Best of 2011 by Steve Locke

Boston artist Steve Locke offers the following “Top 10″ list for 2011. He adds, “These aren’t ranked in any order except in how I remembered them.”

“astatic” at Bakalar Gallery, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, curated by Lisa Tung A gorgeous survey of contemporary animation that foregrounded all the best things about the medium. It contrasted the digital and the handmade, the grotesque and the glorious, and made a case for the screen as a site of possibility instead of passive entertainment. Nathalie Djurberg (video clip above) makes moving maggots repulsive and sublime. (It’s true, I do work at MassArt. This show made me very proud of that fact.)

“Betty, Charlie, Francesca, George” at Samsøn This group exhibition of the Woodman family (pictured above) was historic, contemporary, cross-disciplinary, gender balanced, packed, and exciting. This is the first time this major family of American artists showed together and the layered installation of the work made for profound connections (and disconnections) among the works. It posited a notion of family life as an extension of art making—divergent, haptic, challenging, and exuberant. (Yes, I exhibit at Samson. No, I wasn’t paid to plug this show.)

Stan VanDerBeek, “The Culture Intercom,” MIT, organized by Bill Arning, director, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and João Ribas, curator, MIT List Visual Arts Center This show revealed that the overstimulated, media saturated, image culture of today is not all that new. After seeing the VanDerBeek’s work I realized that today’s media culture is a lot less interesting. The reach and scope of the “Movie Drome” idea (pictured above) is with us in the various windows that are open on my computer. It was great to see a moment when interconnectivity, the stream of images, and communal viewing were evidence of a possibility of a new kind of togetherness. It also made me miss Bill Arning a great deal.

“The Workers” at MassMOCA, co-curators MASS MoCA curator Susan Cross and artist Carla Herrera-Prats An amazing and visceral experience. This show includes some of the best artworks I’ve seen in a long time, most notably Santiago Sierra’s “Veteran of the Iraq War Standing in a Corner” (pictured above). The engagement of labor, patriotism, regret, and dignity mesh together in this work so tightly that I felt the pressure in my body. This is no pithy examination of “globalization” instead it looks at what has happened to work and shows us how separation from labor is separating us from each other and ourselves.

Nari Ward, “Sub Mirage Lignum,” MassMOCA, curated by Denise Markonish Nari Ward resists the moniker of “found object sculptor” and it is easy to see why. His work is so overwhelming powerful in its visual and auditory effect that you cannot begin to fathom how it is made. His sculptures, videos, sound work and incredible craft are all on remarkable display here (and the installation takes advantage of the space brilliantly). It was astounding to see someone deal with the weight of history, place, and diasporic body with such seeming ease. The work seems less sculpted than willed into form by a higher intelligence. (Pictured above: detail of Ward’s “Nu Colossus.”)

Whitfield Lovell, “More Than You Know,” at Smith College Museum of Art, curated by Aprile Gallant, Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, SCMA This show brought together a series of works and made for an interesting look at the development of this artist. The “Tableaux” works from the ‘90s, charcoal drawings on found wood with objects were shown with the more recent “Kin” series of drawings on paper with collage elements. Seeing the changes in texture and touch over the years reveals not just Lovell’s improvements as a draughtsman, but shows the way that the simple act of drawing, combined with a strong sense of composition, can change a picture into a portrait and quicken someone long dead to immediate and breathing presence. (Pictured above: Lovell’s “Remember Me,” 2004.)

Sheila Hicks, “50 Years,” at Addison Gallery of American Art, co-curated by independent scholar Joan Simon and Addison curator Susan Faxon I didn’t know anything about Sheila Hicks. To be honest, it was a nice day and I wanted to go for a drive. This exhibition brought together a diverse practice in painting, design, fibers, sculpture (not to mention armature making and rigging) that I could not believe I knew nothing about this woman. The museum presented not just a range of objects, but a historical and material investigation of the studio practice, influences, development, and finally, Hicks’s stellar achievements in public sculpture, design, and theories about color. (Pictured above: Hicks’s “Bamian (Banyan),” 1968/2001.)

“Dance/Draw” at ICA Boston, curated by Helen Molesworth David Hammons, William Forsythe, and Fred Sandback are all in the same show. Do I really need to say anything else to you? This is incredibly rich and important work that some people have never seen (“Trio A,” by Yvonne Rainer, for example). The Trisha Brown “Floor of the Forest” (pictured above, photo by NEJAR) turned a bunch of people into dancers WITHOUT THEM KNOWING IT! Watching the crowd maneuver into positions to see the work was an added thrill to the piece. The standout in the show is a clip from Jérôme Bel’s “Veronique Doisneau.” The portrait of the dancer as worker as mother as patient as technician is sublime. The attendant live performances of Brown and Bel’s works should have been promoted more by the museum. They were jewels to witness.

Jack Schneider at Anthony Greaney I may be an optimist (and I’m proud of that) but for me there was something life affirming about a larger than life sculpture of a game of Jenga with the word “BELIEVE” attached to it. I think that the work affirms the taking of chances, celebrates risk and reminds us that the possibility of collapse may be omnipresent but it is so human to be tempted to try the impossible. I had a smile on my face and some additional courage in my heart after seeing this show.

“The Civil War: Unfolding Dialogues” at Addison Gallery of American Art With the “end” of the war in Iraq and the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War upon us, it seems that this could be a hackneyed presentation of artifacts in the Addison’s collection. While the show does show some of the amazing objects and images held by the institution it courageously places those things in resonance with the work of contemporary artists. There is a video by Kara Walker that has to be one of the most horrifying and beautiful things I’ve witnessed. I walked out of the room where it was playing and was face to face with Alexander Gardner’s portrait of Abraham Lincoln. The closeness and the distance, of theme, time, and materials, is wonderfully laid out in this show. (Pictured above: Kara Walker, “National Archives Microfilm Publication M999 Roll 34: Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands: Six Miles from Springfield on the Franklin Road,” 2009, video.)

More posts from The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research’s Best Art of 2011 series: Rachelle Beaudoin.

4 Responses to “Best of 2011 by Steve Locke”

  1. Peter Harris says:

    By way of photo credit: I took the photo of Jack Schneider’s work at the Anthony Greaney Gallery. © and it was a wonderful exhibition. Cheers

  2. Greg,
    Thanks for all you do! Keep me on your emai list if you can!
    Cheers and Look forward to your 2012 comments!

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  4. Barbara Grad says:

    Good work Steve Locke, your list is the best!
    thanks for your wonderful thoughts,