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Art broadens its reach

  • NEW YORK TIMES
    “Upcycled” decor was installed in the historic homes of Weeksville, N.Y., as part of “Funk, God, Jazz & Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn.” The public art project addressed a cultural past in danger of being erased.
  • NEW YORK TIMES
    Speakers in the back of a pink 1959 Cadillac blast interviews being conducted inside the car itself, for “Funk, God, Jazz & Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn,” in New York.
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This was a good year to stop taking notice of money. What’s the point? Auction prices and the plausible value are a joke. And annual "records" are guaranteed (an $853 million Christie’s night in November) because they’re good advertising. Buyers and sellers get to strut; the press gets to write. Total win. And it’s all happening on some odd little art-world planet populated by (mostly) boys playing "I’m bigger than you are."

But in the real art world, which is a spacious and complex place, more interesting things are going on. Here are a few from this year:

» "Multiple Modernities: 1905-1970" at the Pompidou Center in Paris, a show that also happens to be the museum’s current permanent collection. Reflecting the long acquisition history of the French national museums, the exhibition consists primarily of modern artists from China, Japan, India, the so-called Middle East and Eastern Europe, with an interlarding of Western Europeans like Matisse and Picasso.

I’d never heard of many of the non-Europeans, and I bet you haven’t either. So, it’s a learning experience from start to finish, astonishing in its variety. Not that the Pompidou has tremendous confidence in the show: The catalog assures us that it’s only an experiment and not a forecast of future directions. But there it is.

» "Goya: Order and Disorder" at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Using largely works on paper from the collection with the addition of strategic loans from the Prado and elsewhere, this cunningly organized exhibit fleshes out an artist we think we know well to reveal a figure of conflicts and contradictions, an artist being shaped by history just as surely as he was shaping it.

» "Funk, God, Jazz & Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn": One of two notable public art projects in Brooklyn based on black history. Kara Walker’s "A Subtlety," with its immense sugarcoated sculpture of a sphinx-bodied Aunt Jemima, was in the old Domino Sugar factory in Williamsburg.

But this second, lower-key but resonant project was installed throughout Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, an area that once encompassed the 19th-century African-American neighborhood of Weeksville. This project, set in schools and houses, spoke of a cultural past in danger of being erased and, like the protests spurred by the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, took its message into the street.

» "The Possible" at the Berkeley Art Museum in California. Over four months, curators David Wilson and Lawrence Rinder brought in dozens of artists and craftsmen to set up ceramics workshops, print shops, dye laboratories and recording studios in a free-form collaboration with museum visitors.

This show was process all the way and community-forging. The mobbed closing night, with all hands joined in celebration, was pure 1960s utopia flashed forward to a new generation.

RETROSPECTIVES

» "Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010," at New York’s Museum of Modern Art provided a long-awaited, in-depth look at an artist whose refusal of a signature style slowed down his canonization but puts the seal on his greatness.

» The Nicole Eisenman retrospective at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, catches a matchless American painter in midcareer.

» An overview of the French-born Venezuelan artist Marisol that originated at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art became a single fabulous conceptual piece upon arrival at El Museo del Barrio in Manhattan.

» Finally, a tribute to East Village sculptor Greer Lankton at Participant Inc. on New York’s Lower East Side, was one of the best gallery shows of the year.

LOSSES

In 2014, some wonderful artists died, among them Carla Accardi, Terry Adkins, Harun Farocki, Nancy Holt, Souleyimane Keita, Gilda Snowden, Marjorie Strider and Elaine Sturtevant.

POLITICS

The art industry sat out the Eric Garner protests poolside at Art Basel Miami, but throughout 2014, coalitions of artists calling themselves Gulf Labor and Global Ultra Luxury Faction, along with Human Rights Watch, have pressed the Guggenheim Museum on the rights of migrant laborers building the museum’s new outpost on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi.

DOWNERS

Continuing, crippling art school tuition debts; prohibitive New York City studio rents; the disappearance of paying outlets for art writers; the appearance of David H. Koch’s creepy $65 million fountains at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. You can stop taking notice of money for only so long.

By Holland Cotter, New York Times

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