Engineers say that machines work with maximum efficiency right before they break. In 2010, the twin-engine art world—institutional display, luxury trade—ran all but frictionlessly. Frou-frous like those of Urs Fischer at the New Museum and Marina Abramović at the Modern, and of Dan Colen at Gagosian and Rob Pruitt at Gavin Brown, seemed immune to judgment, as if untouched by human minds. Money made slobbering love to itself at fairs and auctions, with art as a beard. Substantial shows could feel incidental: immaterial grit in despotically whirring gears. Something’s got to give. Tino Sehgal, with tag teams of conversationalists in the bare naked Guggenheim, and Pipilotti Rist, with engulfing videos at Luhring Augustine, proved that avant-gardism isn’t to blame. They startled and charmed. “Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917” and “Abstract Expressionism,” both at MOMA, recalled what greatness is like, in case we cared. Memorably fine painting solos—remember painting?—included those of Ellsworth Kelly and of Brice Marden at Matthew Marks, John Currin at Gagosian, Thomas Nozkowski at Pace, and Luc Tuymans and Suzanne Frecon at David Zwirner. Four art-historical outliers, like sinister party-crashers, beamed reproaches from beyond the grave: the sulfuric Otto Dix, at the Neue Galerie; the all-around dissenter Leon Golub, at the Drawing Center; and the small-town mystagogue Charles Burchfield and the death-delighted Paul Thek, both at the Whitney. (Robert Gober’s hanging of the Burchfield show was the year’s best art installation.) With a show of his drawings at the Met, the Mannerist’s Mannerist Agnolo Bronzino urged us, across five centuries, to make the most of being decadent, pending viable alternatives.
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