Pre-recession excess was totally absent from this year’s slate of museum and gallery shows. But that only made everyone more creative. Instead of mind numbing blockbusters, we had tightly-edited, well-considered shows and daring experiments. Here are our favorite art moments from the year.
Greater New York at PS 1/ Whitney Biennial: It was a good year for surveys as both GNY and the Biennial pulled together some truly fascinating work. There was a spark at GNY that really felt like we were witnessing artists at the precipice of greatness. The Whitney’s show was more polished and staid, but the new works on view were no less exciting.
“Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” at MoMA: The renowned performance artist made headlines all spring without even getting out of her chair. Her simple act of sitting silently with strangers moved people to tears, and inspired many copycats and response pieces.
“Henri Cartier Bresson: The Modern Centry” at MoMA: The legendary French photographer pushed the boundaries of the medium with his photojournalistic work, and he received a suitably grand retrospective at MoMA that featured nearly 300 photographs.
Shepard Fairey and the closing of Deitch Projects: SoHo lost a force for fun and inventiveness when gallery owner Jeffery Deitch moved to LA to become the director of MOCA. But the gallery went out with a bang; graffiti artist Shepard Fairey brought out scenesters and art lovers alike for Deitch’s final show.
“Big Bambu: Doug and Mike Starn on the Roof” at the Met: It was a great stunt: build a bamboo structure on the roof of the Met and let museum goers climb on it.
"Play Me — I'm Yours": For two weeks this summer, artist Luke Jerram installed 60 pianos around the city. The public was invited to play to their heart's content with the hope that music would break down the walls between people.
“Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917” at MoMA: You may have thought you knew Matisse, but this intense survey of the artist’s output during WWI showed a man pushing his aesthetic boundaries.
“Work of Art”: This reality show on Bravo may or may not have resulted in any good work, but it definitely got people talking about contemporary art. Winner Abdi Farah received a critically lambasted show at the Brooklyn Museum, but again, it got people talking, which we’re going to say is a good thing.
Yoshitomo Nara at Asia Society: The underappreciated Asia Society put together a lovely exhibition of this undersung (in America) Japanese illustrator. Nara’s wide-eyed exploration of childhood themes will win over even the most mature.
“John Baldessari: Pure Beauty” at the Met: The contemporary artist has made a career out of questioning what it means to create. His resulting work, however, is not so academic and dry. His playful photo collages and videos poke fun at rigidity and invite viewers to just enjoy themselves.