5 Best NYC Exhibitions of 2018

Projects 195, Park McArthur MoMA

If you haven’t already visited Projects 195: Park McArthur, this is one show you still have a chance to catch before it closes at the end of January. For MoMA’s Projects series McArthur has created a significant conceptual work of art that leaves most of the physical gallery space empty. The substance of this work is an audio guide narrated by a calm, didactic voice which instructs the audience in an exercise of the imagination. The narrator leads listeners through a non-existent mixed-use living and working space, detailing apartments, office spaces, artist studios, a pool with a ramp that is fully accessible for the disabled, a communal dining area and so on, producing a mental representation of a space and its community. Her utopian vision is accompanied by a modular model of the structure, set partially hidden in a corner of the gallery. Time spent visualising McArthur’s design within the conspicuously empty gallery (MoMA is in part the subject of this work) makes the surrounding spaces of the city pale in comparison. At the end of the audio recording the narrator informs us that all the features she has described exist, albeit in separate locations. That is to say, the space described is possible to create and this possibility leaves room for us to consider why it hasn’t been. According to the museum’s website, McArthur conceived Projects 195 as a response to the development of MoMA which will add “gallery space in an adjacent tower with 145 private luxury apartments above the museum”.
MoMA, Oct 27, 2018 – Jan 27, 2019.

The Racial Imaginary Institute : On Whiteness, The Kitchen

Still from Intolerable Whiteness (2018) by Seung-Min Lee.

During the summer months of 2018, when the art world was winding down amid the heat, The Racial Imaginary Institute offered viewers a ‘check-in’ on what whiteness means- in an era of highly visible white nationalism – and what it has meant in America. On Whiteness featured an impressive repertoire of established names (Cindy Sherman, Glen Ligon, Tim Rollins and K.O.S., Sandeep Mukherjee, Anicka Yi) as well as many emerging artists, brought together by the curators in response to feminist scholar Sarah Ahmed’s essay “A Phenomenology of Whiteness”, in which Ahmed wrote that whiteness is a “Habit” and “Something that is taken for granted”. The exhibition was a collaboration between 10 members of the Racial Imaginary Institute and The Kitchen’s curatorial team. The tone of the works displayed ranged from harrowing (a work from Ken Gonzales-Day’s Erased Lynchings series) to psychedelic (Mores McWreath’s surreal video installation, Spots) to comical, yet all contained kernels of insight.

Sandeep Mukherjee, Writing on Tree Skin (2018)

Performance artist Seung-Min Lee’s video, Intolerable Whiteness, on the cultural significance of milk in the US was an incisive, comedic bit that took as its catalyst the adoption of milk as the drink of choice for the Alt-right. Sandeep Mukherjee’s cascading ‘skin’ strips extended from the ceiling to the floor, eliciting the tactile presence of callused and weathered flesh, a compelling statement on the violence perpetrated against non-white bodies. In the press release, statements from the Racial Imaginary Institute and The Kitchen equated the show to a ‘radical disruption’, this however, it was not. The strength of this exhibition was in the variety of responses to whiteness in its many manifestations; together, these textured and nuanced ways of seeing did the work of penetrating a difficult subject and offered the audience moments to reflect on our relation to this subject.

The Kitchen, Jun 27-Aug 3, 2018.

Cathy Wilkes, MoMA PS1

Installation image, Cathy Wilkes (2018)

There is something melancholy about the former classrooms and halls that make up the galleries of MoMA PS1, a space once dedicated to the rituals of education, it provided the ideal environment for this monographic exhibition of Irish artist Cathy Wilkes. Wilkes is a master of making an uneasy external subject of the viewer. Each room of the exhibition contained a unique tableau giving the impression of many haunting moments. All of the leftovers of daily life, positioned by the artist in relation to each other, became clues or props that brought the viewer into the intimacy of mess, as one would encounter peeking into a stranger’s doorway. Walking through the galleries evoked the experience of witnessing an uninhabited house fall into disrepair and feeling the human life leave the space, only to discover the detritus left behind has a secret life that continues, mirroring the rituals of its former tenants. All of this gloom gave way to the sentimental in traces of Wilkes’ fastidious care with her chosen materials.
MoMA PS1, Oct 27, 2017- Mar 11, 2018.

Anri Sala, Marian Goodman

Installation image from The Last Resort (2017) by Anri Sala.

Anria Sala’s self-titled exhibition at Marian Goodman’s uptown gallery could be heard before it was seen. For the sonorous work, The Last Resort, the gallery space was painted a monotone dark-grey with dim lighting, giving the impression of being in an ominous chamber on the estate of a crazed multimillionaire. From the walls the swelling sound of an orchestra played a score based on Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto- thought of as the ultimate musical expression of the Enlightenment- altered by the artist to be accompanied by thirty-eight pattering snare drums. Fixed upside-down on the ceiling, the self-playing drums formed a sonic canopy in the main gallery space. Robotic drumsticks precisely struck the drums to create a beautiful rolling soundscape that worked in conversation with the concerto, creating an altogether different musical score. In the back gallery, Sala’s film If And Only If pictured a close up of a man playing a viola, the footage projected in double on a screen in front of the gallery wall and on the wall itself, creating a small time lapse between the two images. As with The Last Resort, the inner gallery space was similarly bathed in eerie classical music, this time Igor Stravinsky, slowed and warped because of the impact of a snail balanced on the tip of the player’s bow. Both films have gained critical acclaim and are wonderful developments in Sala’s exploration of sound, perception, and the history of ideas.
Marian Goodman, Mar 2- Apr 14, 2018

Songs for Sabotage: The 2018 New Museum Triennial

Claudia Martínez Garay, Cannon Fodder (2018)

The 2018 New Museum Triennial received lot of criticism such as the review from New York Magazine’s Jerry Saltz who described it as ‘too woke for you’. The consensus among many writers seemed to be that works from the exhibition were mired in geopolitics and required too much of their audience (especially the average viewer). Biennials and Triennials are a funny thing like that, curatorial decisions and announcements always make the first headlines, and the work itself can be lost in the spectacle of art world politics and abstruse curatorial texts.

The fact that the works in this exhibition were evaluated as inaccessible is defensible, surely a lot of art seems pretentious and inaccessible to the ‘average viewer’. But, I also find this argument to be disingenuous, people relate to artwork in all manner of ways, and many times their reactions are unpredictable. While Songs for Sabotage was on display I visited the show frequently (especially on Thursday evenings when admission is pay-what-you-wish) drawn back by the dynamic energy of these young artists creating from vastly different life experiences. Politics and academic posturing aside, the highlights of Songs for Sabotage included, Claudia Martínez Garay’s Cannon Fodder/Cheering Crowds , Daniela Ortiz’s reimagined public monuments in àngels bercelona, and Wilmer Wilson’s series of dazzling, staple-covered portraits.
The New Museum of Contemporary Art, Feb 13, 2018- May 27, 2018.