The Top 10 of 2012

No waiting, no prefaces, no delays.  Here it is.  My first ever Top Ten list. 10. Inhotim

Chris Burden's BEAM DROP, Inhotim

Inhotim is a 240 acre botanical garden/museum/restaurant complex in Brumhadinho, Minas Gerais, Brazil. I had the opportunity to go there this year and I have to say it was the most amazing art pilgrimage I have ever done.  It was a day long journey to get there.  I had to hire a car to drive me from the airport to an AMAZING hotel (the Pousada Fazenda Nova Estậncia, which you will see again in this list). Then I had to hire another car to take me from the hotel to Inhotim.  I ended up spending three days walking and looking at art in the most incredible lush environment.  None of the works there circulate; you can only see the works in the sites that have been created by the artists.  There are whole pavilions dedicated to artists as diverse as Ernesto Neto, Adriana Varejão, Helio Oiticica, Cildo Meireles Janet Cardiff (in which I burst into tears), and Doug Aitken.  In addition, there are site specific, environmental works by artists like Chris Burden, whose BEAM DROP and CONCRETE BUNKER are at the very top of the park.  Seeing these works was a feast for the eyes and the soul.  And seeing large scale works by Doris Salcedo, Tunga, and Matthew Barney as a reward for hiking through the woods was something akin to grace.

9. Toni MorrisonHome

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I repeat, if you want to know about America, you have to read Toni Morrison.

This book, her shortest at 140 pages, is a condensation of power that turns the nostalgic lie of the "Greatest Generation" on its head.  Through the eyes of a returning veteran, Morrison explores and exposes the subtle and vicious ways 50s society worked to undermine familial and cultural connections among people.  The perseverance of Frank, the naivety of his sister and the razor they walk between madness and oblivion is manifested in Morrison's rich prose and evocative use of metaphor. Her descriptions of PTSD resonated with me deeply.

8. Rice Cookers

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As some of you know, I got pretty sick last year and had to do a bunch of things to get better, one of which was changing my diet.  In all of my research I learned a lot about healthy eating, organic food, veganism, and some other things that I have incorporated with varying levels of success.  I also started to cook for myself a lot more.

When you have to eat better you make a lot of brown rice.

I have to say, I bought an inexpensive one at Bed Bath and Beyond and it completely changed my life.  It took a significant amount of time out of my cooking.  I can put the rice on, run errands, and when I come home, I have the perfect basis for beans, curry, or anything else.  Then I heard about this article in the New York Times that tells you how to use a rice cooker to make practically anything.  I am in heaven.  I think I will be upgrading to a Zojirushi after I get my tax refund.

7. GRAN FURY at 80WSE Galleries

Gran Fury with The Pope and The Penis at the 1990 Venice Bienale, image:artforum.com L to R: John Lindell, Donald Moffett, Mark Simpson, Marlene McCarty, and Loring McAlpin

This show was up in New York City at the beginning of the year.  GRAN FURY  is a collective of artists who used strategies of media and design to make public statements, accusations, and advocacy during the beginning of the AIDS pandemic.  Linked to ACT-UP, they made billboards, fliers, posters and signage and were invited to the 1990 Venice Biennial, where they showed The Pope and the Penis. 

The show contained graphic works, videos, signage and leaflets.  Since GRAN FURY decided that all of their works would be in the public domain, the show had gorgeous reproductions of the posters along with archival images of the original works.  In the age of social media and "Occupy," the show made clear just how different activism is in the digital age and what could be wrought through creative collective action.  Even though one of their last posters cautioned that "Art is not enough" to end the AIDS crisis, their call to "take collective direct action" is as germane today around climate change and public health as it was then regarding AIDS.  GRAN FURY and Donald Moffett are featured in the gorgeous THIS WILL HAVE BEEN at ICA Boston.  (That show will be on my top ten list of 2013.)

The Pope and The Penis, Installation view at 80WSE Gallery

The hard thing about the show was the sense of desperation and loss.  I sometimes feel like the last of my kind at certain times, and this show made me think a lot about that murderous time, the fights, the horrible things that were said about gay people and the indifference of the health system.  Most people do not realize that the reason they are able to question their doctors and have better access to responsive health care was because of the struggles of gay men dying during the AIDS epidemic.  The fact that important medical information had to be distributed to people on posters because the government, with pressure from religious leaders, prevented vital safer sex education was in evidence in this show.  It was and is a crime.

6. Live Tweeting the Political Conventions and Debates

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I know.  I, too, think it's terrible that we all don't sit down and watch TV together as a family, but watching the run up to the election with a bunch of people on Twitter and Facebook made the racist, mendacious, climate-change-avoiding, drone-strike-not-mentioning, plethora of ads and speeches somewhat navigable.  Watching the Republican Convention was a real education for me and it helped me understand the thinking that was behind so much of the animosity that is directed at the poor in this country.  Seeing the Democrats made me wonder how something that sounds so good could fail to be implemented so many times.  The Rope-a-Dope first debate, Biden educating Ryan in the second, The Comeback in the third had me texting, typing and chatting as fast as my not-so-little fingers could go.  Rove's meltdown, the palpable dislike between the President and Romney, and Romney's complete surprise at losing the election were amazing to see and to share, in real time, with a connection of friends around the world.

5. Los Angeles

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I visited my friends Ryan Widger and Gillian Pears in LA this year.  It was the first time I had been there since I was a child. (I found Disneyland disappointing at the time, but I loved Knott's Berry Farm.)

If there is such a thing as love at first sight, I felt it.  From the moment Ryan picked me up at LAX in his convertible until I left my heart beat a little faster.  I had an amazing time.  I cannot wait to go back.  I want to live in LA.  I could move there tomorrow.

While I was there I got to see the amazing Blues for Smoke show at the Geffen Contemporary and the incredible Destroy the Picture/Painting the Void at MoCA.  Blues made good on its curatorial promise to see the blues as a "web of artistic sensibilities."  Once you thought about that, you could make your own connections with the work and it made complete sense that Mark Morrisroe, Kara Walker and David Hammons would all be in the same show.  Unlike some critics, most people can see how their human experiences can link them. This show made a strong case for the blues as an access point for multiple subjectivities and their diverse expressions.

Destroy the Picture is Paul Schimmel's last MoCA show and it is a brilliant investigation of what painting and political agency can do.  Covering a range of artists who refused to be satisfied with the tenets of a reductive modernism, the show takes painting as an arena for action and discovery.  There are Burris, Rauschenbergs, and Bontecous that all looked so incredibly bad ass that I had to remind myself that some of this work was over 40 years old.   Add to the work a thoughtful and compelling installation and catalog text.  I don't know why anyone would let Paul Schimmel go, but wherever he ends up will be the luckiest museum on the planet.

4. Jane Fox Hipple's The Way of Things at Dodge Gallery

Jane Fox Hipple, Sebastian, 2012, acrylic on hydrocal and wood, 26 x 18 x 15 inches

Jane is a a great friend of mine.  I met her when I was working at Skowhegan and we became friends after.  She used to live in Cambridge and I would overcome my deep hatred of driving in that city to go visit her studio.  She also would come to mine.  Over the time she lived here we talked all the time about painting and how our work was developing. We ate a lot of pizza at Emma's.  She is a major influence on my thinking and on my work. I really miss having her here.  She lives in Alabama now.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was to be able to see her new work in her second solo show at Dodge Gallery in New York.  It was really a terrific show.  I know one usually is supportive of the work of one's friends, but the paintings in this show were risky, beautiful and complex in a way that has been missing from a lot of contemporary abstract painting.  They took my breath away.  They are beautiful, no doubt, but they also reference wounds, scars, absence, and decay.  They are paintings about a life as it is lived and not just hackneyed abstract "models" or evidence of solving problems in painting. (I swear to the fat renaissance baby jesus if one more person talks about solving painting problems as a reason for making work I may have to immolate myself.)  She got a terrific review of the show in ARTFORUM and I am so happy for her.  It seems like other people are finding out what an awesome artist my friend is.

3. Pousada Fazenda Nova Estậncia, Brumadinho, Minas Gerais, Brasil

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I told you I would tell you more.

This is the hotel where I stayed while I was visiting Inhotim.  The seasons are reversed in Brasil, so it was winter when I was there.  I also visited after an exhibition I had in Sao Paulo at Mendes Wood Gallery so I was there during the week.  The hotel was pretty empty save for a group of Italian tourists who were not very friendly.  But then again since I had been traveling for the better part of a day neither was I so I guess it was a wash.

So I arrived very late and I was starving.  They had to find someone who spoke english to check me in and the staff was very sweet about it, they seemed happy to see me.  I got to my room and they told me to go to the restaurant (where I met the surly Italians) and they would have the chef come and tell me about dinner.  I was thinking maybe a protein bar and a bottled water.

Raphael came to my table.  He was the sous-chef and since it was so late he would be making me dinner.  He gave me three, 4 course meals from which to choose.  I was stupefied.  He explained that the Pousada is known for having one of the best restaurants in Minas Gerais and that all the food was local, organic, and made from scratch in their kitchen.  I told him that I couldn't decide.  He asked me what kind of meat I wanted and he would do all of the rest.  I chose the pork chops. He told me it would take about 55 minutes for dinner and was gone.

He came back in about 50 minutes with an amazing meal with hand crafted relishes and sauces indigenous to the region.  I cannot even begin to describe how amazing the meal was.  I had the entire restaurant to myself, with Raphael coming to explain each of the courses and telling me how everything was prepared.  Plus, it was all organic, so I didn't have to worry about what I was eating (as I said, I had been pretty sick so eating healthy was really important so far from home).  It was the best meal I ever had.

A bad photo of the amazing grilled stuffed fish with Brasilian pasta, coriander mustard, plantains, and some other amazing stuff I can't recall.

And then the chef came back the next day.

I spent most of the day at Inhotim and so I didn't meet the chef, Marllony Perez, until I came into the restaurant in the evening.  He and Raphael greeted me and we were able to talk more at length since I was having dinner at a more reasonable hour.  Then I had the best meal I ever had, prepared by Marllony.  The fish he made with regional spices and slow grilled with stuffing was sublime.  I was a little embarrassed because I was trying to slow myself down, but it was so delicious I had to keep my self from shoving it into my face with my hands.

The next day I was preparing to go to Inhotim and there was a knock at my door.  It was Marllony.  The Italians had left and I was the only person in the hotel.  He asked if I would mind if he made dinner just for me.

Once I could make my mouth work again, he told me he would make me a traditional Minas Gerais meal and that he would explain all of the courses as they came out.  THAT was the best meal I have ever had in my life so far.

Afterwards, Marllony and Raphael took me on a tour of their kitchen and the garden in back where they grew the vegetables for the meals.  It was truly and amazing experience.

Raphael, Marllony, and the waiter at the pousada. (The waiter called in sick when he figured out that I was the only person in the hotel, so I never got his name.)

 

2. Isaac Julien, The Ten Thousand Waves, at ICA Boston

Maggie Cheung in a still from The Ten Thousand Waves

Presented on multiple screens at varying heights, Julien's newest film presented a challenge to narrative by shifting time place and characters.  Moments of cinematic magic were contrasted with their green screen origins.  Archival film of Shanghai was juxtaposed with  Maggie Cheung soaring into that same skyline.  Beautifully remade scenes of a Chinese melodrama talked about the emotional dangers of crossing boundaries while digitally rendered wave forms suggested the ocean that claimed the lives of Chinese immigrants off the British coast.  Combining all these elements with densely layered music and sound made for a rich sensory experience that punctuated the comings and goings of the images across the nine screens.  Waves was the most exciting film I saw last year.  I sat through it multiple times at ICA.  The unconventional viewing allowed you to lie on the floor, stand and move around in the installation.  Your shadow exited and entered scenes, making the viewer's presence, in effect, a marker of absence in the lush imagery.

1. Math

Nate Silver

Math was incredibly important this year.  "Arithmetic" never sounded sexier than when former President Clinton said it during his nomination of President Obama. The forty-seven percent.  The One Percent. The 99 Percent. The unemployment rate.  Plus the constant polling of an election year made numerical analysis incredibly cogent in the past year. But the focus on what is being called "big data" reaches its apex in the wonderfully normal, nerdy, kind of sexy persona of Nate Silver.

With his FiveThirtyEight Blog and his algorithms, Silver predicted almost every aspect of Election 2012.  His clear and cogent analysis of the state polls and crunching the numbers had the President in the lead the whole time, despite the groupthink on the right that had Romney ahead after the first debate.  The furious right wing spin after the first debate was so discouraging I almost began to believe it.  (I confess, I almost bought a t-shirt that said "KEEP CALM AND TRUST NATE SILVER.")  As August turned to October attacks against Silver became increasingly vitriolic and homophobic, partisan and cruel (the National Review was particularly nasty and was taken to task by Paul Krugman).  Through it all, Silver kept his eyes on the numbers and simply talked out of the data, unlike his critics, like Niall Ferguson, Karl Rove, and Dick Morris who were talking out of their asses.

Silver's intelligence made the "right wing echo chamber" manifest. All of those pictures on "White People Mourning Romney" are photographic evidence of people who were completely blinded by science.  They really thought that everyone in the "liberal" media was lying about the polls, and only their people were telling the truth.  They believed it when they were told that Romney had momentum, that Ryan was the "ideas man" and not a narcissistic huckster and so on.  None of these things were true and in the hard light of fact all of these illusions evaporated leaving a stunned Mitt Romney to give a concession speech that he was not prepared to give on a very early election night. The days after the election were filled with politicians like sharks with a corpse of one of their own.