Top Ten, 2023
By Claire Bishop
This is the Top Ten I pulled from the December issue of Artforum, because of David getting fired.
1. Walid Raad, Cotton Under My Feet: The Hamburg Chapter (Hamburger Kunsthalle, August)
The master of the lecture-performance delivered his best yet: a ninety-minute odyssey around the Kunsthalle’s venerable collection, exposing its hidden and multifarious connections to mega-donor Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza. Self-restoring angels, the financialization of weather data, gremlins in Hudson River School paintings, insects that swarm around goblets, and shady art collectors controlling US foreign policy in Iran. Funny, poignant, partisan, moving: Raad can do it all, with bells on, and for eighty performances in a row. Top that, amateurs.
2. nora chipaumire, Nehanda (Lincoln Center, New York, June)
Lincoln Center could not have done this magnificent five-hour gesamtkunstwerk a greater disservice: firstly by barely promoting it (the auditorium was half empty, despite free tickets); secondly by billing it as depicting “violence during the British colonization of Zimbabwe”; and thirdly, by nixing Chipaumire’s plan to allow the audience on stage. Still, it was incredible: a fearless, flamboyant occupation of NYC’s cultural capitol through an anticolonial eruption of Shona dance and music. We entered a parallel time, ancestral time. I could have stayed five hours longer. I wanted to be there on stage with Chipaumire’s dancers and musicians, being conducted by her revolutionary fire and fuck-you attitude (which included insults to Lincoln Center for compromising the work). A former student told me that he’d written to Chipaumire to ask that she assemble an army just so he could enlist. Sign me up, too.
3. Steve McQueen, Grenfell (Serpentine Gallery, London, April)
Video as memorial and indictment. McQueen has always been a meticulous stager of his work, and never more so than at the Serpentine, where the careful set-up and installation of this twenty-four-minute film prepared viewers for collective grief. His dread-inducing aerial approach to the charred shell of the West London housing project where a fire claimed seventy-two lives is unforgettable. One-take camerawork and judicious sonic absences produce a portrait of the incinerated high-rise as toxic corpse, bearing witness to the disdainful, murderous neglect of the British government. A shout-out to Paul Gilroy for the devastatingly powerful text he contributed to the exhibition.
4. Faye Driscoll, Weathering (New York Live Arts, April)
The slow build from frozen tableau to Dionysian burnout has never been more grippingly paced, nor alluringly polymorphous. A quirky cast—imagine a sample of riders on the L-train—occupied a stage-like plinth that was rotated, at first intermittently, and then continually, like a maelstrom. Underpinned by theories of entanglement and climate change, Weathering was a lubricated commute to the end of the world—all non-verbal communication, bodily fluids, petals, and perfume, perpetually slithering between sexy and abject, sculpture and movement, desperation and hope.
5. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Pas De Duke and Night Creature (New York City Center, December)
Every December, the AAADT performs these two 1970s classics at City Center. You have to go! Set to Duke Ellington’s sublime orchestral compositions from the fifties, they are intravenous shots of US culture at its finest. Get over your Judson Dance Theater austerity and give in to Ailey’s sparkle and swish and swing. Colour and rapture; seventies showbiz is where it’s at. The Whitney will have an Ailey show in 2024. I can’t wait.
6. Isa Genzken, “75/75” (Neue National Galerie, Berlin, July)
Sometimes an artist’s work is matched to a venue with such perfection that it feels like destiny—or at least seventy-five years in the making (Genzken’s age at the time of the show). Her sculpture has never looked so great as in Mies’ exquisitely proportioned glass showcase, which brought out the atomized, figural quality of all her sculpture. Dotted around the floor and hanging from the ceiling, her oddball assemblages merged with visitors (and their strollers and wheelchairs) and dialogued with cyclists peering in through the windows. Together we made one big messed-up spectacle of broken zombies doing our bit to “fuck the Bauhaus.”
7. Every Ocean Hughes, One Big Bag (Whitney Museum of American Art, March)
Over the last few years, Hughes has been exploring the work of death doulas. This crisply choreographed, richly visual, rhythmic, forty-minute video—made with performer Lindsay Rico and an all-star cast of collaborators—presents a guide to end-of-life care from a queer perspective. The “big bag” of the title refers to all the everyday, often banal, objects needed to care for the corpse of a loved one. The work’s directness is not for the faint-hearted—and yet the result manages to be an empowering toolkit, not least for those sceptical of the US death industry.
8. Trajal Harrell, The Romeo (Festspielhaus Berlin, August)
In a year of performances that earnestly invoke the ancestral, Harrell refreshingly brought us a blatantly made-up tradition—the Romeo, a tragic dance whose origins are ancient but elusive, unattached to a nation or people. Everything was undulation, from the swaying hips and spiralling arms to the fluid gender play. This being Harrell, the costume changes began slowly but soon became relentless, piling lavishness on gorgeousness to the point where you thought there couldn’t possibly be any more outfits—but there were. You got swept away with the parade, which kept flowing through the simple archway of a set, like waves lapping on the shore.
9. “It’s Pablo-Matic” (Brooklyn Museum, September)
Sheer contrarianism compels me to vote for any exhibition so vitriolically eviscerated by male critics. I’m not a Gadsby fan, but this show set a new bar for feminist curating, offering a novel approach to mounting collection displays of difficult material. What I admired was not so much the work but the wildly polyvocal wall labels: professional curator neutrality next to Gadsby’s relentless take-downs (a handful of which were actually funny) next to the voices of female artists (many of whom really admire Picasso). Just imagine if the Met had had the guts to tackle Delacroix—or Degas, or Homer—this way.
10. Artforum, 1962 – 2023 (New York)
The insane antipathy to all things Palestinian that has gripped cultural institutions in North America, Germany, and elsewhere has managed to put the best art magazine on life support. An open letter, a supposedly breached protocol, a fired editor-in-chief, a scandal. May something better rise from Artforum’s ashes, less beholden to dealers and collectors, but continuing the tradition of brilliant editors pushing writers to do their greatest work.
Claire Bishop is professor in the PhD Program in Art History at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her books Merce Cunningham’s Events: Key Concepts and Disordered Attention: How We Look at Art and Performance Today, are forthcoming in 2024.
Read Top Ten, 2023 by Erika Balsom
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