself
Which would augment the dread of not getting out
Before having seen the whole collection
(Except for the sculptures in the basement:
They are where they belong).
Our time gets to be veiled, compromised
By the portrait’s will to endure. It hints at
Our own, which we were hoping to keep hidden.
We don’t need paintings or
Doggerel written by mature poets when
The explosion is so precise, so fine.
Is there any point even in acknowledging
The existence of all that? Does it
-John Ashbery, “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”
Visual art is a key part of my cultural diet. One I’ve come to a little later. Even when I’m with someone at a gallery and discussing what we’re seeing, there’s a particular being-alone with a piece that lends itself to introspection and takes me to the same places as poetry.
That said, there are exhibits I gleaned the most pleasure from sitting around talking about after the fact – this year’s Whitney Biennial, for instance. I wouldn’t trade the hour dissecting it with Anne at the Corner Bistro or the hour talking about it with Tutti Jackson and Jeff Regensburger at Ace of Cups for anything, but those conversations and negotiations stuck with me long after any aesthetic charge.
These are the opposite, these 15 shows nagged at me and wouldn’t let me go.Trying to add in some photographs – what has a picture doesn’t correlate to liking it more than other work, but I’m far more likely to experiment with snapping a picture in an empty gallery than a full museum where I might be in somebody’s way. Unless noted, everything here is in Columbus.
- Jean-Michel Basquiat, The Unknown Notebooks (Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland) – Basquiat is an artist perpetually extending the limits of what we know and how we understand. Just when I believe I’ve gone to that well more than enough times, I’m lucky enough to see a show or some scholarship that explodes those parameters. This was the best example in recent memory. His young notebooks as a nascent flowering of his work’s complicated relationship to text and typography, every few steps my hair stood on end.
- Various Artists, Gray Matters (Wexner Center for the Arts) – This shot across the bow from the Wex’s new Senior Curator Michael Goodson beguiled and staggered me. The varieties of gray gave the galleries an uncanny calm, drawing the audience into the kaleidoscopic approaches and perspectives. I made it to this almost 10 times and still didn’t get my fill. Suzanne McClelland’s Rank (Billionaires) resonated the Mike Ladd lyric “We are the size of constellations in the path of wrathful idiots” in my head whenever I wandered through it. Mickalene Thomas’ “Hair Portrait (20)” used her signature rhinestones to look at black glamor and black women in the world. Roni Horn’s “Opposites of White” like two looking pools but with concrete and glass. So much to see and breathe in and grapple with.
- Various Artists, We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965-1985 (Brooklyn Museum, NYC) – The Brooklyn Museum has one of the most engaging, challenging programs of any of the New York institutions. This exposed me to artists I should have known, and I didn’t, along with favorites of mine like Carrie Mae Weems. The strain of revolutionary work in this fraught period in American history was intoxicating, from Dingda McCammon’s totemic mixed-media myth-making to Emma Amos’ work on paper which put the interrogation of the image in the foreground… every medium represented and not in the way you’d necessarily expect. Ephemera from collectives like the Weusi provided context and connective tissue between the diverse artists.
- Alice Neel, Alice Neel, Uptown (David Zwirner, NYC) – I knew Alice Neel’s work pretty well but this collection of her time living uptown in New York burned cataracts off my eyes. An equanimity marks Neel’s work here. We feel her real desire to understand everyone she’s painting, from a “random” person down the street to more famous subjects like Alice Childress. My high off the clear-eyed and razor-edged empathy here lasted the rest of this (terrific) New York trip.
- Carmen Herrera, Line of Sight (Wexner Center for the Arts) – Columbus is lucky to have gotten this first exhibition of Herrera’s in 20 years right after the Whitney. This is the perfect example of someone drilling ever deeper into a language and, by the same token, language itself. Precarious and impossibly strong, how much can you say with two colors and how much can you hide? Exquisite.
- Hope Gangloff, S/T (Susan Inglett Gallery, NYC) – My favorite new painter. This exhibition caught my eye from the street and grabbed me by the collar. An intense desire to know her subjects that resonated with the Alice Neel mentioned above but with a perpetual-motion jangle in tune with today. Colors at play reminded me of Seurat but also the Hernandez Brothers. I loved the use of blurring. In the painting shown here, there’s a tattoo not indistinct because it doesn’t matter but drawn in the blur redolent of memory.
- Various Artists, Making Space: Women Artists and Post-War Abstraction (Museum of Modern Art, NYC) – This was the big-ticket, bursting at the seams show MoMA does better than any museum I’ve ever visited. A glimpse into the depth and breadth of that amazing collection, featuring work not hung often enough. Big, bold work by Joan Mitchell and Lee Bontecou, more austere abstractions from Agnes Martin. This was an embarrassment of riches there would never be enough time for.
- Honore Sharrer, A Dangerous Woman (Columbus Museum of Art) – My favorite show at the revitalized Columbus Museum of Art since the new wing opened a couple years ago, and there have been doozies. This was a remarkable look at one of the great American surrealist painters who was not on my radar at all. If this touring show comes anywhere near you, please check it out.
- Nina Chanel Abney, Seized the Imagination (Jack Shainman Gallery, NYC) – This show was a tightly clenched fist and an explosion. Pop art and street art iconography in riveting compositions. I couldn’t get enough of these paintings. The fuck-you our time needs, not blunted or weakened, but with a formal rigor that lent itself to diving deep and fighting to unpack it.
- Josephine Halvorson, As I Went Walking (Sikkema Jenkins, NYC) – Josephine Halvorson’s paintings remind me of Annie Baker’s plays in her attention to perfect details and dedication to turning up the realism until its surreal nature won’t be ignored. This walk her new work guided us on was full of the dread, strangeness, and wonder we should all stay in touch with. This magical, horrifying world.
- Jane Hammond, Search Light (Galerie Lelong, NYC) – Jane Hammond’s work was new to me and this gallery show blew me away. These mystical, terrifying encaustics highlighted the magic and the secret languages laid over seemingly mundane, everyday events.
- Suzanne Silver, Codes and Contingences (Beeler Gallery) – I wish I could have shown this gallery exhibit to every genre writer of my acquaintance. It summed up the fevered mind, the paranoid state, that might be the only sane approach to the current moment. The intense, desperation to control in the meticulously cataloged pieces removed from the ever sparser gallery? So much to unpack but everything suffused with sensation.
- Richard Serra, Sculpture and Drawings (David Zwirner, NYC) – Any time I get to see new Richard Serra, it’s a good month/year for me. His work is like a sauna for the soul; I feel myself sweating out toxins and anxieties buried down deep. A holy, purifying thing.
- Various Artists, Visions of India (Pizzuti Collection) – The Pizzuti Collection grows into itself and finds its niche in the Columbus market. This look at contemporary Indian art featured well-known-in-the-US blue-chip artists like Anish Kapoor and Vibha Galhorta alongside stunning work from people unknown to me like Sheila Makhijani and Jitish Kallat. I could have gone to this three more times and not absorbed it all.
- Roxy Paine, Seronin Reuptake Inhibitor (Beeler Gallery) – Back on the feelings of dread, these empty, perfect-until-you-notice-the-perspective dioramas behind glass pounded the breath right out of my lungs.