I had promised privately not to do a year-end list - not because I don't like those lists, but because I thought I may have missed too many important shows to have a right to do it. However, I changed my mind after seeing Karen Bjornland's Top Ten in The Sunday Gazette and realizing that I had seen all 10 of the shows she named. This is not to say that I agree with her on all 10 (though I do on a couple), but I figured if she could do it, so could I.
Still, this will not be a Top Ten. Rather, I will look back over a year of reviews and pull out some moments worth remembering - and, yes, I will name several of the best art shows that I had the opportunity to see and write about.
Amazingly, it has been more than a year since Get Visual came into being, briefly at first at the Gazette, and then in its present form as you see it here in the realm of technology-aided free speech. Since the Jan. 19 Blogger launch, featuring a gloriously controversial negative review of the film Slumdog Millionaire, I have posted about 70 times and reviewed approximately that number of exhibitions (some posts carried multiple art reviews, some carried none). Phew - no wonder I feel so exhausted!
It has been a pretty cool ride. Some of the ups included hearing tons of positive feedback from people far and wide (mostly by email rather than on the blog itself); gaining a bunch of "followers" (I am only slightly embarrassed to admit I don't actually know what that signifies); hitting the 15,000-visits milestone any minute now; and even getting the occasional public comment right here on the blog itself. The downs have included missing shows I wish I could have made it to (more on that in a minute); seeing shows but still having nothing to write about them; and fending off the rare mean-spirited response.
Overall, the miracle of self-publishing while having only the most basic computer skills is an incredibly empowering and, at times, humbling process. Though I had previously written a great many art reviews for quite a few journals over nearly three decades, there's nothing like being your own boss. The bottom line is that I love being an art critic for three reasons: Artists, curators, and presenting organizations need critics; writing about art gives me the opportunity to immerse myself in that world whenever I want to; and modeling that activity gets other people to do it, too.
This last point will not be lost on you, dear reader, but I want to emphasize it. Getting other people to engage with art, in whatever way they choose to do that, is the major goal of my writing - it drives what I do on this blog more than anything else. I truly hope that something I've written here in the past year has made you go out and see a show, or talk about art, or think about it in new ways. If so, I have more than fulfilled my potential as a blogger. If not, then I guess I'll just have to keep trying.
So, on to a look back at 2009. I'm going to do categories, and the links are to my reviews as written at the time:
Best Museum Exhibition (historical art) - Forgive me for being undecided, but this is a two-way tie: Dove/O'Keeffe at the Clark Art Institute; and Prendergast in Italy at the Williams College Museum of Art. Both were superbly well organized, deeply satisfying, and just plain gorgeous. Honorable Mention goes to Rockwell Kent: This is My Own at the New York State Museum - a show I saw, loved, talked about, but apparently did not review. Go figure.
Best Museum Exhibition (contemporary art) - Badlands: New Horizons in Landscape at MASS MoCA. Nobody does it better than MASS MoCA, and this was one of the best large group shows I've seen in a long time. Honorable Mention: It isn't a museum per se, but the Albany Airport Gallery showcases all the region's museums, so I've put it in this category. The show was called Out of This World and it was that, too.
Best Museum Exhibition (theme) - Lives of The Hudson at Tang Teaching Museum. Of the many Hudson 400 shows that the past year spawned, this was the most soulful and intellectually challenging - it was also easier to like than the Tang's offerings sometimes can be.
Best Solo Show (local) - George Hofmann at Martinez Gallery. A tour de force by an ageless master who continues to be at the peak of his powers (at right is his 2008-09 painting titled Rain/Sun). Honorable Mention: David Hornung at John Davis Gallery in Hudson (image above at left).
Best Solo Show (international) - Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City). Blockbusters of this magnitude do not come along all that often. It did not disappoint - on the contrary, I was totally blown away. Honorable Mention: Oliver Herring: Me Us Them at the Tang.
Best Solo Photography Show (local) - A three-way tie: In order of appearance, Harry Wilks at the Albany Institute of History & Art; Christopher Jordan at the Chapel + Cultural Center at Rensselaer; and Dona Ann McAdams at Opalka Gallery. All displayed clear personal vision, tight curating, and classic themes.
Best Solo Photography Show (international) - Luigi Ghirri at Aperture Gallery (New York City). A longtime idol of mine, who died shortly before I discovered his work in 1993, this Italian visionary deserves to be far better known in the U.S. - hopefully, the show and book from about one year ago helped to accomplish that.
Best Show I Missed: Which is to say, the shows I'm most sorry I missed (and those, of course, are very hard to recall). I can at least remember, and regret, these two: Uncharted at the University Art Museum (Albany); and Steps Off the Beaten Path: Photographs of Rome and Its Environs at the Clark. Technically, I could see the second of these two, as it doesn't end till Jan. 3 - but I don't think I'm going to make it. So it goes.
Last word: This has been a crisis year for the arts as a whole - when the economy falters, the arts always suffer first, most, and longest. Please keep that in mind, and try to help out artists and arts organizations in any way you can. Thank you for reading, and have an inspired 2010!
Highland, NY 1992 by Harry Wilks