Best of 2013

Instead of the top-10 list I did last year, I’m just picking one favorite/best for different categories. Also, I haven’t done a writeup on everything yet so I’ll be updating this post well into 2014 with links to the relevant reviews.

Best exhibition overall: Jay Defeo

Jay DeFeo at SFMOMA was the first thing I saw in 2013 and set the bar so high that I’ve been comparing everything since to this show. Her work is all over the place. In the best way possible. It was fantastic and exciting to see how she jumped from medium to medium, constantly taking on new and different projects while at the same time referencing all her past work and never putting a foot wrong. She deserves to be treated as the master that she was rather than merely as the creator of The Rose.

Other non-photography* shows in the running here: James Turrell at LACMA which blew my mind by making me geek out on color more than I thought possible. Lebbeus Woods at SFMOMA—a show I’m still incapable of writing about because my brain exploded while viewing it. Flesh and Metal at the Cantor Center (by SFMOMA on the Go) which put photography, sculpture, and painting together to force me to see some of my favorite pieces in completely new ways.

*I’m splitting things up this way since I’m finding that I’m viewing them with different mindsets. While DeFeo and Flesh and Metal both involve photography, neither of them are photography exhibitions. I’m basically keeping three categories (photography, non-photography, online) running in parallel. If my best overall was a photography show, I’d have a best non-photography category listed later.

Best Photo Exhibition: Garry Winogrand

Garry Winogrand at SFMOMA, as obvious a choice as this is, is also my favorite photography show I saw this year. Part of this is because I love the photographs and slice of American history they show. But a large part is due to the fact that, more than any other show, Winogrand spurred a lot of discussion about photography, editing, ethics, etc. and anything which gets us all talking like that is a great thing.

Also in the running: Carrie Mae Weems at the Cantor Center providing a much-needed non-white perspective on art, photography, and representation. Itinerant Languages of Photography at Princeton addressing how photos change meaning as their context changes. Richard Misrach at the Cantor Center making us ask serious questions about our modern lifestyle.

Best Online Exhibition: Form and Landscape

The Huntington’s Form and Landscape project represents the kind of thing I’d love to see more of moving forward. The concept of unleashing multiple editors on a single archive and then collecting the results is what the web should be great at. That this exhibition also manages to tell the story of LA as well as explain a lot of the myths of the US is the icing on the cake.

Other noteworthy online exhibitions this year: Flak Photos Making Pictures of People is the latest foray into demonstrating how curation itself is a creative act. SFMOMA’s Rauschenberg Research Project shows how a museum can take its existing holdings  online in a ways which not only enhances the collection but also keeps the museum relevant when the collection itself is offline.

Best individual artwork: Let’s Play Ancient Greek Punishment

Pippin Barr’s Let’s Play Ancient Greek Punishment was part of San José Museum of Art’s Swans, Swine, and Sirens show. It’s awesome. The only thing more fun than playing the game is watching other people play, fail, and not get it.

I also enjoyed Christian Jankowski’s Silicon Valley Talks as part of SFMOMA’s Project Los Altos. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry with it though. And sitting inside Turrell’s Breathing Light at LACMA is not an experience I’ll forget.

Best of 2012

My top-ten list of best/favorite exhibitions I saw this year. These are shows which got me thinking and which I recommended, without reservation, to anyone (and everyone) I knew.

10. Looking at the Land

Looking at the Land by Flak Photo shows suburbia all grown up. The suburbia I know. The photos feel right to me. Also, this is the best example of our new world which recognizes curation as a creative act. The promise of more of these online exhibitions is very exciting.

9. The 1968 Exhibit

The 1968 Exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California reminded me of how far we’ve come and provided me with context and information which helped me understand my parents’ generation better. This was a very ambitions show which came very close to achieving everything it set out to do.

8. Rineke Dijkstra

Rineke Dijkstra at SFMOMA was a textbook example of a show which was more than the sum of its parts. And how art isn’t always supposed to be nice to look at. This was art which is hard to look at, but worth seeing. Very powerful. Very raw. Very true.

7. South Africa in Apartheid and After

South Africa in Apartheid and After at SFMOMA was beautifully timed to open right after election day. This show was a gentle, but powerful, reminder of how what looks respectable and desirable can mask enormous injustice. And how mistreating a population of workers to achieve that society leaves long-lasting wounds.

6. Walker Evans

Walker Evans at the Cantor Arts Center showed all of Evans’s work and not just his FSA depression-era photos. It was great to see and a nice reminder of how talented Evans was. As a design major, Evans’s consistent search for the functional in his photography excites me. As a photographer, his crisp composition and eye still stand out.

5. Mark Bradford

Mark Bradford at SFMOMA was a bit of a surprise for me. I didn’t know what to expect and was very please to find fantastic work which revealed new things no matter how close or far away I stood. Individually they’re all great. Together, they’re even better. So many layers of history and personal reinvention in them.

4. Monuments of Printing 2

Monuments of Printing at the Stanford University Library showed all kinds of rare/fine books. Catnip to this typography nut. A Kelmscott Chaucer? A Doves Bible? Excuse me while I geek out.

3. Less and More:
The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams

Dieter Rams at SFMOMA meanwhile was catnip for this design nut. While his products are starting to lose relevance, Rams’s design principles have not. It’s always great to see the actual objects when talking about good design.

2. Richard Misrach:
Oakland-Berkeley Fire Aftermath, 1991

Richard Misrach at the Oakland Museum of California presented photos which are powerful, beautiful, and personal. Ruin porn without being voyeuristic. That it was local images presented locally means everyone in the exhibition was probably affected somehow too.

1. Mexicanismo

Mexicanismo at the San José Museum of Art was my favorite of the year by far. Cool and obvious while also being smart and subtle. Extremely insider-friendly while also being accessible and descriptive of the culture to outsiders. I only wish there had been a catalog available so I could show it to other people.

Other notable artwork this year

Dora García’s Instant Narrative in SFMOMA’s Descriptive Acts exhibition was probably my favorite single piece I saw. I also gained a newfound appreciation for ceramic art through David Gilhooly’s work in San José’s Renegade Humor show and SFMOMA’s acquisition of Robert Arneson’s Portrait of George.