Sure, there are a lot of top ten lists out there, and in the last week or so they’ve come in droves. I’ve seen the top exhibitions of the year several times over from all different kinds of people, websites, blogs; the top ten art lists from Hyperallergic; Artnet’s fifty most interesting artists and most important essays; and so on. Hell, Robert even posted two top ten lists in the past week or so—one on comics and one on art books. So, surprise, surprise! I’m throwing my hat into the ring with my top ten pieces exhibited in Houston in 2014. Like last year, I’m being really specific, picking individual works instead of exhibitions. There have been many times, just like last year, where the exhibition as a whole either didn’t stand out to me or I didn’t have anything specific to say about it, yet a piece or two individually did something really special. Here they are:
10. Karyn Olivier, Still Life Series (Matinicus), 2014, How the Light Gets In: Recent Work by Seven Core Fellows at the Glassell School.
These series of photographs are images of things that, in themselves, aren’t very interesting. Blemished painted foam, colored mirrors, and colored papers are a few objects that Olivier has arranged and photographed in various ways. But the precision of the photographs, like this one in particular, as well as the arrangement makes it look delectable, like cake.
Courtesy Devin Borden Gallery
9. Clark Derbes, Charlie, 2014, American Sculpture at Devin Borden.
As a whole, this exhibition at Devin Borden seemed pretty tame and unassuming, which made Charlie stand out all the more. Derbes normally paints onto found wood, which is what he has done here. The truncated piece of wood twists, and the application of the colorful checkers make the whole piece feel elastic and dynamic. I have no idea who Charlie is or his relationship to Derbes, but if he’s anything like his sculpture, I want to meet this guy.
Courtesy Art Palace
8. Deborah Roberts, Buttress, One and Many at Art Palace.
A collaged creature-woman floating in a large field of putrid gold abstraction, Roberts’ Buttress is brazenly disharmonious. The slightly slumped shoulders of the woman command our empathy with her vulnerability while still looking vile and distorted.
(Photo by Adam Clay)
7. Carter Ernst, HOOT, Texas Sculpture Group 2014: A Panoramic View, Lawndale Art Center.
Tucked in a corner on the second floor of Lawndale during the Texas Sculpture Group Exhibition, stood this larger than human height, fabric-covered owl. It felt huggable, until I stared into its bulbous, mirrored eyes. Ernst’s owl feels cute and ominous, and it reminds me a little of those giant puppets that used to play at Show Biz Pizza.
6. Hito Steyerl, How Not To Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, 2013, Collective Reaction: FotoFest 2014, The Station Museum.
With How Not To Be Seen…, Steyerl conveys exciting ideas about the intangible image as a physical material, and thereby questions what happens with our material bodies as we continue to communicate increasingly via images and pixels. She enumerates—within this framework—on how to disappear in not only a compelling but humorous way, suggesting that one could disappear by being a woman over the age of fifty.
Courtesy Inman Gallery
5. Angela Fraleigh, we held hands beneath the dirt, 2014, Ghosts in the Sunlight, Inman Gallery.
Whatever is going on with this woman’s expression, which is deliberately unclear, we as viewers can’t help but wonder what’s happening to her, what she’s doing. With cropping, Fraleigh smartly gives us only partial access to this woman, effectively turning this painting from fully representational to an abstraction.
4. Julia Brown, The Dancer, 2014, The Core Exhibition 2014, The Glassell School.
Brown doesn’t do much in this video: she simply points and shoots at a pre-pubescent girl dancing to a hip hop song. We see the girl practicing, running through some of the dance moves with ease and faltering through others. The girl eyes us in the camera, flitting from childlike innocence to the sexuality of a grown woman. Here, Brown simply and cleanly nails what it feels like to be an adolescent girl. I remember watching this the first time, actively cringing while also nostalgically reflecting on the slumber parties I would have with my best friends, staying up all night practicing N*SYNC choreography. Ok, that was last week.
3. Dylan Roberts, Bully, Beyond Graphite: Fab 15 + Performance, G Gallery.
Bully is a putrid mixed media painting of skin-like pinks and reds with a seemingly wheat-pasted neon yellow drawing on top of it. The drawing is intricate and strange. The material underneath looks like melting plastic, like pimply, bubbling skin. Every time I look at this piece I want to vomit, which is why it is my number three pick.
2. Wu Tsang, Moved by the Motion, 2014, Moved by the Motion, DiverseWorks.
With Moved by the Motion, Tsang has constructed a dual projection short film with a loose narrative around the gender-ambiguous performer boychild. The film is unabashedly, almost absurdly, queer. Boychild—sensual, confusing, disgusting, beautiful, sexual—commands our attention, and it was impossible to stop watching her. Also, the beanbag chairs were exceptionally comfortable.
1. Paul Kittelson, Lawn Chairs, 2014, True North, Heights Boulevard esplanade.
Let’s not lie. Public art can be boring. That’s usually because it has to filter through several committees first (see HAA fiasco), becoming a soulless skeleton of the artist’s original intent. But Kittelson’s lawn chairs sweetly garnered everyone’s attention and sense of nostalgia, making passersby squeal with glee as they climbed (illegally) onto the giant chairs, flailing their legs around as if they were little kids.