The 2019 Annual Best Exhibitions List
Since its founding in 2013, C-print Journal has annually published a best list of exhibitions seen over the year that passed. Ending a decade of art, here’s the list without further ado, featuring exhibitions from Stockholm to Dubai.
Marcus Mårtenson, Electric Eye, 2019
10. Marcus Mårtenson, Total Noise, Galerie Forsblom, Stockholm
Ending the year on a high note, Galerie Forsblom presented alongside a billed homage to Per Kirkeby, a solo exhibition by Marcus Mårtenson. Total Noise was a total riot fueled with satirical popular cultural references and traces of hardcore Americana. Akin to David Shrigley, this genre of expression appears a rare watch in the local art scene which only makes it more refreshing to see in a first-tier setting. Whether laughing inside or out, Mårtenson’s instant works are impressively aligned with timely occurrences in the later age of the Internet and the era of fake news. The “centerpiece”; a large-scale painting of a phone display holding a string of apps with copies along the lines of “Too many choices” for a Tinder-like app and “Intimacy disorder” for an adult-rated app, not to mention the bird tweeting “Outrage!” let on Mårtenson’s canny perception of the gritty and "gory" in the now. Stuff which can easily be alleviated with wit, but which remain entrenched in our present condition.
Louis Fratino, Tom's Chair, 2019
9. Louis Fratino, Nudissima, Antoine Levi, Paris
Having kept a close eye on New York-based Louis Fratino since his breakout a couple of years ago, we were pleased to catch his second solo show, Nudissima, with Antoine Levi during a short Paris visit earlier in the fall for the occasion of the FIAC fair. The exhibition, simple in its staging with only a handful of podiums in the considerably modest gallery space, marked a leap forward in Fratino’s practice which up until recently had rested on figurative painting. For the new series of terracotta works, sculptures and reliefs, weghing on interaction between characters and figures, Fratino travelled to Italy to explore ceramics as a medium. And did so apparently successfully. The intimate everyday scenarios familiar from his paintings, evoked such fantasies and empathy with us, literally, in a way as to stress a reminder merely of art being able to.
Installation view, Petra Hultman, Full Sysselsättning, Konstnärshuset
8. Petra Hultman, Full sysselsättning, Konstnärshuset, Stockholm
Since graduating from the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm, Petra Hultman has come to establish herself as one of the most distinctive young artists working in Sweden, with several accolades already to her credit. Hultman’s work notably revolves around the notion of labour, and more specifically the sort predominantly associated with a female and domestic domain, performed by women, and the (under)value it has traditionally been ascribed. The work in Full sysselsättning expands on the prior produced crocheted table tops of women which through Hultman has been put into use in the creation and display of ornamental site-specific installations inside the main exhibition hall at Konstnärshuset. In this capacity, the room was transformed with the grandeur of an biennial-like pavilion, with beauty nearly unprecedented this year. A different “beast” was the aerial dragon-like textile body mounted down the ceiling. At once thought-provoking about the agency of art and the collective production and authorship of art.
7. Ana Santos, Anátema, MAAT, Bélem
For her works which are seated in the intersection where sculpture, installation and object meet, Santos employs discarded objects and everyday materials which are joined in such way allowing their former utility and inherent singularity to come through in equal privileges. The result appears often to be an arresting metamorphic quality visually which made her Anátema, with works sparsely installed in spartan rooms, such a pleasure to see. A sculpture on a wall consisting part of a torn and burnt jacket and what could possibly have been a leather sport bag will go down as yet another one of the most stunning works seen in 2019.
Installation view, Sara-Vide Ericson, Interior Ambush, Konstakademien, courtesy Galleri Magnus Karlsson
6. Sara-Vide Ericson, Interior Ambush, Konstakademien/Galleri Magnus Karlsson, Stockholm
Sara-Vide Ericson’s exhibition at Konstakademien in collaboration with Galleri Magnus Karlsson was visually very coherent throughout and in its best moments produced jaw-drops for you as a viewer at the account of the technical painterly command. Sara-Vide rarely lets you down in fact; she is in part consistent and true to her own trajectory but pushes herself forward a little bit with every show she has done in order not to reproduce a forte, and at a certain point you are struck by her evolution and growth as a painter looking back at her arc of past shows. In this show there is an interesting ’organic’ overlap between the interior scenes of still lifes and natural exterior tableaux where her own body literally connects with the earth. The two branches of her work together come full circle here. Technically her command appears increasingly accomplished and where her past shows were conceptually formatted and the reading greatly served by context, at this point words feel redundant. Fearless might be an overstatement - it is - but the thought does come to mind nevertheless. A fave contemporary painter - here, near or far - shows again why she is among the most gifted to come out of Sweden.
Maria Lassnig, Selbsporträt mit Stab, 1971
5. Maria Lassnig, Ways of Being, The Albertina Museum, Vienna
“Maria Lassnig, next to Louise Bourgeois, Joan Mitchell and Agnes Martin is one of the most important women artists of the 20th century”, reads text from the Albertina Museum. And yet, up until Monopol this spring at Spritmuseum, her work had strangely and scandalously never been shown in Stockholm before. 2019 marked the year that would have been Lassnig’s hundredth birthday, the opportunity of which was seized by the Albertina to present a comprehensive survey of her vast body of work. While her work tackled themes from sci-fi, technology to war/violence over the years, a few things notably signify her work; she lets the intimacy of her own body at the fore of her work, in a way that might appear gutsy even by today’s standards. She had a real self-deprecating sense of humour which comes across, and most fascinatingly despite moving between styles, she remained visually very consistent all the same; due largely her bright pastel-toned palettes.
Installation view, Alfredo Jaar, 1973, courtesy Galerie Hubert Winter
4. Alfredo Jaar, 1973, curated by Jon Bird, Galerie Hubert Winter, Vienna
A great gallery exhibition seen this year which virtually had an institutional retrospective scope was 1973; externally curated by Jon Bird for the annual festival Curated By in Vienna and informing works by renowned Chilean-born Alfredo Jaar from 1974 to 1987. That means works as resistance either conceived and executed while still in Chile, that depart from the realities of the dictatorism of Pinochet following the military coup in 1973, or while in his early years in the US as an artist in exile. Considering precarious times with increasing threat of fascism on the political landscape, the exhibition was a timely display. No surprise there, but what was not known then was how the memory of the exhibition would reignite and echo with pathos weeks later given the nationwide uprising in Chile for change and the brutality faced by civilians. Jaar made smart conceptual-driven works, often with messages that are made very clear to the viewer in direct yet poetic and/or witty fashion. Notably he rebelled in his work against the reductive and all too commonplace notion of America as a geographic area encompassing only Northern America, or even more reductively; the U.S alone. God bless America, but which America, asks Jaar’s work.
Hassan Hajjaj, Alo Wala, from the series My Rock Stars, 2015. © Hassan Hajjaj
3. Hassan Hajjaj, Maison Marocaine de la Photographie, Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris
Lining up in the rain for Hassan Hajjaj’s Maison Marocaine de la Photographie, it was evident that the Moroccan-born London-based photographer’s first major retrospective was sans doute the show du moment in Paris. Hajjaj used his carte blanche by rendering the entire space a total makeover drawing from his Moroccan heritage. Worn out adjectives like “bold” and “vibrant” quickly spring to mind but the show which encompassed and juxtaposed western brand iconography, sports, music with local fashion, prints and patterns, merits much more. A highlight among many were Hajjaj’s studio portraits of regional popular cultural icons, paying homage to the late Malian greats Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keïta. An equal feast for the eyes were the actual frames; sculptural constructions with embedded pockets framing the images with stacked units of canned food and drinks with universally recognized brands. Rarely has a photography exhibition been this fun and awe-inspiring.
Installation view, Altered Inheritances: Home Is A Foreign Places, work by Shilpa Gupta at the Ishara Art Foundation, photo: Ismail Noor
2. Shilpa Gupta and Zarina, Altered Inheritances: Home Is A Foreign Places, Ishara Foundation, Dubai
Set inside a two-level space on Alserkal Avenue; the art and gallery district of Dubai, is the recently inaugurated Ishara Art Foundation which makes for a non-profit organization dedicated entirely to contemporary art from the South Asian subcontinent. A global tourist metropolis, Dubai as is known, was built through the exploitiation of migrant labour, largely from said region which partially marks as well the importance of the foundation, in so far giving presence to South Asian voices and faces in the cultural sector of the UAE. A two-person exhibition, Altered Inheritances: Home Is A Foreign Places, joined the bodies of works of two Indian-born artists; Shilpa Gupta and Zarina (Hashimi, known profesionally by her first name only), who are aligned by both addressing concepts of personal identity and geographic displacement. Zarina's work references her own travels while Gupta entangles the journeys of others. One of the pivotal works of the show belonging to Gupta, the ingenious participatory installation Speaking Wall (2009-2010) had the visitor walking on a boardwalk of bricks, while submitted to follow instructions on how to act and proceed. These instructions stressed on a tiny LCD-screen and by way of a firm dictating voice from headphones would soon have you realize that the narration was that of the dehuminizing reality and political machination of physical borders in troubled areas of the world, where the image of human personhood will be denied certain individuals. A work that hits hard to the core, the way should.
Omer Fast, Der oylem iz a goylem (still), 2019
1. Omer Fast, Der oylem iz a goylem, Salzburger Kunstverein, Salzburg
A visionary filmmaker and video artist in contemporary art, Israeli-born Omer Fast was also found at the top of our annual list back in 2017, following his then Talking Is Not Always the Solution in Berlin at Martin-Gropius Bau. Fast, characterized by films based on circular and open dramaturgical direction that distort perception of space and logic, has in recent years expanded his practice to include architectural interventions and theatrical mise-en-scènes of space. For his exhibition at Salzburger Kunstverein, sets of a hospital waiting lounge, hospital hallways and a doctor's reception room were created with such great authenticity in detail, it was only once one of the staff members let us in on the underlying construction on the premises that it dawned on us to what extent question had actually been of staging (to our disbelief). With the works in the exhibition, Fast plunges into a technincal realm, exporing filmmaking in both VR and 3D. The Invisible Hand was presented as a full-on VR-experience in the doctor's reception room and plays around a narrative of a ghost haunting and cursing a Chinese family after being shunned at a wedding. No less than a masterpiece and succesful display of the potential of VR in art. An equally immersive and gripping work, yet rendered in 3D was August; a film loosely based on the final years of German photographer August Sander. A third and last film was Der oylem iz goylem, a new film commissioned by the Kunstverein and unveiled in the exhibition. An eerie tale based on the meeting of two strangers stuck together on a chair lift above the ski slopes of a mountain resort that brings in the midst, prejudice and allusions to historical accounts of the perpetration of genocide to mind. The three films together probably don't only make for the exhibition of the year, but rather one of the exhibitions of the entire decade. Hence, what would come to top this year's list was really a no-brainer.