2015.01.05 Mon, by
Best of London 2014

London is over-ripe with exhibitions, museums, artists, collectors, curators, and even art. How is it possible to choose from such an over-over-abundance? And yet we do. Interestingly, one of the best exhibits of the year was at an art fair. The Helly Nahmad Gallery booth at frieze masters, a fake collector’s home set in the 1960s, was both witty and and nostalgic, and marks one of the ways the biggest galleries are now distinguishing themselves from their competitors—with museum-quality shows, including production.

As regards China, London was less interested in the Middle Kingdom than in 2013 but the ubiquitous presence of Chinese artists and collectors in London, and galleries and museums attentive to them, indicates a trend that has been growing for the last five years. Given the increasing interest shown by frieze, the art fair, 2015 may prove a key year in a shift of balance eastward.

Pierre Huyghe “IN. BORDER. DEEP.” at Hauser & Wirth, London, Sep 13–Nov 1, 2014
DOCUMENTA 13 announced Huyghe as the key artist of the early 21st century. Like Picasso, Pollock, Duchamp, Warhol and Beuys before him, how we come to understand representation now will be defined crucially by how Huyghe represented it. This show, consisting of seemingly disparate videos, miniature recreations of Monet’s Giverny garden in cubic vitrines and a curious recumbent figure, recalling both Huyghe’s Kassel installation and sexually ambiguous classical sculptures, entwines upon reflection. The film of an ape dressed as a little girl, abandoned in the Fukushima dead-zone, is simultaneously bewitching and haunting. Words still fail.

Pierre Huyghe

Pierre Huyghe “(Untitled) Human Mask”, Film, colour, stereo, sound, 2:66, Running time: 19 minutes, 2014
(Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth, London and Anna Lena Films, Paris)

“Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs”, Tate Modern, Apr 17–Sep 7, 2014

THE show in London in 2014 looked at the late career of the modernist master, produced when his health had deteriorated to such an extent that painting was painful. The other great show at Tate Modern was of another key early modernist, Russian Suprematist Kasimir Malevich.

“Disobedient Objects” at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Jul 26–Feb 1, 2014

The venerated V&A said it was the first exhibition “to examine the powerful role of objects in movements for social change. It demonstrates how political activism drives a wealth of design ingenuity and collective creativity that defy standard definitions of art and design.” And it did just that.

Installation view of

Installation view of “Disobedient Objects” at Victoria & Albert Museum (image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

Anselm Kiefer, at the Royal Academy, Sep 27–Dec 14, 2014

Are you tired of jaded catcalls too? If you don’t like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, stop talking about them. The same goes for Anselm Kiefer. This show was not just timely but overdue, reminding all why he is great. Maybe the glitter in some recent works was a bit weird but hey.

Anselm Kiefer at The Royal Academy—one of the best retrospectives of 2014, including dramatic contrasts with the grand halls of the academy.

Anselm Kiefer at The Royal Academy—one of the best retrospectives of 2014, including dramatic contrasts with the grand halls of the academy.

Martin Creed, “What’s the point of it?” at Hayward Gallery, Jan 29–May 5, 2014 
Thank Philippe Pirotte for including Martin Creed in a show at the Minsheng Museum in Shanghai back in 2010-11, otherwise he would be little unknown in China. Which is ridiculous because this un-artist has so much in common with so many Chinese un-artists, such as Yang Zhenzhong, Shi Yong, Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, and so on and on. Recently the Hayward has been one of the most dynamic spaces in London, including “Art of Change” and an Ana Mendieta retrospective in 2013. Martin Creed’s whimsical continues the trend.

Martin Creed, “Work No. 1092”, white neon, steel, 500 x 1250 x 20 cm, 2011. (Installation at Hauser & Wirth Savile Row, London, © Martin Creed)

Martin Creed, “Work No. 1092”, white neon, steel, 500 x 1250 x 20 cm, 2011. (Installation at Hauser & Wirth Savile Row, London, © Martin Creed)

Liu Wei, “Density” at White Cube, Masons Yard, Jan 29–Mar 15, 2014
The really interesting curating at White Cube in 2014 was in Hong Kong, not London, where shows sometimes seemed tired compared with days gone by. At Mason’s Yard, the exception was Liu Wei, who continues to mesh design recycling and architecture in unique ways, involving paint, form and material.

Liu Wei

Liu Wei “Density” at
White Cube Mason’s Yard, London, 29 January – 15 March 2014 (© Liu Wei
Photo: Jack Hems, Courtesy White Cube)

George Condo, “Headspace” at Simon Lee Gallery, Feb 11–Mar 22, 2014
Condo doesn’t rework Picasso; he reanimates him as Frankenstein’s monster with a subversive clown-smile. And that’s just for starters. It is a psychological game of charm and tricks.

George Condo

George Condo “Out of the Blue”, Acrylic, charcoal, and pastel on linen, Unframed: 157.5 x 147.3 cm (62 x 58 in), 2013 (courtesy the artist and Simon Lee Gallery)

Steve McQueen, “Ashes” at Thomas Dane Gallery, Oct 14–Nov 15, 2014
One, almost casual video. 2014’s Best Director Oscar winner makes it look easy. A young man is murdered after he finds a stash of drugs on the beach, the narrative told over sun-bleached images of the boy larking about on the prow of the boat.

Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen “Ashes” at Thomas Dane Gallery

Mario Merz at Pace Gallery, London, Sep 26–Nov 8, 2014

Like Gagosian and Hauser & Wirth, Pace has an impressive history of museum quality shows (in fact, the ability to host such shows is partly what distinguishes the very top echelon, because it is both a complex and expensive enterprise). Pace’s London HQ is at the Royal Academy, so it is ideally suited for such exhibitions. During the year the gallery hosted shows of new work by Zhang Huan and James Turrell but both were upstaged by Mario Merz (1925-2003), one of the key figures in Arte Povera.

Mario Merz retrospective by the Arte Povera master at Pace Gallery London

Mario Merz retrospective by the Arte Povera master at Pace Gallery London

Wangechi Mutu, “Nguva na Nyoka” at Victoria Miro (16 Wharf Road), Oct 14–Dec 19, 2014

All the talk was about Alice Neal and Eric Fischl but for me the really stunning show was Wangechi Mutu, who’s multimedia show combined a story-telling aesthetic of strong women (a witch), sub-Saharan Africa, magic, patterns, collage, serpents, origin stories, slavery, colonization and fetishes, and Western art history was merely stolen eye shadow.

Wangechi Mutu

Wangechi Mutu “Sleeping Serpent”
Mixed media fabric and ceramic, 91 x 91 x 945 cm (35 7/8 x 35 7/8 x 372 1/8 in), 2014
(Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London, © Wangechi Mutu)

Christian Jankowski, “Heavyweight History” at Lisson Gallery, Jan 31–Mar 8, 2014
Olympic weight lifters trying to lift Soviet and post-Soviet era public sculptures (sometimes succeeding). LOL!!!

Christian Jankowski

Christian Jankowski “Heavy Weight History” (film still – Monument to Ludwik Warynski), 2014 (image courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery)

Richard Serra, “Backdoor Pipeline, Ramble, Dead Load, London Cross” at Gagosian (6-24 Britannia Street), Oct 11, 2014–Mar 4, 2015.
Serra works best in confined spaces and Gagosian lent him theirs to squeeze in some very heavy and literally balanced sculptures.