Elena Soboleva works for Art.sy – an online platform for discovering and collecting art.
Numerous events shaped the art world in 2012, including the thirteenth iteration of Documenta festival in Kassel, Germany, a record-setting Contemporary Evening sale at Christie’s and the unprecedented hurricane, the effects of which have left a lasting impact on Chelsea. Here is a roundup of the the year’s best, which I felt worth commemorating as the highlights of 2012 and my picks for what to expect in 2013.
1) Best Art Festival: Documenta 13
Without a doubt the greatest art event of 2013. No other art world happening, retrospective or biennial could match the exquisite cultural organism which Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev created in Kassel, Germany. Its subtlety was underscored by a cohesive vision with a decentralized focus, within which a multitude of microcosms sprung to life.
Finding the agency and memory imbued in objects, and delving into multidisciplinary fields and difficult histories, Documenta 13 wove together hundreds of strains, ideas and artists. The works are countless but I could not miss mentioning the poignant simplicity of Tino Sehgal’s black-out performance, Theaster Gates’ study of material culture and Adrian Villar Rojas’ clay explorations in form and architecture set amongst a tiered garden. Also numbering amongst the highlights of the year were Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s sound installations in the Karlsaue Park and the Hauptbahnhof train station.
2) Best Show: Jesper Just / This Nameless Spectacle
This was Just’s first exhibition at James Cohan Gallery and one of the best shows I saw in Chelsea last year. Featuring three video works, which concisely explore cinematic tropes without ever succumbing to the faults of oversimplified, didactic cliches or undecipherable abstract concepts. Spectacle, only in name, the show was profoundly mesmerizing and built up a tension between the narratives depicted and their absorbing effect on the viewer.
3) Best reflection of our time: Richard Phillips
Richard Phillips show at Gagosian Gallery was probably the most controversial and misunderstood exhibition of the year. It brought to light the difficulty in navigating contemporary art and our own desire to deny the carnal instinct incited by his oversized, hyper-realistic Pop canvases. The complexity of the relationship between the viewer and artwork was heightened through the celebrity subjects, Sasha Grey, Lindsay Lohan and Adriana Lima, whose inherent iconicity destabilized perception.
4) Best proof that New York is still the capital of the art world: Frieze NY
The first iteration of Frieze NY Art Fair delivered well beyond everyone’s expectations. Featuring a stellar roster of international galleries, with Roberta’s Pizza and The Fat Radish cuisine, all housed in an airy tent, which even spawning its own twitter meme — the show was a hit. But more than a success, it proved the question on everyone’s mind of whether NY can sustain two fairs. The answer is clearly yes. This year will be the centennial anniversary of the Armory Show and Eric Shiner, the Director of the Andy Warhol Museum, will be at the curatorial helm of the American Focus section that is bound to be terrific.
5) Best Season: Park Avenue Armory
When thinking of which institution provided the most consistent and stellar exhibitions in the past year, my mind went straight to the Park Avenue Armory. The lineup featured: Space Program: Mars by Tom Sachs, Merce Cunningham’s final choreographic collage and the most recent The Event of a Thread installation by Ann Hamilton which transformed the space into a swinging playground.
The Park Avenue Armory had an exceptional program in 2012, and succeeded in uniting art, performance and experience in one space. The highlight of the year was Janet Cardiff’s The Murder of the Crows, an overwhelming installation of over 200 speakers at various heights, progressing through a 29 minute cycle of symphonic movements ranging from the Red Army march to dream-like sonatas.
6) Best Opening: Brant Foundation
Being whisked away for a Sunday afternoon to Greenwich, Connecticut to mingle with the art world elite under a billowing tent, housed on Brant’s own polo fields is a perfect recipe for an opening. The two solo shows this year, Karen Kilimnik and Nate Lowman, each offered a complete artist’s vision, and incorporated site-specific elements that extended the work beyond the exhibition space. Whether Lowman’s ‘readymade’ white Bronco that had belonged to O. J. Simpson or Kilimnik’s Fountain of Youth spilling forth to mirror the idyllic setting, the Brant Foundation remained a terrific destination for a grand fête.
7) Best Art Party: House Party at The Boiler, Pierogi Gallery
Maybe it was due to the recession or lack of jobs for MFAs, maybe just because he could. Artist Andrew Ohanesian took a bold approach and invested his grad school savings into building a fully functioning interior of a suburban home in a Williamsburg gallery space and throwing a giant house party. The piece had resonance for anyone who’d spent their teen years in a that setting and was accurate right down to the contents of every drawer and week-old pizza in the fridge. Above all, it was a ton of fun.
8) Best Vision – Trevor Paglen / The Last Pictures
Quixotic at heart and pointedly visionary, The Last Pictures acknowledged spacecraft as the last monument of our era. Presented in partnership with Creative Time, the project was the culmination of Paglen’s research as an artist in residence at MIT. He created an ultra-archival disc of images, capable of lasting in space for billions of years and in November of 2012, traveled to Kazakhstan to launch the satellite EchoStar XVI carrying this archive of humanity. Attached to the satellite’s anti-Earth deck and in geostationary orbit, the disc will broadcast over ten trillion images over its fifteen-year lifetime. For the New York celebration of this project, Paglen was joined by filmmaker and artist Werner Herzog for an epic discussion on life beyond our planet and the terrain of future man.
9) Best Revival: Jonas Mekas
The pioneering avant-garde filmmaker, who is the touchstone for every artist working in time-based media, finally received well-deserved attention last year. The Centre Pompidou in Paris retrospective was followed by an exhibit at the Serpentine Gallery in London, which opened in December. Mekas also recently celebrated his 90th birthday and Anthology Film Archives, the New York film establishment which he co-founded in 1970, hosted a week-long program of rare screenings to mark the occasion.
10) Best Sign of the Times: $1.068 billion
That’s how much contemporary art sold in the week of November 2012 proving wrong every naysayer and pessimist waiting for the art market to crash.
Best Acquisition: Though there were many important acquisitions this year, MoMA’s purchase of John Cage’s 4’33 was especially significant.
Best Birthday: The 25 year anniversary of the GIF (graphic interchange format) was celebrated by a project by Tumblr and Paddle8 in Miami Basel this year. The exhibit brought together artists and curators to honor the bitmap that has outlasted most other quarter-century old technologies with its anachronistic charm.
All images courtesy of Elena Soboleva, except for Safe from Harm, 2012, digital c-print, Richard Mosse, Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York