Top 10 Modern and Contemporary Art Exhibitions of 2012 Worth Visiting

With a new year ahead of us, it is time once again to start thinking about all the great opportunities to plan and research potential trips, or even just great fantasy visits, to a whole new crop of exciting art exhibitions around the world.  As with the list I compiled in 2011, my picks usually revolve around visits to great art cities or to places I have already put on my conference and/or research itinerary. This year I am most excited about the planned Field School to Paris that I blogged about here that will include an optional trip to Documenta  13 in Kassel, Germany—arguably the premier art exhibition event of this year. I hope my list inspires some of you to push your travel plans in new directions. It was especially wonderful hearing back from those of you who actually got to the shows on my 2011 list (I was most jealous of those who got to see the Richter show at the Tate—I missed it by a few weeks when I was in the UK last fall!). But even for those of us sticking closer to home, there are always great shows taking place in local galleries.

Once again, the list reflects the information made available on gallery websites for upcoming exhibitions and is purely based on my own interests. See it as a wish list. Happy New Year!

10.  Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver: Beat Nation (February 25-June 3): As with last year, I am starting close to home with an intriguing show that examines the new cultures of hybridity that fuse forms of popular youth, music, and hip hop culture and the language of aboriginal storytelling and visual arts. For those of you familiar with the work of Brian Jungen, this exhibition promises to be a dynamic and innovative one.  

Andy Warhol, A Boy for Meg (1962). source:
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
9. National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.: Warhol Headlines (traveling through Europe 2012): This past winter I had a chance to see this fascinating and very eye-opening exhibition in Washington D.C. exploring Andy Warhol’s lifelong obsession with the news media and tabloid headlines. The National Gallery of Art assembled 80 Warhol works of various media to examine this theme, and I was happy to see that the show will be traveling through Europe this summer, landing first in Frankfurt at the Museum of Modern Art from February 11-May 13th and then off to Rome at the National Gallery of Art from June 11-September 9th. It will then make a reappearance in the US from October 14- January 16, 2013 in Pittsburgh at the Andy Warhol Museum.

8. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco: Francesca Woodman (November 5-February 20): Francesca Woodman was part of an important and somewhat controversial film that I previewed as part of the 2010 Vancouver International Film Festival. Her life story and unique photographic practice are often difficult to disentangle, but this retrospective of Woodman’s work  (the first in twenty years) introduces her vision and approach to a new generation of artists dealing with the ambiguities and difficulties of subjecthood and self-portraiture.

7. Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles: Ends of the Earth (April 8-July 30): This exhibition caught my attention for its unique and ambitious scope, aiming to trace the development and history of Land Art, an art form and media practice that deliberately attempts to escape the art institution all together. Over eighty artists from around the world will be represented in what looks to be a one of a kind show, not unlike the recent exhibition MOCA did dealing with Street Art.
Francesca Woodman, Untitled (1979-80). source: ARTINFO

6. New Museum, New York: The Ungovernables (February 15-April 22): The New Museum is a unique institution dedicated to showcasing under-recognized contemporary artists from around the world. Since its founding in the 1970’s, the New York based museum has launched the careers and/or brought to worldwide attention many of the artists studied in contemporary art history classes today such as Ana Mendieta, Andrea Zittel, and William Kentridge. This show is part of the museum’s second triennial and will, as stated on its website, feature thirty-four artists, artist groups, and temporary collectives—totaling over fifty participants—born between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s, many of whom have never before exhibited in the US. I especially love the title of the exhibition and the themes involving civil disobedience and questions of central power that will shape the discussion around this show.

Niki de Saint Phalle, Shooting Picture (1971)
source: Tate Modern
5. Tate Modern, London: A Bigger Splash- Painting After Performance Art (November 7- April 1,2013): I spend a great deal of time talking about the crisis around painting after the late 1960’s with my students, and so I was most intrigued with this show exploring the juxtaposition of action and abstract painting with performance based art practices. So far, the description from the Tate is pretty brief, but it promises to deliver what looks like one of the most dynamic conversations around painting this year.

4. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: The Steins Collect (February 28-June 3): For any of you who caught Woody Allen’s 2011 film Midnight in Paris this year, you will recall all of the great sequences that captured the world of Gertude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, and other luminaries of the Paris Avant-Garde. This exhibition pays homage to the patronage of the Steins and their close relationships and influence on an art community that could not have existed or come to public acclaim without their support.

Edgar Degas, The Milliners (1882) source: Artfixx
3. Musee D’Orsay, Paris: Degas and the Nude (March 13-July 1); Impressionism and Fashion (Sept25-end of year): One of my favourite points in any late nineteenth century art history class that I teach is the moment where I get to “de-code” the Degas nude and ballerina for an unknowing audience. I won’t spoil the surprise for those yet to catch up on their Impressionist art history, but I am very excited that the Orsay will tackle this subject, along with the permutations of Impressionism and its link to fashion in these two very important exhibitions.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #466 (2008) source: MoMA
2. Museum of Modern Art, New York: Cindy Sherman (February 26-June 11): Along with Documenta, this is the show I long to see the most. For all of the hype around Sherman and the recent criticisms she has received from the art world surrounding her commercial ventures (with cosmetics company MAC as just one example), her body of work stand as among the most important and influential of any living artist today. I blogged about Sherman’s record-breaking photograph here last year, and think this retrospective will garner the same kind of excitement and interest as Abramovic in 2010.

1. Kassel, Germany: Documenta13 (June 9-September 16): Simply put, a once every five year event that is a must-see for anyone interested in the present state of contemporary art. I have blogged extensively about the event already and look forward to experiencing it with a great group of students in the summer! Let me know if you get to any of these exhibitions as the year goes on. Happy travels!