by Robert Boyd
Not every show can be a good show. And some--a lot, really--are pretty damn bad. This isn't really a list of all the worst exhibits from last year. There are some venues that almost never put up good art. I don't see much value in pointing this out. Therefore, everything listed here is from an institution that should have known better. Not only were these shows bad, they were disappointing.
Walter de Maria, Trilogies at the Menil. I thought the rods through the Bel Airs were kind of nice, but it ultimately seemed like de Maria was leaching off the art of the classic automobile while adding the slightest piece of himself to it. The Statement Series paintings were merely banal. Ultimately I agree with the sentiment that this show was "a 25 cent idea with a million dollar budget."
Rod Northcutt's Indigenous Genius at Art League. This is a case where an artist had an idea that must have initially then seemed clever and beat it into the ground. The notion of beavers as indigenous artists, in addition to being kind of an insult to the real issues surrounding indigenous art, was like a one page comic strip in Mad Magazine inflated until it popped. The feeble concept simply could not sustain a major art exhibit.
Tara Conley and Tria Wood, My Life As a Doll at Diverseworks. I hate to include this show on the "worst" list because I like Tara Conley's work (her show at Laura Rathe Fine Arts was really good). But the overblown execution of this piece, combined with the smug and condescending content, was awful. It was heavy-handed preaching to the choir.
This is Displacement, curated by Carolyn Lee Anderson and Emily Johnson at Diverseworks. Most of the art in this group exhibit of Native American artists was simply bad and some of it seemed amateurish. Diverseworks' description of the show was that it "offers audiences multiple views of displacement from indigenous
perspectives and encourages dialogue and critical commentary on the
intersections of art and identity." I say, in order to accomplish something like this, it has to reach a minimal level of artistic competency, which it didn't.
Patricia Hernandez, Parody of Light by Patricia Hernandez. A parody should have the ability to show us the emperor's naked fat ass, to show us the cliches and bad faith in a piece of art. This show smugly told a bunch of sophisticated art fans what they already know--that Thomas Kinkade is an awful artist and a crass person. This was not a revelation that required an entire gallery.
The Spectacular of Vernacular, curated by Darsie Alexander at the CAMH. Pablo Helguera once wrote that for curators stuck for an idea, they should "a) open a dictionary and point a finger to any page randomly; b) take the 'selected' word as the topic of the exhibition and search Google using this word along with the phrase "contemporary art"; c) generate a preliminary artist list based on the names that will come up from the mentioning of this subject." (Manual of Contemporary Art Style). This curatorial algorithm is what I thought of when I saw this show.