What Did Artists Love In 2015? A Survey

Installation view of Martine Syms's "Vertical Elevated Oblique” at Bridget Donahue Gallery.
(Bridget Donahue Gallery)

While you undoubtedly trust ARTINFO’s editorial judgment completely, sometimes it’s nice to have the critics step aside and find out which exhibitions thrilled, confounded, and excited actual artists. We reached out to some of our favorites and asked them to share with us their personal Best Of 2015 lists. For the cynics in the audience, a few contributors also anonymously noted what they hated this year, ranging from Wyatt Kahn at Performa — “a puppet show about a calculated art career, with his decorative wall-pendants as characters? F*ck you” — to eternal punching bag Jeff Koons and his gazing-ball paintings (“it felt like walking through a car showroom”). But enough trash-talk. There was plenty to admire over the past 12 months! Here are some picks, courtesy of Marilyn Minter, Betty Tompkins, Sara Cwynar, Trudy Benson, and many others.

— Martine Syms, “Vertical Elevated Oblique” at Bridget Donahue Gallery in New York, nominated by painter Sofia Leiby (who has her own solo show opening at Clifton Benevento on January 16).

— “Picasso Sculpture” at the Museum of Modern Art (on view through February 7), selected by Eddie Martinez.

— Shaun O’Dell, “Doubled” at Gallery 16 in San Francisco, nominated by artist and gallerist Ryan Wallace. “I spent several guided hours unravelling the mystery of this visually thrilling and curiosity-inducing endeavor,” he said. “The ‘Portals of the Past,’ Houdini, Berardi, and Hitchcock's ‘Vertigo,’ all make cameos as topiary, sculpture, painting, video, and installation. O’Dell’s hyper-specific mental map created an intellectual marathon through modes of thinking that graciously left ample room for my own meandering interpretations.”

— Graham Collins, “Stadiums,” at The Journal Gallery in Brooklyn, nominated by Ryan Wallace. “I had the privilege of watching this wildly ambitious project unfold, conceptually and literally, in a shared barn on Long Island,” Wallace said. “It was a perfect extension of Collins’s sensitive mining of marginalized cultures for conceptual and physical material, respectfully realized as massive monuments.”

— Rosy Keyser, “The Hell Bitch,” Maccarone in New York, selected by Wallace.

— Trevor Paglen at Metro Pictures in New York, selected by Wallace. “Paglen’s beautiful bait-and-switch of cloak-and-dagger antics mixed with sublime vistas picked up where his ‘CitizenFour’ cinematography left off,” Wallace said. “Again, material and presentation line up perfectly with his investigations and elevate his projects beyond ‘gotcha!’ moments to real introspection and reflection on our current state.”

— Erin Shirreff, “Arm’s Length,” at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. in New York, chosen by Sara Cwynar. “It should have felt old — cyanotypes, a projection of studio photography from the 1920s — but somehow she made it all feel new,” Cwynar noted. “Shirreff is great at combining different ways of working without making any one way feel like it is more worked out than the others. Also: great exhibition title.”

Donald Judd at David Zwirner in New York, selected by Martin Roth. “This show focused on Judd’s CorTen steel works,” Roth said. “Some of the floor-based works from 1989 looked so good that it makes his works at Dia look dusty. Four identically-sized units from 1991 with painted yellow backs, arranged in a square formation, blew my mind. This was maybe the best show of the year.”

Joseph Beuys at Mitchell-Innes & Nash in New York, chosen by Roth. “Five-hundred Beuys multiples in one show, from the Reinhard Schlegel collection,” Roth said. “It gave you a great insight into his practice and life. From his felt suit to a photo of him and his family watching television — it was all there.”

— Rachel Rose, “Everything And More” at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, selected by Roth. “This young artist makes me feel again,” he said. “A smart video, with emotions.”

— Jeremy Shaw, “Degenerative Imaging in the Dark,” at LambdaLambdaLambda in Pristina, Kosovo, chosen by Roth. “This show included glow-in-the-dark prints and a video that incorporated sequences from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ and other psychedelic scenes from film history,” Roth said. “Every 30 minutes florescent lights turned on, changing the vinyl cut-out prints — which referred to brain imaging — and causing them to glow strongly and then slowly fade. A mind-altering exhibition.”

— “Political Populism” at Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna, chosen by Roth. “A group exhibition with Trevor Paglen, Hito Steyerl, Flaka Haliti — some of my favorites — focused on the rise of political populism,” Roth explained. “What’s not to like?”

Doris Salcedo at the Guggenheim, nominated by Marilyn Minter. “I’ve always loved her work, but seeing it installed over a few floors deeply affected me,” she said. “Everything was so nuanced, delicately powerful, and deeply moving.” Minter also nodded to Laurie Simmons’s “How We See” at the Jewish Museum (“unnerving and disorienting in the best way”), as well as the “powerful and infuriating” body of work by Gordon Parks at her own gallery, Salon 94 (on view through January 17) and Ryan McGinley’s “Winter” at Team (through January 10). 

— “Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots,” organized by Gavin Delahunty at the Dallas Museum of Art, selected by artist and curator Chris Byrne. “This was among the best exhibitions I’ve ever seen,” Byrne effused of the show, which is on view through March 20, 2016. “It’s built around Pollock’s ‘black pourings’ of the early 1950s (automatic drawings writ large) and bravely includes the late paintings dismissed by critics at the time. There’s a palpable tension between the large aggressive canvases and the domestic scale of the replicated gallery spaces — i.e. Sidney Janis and Betty Parsons — where some of these works were first presented. ‘Convergence,’ 1952, still appears raw and menacing, with bold splashes of color atop the black tracery beneath.”

— “The Art of Guo Fengyi” at Andrew Edlin Gallery (through January 31, 2016), selected by Chris Byrne. “The sensitive and insightful installation reveals the unique nature of Guo’s mystical figures — each summoned from the unconscious through the act of their making,” Byrne said. “Her technique is remarkably supple and transcends the clichés of the obsessive self-taught ‘Outsider.’”

Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe “Archive M” at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, chosen by Daria Irincheeva. “Mamsyshev-Monroe is a revolutionary icon of the Russian transgender/LGBT community, and through his bright works and actions full of irony and sarcasm, he was the first to publicly break many boundaries in this respect,” Irincheeva explained. “Acting and disguising himself as famous figures of world history and culture, such as Marilyn Monroe, Hitler, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Brigitte Bardot, among others, he revealed the surreal aspects of the mass produced image and contemporary and historic ‘hero-creation.’” 

— Christoph Bücher mosque at the Icelandic Pavilion, 2015 Venice Biennale, selected by Irincheeva. “Despite the controversy, and perhaps to a large degree because of the controversy surrounding this, it was fascinating in how it revealed the contemporary socio-political state that humanity finds itself in today,” she said. “Religion is still one of the primary causes of war. The mosque was a bright contrast to the abundance of post-Internet art so prevalent today, and through the strong reaction it generated both positively and negatively, served as a touchstone for the politico-religious polemical dilemmas affecting the contemporary world in myriad ways.”

— “The Pending Exhibition 1973-2015. Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros,” at the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts in Santiago, Chile, chosen by Irincheeva. “The original exhibition with these works from three of the most famous Mexican artists of the early-to-mid 20th century was intended to open on September 12, 1973,” she said. “As we now know, a day before the scheduled opening, on September 11, 1973, a military coup occurred in Chile, which caused the overthrow of the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende, and led to the brutal 15 year-long dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The Mexican government immediately cancelled the original exhibition and the artworks were hastily removed from the politically unstable state. Forty-two years later, the works were brought back and exhibited according to the curatorial plan of the original exhibition, along with the detailed documentation of the planning and production of the initial, unrealized show. This exhibition functioned not only as a time machine to the painful reality of the coup in Chile, but also contained fascinating and not often seen works by Orozco, Rivera, and Siqueiros.” 

— Katherine Bernhardt, “Pablo and Efrain,” at Venus Over Manhattan, selected by Trudy Benson. “The paintings were huge arrangements of outdated technology, along with food and tropical animals,” Benson said. “The paint application was lustrous, spongy-looking. She’s adding more water to the mix and the result [is] drippy, with more resistance or separation of the paint from the canvas.”

Tomoo Gokita, “Bésame Mucho,” at Honor Fraser in Los Angeles, selected by Ramsey Dau.

Pierre Huyghe at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, chosen by Ramsey Dau.

— Ramsey Dau’s “The Singularity is Near” at KM Fine Arts in Los Angeles, picked by Ramsey Dau. (“I’m biased,” he admitted — but what artistic career ever evolved without self-confidence?)

Deborah Kass at Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York, up through January 23, 2016, along with Kass’s OY/YO public sculpture, chosen by Betty Tompkins, who also had an acclaimed exhibition of her own this year.

— Martha Wilson, “Mona/Marcel/Marge,” at PPOW in New York — “funny, smart, beautiful work” — nominated by Betty Tompkins, who also loved the Marilyn Minter retrospective at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, now at the MCA Denver. (“More funny, smart, beautiful work,” Tompkins mused. “I see a theme here.”)

Jim Shaw, “The End Is Here,” at the New Museum in New York, chosen by Ted Gahl. “This show was long overdue, with layers of information to take in, and a show of range that is inspiring to artists of all walks,” Gahl said. “His exhibition at Mass MOCA [up through January 31, 2016] was also a knockout. The highlight to me was a small corridor, where the secret correspondence between his father and a by-mail art tutor are preserved. A tribute from an artist and son, who followed a path that his father avidly pursued alone.”