Salves & Salvos: 2016 Art Highlights

2016montage(All photos by Paul D’Agostino.)

As many other recent year-end roundups of all sorts have similarly stated, the year 2016 will be recollected for quite some time for a great many reasons, and perhaps primarily thanks to its all-too-well-played role as temporal host to so many things that profoundly sucked.

A number of beloved celebrities passed away well before what would’ve seemed ‘their time,’ which made many people sad, because for some reason so many of us find it awkwardly comforting to know that someone who is rich and famous—or famous, at least—is still alive and well—or alive, at least. This led to some of the most broadly, even globally admired faces, voices, personalities, talents and instrumental sounds to be either reduced to ashes, or buried beneath grounds. Hardly a happy thought.

Also not awfully mirth-making to mention is that a great many rotten, corrupt, even murderous leaders around the world did not die, which makes billions of people sad every day. That said, a certain apparently much-beloved monarch in southeast Asia did pass away—the King of Thailand, that is—which made a very large population very sad indeed, and which left yet another nation’s political sphere in a state of limbo, as if there were a lack of such statuses quo among nations this year.

The slaughter in Syria never really abated at all, not even as the final civilian hangers-on in Aleppo tried to peacefully evacuate. And the US and global community in general have yet to assert their ostensibly peace-wanting will there in any meaningful way, which is so awful that it has become increasingly insipid and trite to keep on merely saying that it’s awful. Moreover, ISIS isn’t exactly waving any remarkable white flags, while taking the fight, so to speak, to this group of terrorists means that the US is currently waging more or less proxy wars in Iraq, Yemen, Turkey, Libya, Nigeria and Afghanistan, at least. Too much ‘et cetera’ to get into with all that, so I’ll leave it there.

Of course, not many US-pertinent matters sucked quite so much as the political trajectory of things right here at home, as we’ve been forced by our very own leaders and mediated circuses to witness something along the lines of the complete inversion of the expression ‘the elephant in the room’—insofar as we’ve somehow ended up with a president-elect associated with the party of the elephant about whom no one, not even the more responsible media outlets (all two or three of them), can figure out how to shut the hell up. As if we really need to know the minute-to-minute. As if we really need to be told about every tweet. As if such attention isn’t precisely the font of infinite peanuts to be gleefully picked up by said elephant’s trunk. As if we don’t have real problems on the ground that would be far more useful to discuss and address—race and gender issues, healthcare, education, inequality and infrastructure, to name just a handful—and as if our planet isn’t constantly begging us to realize that it’s already in climate-triage, and well on its way to the ER.

What also sucks is that while all of that has gone on and dragged us down—and even while the integrity of our very democracy has been brought further into question than we’d really imagined, from the primaries to the general election to the present moment—it has been consistently reported as good news that the stock market keeps reaching new highs. Shouldn’t that be, in fact, a bit disconcerting? Won’t the imaginably forthcoming plunge therefrom hurt a lot?

Well, there are loads of looming question marks along all those lines, for sure. And for sure, mainstream media just continues to suck in shocking, saddening ways. On that note, Gwen Ifill is among the notable public figures who passed away this year, quite recently in fact, and that really sucks—and it sucks to think that many Americans might not even know why her passing sucks so much.

Also, zooming in a tad, a couple more of the normal grocery stores in my neck of Brooklyn went bourgeoisie, and a handful of friends and colleagues left NYC, and that ‘cellphone song’ came out and was hard not to hear day in and day out. That latter matter really sucked, perhaps even more than paying more for crappy bread.

It also sucks that my list of 2016 suckiness is so far from complete. More pipeline approvals, peaceful protests met with violence, fake news and crackdowns on freedoms, arguable coups and treasons, hurricanes and earthquakes, heat waves and floods, melted poles and polar vortices, tainted water and cover-ups, terror attacks and refugee crises, more refugee crises compounded by half-baked solutions, and buses full of aid workers and disaster-fleeing refugees being bombed as they attempt to leave a city of rubble.

Oh yeah, it also sucks massively that Tony Blair has reemerged in the public sphere to offer his elite-serving ‘centrist solutions’ to ‘the world’s many problems,’ and that the sound-bite hungry media keep offering him a platform. We know you used to be ‘cool’ because you were in a punk band, Mr. Blair, and we know there was a moment where your ultimately garbage Third Way policies seemed to offer a glimmer of promise, but now just go away. Take your favorite Third Way partner, Mr. Clinton, along with you, and go away.

Ugh. This list could go on and on. And on.

(I didn’t even get to my many sports gripes, for example!)

Anyway, at least 2016 is now coming to an end.

And anyway, I’m not here to talk exclusively about things that sucked. Because to be sure, many things also did not. To name just a few items rather tangential to my titular purview above, a new book by Don DeLillo, Zero K, came out, and it’s very good, and I was charmed to have occasion to review it for this publication. I was also charmed to interview French director Philippe Faucon just after the US release of his César-winning film Fatima, which is also very, very good.

None of the following will be news to you, I’m sure, but some new streaming series proved to be really good. One of the top ones in my book is Narcos, which loses no awesomeness points for conveying to a broad audience that the normcore fashion trend is almost ideally albeit anachronistically expressed by a Colombian drug lord wearing dad jeans, dopey tennis shoes and nautically inspired sweatshirts. The Luke Cage series also came out, and it’s also very good, and the fact that all of its episodes are titled according to Gang Starr tracks is a wonderful added bonus (n.b. the episode called “DWYCK” features a nearly verbatim dialogue-delivery of that song’s ‘lemonade’ lyrics!). Case was also really good. And the new season of Black Mirror. And Stranger Things! Stranger Things was everything. And Ballers keeps getting renewed, which keeps getting me stoked.

But whatever, enough about TV shows, or whatever they’re called now. (Especially because mentioning that latter one has reminded me that I could go on at length about sports things that didn’t suck. And you really don’t want me to do that. Still: Porzingis!)

And anyway, let’s talk about art instead.

I’ll note here only a few 2016 highlights at museums. This is not because there weren’t a lot to speak of—so many, really!—but because many of those I might note here will certainly turn up on other ‘best exhibitions’ lists, and because I already wrote about many of them in my seasonal previews (they’re right here: Spring Museum Preview, Part 1; Spring Museum Preview, Part 2; Summer Museum Preview; Fall Museum Preview).


“Unfinished,” at the Met Breuer.

So, to highlight quickly just a handful of them: “Unfinished” at the Met Breuer, for showcasing a most curious facet of the wonderful mysteries of artworks as they exist through time; the Francis Picabia retrospective at MoMA, for conveying how wonderfully free a true creative spirit can and perhaps should be; Pipilotti Rist’s show at The New Museum, for it is a wonderland of an art of wonders; and the Genesis Breyer P-Orridge show at The Rubin Museum, for bringing into wondrous, inspired confluence so many mystical mysteries and wonderfully channeled histories.


Picabia at MoMA.

For all that follows, I’ve focused primarily on gallery exhibits and seasonal events.

And most of what follows will be Brooklyn-centric.

No apologies for that.

(Note the name of the magazine!)

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Tom Butter at Studio 10.

A couple of my favorite shows in 2016 are still so vivid in my mind that it seems like they came and went just a few weeks ago—rather than at this point nearly a full 12 months ago. Tom Butter’s solo show at Studio 10 and Sharon Butler’s at Theodore:Art are the two shows in question, and they opened not only just across the hall from one another, but also within days of one another, helping to make January at the 56 Bogart building aesthetically jubilant right from the start.

Sharon Butler at Theodore:Art.

Gorzo and Mitroi at Slag Gallery.

Slag Gallery is also in that building, but earlier this year it still had an outpost on Grand Street in Williamsburg. While it did, a two-person show there of works by Dumitru Gorzo and Tudor Mitroi proved to be one of the year’s greatest pairings, for certain. That said, another excellent pairing around that time was at Valentine Gallery in Ridgewood, where Matt Freedman and Jude Tallichet collaborated on a surrealistically zany sculptural warp zone that I would’ve loved to poke around in with just a flashlight.

Elemental, a very strong group exhibit curated by Robert Otto Epstein at Lorimoto, was definitely another highlight early on in the year. Another major standout around that time was Andrew Cornell Robinson’s narratively taut, materially ranging, basically brilliant solo exhibit at Christopher Stout Gallery.

Art on Paper fair.

Fairs as highlights? Why not? Some, at least, were not just aesthetically pleasing thanks to the art, but also experientially memorable thanks to certain quirks and novelties. Volta was strong once again as a somewhat more pleasantly navigable counterpoint to the crazed catwalk of Armory, and Art on Paper was a joy-filled surprise and fair-week favorite for a great many visitors. Still, the foremost crowd pleaser was most likely, once more, Spring/Break Art Show, because its crowds are generally very huge and generally extremely pleased. And for very good reason. It was tops. (And as you can read below, certain works there also made for entertaining exchanges on social media. Who are these jokers?)

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-12-56-23-pmSpring/Break Art Show.

Nina Meledandri at Gridspace.

As a deeper kind of spring sorta-kinda came around, Nina Meledandri’s solo show at Gridspace lured me out to Crown Heights one afternoon, and its most memorable virtues made it not just well worth the trip, but also well worth getting soaked to the core while biking home. Some weeks later I ended up seeing a solo show by Gridspace’s director, Charles Goldman, at Songs For Presidents, and it too would end up among my favorite shows of the year. On that note, a definitively off-site Cheim & Read show was on view in Ridgewood around the same time as Goldman’s. It featured a select suite of huge paintings by Sean Scully, and it was a marvelous thing. Also marvelous, and also right around that time was Richard Sigmund’s site-specific work at Weathervane Gallery, which visually beckoned viewers to ‘walk into’ his installation’s microcosm, or to perch their thoughts therein. That was the last show at that particular location of Weathervane, but there’s talk that the 24-hour art space will reopen nearby in 2017.

Richard Sigmund at Weathervane.

Sean Scully in Ridgewood.

It was probably around the time that school let out for summer break that I made it just in time to catch Glenn Goldberg’s solo show at Ventana244, and I was very happy that I did. There, the seasoned painter had opted to show a range of materially variable sculptures that not only played along with one another felicitously, but that also pointed back, index-like, to certain facets of his paintings. Goldberg seemed to be experimenting to some extent, and his show there was all the more notable for the same.

Glenn Goldberg at Ventana244.

It’s hard to think about summer at the moment—you know, winter—but at some point it finally did come around in proper form. One thing that didn’t come with it this year, though, was Bushwick Open Studios. That’s usually a reliable June highlight, but it wasn’t to take place until October this year, so I’ll address it further on.

Some shows that did come around in the summer and that were markedly great included “Bits and Pieces” at Robert Henry Contemporary, featuring Liz Jaff, Jim Osman and Pauline Galiana; “Figures & Vessels” and “Matter & Conjecture,” both at Art3 Gallery; and the first couple iterations of Re: Art Show, an ongoing series of spatially daunting, meta-spatially haunting exhibitions organized by Erin Davis and Max C. Lee at the ex-Pfizer building at 630 Flushing Avenue.

“Re: Art,” at 630 Flushing Avenue.

At around the same time this summer, a couple group shows on view in the Lower East Side that caught my eye and remain boldly in mind are “Interior Landszaft,” curated by Monica Zarzeczna at Lesley Heller Contemporary, and the architecturally inspired, impeccably installed “Construction Site” at McKenzie Fine Art.

Come September, so many great exhibits opened all around town and all at once that I fondly recall seeing something like 100 shows in the turn of a couple weeks. And so many of them were so very good. Clintel Steed’s solo show at Steven Harvey, Elisabeth Condon’s at Lesley Heller, and Gary Petersen’s at McKenzie Fine Art rank among my LES highlights from the fall season. Some of my favorites that opened around that time in Chelsea, meanwhile, include Leonardo Drew at Sikkema Jenkins, Matthew Barney at Gladstone, and Andy Piedilato at Danese/Corey.

“Intervention 3.”

At about the same time as all of those shows were getting so much attention, one of my supreme favorite shows of the year was getting very little attention at all, not least because it was probably somewhat problematic to advertise with absolute openness: “Intervention 3,” a group exhibition organized by Isidro Blasco in a substantially gutted, not-yet-renovated house in Crown Heights. It featured a dozen or so artists, each of whom executed some kind of dramatically space-altering, site-specific intervention, and it was a one-weekend tour-de-force that anyone who experienced or participated in will remember for years and years. Should you ever catch wind of a show called “Intervention 4,” GO SEE IT.

Back in Bushwick, at Luhring Augustine to be exact, an exhibit of a handful of massive paintings by Jeff Elrod proved to be a noteworthy one for me not necessarily because of the singular strength of the works, though they did have many individual qualities, but because of the remarkable, optically thwarting, ultimately fairly frightening impact of the exhibit overall, all of which made for some lively discussion and debate with fellow artists and critics. However irrelevant it might be to note, it was also a very interesting exhibit to think about with relation to Philip Taaffe’s show in that same space last year. Anyone familiar with both shows will know just why drawing comparisons on many levels can make for very deep thoughts about painting, images, people, processes.

Jeff Elrod at Luhring Augustine Bushwick.

Bushwick Open Studios 2016.

It was around the time that Elrod’s show was up and being discussed that something else finally came around to perform its annual function of taking over Bushwick for several days: Bushwick Open Studios. Yes, it took place in October this year, and although some artists and visitors registered mild complaints for ranges of reasons, the general consensus—or anyway, what I gathered as such—seemed to be that it was a good idea, in the end, to hold it in October rather than June, and that the lesser frenzy of the weekend overall was a welcome result of the same. I had a great and in certain ways much facilitated time going around to studios this year thanks to the slightly smaller, looser crowds, and I definitely had a lot more meaningful conversations with the artists whose studios I visited. On the exhibit side of things, some of my favorites were of course the huge Seeking Space show hosted by the then-new gallery, David & Schweitzer Contemporary; the “Bushwick Chronicles” show assembled by Meryl Meisler and James Panero at Stout Projects; and the Norte Maar dance performance that took place in the midst of and all around Debra Ramsay’s solo show at Odetta.

A day of discussions as the BOS 2016 “Seeking Space” show came to a close.

Exchange Rates II.

I was far too directly and deeply involved with Exchange Rates II: The Second Bushwick International Expo to be able to dwell on it here too long, but I will say that some of the outstanding exhibitions during that event were assembled by paired-up hosts and visitors at Transmitter and TSA, and by a half-dozen or so visiting galleries at Art Helix. At the latter space, of particular note was a ‘therapeutic performance’ or ‘intervention’ of sorts—involving a ‘real’ bar and bartender that were also a ‘fake’ bar and bartender—courtesy the always delightful and inspiring Danes in the QWERTY collective. Indeed, they’re even delightful and inspiring when the task at hand is to encourage you to mire in your miseries.

It was also around then that I caught Lara Nasser’s solo show at Los Ojos, where a very quirky spread of multi-media objects inspired many a fine thought about panopticons and defeated despots, and where a certain all-seeing piece couldn’t possibly have been better placed—or shown in a gallery with a more fitting name.

Beat Nite / Greenpoint Gallery Night.

And then at one point mid-autumn began to feel like early winter, so the otherwise very enjoyable Greenpoint Gallery Night made for a rather cold outing. But it was fun all the same, not least because it was presented as one of Norte Maar’s Beat Nite events. A whole lot of works in ceramic were the going thing that evening, no doubt. And in one space, smoke machines and vibrant lights.

Not long thereafter, Election Day came and went. ‘Full-stop’ seemed the M.O. for a bit. But shows go on, so shows went on.

On that note, some very recent, in fact yet-current shows that are also worth noting are Mitch Patrick’s projection-heavy, humorously mysterious and disorienting solo show at Honey Ramka, and Christopher Moss’s series of roundly tweaked Peanuts comics at Theodore:Art, which the artist has rendered into even more existentially anguished—and funny, really funny!—vignettes.

Also, though nothing has opened recently or is now on view in the occasional art space at 245 Varet Street this year, I’ll note here that I saw several really good group shows there this year. It’s extra noteworthy because that space might not be around much longer. On that note, OUTLET Gallery just closed up shop. A really excellent show there this year was Robin Kang’s solo exhibit.

Jeffrey Bishop’s opening at Scholes Street Studios.

One of the most recent openings I went to will also invariably rank as one of the last ones I’ll go to this year. It was for Jeffrey’ Bishop’s solo show at Scholes Street Studios in Williamsburg, a space that brings together art and music on what seems to be a casually ongoing basis. At the reception last week, it was a pleasure not only to take in Bishop’s musically relevant mixed-media works on paper, but also to get to hear Ken Thomson perform some original compositions on bass clarinet.

Much like at lots of openings of late, there was plenty of conversation that night about the sad and strange state of affairs we’ve come to confront and accept as 2016 comes to an end. But there was also plenty of talk about how contributing to and experiencing directly all manner of creative endeavors can be encouraging, meaningful and productive ways to unmoor ourselves from the pitch-sticky quagmires outside.

One day, one night at a time.

Like many of you, perhaps, I too am looking very forward to 2017—not necessarily with optimism, but with something like a hidden smile of awareness that 2016 will finally have to be over, which seems the only way to lend some kind of limit to how much it can suck.

So in the spirit of conclusion, and knowing full well that I’ve left plenty of things out—good things and bad—I’ll close with a rhetorical question:

What works better as meta-historical salve than art, than artworks, than the arts?

Not much.

And I’ll let that be my salvo.

A Bushwick street in November 2016 displaying a very fitting ‘sign’ of the times.

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Paul D’Agostino is @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.


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