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The 2023 Best Exhibitions List

Our annual exhibition round-up of ten exhibitions that made the most impact on us and as such will be remembered in connection to this year, if not years from now; going into the next year in art, is a tradition now over C-print's 10 years. As with any inexhaustive and subjective list, a list at the end of the day is just a list. The harrowing images of the genocide in Palestine is a reality that duly dominated our mediascape and which understandably casted a big shadow over any excitement about contemporary art, as the year started coming to an end. In a manner of speaking; to what point occupying space of the mind for art fairs and multimillion dollar gallery entities when humanity comes tumbling down? Having said that; a list of stellar exhibitions of 2023, without further wait, for which we also invited friend and film critic Kasia Syty to join the team.

Roe Ethridge, AMERICAN POLYCHRONIC, Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York. Photo: Frankie Tyska

10. Roe Ethridge, AMERICAN POLYCHRONIC, Andrew Kreps Gallery & Gagosian, New York

That Roe Ethridge has never exhibited in Sweden (but meanwhile in Norway in 2020's The Henie Onstad Triennial) is symptomatic of how lackluster the machinations to present contemporary photography domestically actually is. Consider with that statement how our standard fare at times comes down to the perpetual swing of a few handful notable "locals" whose claim to the stage of art was cemented already over a decade ago. Against that light, seeing our now long-time favourite Ethridge's double bill overlapping Andrew Kreps Gallery & Gagosian and multiple locations, was a happy moment. Few photographers come to mind as, as strong flagbearers of the contextual breadth of one single photograph. The exhibitions held not just what are some his most striking images per this date but also the most striking still life photography seen in a longer time. Meta photography and photographic iconography, collaging and quirky nostalgia in a potpourri set the year off to an endearing start back in January in NYC.

Mari Mattsson, Time Teller (Huda, Stacey, Boris, Mari, Amy, Emily, Jesse & Sandeep), 2023, 8-channel sound installation based on a version of the score Time Teller, steel tripods, 8 speakers, color filter on windows and lights. MFA solo exhibition, Kungliga högskolan, Stockholm

9. Mari Mattsson, Time Teller, MFA solo exhibition, Galleri Mejan, Kungliga konsthögskolan, Stockholm

A staple in our working modus since the start of this platform is to in various capacity engage with art students at art schools. We've said this before and like this list has also manifested on occasion before; while rounding up a year, it often gets clear that some of the most potent art will have been seen in the context of an art school grad solo. Every time we travel to an international art school overseas, there's often a reaffirmation of the belief that The Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm holds up exceptionally well. And this was a year where internationally renowned art schools at Columbia, NYU and Carnegie Mellon were all visited, mostly professionally. Mari Mattson's MFA solo exhibition Time Teller, back in spring, inspired such awe and was a very taut, immersive and time-alluding experience, deriving from the framework of a musical partiture of two harmonies. In physical staging; a minimalist eight-channel sound installation juxtaposing the eight recordings of people performing the partiture (Each performer simply sent her an audiofile). "Agreeable is an understatement of how it sounds and the beauty is how in parts of the loop, the eight voices merge together as a unison chorus as by mere chance .Connecting music to time this way just accentuates the universal, timeless and unifying quality of music...", we wrote in a review that can be read here.

Minerva Cuevas, In Gods We Trust, installation view, kurimanzutto, New York, NY (2023). Courtesy of kurimanzutto

8. Minerva Cuevas, In Gods We Trust, kurimanzutto, New York

What allowed Minerva Cuevas' suggestive solo exhibition its indelible impression on our memory, over the year, is the curious sculptural form she gives her research-based art to highlight the historical socio-political impact of various economic and environmental realities and issues. A takeaway was a series of sculptures composed by the heads of animal figures (stemmming from the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico) juxtaposed with vintage motor oil barrels. However, the centerpiece of the exhibition was a 12,5 meters long wall mural comprising monochrome panels anchored by motifs in the midst of mythological gods and godesses from indigeneous cultures. Bringing in for dialogue with this, the reproduced vintage 19th century ads by oil and wealth management companies, that have often over time appropriated vintage natural and scenic imagery mirroring the "public brand perception" of today's Mesoamerica, stressed connections between colonization, transatlantic trade and the ecological state of the present. However, hardly as didactic as it might sound. "I tend to avoid moral statements", said the artist in an interview in The Guardian, seeming more interested in serving a poetic riddle, with clues to offer, than anything with linear essayist qualities. She retains a certain genre of playfulness and visual tongue-in-cheekness which might very be well that balance necessary sometimes with staunchly serious subject matters like such found at the core.

Rashid Johnson, Black and Blue, 2021 Film still © Rashid Johnson

7. Rashid Johnson, Seven Rooms and a Garden, Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Curator: Hendrik Folkerts

The long-running exhibition (a whole year, until fall 2024) of internationally renowned Chicago-born interdisciplinary artist Rashid Johnson; “Seven Rooms and a Garden” finds his work in ”conversation, confrontation, and collusion” with the collection of Moderna Museet. The exhibition makes part of a series of exhibitions with emphasis on the contents of this vast collection. The title is explanatory in regard to the spatial extents and disposition of the exhibition; yes, there is a garden – among the most stunning installations seen at the museum in a while – and rooms alluding to a bedroom and a living room also appear to make part of the concept. In the final room; the artist’s 2021 film ”Black and Blue” reeks of a sensual and intimate breeze marking the inherently human quality of performing everyday routine, amid a cloud of contemplative and existential query. Casting his own family for the film; beautiful. While Moderna Museet is a leading contemporary art museum in the Nordics, this still feels like an elevation for the museum in relation to recent trajectory; a scheduling on par with expectation on a museum of this international stature. Interestingly, on a whim, thought is brought to the many lushly and lavishly produced exhibitions of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; a museum that was visited repeatedly over the past 15 months. Curator Hendrik Folkerts has since joining the museum (incidentally last serving at the Art Institute of Chicago, actually!) in short time cemented himself as breath of fresh air in Stockholm, clearly able to flex and shake up the habitual and steer the museum away from…routine. A star curator operates on a level of details. You cannot not smile at the sight of QR codes to snippets of ”soundtracks”. Take for instance; De la Soul's ”Me Myself and I”. Highlights in the displays from the collection; Felix Gonzales-Torres (always), Snezana Vucetic Bohm and Soufiane Ababri (unexpected AF - bliss for our team!)

Buck Ellison, Little Brother, installation view, Luhring Augustine, New York. Courtesy of Luhring Augustine

6. Buck Ellison, Little Brother, Luhring Augustine, New York

Buck Ellison for whoever is actively monitoring contemporary art will resonate as that new luminary that comes along every few years and becomes a fixture in this landscape and already feels as obvious in that spot as frontrunners like Torbjørn Rødland, Roe Ethridge, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Talia Chetrit, Joanna Piotrowska et alia. Ellison investigates the visuality of white privilege and societal American elitism, and how it’s broadcast and sustained, through meticulously researched images which often display crafted scenes marked by recognizable iconography. ”Little Brother” at Luhring Augustine saw such an imaginative conceptual mise-en-scène work that envisioned days in the life, in 2003, of Eric Prince; founder of the private security firm Blackwater. 2003, is the year this firm received its first U.S. contracts to engage in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the domestic setting for this tender fly on the wall observation is his ranch in Wyoming. The sentiments and discourse(s) that the work is catalyst to are complex and layered. We might not be so informed by who Eric Prince and the backstory of Blackwater around our local shores here but the conflict of immoral capitalism posing with a wholesome face marked by the privileges of whiteness and beauty capital rings very clear. There’s another layer to that if you add a queer gaze. We had to google Eric Prince's countenance but that Steve McQueen-ness is designed to find traction widely across the board. It also made you think of broadcasting and print medias role in shaping the brand and perception of a person like this. It definitely brought to mind how George W. Bush went from a war criminal figure-type to a "harmless "uncle" painting cats and dogs, and the rebranding that happened there and which we got to see through the lens of art.

Faith Ringgold, American People, installation view, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chicago

5. Faith Ringgold, American People, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chicago. Curators: Jamillah James, with Jack Schneider

This comprehensive survey of the influential artist's body of work, spanning over decades, and amplified by such beautiful exhibition design, was a luxury to take part of and will be too for anyone else going during the exhibition's run. It follows right after the retrospective of yet another leading figure with great importance to black history through art; Gary Simmons. Faith Ringgold is so infuential to today's artists that one could easily imagine an exhibition along the lines of Faith Ringgold and her descendants; stressing how later generation of artists whose work too intertwine art and activism, align with and draw from her. Or in such orchestration join her with artists who decades later are running the torch for loosening hierarchial boundaries between craft and visual art. One can also see how her iconic textile story quiltes would be a great study locally at one of the major art schools of Stockholm, Konstfack, where figurative storytelling in textile craft is becoming increasingly commonplace. Prior to the exhibition at the museum, only tokens of her art have been seen by our team over the years, in various collections. Mostly then her story quilts and paintings but an interdisciplinary medley encompassing also soft sculptures, performance objects and ephemera connecting to Ringgold's activist work is truly eye-opening to the true extents of her work, and the many ranging moods it informs.

Sidenote: In Sweden, there was Faith Ringgold's career retrospective at Bildmuseet in Umeå in 2020, marking her first ever exhibition in the Nordic region, and Larsen Warner showing a textile work of hers in the same year in the group exhibition "In Stitches".

Mari Carrasco, The Heart (performers: Gustav Deinoff, Bianca Traum, Javier Perez and Stacey Aung), ph: Res

4. Mari Carrasco, The Heart, Hallen i Farsta, Stockholm

2023 was an exceptionally good year for contemporary dance in Stockholm. Parts of the team saw more dance than any other year, especially dense was the end of the year with several noteworthy performances; Björn Säfsten’s "And so we’re gone", Bianca Traum’s "TREI" at MDT and Sophie Augot and Philip Berlin’s collaborative comedy/dance performance "MISS" at Moment. The piece that really knocked it out of the park this year, however, is Mari Carrasco’s The Heart; a moment of dance perfection. Earlier this year, in a state of post-performance euphoria, we wrote: “For somebody who hasn’t seen the inside of a night club in what feels like years, it really ignited something. Smoke, sweat, lust, bodies confined in a crammed space; very evocative and moving.”

The set design by Jenny Nordberg, saw a pulsating heart in the form of a small house where the audience was invited to enter and share the tiny space with dancers extraordinaire Javier Perez, Bianca Traum, Stacey Aung and Gustav Deinoff. We’d be damned if it didn’t bring the former glory night outs at NYC’s Le Bain and The Box to mind. Mari is set to present a new work already in the spring at Dansens Hus – and you’d be crazy to miss it.

Installation view, The Renassiance Society, Chicago

3. No name, mysterious and cryptic group exhibition, The Renassiance Society, Chicago. Curators: Shahryar Nashat & Bruce Hainley

We had been wanting to visit The Renaissance Society, a contemporary arts venue at the University of Chicago for a good while, taking seven whole visits to the "Windy City" before actually making it there. The Renaissance Society or "The Ren" was either always between exhibitions or closed on our days there up until then. The exhibition running over the summer must be among the most cryptic exhibitions we've ever seen. So cryptic it lacked a title and a press release; and the participating artists of the group exhibition were not listed online either. How unorthodox is that! The poster person, or "mascot" as it's been called, of the exhibition had been RPatz (Robert Pattinson) who rose to stardom per the Twillight franchise. Random images of the actor could be seen crowding the institution’s Instagram to promote the exhibition and the only thing the curators put out there was a snapshot they took of the actor eating, while spotting him by chance over a lunch in LA. The exhibition, which we learnt subsequently, was organized collaboratively by artist Shahryar Nashat and writer Bruce Hainley, as a result of an ongoing dialogue between the two.

The only thing the curators did offer in text is that randomly stumbling across Pattinson made them instinctually decide to use him as a vessel "to work through the current moment in relation to how bodies, whether living currency or undead, circulate, distort, unalive, and, yet, love." To that effect, it featured live pole dancers from the Fly Club Chicago, livestreams of rescue cats, bags of urine, Chelsea Manning, a TikTok feed (@halal.before.haram and) a 1992 "readymade video" by Larry Clark (Larry Clark, Brian, 15 year old raped by mop handle, 1992), offering a segment from what is the first and seminal daytime talk show with audience participation; The Phil Donahue Show. The video footage which alludes to toxic masculinity avant la lettre brings forth the traumatizing scenario of a 15-year old wrestler having a mop inserted up his rectum 12 inch up high by his teammates, leaving the world around confused and puzzled as to how to contextualize and make sense of it. The exhibition clearly aimed for disruption of the pillars on which conventional exhibition-making and perhaps more namely exhibition communication so commonly rest, and did so with bravura; in the sense that it seriously also "got away with it, as a statement-and-food-for-thought exhibition.

Tuấn Andrew Nguyễn, The Island (2017), still from video. Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan Gallery, New York

2. Tuấn Andrew Nguyễn, It Was What Is Will Be, Marabouparken, Sundbyberg. Curator: Helena Holmberg

You know, just as we were wondering if Marabourparken was ever really going to start flexing and impressing with its exhibition scheduling again, feeling quite dormant in the early pandemic years, director Helena Holmbergs gave us what was a serious Venice Beach flex by presenting Tuần Andrew Nguyễn’s exhibition ”It Was What Is Will Be”. An exhibition that felt so attuned with what ”the brand” of Marabouparken has been during our over a decade of years in Stockholm; an important venue for our intake of internationally resonant art. Apropos of that flex; the subsequent iteration of Nguyễn's exhibition took place only about two months later at NYC's New Museum, so ought to tell you something. Exquisite is the word for what we saw. The three films presented, all with traces back to the "memory of " the Vietnam War, were (soothingly, not frustratingly) intriguing in story development, and visually titilating in equal parts. Between monumental film projection and graceful Calder-esque tree-like sculptures of mirror, the main open "souterrain" space of the konsthall transformed itself into a quiet dimmed down site for contemplation. Spatial conditions that would have been very welcome towards the end of this year, even more so than in the beginning, back in February.

Still: Sin Wai Kin, Dreaming the End, 2023. Video, duration 21 minutes 6 seconds. Courtesy the artist and Fondazione Memmo, Rome

1. Sin Wai Kin, Dreaming the End, Fondazione Memmo, Rome. Curator Alessio Antoniolli

“With this show, we created a camp world where objectivity and subjectivity merge, unleashing countless, fragmented narratives.” said the Canadian London-based artist Sin Wai Kin who has provided one of the most vivid art experiences this year. After a dreamy Ischia vacation in July (please, take us back there!) we swung by Rome and Fondazione Memmo - an art institution housed in the Renaissance-style Palazzo Ruspoli. An incredibly beautiful space, with sun rays discreetly falling in, hosting the first solo exhibition in Italy by Sin Wai Kin, which revolved around the commissioned video "Dreaming the End", filmed entirely in Rome and produced by Fondazione Memmo, curated by Alessio Antoniolli.

The two characters The Storyteller and The Change, brought to life by Sin during the pandemic, are trapped in a repetitive hypnotic narrative from which they’re trying to escape. "Dreaming the End" follows the characters as they move through different spaces – the gardens of Villa Medici, the interior of Palazzo Ruspoli or the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana. It was a once-in-a-lifetime-feeling to be able to experience this site-specific interplay between Rome’s ancient history and Sin Wai Kin’s cinematic world, filled with thriller, noir, fantasy, traditional Chinese dramaturgy, drag and science fiction.

Pen: Ashik & Koshik Zaman & Kasia Syty


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