The 30 Best Exhibitions of 2012

A strange year in the New York art world, 2012 opened with Damien Hirst’s shock-and-awe Spot painting extravaganza at all 11 Gagosian galleries. It came to an uncomfortable close with a hurricane-ravaged Chelsea and an Art Basel Miami Beach that felt oddly unhinged, excessive even by the standards of that event. In between, though, there have been some fine moments.

The Whitney staged its best biennial in quite some time, and ended up hiring one of its curators, Jay Sanders, to focus on performance at the museum. Across the East River, the indefatigable Klaus Biesenbach declared that his museum’s new restaurant, the M. Wells Dinette, would be an example of “contemporary practice”—in effect, a work of art—and it has more than delivered on that promise. Over in Kassel, Germany (and in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Banff, Canada, and Cairo, Egypt), Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, who once served as senior curator at PS1, staged a game changer of a Documenta that is likely to serve as an inspiration (and foil!) to curators for decades to come. Forgotten artists were revived in galleries and museums all over town, and a gang of young artists staked out territory in both.

In the slide show above, our 30 favorite exhibitions of the year.

(All images courtesy the artists and respective institutions, except where noted)