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ArtSlant: Chicago’s Best of 2008

January 13, 2009

From the other writing I do (which is almost all of it) on ArtSlant: Chicago, this is a list of the ArtSlant Team’s Best of ’08:

As we move forward into 2009, it’s time to look back on the highlights of 2008. The ArtSlant: Chicago staff has compiled a list of what we consider to the best of the previous year. You will notice that this is not limited to art only, since the best parts of 2008 weren’t always limited to art either. These are ranked in no particular order, except for the number one spot.


1. Barack Obama: The election of Barack Obama was an instantly historical moment, and we the people of Chicago experienced it firsthand as most of the city converged on Grant Park. A politics of hope replaced a politics of fear. I was reminded, often literally, that this nation had kept an old promise. I would recommend Jason Lazarus’s images of that historic night, his are the images I have in my mind’s eye still. The Obama campaign itself also embraced creativity, a material result of which was that they shattered fund-raising records. Shepard Fairey was also at the top of his game, his work found something it hasn’t had in a while.

Abraham Ritchie

2. Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP): I was trying to think of which show I liked best of this season, was it On the Road, Beyond the Backyard, or the currently up (and soon to be reviewed) the Transparent City? So I am just picking the whole institution and season. This museum’s exhibits haven’t missed all year. Several exhibitions, though separate, created a sustained critical inquiry into artist’s perceptions of the contemporary urban life. Showing in Chicago was an advantage all year which culminated in Michael Wolfe’s exhibit featuring the city.

-Abraham Ritchie

3. Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle at Donald Young Gallery:
excerpted from Erik Wenzel’s upcoming “Late Slant: Erik Wenzel reviews Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle”:

The space was filled with a few, but powerful pieces. The main hall housed a pearlescent white bomb, based on Fat Man, the nuclear weapon dropped on Nagasaki. It also looked like a pontoon or floatation device, as it’s features were smoothed out. On the nose and spattered on to the floor were drops of mud, I imagined Iñigo hurling handfuls at it just before the show opened.

-Erik Wenzel

4. Mad Men Season 1: The first season came out on DVD allowing the rest of us to see what was only on AMC before. It was quickly confirmed that smart writing has returned to TV, though only on a relatively obscure cable channel. Says the thousandth friend I have told to watch the show : “AMC huh . . . . Don’t they show only war movies?” Apparently not. While the focus is tightly on Madison Avenue advertising exec Don Draper (Jon Hamm), and that could be enough, this series takes on early ’60s politics, the workplace, feminism, lying and the concept of truth (which the Riches had only begun to investigate before it was canceled) and, most likely, abortion. All under the mushroom cloud of the ’50s and with the instability of the ’60s looming. If only all television drama was this compelling and this well written.

— Abraham Ritchie

5. The original art of Basil Wolverton: from the collection of Glenn Bray, by Glenn Bray. San Francisco, Calif. : Last Gasp ; Santa Ana : Grand Central Press, 2007.

A somewhat obscure comic hero, Wolverton is perhaps best known as the artist behind the thick line work and lush mark making of Spacehawk. Despite the grotesqurie of much of his other strips and panels, some of which were included in MAD Magazine, his stunning capabilities as a draftsman, and his poignant social critic have kept his work looking fresh and ringing just as true some odd thirty years later.

-Thea Liberty Nichols

6. “Artists in Depth” series at the MCA: Done with their “Highlights from the Permanent Collection,” this series embraces an sustained an extensive look at singular artists, often with whole galleries dedicated to just that artist. The Bruce Nauman exhibit was a great example of this approach done correctly with a lot of work from his entire career on display that formed a narrative without feeling crowded or disjointed (which could have easily happened as Nauman skips from medium to medium). In these kind of exhibits, the MCA really shows off its holdings, creates a space for learning (especially learning contemporary Art History), and allow curators to create mini-retrospectives in some instances (again, thinking mainly of Nauman).

-Abraham Ritchie

7. “Jeff Koons” at the MCA: The open installation contrasted the seductive surfaces nakedly showing the evolution of American desire, in a showroom floor type of style. However, the installation’s power was at its height on opening night when the space was stanchion-free and there were no warning signs for “Made in Heaven.” Once open to the public the stanchions cluttered up the floor and signs blocked views, though these were probably necessary concessions to protect the extremely sensitive work. Of course, not everyone was a fan and Erik Wenzel picked this show as one of his “Worst of 2008.” No matter how you feel about Koons or the exhibition, coupled with the Richard Prince’s traveling “Spiritual America” (no large paintings in Minnesota!), both exhibitions afforded a nice examination of two major artists of the previous generation.

-Abraham Ritchie

8. Southparkstudios.com: As I have alluded to earlier, I do not have cable (thus I don’t have AMC), and I don’t consider this a bad thing of course. So this year when I learned that all South Park episodes ever were available through Southparkstudios.com, I was pretty excited. Southpark is a sharp satire of American society, sometimes too sharp, and always with a strong gross out factor, which explains a general lack of serious critical interest. This season and the last season have been two of the best ever, especially the “Imaginationland” cycle. Plus, I found out that Franz West also likes South Park (“Tools of Engagement,” ArtForum, October, 2008).

— Abraham Ritchie

9. The Arts Club of Chicago: As Erik said about the Arts Club in his review of Marcel Broodthaers, it’s Chicago’s “most secretive major exhibition venue.” And he’s right, it’s secretive and it’s also one of the best. Along with Broodthaer’s exhibit, the Arts Club also brought David Hockney’s new series of outdoor paintings this year. When the Modern Wing at the Art Institute opens this summer, you will see Renzo Piano’s homage to the Mies van der Rohe staircase, prominently placed in the Arts Club.

-Abraham Ritchie and Erik Wenzel

10. Gary Panter, by Gary Panter, ed. Dan Nadel. Brooklyn, NY: PictureBox, 2008.

The lavishly illustrated and meticulously researched two volume Panter catalog raisonné gives full treatment to the art and design of an influential underground heavy, responsible for the opening credits and set design of Pee Wee’s playhouse, among a lifetime of other ground breaking, breathtaking oddities.

-Thea Liberty Nichols

Already in the running for Best of 2009: the sucessful impeachment of Gov. Rod Blagojevich: Let us remove the tarnish to Obama’s sterling win.

-Abraham Ritchie

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