To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from multimedia artist Ralph Lemon and spoken word artist Dessa to designer Martine Syms and photographer JoAnn Verburg — to share their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013.
Prem Krishnamurthy is busy. As a founding principal of Project Projects, he creates some of the most respected design work today, focusing on print, identity, exhibition, and interactive work with clients in art and architecture. The studio continues to grow, and as it does, all three leaders of the group expand their fields of practice with self-initiated projects. In Prem’s case, this meant founding P!, a multidisciplinary exhibition space located in New York’s Chinatown: “P! proposes an experimental space of display in which the radical possibilities of disparate disciplines, historical periods, and modes of production rub elbows. A free-wheeling combination of project space, commercial gallery, and Mom-and-Pop-Kunsthalle, P! engages with presentation strategies and models to emphasize rupture over tranquility, interference over mere coexistence, transparency over obfuscation, and passion over cool remove.” Below is Prem’s top-10 list of 2013.
Looking back, the latter half of 2013 steadily accumulated highlight after highlight — including shows like Massimiliano Gioni’s The Encyclopedic Palace in Venice, the newest edition of the Carnegie International, Bartholomew Ryan’s 9 Artists exhibition at the Walker, and Jay Sanders’ Rituals of Rented Island at the Whitney — each of which re-articulates and perhaps even redefines a particular mode of exhibition-making. With so many good things to choose from, I’ll focus on a handful of the year’s Grenzgänger (border crossers), who moved between contexts and conversations with such ease that it seemed like the boundaries were all in our heads anyways.
Triple Canopy’s Benefit to Honor Brian O’Doherty
One of the most moving events of the year was art journal Triple Canopy’s annual benefit in New York’s Chinatown. The multifaceted legacy of 85-year-old Brian O’Doherty — polymath artist, writer, editor, and more — was celebrated by a young generation of boundary-crossers. Having worn many hats well before it was fashionable, O’Doherty is best known for his seminal 1976 essay, “Inside the White Cube,” which exploded the ideological construct of the “neutral” gallery space in a single gesture; simultaneously, as the pseudonymous artist Patrick Ireland, he has reimagined the exhibition form through his spatial drawings, language-based sculptures, and conceptual works. This year, he will publish The Crossdresser’s Secret, a novel based on the 18th-century Chevalier d’Eon, who lived as both a man and a woman — suggesting O’Doherty’s inimitable straddling of all sorts of borders. The strangest and most memorable moment of the evening involved PS1 founder Alanna Heiss mounting the stage in an animal outfit and calling down to O’Doherty to join her, each donning a full-sized horse mask — easy to put on, but comically difficult to remove later. Unexpected, surreal, yet casually intimate, this performative gesture crowned an evening that toasted the ties binding all of us weird, creative folk to this difficult city and the irreplaceable friendships formed here.
The Sackner Archive of Visual and Concrete Poetry
Miami caught its first glimpse of this astounding collection in the exhibition, A Human Document, curated by Rene Morales at the new Perez Art Museum Miami. Comprised of more than 75,000 objects (and apparently containing at least three times more artworks than that), the Sackner Archive is like manna for the typographically minded. Over the past decades, Ruth and Marvin Sackner amassed this collection of diverse works ranging from early modernist books, typewriter art, micrography, and more, bounded only by a shared focus on the experimental word-image. The gem-like PAMM exhibition served as a teaser, hinting at the wealth of objects contained in the archive. I hope this show is only the beginning for the Sackner Archive’s public presence. On the other side of the Biscayne Bay is Miami Beach’s Wolfsonian Museum, boasting a world-class collection and research library of early 20th-century works of graphic communication and visual propaganda. With these two perfectly complementary collections in town, Miami might be poised to become a new mecca for graphic designers and all lovers of visual language.
Provenance by Amie Siegel
Artist Amie Siegel’s newest project, premiered at Simon Preston Gallery in the fall, tracks the shifting value of the modernist furniture removed from Le Corbusier’s Indian city of Chandigarh. Beautifully haunting, the central film’s traveling eye registers the persistence of objects across continents and cultures. Provenance explores the manifest ways in which patrimony and origin are fetishized, twisted by the market into salable currency. Design typically inhabits the world of everyday utility, yet the current blurring of boundaries brings it closer to high art. We who work in the elite worlds of art and design inhabit a land of double-standards, invented luxury goods, and manufactured scarcity. With her conceptual denouement — the auctioning of an edition of the film at Christie’s in London — Siegel’s project achieved a new level of self-implication, biting the hand that feeds it while acknowledging that we must work from within the system to reform it.
Dysnomia by Dawn of Midi
Dysnomia was by far my most-listened-to album of the year. The trio that makes up the band — Aakaash Israni, Amino Belyamani, and Qasim Naqvi— have created a new form of music that is genre-defying. Its sonic precedents include the tightly-woven polyrhythms of electronic dance music, yet it’s rendered by acoustic drums, upright bass, and prepared piano. Is it contemporary jazz? Is it minimal music? Analog techno? Post-rock? The resulting album demonstrates that such distinctions don’t matter when the music is this riveting.
The Joycean Society by Dora Garcia
Among many surprising presentations at this year’s Venice Biennial, one standout was this geeky show, far from the Giardini’s buzz on the island of Giudecca. Following a group of crotchety older men (plus a woman or two) who gather weekly to discuss James Joyce’s notoriously difficult Finnegan’s Wake, Garcia’s video managed to do something rare: it captured the exuberance of amateur discourse. Gallery-spaces-as-reading-rooms and art-world-seminars have been in vogue for a while now — we even organized a series of reading groups at P! last year, led by curator Ruba Katrib, Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith, editorial collective Superscript, and others — yet Garcia’s film showed why book clubs endure. When conducted with passion, curiosity, and nerdy aplomb, the seminar form, freed from an institutional context, possesses quietly radical potential. In an atomized world, where discourse often equals hitting the “like” button, group dialogue and argument around texts can change minds. What a contrast to the art world we read about in magazines and the news — which apparently consists primarily of art fair parties, astonishing secondary-market sales, live performances with celebrities, and the like — rather than the real work of making and thinking.
A contemporary bestiary at the Natural History Museum, Venice
I was lucky to catch this exhibition, tucked away at Venice’s Natural History Museum. Close to the Prada Foundation’s recreation of Harald Szeeman’s Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Forms — with its claims to radical architectural and historical juxtaposition — A contemporary bestiary actually lived up to such lofty claims and went beyond. The exhibition inserted contemporary artworks by Lara Favaretto, Rosa Barba, Paola Pivi, and others into the museum’s permanent displays. The artworks were well-chosen and compelling, but the unexpected standout was the exhibition design itself. The act of intervention demonstrated an interesting proposition: exhibition display, which has the challenging task of taking non-museal objects and imparting to them an auratic power, itself may possess a powerful presence. Wandering through the rooms of the museum, each with their own bespoke character — from “underwater” areas with different fish species in hanging bubbles to immersive naturalistic tableaux — I remembered my own childhood memories of the artificial constructions in natural history museums. In these cases, the staging of such fantastical scenes has the potential to outpace the studied ways of contemporary art objects.
Richard Hollis at Artists Space
Thanks to curators Emily King and Stuart Bailey, New York had a chance to experience the rigor and resolve of one of Britain’s most influential visual thinkers. For over a half century, Hollis has approached graphic design with a clear sense of the political struggle implicit in disseminating and communicating ideas. The printed word has rarely seemed so alive, responsive, and generous as in Hollis’s hands — words and images following arguments instead of formats. In his seminal layout for John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, Hollis established that graphic design’s most significant task is to create the necessary conditions for critical thinking. The show’s structure and sequence mirrored an edited video of the designer’s recent talk at the ICA London, projected in the space and providing an ongoing soundtrack for the printed pieces, posters, and sketches on display. Through this curatorial gesture, the exhibition itself became a script for Hollis’s remarkable reasoning, which aspires to change the world quietly.
The Radicality of Reading
In the face of proliferating image feeds and accumulating 140-character posts, 2013 felt like a great year to revive and reimagine the experimentation with reading that characterized the early avant-garde. My partners at Project Projects, Adam Michaels and Rob Giampietro, each collaborated with thinkers on projects that I’m envious of: Adam’s layout for The Pragmatism in the History of Art, by art historian Molly Nesbitt, rethinks how the visual language of an academic book might be activated through the multidisciplinary work of the designer-editor. The book’s shifts in typographic voice and careful consideration of text/image relationships become an essential part of the final work. Rob’s collaboration with writer and philosopher Susan Buck-Morss on susanbuckmorss.net, her new website and publishing platform, effortlessly allows the reader to move between essays, images, and ideas through associative and non-linear channels. Reinvigorating early experiments in hypertextuality, the website allows Buck-Morss to publish outside of the typical academic and institutional channels. Both cases demonstrate that brilliant writing can be made more accessible through design that responds to it with sensitivity and generosity.
George Maciunas at Cooper Union and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia
As someone interested in the fertile overlap of the everyday and the speculative, I’m fascinated by George Maciunas, the Lithuanian-born founder and central figure of Fluxus. Maciunas radically commingled art and design through his many entrepreneurial ventures; two exhibitions, half a world apart in New York and Madrid, illuminated different aspects of his life’s work and the long shadow that it still casts. On view at Maciunas’ alma mater Cooper Union, Anything Can Substitute Art: Maciunas in Soho documented his attempts in the 1970s to establish artists co-ops in Soho (alongside his comically serious legal tangles with New York City authorities). In light of the city’s current real estate market and the difficulties that young artists have making a life here, the exhibition made Maciunas seem positively prescient. At Madrid’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, the wide-ranging exhibition +-1961 deftly recast the pre-history of Minimalism and Conceptual Art. As part of the show, printed ephemera including flyers and posters from Maciunas’ short-lived AG Gallery, hinted at his penchant for risk and experimentation. Open for less than a single year, the gallery and its forward-thinking programming suggested how a modest space can play a crucial role as a meeting point and laboratory for ideas.
Lucy Skaer at the 9th Mercosul Biennial
Artist Lucy Skaer provided the high point of this impressive and ambitious biennial in Porto Alegre. Her piece, neither object nor action, existed somewhere in between. Working closely with the resin manufacturer and packager Irani, Skaer accomplished a striking intervention in their workflow: out of the thousands of sacks of raw resin produced for distribution in a given day, five sacks instead contained a flawless, faceted block of resin. These crystalline objects, with their manifest aesthetic qualities, are nevertheless merely a functional piece of raw material, to be melted down and reformed by whomever purchases them. This gesture reframes questions of utility and beauty: the gallery and factory become contiguous, at the same time that the contextuality of visual pleasure is foregrounded. Skaer’s elegant insertion offers us a glimmer of other potentialities for art’s place in the contemporary world — rather than consisting of rarefied objects, art might occur in the ephemeral ruptures of everyday life, in forms surprising, slippery, and stunning.