A very good era for visual art that draws the viewer into mystery.
As Siri Hustvedt puts it: “...I have never loved a painting I can master completely. My love requires a sense that something has escaped me” (from “The Pleasures of Bewilderment,” Yale Review, 91:4, October 2003).
Here is our list of unmastered and unmasterable favorites from recent times.
Kara Walker’s After the Deluge show at the Metropolitan (2006). The Great American Novel in visual form.
William Blake’s World: “A New Heaven is Begun” at the Morgan (2009). Always reaching for the angels while Urizen bellows in the deep.
Robert Rauschenberg’s Thirty-four Illustrations for Dante’s Inferno, displayed in full by the MoMA to mark his death in 2008.
Devotion in South India: Chola Bronzes at the Asia Society(2009). Each of these c. 30 pieces is a masterpiece—I do not believe we retain the bronze casting skills to make their like again. Depicts the Shaiva poet-saints of Tamil Nadu, including my favorite, Saint Sambandar, who burst into song as an infant upon drinking divine milk.
George Stubbs (1724-1806): A Celebration, at the Frick in 2007. I have come to realize that when I see a horse in my mind’s eye, it is usually a horse by Stubbs. See, for instance, his 1762 painting of the bay filly “Molly Longlegs.” Also, experience the terror of the horses in his paintngs of lions attacking.
Giovanni Battista Piranesi at the Cooper-Hewitt (2007-’08). Taking us beyond his well-known carceri images, this show revealed Piranesi as an influential interior designer. I was particularly taken by the chimney piece he did for John Hope.
The new Greek and Roman Galleries opened in April 2007 at the Metropolitan. A museum within the museum, a bounty exquisitely displayed. Leading revelation: how much color the Romans used (see the wall paintings from the reconstructed Pompeiian villa)!
Walton Ford’s Tigers of Wrath at the Brooklyn Museum (2006-’07). Blood, malice, oppression, cruelty all lurk within Ford’s luscious renderings.
Fata Morgana: The New Female Fantasists, curated this spring by Pam Grossman at Dabora Gallery in Brooklyn. Grossman has a very keen eye, assembling 15 up-and-coming artists in an eye-catching show. Grossman’s next act is a show on shamanistic art and practice, opening at The Observatory space in early 2010: watch for it.
We posted earlier this year about the summer, 2009 group show Drawings at McKenzie Fine Art (NYC). We keep tracing back in memory to works displayed there by Julie Evans, Ruth Marten, and Karen Margolis.
We also posted earlier about the Unica Zurn show this year at The Drawing Center (NYC). We keep getting entangled in her veined, multi-eyed, paisleyed creations.
Kathy Ruttenberg’s arresting sculptures at Gallery Henoch (NYC) in 2008. I have drafted scraps of poetry trying to capture the mood of her figures. Pan, Titania...and Bottom...move through her work.
Herbert Pfostl’s All Sorts of Remedies show at The Observatory (Brooklyn) this winter. Singed-looking small scraps of paper, mournful odd things delicately framed. Sort of the visual equivalent of Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. I regret missing his gallery talk on “Art as Magic and the Cold Hard Facts of Life.”
Ranbir Kaleka’s multimedia Reading Man installation at Bose Pacia (NY). Like walking into a deeply hued capsule, and then finding you cannot find your way back out.
Dustin Yellin’s exhibitions at Robert Miller Gallery (NYC): Suspended Animations (2007) and Dust in the Brain Attic (2009). A taxonomy of almost-creatures, vertebrae, sinous fronds, embedded in resin.
The African and Oceanic Art from the Barbier-Mueller Museum, Geneva: A Legacy of Collecting show at the Metropolitan (2009). I have already noted the Ejaham head crest. Look long also at the Mblo twin mask (Baule, Cote d’Ivoire) and the female head (Ife, Nigeria).
Various textile pieces and fabrics exhibited by Cora Ginsburg LLC at the Winter Antiques Show in the Park Avenue Armory each January.
We’ve already blogged about the James Ensor retrospective at the MoMA(2009). Long live the danse macabre... and pass the pickled herring, please.
Daniel Merriam’s imaginary realist watercolors at Animazing Gallery (NYC). Something sly in his mannered approach.
We already blogged about the Spectrum: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art show at the Society of Illustrators (fall, 2009). A great portal into the best work by artists who self-identify as treading the light fantastic. The show selected a picture by Joy Ang as its headliner—we keep looking at a postcard of this picture, watching the hyena-tiger-lion carousel go up and down.
Julie Speed’s witty, whimsical figures (all vaguely Breughelian to my eye) displayed by Flatbed Press at the 2008 Editions & Artists’ Book Fair in NYC.
Richard Fish’s “four-dimensional clocks” at the 2007 International Contemporary Furniture Fair (NYC), especially the elegantly geared “Then and Now,” and the curvaceous “Cellist.”
Myung jin Kim’s ceramics exhibited by the Ferrin Gallery at the New York SOFA show, April 2009.
Of course, the list of shows I could not attend is much, much longer! The Web whets insatiable appetites. Here is a short list of exhibitions I viewed online and would gladly have visited if only I could have:
Joseph Hart at David Krut Projects (NYC), Mandy Greer at the Bellevue Arts Museum (WA); Rene Alvarado at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas; Julie Mehretu at the Guggenheim in Berlin (but we’ll get to see it this spring at the Guggenheim in NYC); Rina Banerjee & Raqib Shaw at Thos. Gibson Fine Art (London); Sergio Vega at Galerie Karsten Greve (Paris); Textual Rhythms: Constructing the Jazz Tradition- Contemporary African American Quilts at the American Folk Art Museum; The Conversation Piece: Scenes of Fashionable Life at The Queen’s Gallery/Buckingham Palace; Telling Tales: Fantasy & Fear in Contemporary Design at the V & A; Sacred Spain: Art and Belief in the Spanish World, at the Indianapolis Museum of Art; Seven Stories: The Centre for Children’s Books in Newcastle; Venice in the Age of Canaletto at the Ringling Museum of Art (Sarasota) & the Memphis Brooks Museum; Kehinde Wileya at various locations; Adele Sypesteyn at Soren Christensen Gallery (New Orleans); Lisa Kaser at Beet Gallery (Portland, OR); For the Blind Man in the Dark Room Looking for the Black Cat That Isn’t There, at the Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis; Kate MacDowell at the Sante Fe Clay Gallery; The Dark Monarch: Magic and Modernity in British Art at the Tate St. Ives; Toys Designed by Artists, at the Arkansas Art Center.