This year had more than its share of so-so exhibitions, but it brought an exciting burst of populism. I'm still convinced that art doesn't have to be rarefied and that, framed right, even stark '70s conceptualism can be interesting to people who don't care about Derrida.
This list consists of projects, performances and incidents in which an artist's work really resonated with the rest of the world — or, at least, really tried.
10. When Christian Marclay's The Clock, a 24-hour film mash-up that strings together clips of ticking timepieces, screened in LACMA's Bing Theater for the first time, the audience applauded at midnight. Cheesy, maybe, but The Clock brings "endurance art" and "crowd-pleaser" together, and that's applause-worthy.
9. When artist Chris Lipomi and curator Natilee Harren turned their hangout into art — subtly rearranging exit signs, plants and other staples at nautical-themed bar HMS Bounty — they then turned an art institution into their hangout, suspending the wooden crest from the Bounty in the Variety building's clear lobby window so that it looked, from the inside of the building, like it was on the façade of LACMA across the street. It went over most people's heads, and Variety's guard seemed especially confused. But Lipomi and Harren's idiosyncratic homage to their favorite haunt was weirdly endearing. More bars should become failed art projects.
8. When gallerist Honor Fraser installed Gustavo Godoy's gangly, aqua blue abstraction on her roof near, the corner of La Cienega and Venice last January, that beige, industrial intersection became an attraction in itself. Artist Steven Bankhead's big, pink "SEX" sign appeared next (and was promptly removed due to landlord complaints), followed by Nate Lowman's L'Oréal-inspired Julia Roberts portrait — in collaboration with the Mandrake — on the wall of François Gebaly's muffler-shop-turned-gallery.
7. When Heather Cassils spent six months building up body bulk until her femininity was nearly impossible to detect, the final product — posters and a film of her, ripped and androgynous, displayed at LACE — were seductive whether you knew how much effort had gone into making them or not.
6. When feminist icon Judy Chicago descended on Los Angeles for the opening of Pacific Standard Time — the regionwide initiative to celebrate SoCal art history — appearing at openings, lecturing at universities, Chicago sightings became old hat and began to feel like artworks in themselves. She has infectious energy, looks great for 72 and makes history feel alive and eager to be recognized.
5. When Liz Glynn led museum visitors blindfolded through MOCA's permanent collection, she gave viewers an antithetical experience. All the wrong senses were in play. You listened instead of looked, and felt your way through, responding to taps on the shoulder or toeing the edges of stairs to know when to step next.
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4. When Dawn Kasper reinhabited Vito Acconci's 1971 performance work Claim, wearing a black hoodie, wielding a pipe and sitting blindfolded in a candle-encircled corner of Emma Gray's gallery, she couldn't rile up all the aggression Acconci had expressed 40 years ago, when he'd threatened to clobber anyone who came near him, claiming, "This space is mine." She tried, though, and attempted to talk herself into swinging that pipe wildly enough to hit anyone. You left wondering: Where does aggression come from, anyway, and who has a right to it?
3. When Richard Hawkins' first museum survey, "Third Mind," traveled from Chicago to open here at the Hammer Museum, with all his decadent, fetishistic collages of pop culture boy-toys, dioramas of dilapidated houses or commentaries on the posteriors of Greek sculptures, the museumgoing public grappled with an artist who still mostly qualifies as fringe. One 50-something man, at the opening with his wife, mistook Matt Dillon, Hawkins' muse, for Justin Bieber and proceeded to ponder the appeal of Bieber's baby face while perusing the exhibition.
2. When Elana Mann's Ass on the Street, a video in which the artist feels her way along a South Central fence in a black dress and donkey head she can't see out of, played on a city bus, it reached a thrillingly large audience. That's what Out the Window, a project initiative by Freewaves to bring video art into the Metro system, allowed for more than 100 video artists.
1. When, in January, performance group My Barbarian appeared onstage at the Hammer in pajamas with the words "Obama Care" on them, and sang and danced in support of socialism, it was hard to separate satire from the sincerity. They'd just conducted a mock "Death Panel" to decide who in the art world should live and die, and the whole thing was more confusion than critique but optimistic, contagiously so, even if it was impossible to tell where it was aimed.