Art in the city
Each year, Artforum International Magazine asks contributors to enumerate the top 10 art highlights and most "luminary exhibitions" of the year. For 2011, Artforum's December issue recognizes Houston's Menil Collection — twice.
Upside Down: Arctic Realities, curated by the late Dr. Edmund "Ted" Snow Carpenter, ranked No. 1 on a list selected by Jay Sanders, esteemed curator and co-organizer of the 2012 Whitney Biennial. It was on view at the Menil during the spring and part of the summer.
Carpenter, a noted anthropologist and filmmaker, culled art and artifacts from a variety of international public and private resources to form a collection of everyday objects, from amulets to funeral offerings to ceremonial masks, spanning from 1000 BC to the 19th century.
To set off that exhibition, light artist Doug Wheeler was commissioned "to create an environment within the exhibition space" and sound engineer Philippe Le Goff to produce an all-consuming soundscape of wind, snow and tribal singing.
Sanders said that Upside Down "expressed the complexity of utilitarian and spiritual life in an unstable landscape that can fundamentally lose its horizon, merge ground with air, and fully disappear," and that Wheeler's lighting conveyed the viewer to a "vast, edgeless atmosphere, lit with hazy neon and enveloping the diminutive clusters of artifact-filled Plexiglas vitrines."
Another exhibition that made Sanders' list (at No. 7) is Walter De Maria: Trilogies, on view through Jan. 8, 2012, and curated by Menil director Josef Helfenstein. Made up of three series of three parts, this exhibition is American artist De Maria's major solo museum debut in the United States.
"A show like this one takes a lot of back and forth," explained Vance Muse, public affairs director for the Menil. "De Maria is very exacting, and we were happy to accommodate his wishes."
The most striking part of the exhibit is the identical trio of painstakingly restored 1955 Chevrolet Bel Airs, each on display with a polished metal rod seamlessly piercing through both windshield and back window.
Sanders deemed Trilogies, "The uncanniest use of the readymade this year, and I'm not even pretending to understand it all now."
A Gallery Talk on Friday with curators and conservators at the Menil will help to illuminate at least the logistics of moving vintage into the gallery, as well as other practical and aesthetic issues.
Though this isn't the first time that the Menil has made it to Artforum's coveted list, it is a coup for the museum, which has a stellar reputation in art circles. According to Muse, the Menil was the sole venue for both Upside Down and Trilogies.
"The Menil generates a lot of exhibitions that travel to other museums," Muse said.
Exhibitions currently on tour — and garnering rave reviews — include Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage, which recently closed at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, and Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective, which stopped at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is currently at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It will end its run at the Menil in March 2012.