5. Crushed, cast, built
Gagosian, London, now closed
A display of gray sculptures – what could be more fun? Urs Fischer’s hugely enlarged aluminum molds of pressed and stretched clay shapes in the palm of his hand, Charles Ray’s annoying reconstruction of an abandoned farm tractor from 1938 that for many years rusts in a field, and the crushed replica by John Chamberlain from a box by Donald Judd … each toying with form and shapelessness, haptics and engineering, forensic reconstruction and deliberate destruction. The sculptures related to the scale of the human body and all appealed to our sense of the anthropomorphic. Crushed, Cast, Constructed felt like a concise, poetic little essay, and nothing worse for it. Read the full review.
4. Zanele Muholi
Tate Modern, London, until May 31
Muholi has spent the past two decades documenting and celebrating the lives of queer blacks in post-apartheid South Africa. They celebrate the extravagant theater of trans beauty pageants and beach life, intimacy, awkwardness, and vulnerability, as well as glamor and camping. His photographs document lives in transition, aging and getting along. In his self-portraits, playing parody roles and situations, Muholi confronts the viewer with dignity, humor and style. I’ve never seen someone with a headrest look so cool. Read the full review.
3. Picasso and paper
Royal Academy, London, now closed
Torn papers, ripped papers, papers with screaming eyes and mouths burned through them with the tip of a cigarette, fancy papers and old wrapping papers, scrawled papers, gouache covered paper, paper as a backing and paper as the very medium for creating a cuttlefish or a guitar or a face. Picasso had a magical, almost diabolical touch and a feeling for materials, an unerring eye for their transformation. Did we need a Picasso show in 2020? Picasso and paper It made you want to go home and draw, and then give up again, almost immediately. Read the full review.
2. Bruce Nauman
Tate Modern, London, until February 21
A detailed survey of more than 50 years of work that continues to excite and disturb. Conjuring tricks and pratfalls, walking around the studio, performing repetitive tasks, Nauman sets the world spinning. Whenever I go back to work, I find something unexpected or new. This time, the image of an artist in the perpetual confinement of studio life, making close-up works (even with his own hands), of the circumstances in which he finds himself, of floors and walls, and of his own body. This fall, his art felt both funny and grim as torture. Nauman’s art has an almost astonishing foreknowledge. Read the full review.
1. Tavares Strachan: in plain sight
Marian Goodman, London, now closed
This was a show full of ghosts and hauntings, neglected stories, and forgotten stories. Partially blind Cuban prima ballerina Alicia Alonso, black polar explorer Matthew Henson, Katherine Johnson, the first African-American woman to work as a NASA scientist, and whose orbital calculations allowed manned space flights, Henrietta Lacks, whose “immortalized” cell line is pivotal to Cancer Research, and Viv Anderson, one of the first black footballers to play for England. The names kept coming.
More than name checks and black stories, visual toasts and screams, they provide the background to this bewildering and labyrinthine ensemble of paintings, sculpted busts, adulterated pages and with collages of old editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica, star fields and soccer field. schemes and much, much more besides.
Sculpted busts of scientists, singers, politicians, abolitionists and actors hid behind African masks, donned diving helmets and astronaut masks, or were crowned with Oceanic headdresses. Here are Nina Simone and James Baldwin, there is Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Robert Smalls.
As puzzling as all this was, the Bahamian artist took things to another level by incorporating live artists. A black man, perhaps playing Henson himself, seemingly as stunned as the rest of the audience, wandered, swayed, and sang, then joined a spoiled woman and child, each an unreliable chorus, who eventually us led to two secret rooms. suddenly revealed: one a cramped bedroom, the other a greenhouse full of plants – critics were encouraged not to spoil the surprise.
It was amazing. It had a kind of imperfect magnificence. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did. Out of bravery and ambition, out of inventiveness and the sheer delight of the secrets revealed, cleverly disguising its didactic purpose, Strachan’s work has stuck with me like nothing else this year. Read the full review.
British Museum, London, until February 21
A sealskin survival suit worn by a 19th century Kalaallit hunter to jump on the back of a whale is one of the surprising and bizarre glimpses of extreme lifestyles in this tribute to the peoples of the Arctic Circle. It is heartening and inspiring to see how reindeer herders and sea hunters have not only survived but thrived in an icy world for millennia. In a haunting year, his loving culture and ingenious creativity bear witness to the human spirit. Read the full review.
4. Georg Baselitz
White Cube Mason’s Yard, London, now closed
The veteran German master of postmodern expressionism continues to paint and sculpt with supreme intensity. His eerie new images of a single emaciated hand, sketched in gold and suspended in space, were the most powerful and moving evocations of human frailty of the year. As the world suffered, Baselitz unveiled these fragile, almost mummified icons of creativity, intimacy and resilience. Read the full review.
3. Gillian Wearing
Maureen Paley, London, now closed
For her project of confinement in the spring of isolation, the celebrated video artist picked up a paintbrush and looked at herself. Some of the resulting self-portraits were painted with a mirror, others from photographs she staged. They shattered their own image with ruthless honesty, fiercely questioning who she is, what it is to be someone, locating a stark truth and an invincible sadness. Read the full review.
2. Titian: love, desire, death
National Gallery, London, until January 17
This dream show is the Sistine Chapel of Sex. It brings together the erotic oil works by Titian painted for Philip II of Spain, based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The sheer, exuberant majesty of Titian’s painting brings trees, water, sky, and light to life, and that’s even before you look at the floating, imploring bodies. This is Titian telling Michelangelo who the boss is. Read the full review.
National Gallery, London, until January 24
This exhibition miraculously brings together all the major known works of a woman who painted her way to fame four centuries ago. Artemisia Gentileschi turns out to be even bigger than her fans expected. The show begins with Susana and the Elders, painted when she was 17, proof of her early genius. So it’s a wild ride of suffering and rage that culminates in your great Allegory of painting in which she and her brush become one. Read the full review.
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