The Most Memorable Gallery Shows of 2013

  • ‘Dieter Roth. Björn Roth’ at Hauser & Wirth
    It featured the late Dieter Roth’s collaborators, his son, Björn, and grandsons, Oddur and Einar, casting busts of their forebear in chocolate; a full-scale bar, prepared Roth-style for the artists’ use during installation and then opened to inspection, if not use, by the public during the show; and half a dozen of Roth’s supernatural transformations of the materials of his life into art. But the show probably remains most memorable for The Floor I and The Floor II, two 19-by-40-foot sections of wooden floor pulled out of Roth’s studio in Mosfellsbaer, Iceland, and tipped up on their sides to display at once the artist’s breakneck ambition and the colossal scale of a new gallery sited in the former Roxy Disco.

    ‘Allyson Vieira: Cortège’ at Laurel Gitlen Gallery
    With a no-holds-barred, unremittingly material wrestling match between sculptor Allyson Vieira and grand abstractions like time, history, industry and geometry, the clincher was a series of dramatic post and lintel structures, each composed of a raw steel I-beam sitting on two square columns screwed together from 128 horizontal squares of drywall. The lintel, with its ominously perfect machine-made edges and potential energy, seemed as final as death, but the posts, whose corners Ms. Vieira chopped off to form them into rough caryatids and expose layers of white dust, brown stains, protruding screws and bits of yellow paper, overcame its weight the same way we do that of death—with unquestioning endurance.

    ‘Sverre Bjertnes: If You Really Loved Me You Would Be Able to Admit That You’re Ashamed of Me’ at White Columns
    Billed as Mr. Bjertnes’s American solo gallery debut, this show was simultaneously, and crucially, a “project identification” by Bjarne Melgaard, who painted the walls in bright pop geometries and surrounded Mr. Bjertnes’ romantic oil studies of his girlfriend, Hanna Maria, with a flea market’s worth of miscellaneous objects on which the late Robert Loughlin had painted a totemic male profile borrowed from Tom of Finland, ceramic ware by Mr. Bjertnes’ mother, Randi Koren Bjertnes, on which Mr. Bjertnes had painted Hanna Maria’s face, and a video noninterview starring Messrs. Bjertnes and Melgaard, as well as writer Alissa Bennett. The result achieved the patent, if messily unfathomable, coherence of a human character, dissolving a mixed bag of discrete pieces into a single, successful show and proving that honesty and full disclosure are hardly the same as transparency.

    ‘Yael Bartana: And Europe Will Be Stunned’ at Petzel Gallery
    Like the long iron nail that, in some apocryphal stories, the Roman centurions had intended to drive into Jesus’ heart, Yael Bartana’s videos Mary Koszmary (Nightmares) (2007), Mur I Wieza (Wall and Tower) (2009) and Zamach (Assasination) (2011)—collectively forming the trilogy after which the show was named—penetrated into the bloody, topsy-turvy emptiness at the heart of the 20th-century Jewish experience in Europe and nationalism generally. With the powerful colors and head-on shots of early fascist or communist propaganda films, Ms. Bartana documented a barely fictional world in which a red-kerchiefed activist calls for 3.3 millions Jews to return to Poland; a group of sunburnt kibbutzniks build themselves a stockade in Warsaw that, architecturally, could be either a West Bank settlement stockade or a death camp; and real-life critics and survivors at her semi-fictional activist’s fictional funeral spar over the prospects of the diaspora.

    ‘Alice Mackler: Sculpture, Painting, Drawing’ at Kerry Schuss
    It’s always wonderful to be reminded how much art happens outside the art world’s notice. There’s no particular reason why Alice Mackler’s brash, pop paintings from the late 1960s couldn’t have ended up in MoMA instead of on the walls of her first New York solo show in 2013. But mainly it was wonderful to inhabit the 10 small ceramic figures, all untitled and made in the last three years, in which Ms. Mackler transformed intuitive improvisation into deeply insightful, extravagantly ridiculous, brightly colored caricatures. A pear-shaped figure as brown as a Japanese bowl caught with his mouth open, or a voluminous dowager in a wobbly purple dress with a hat like a rooster’s comb, was pure pleasure.

    ‘Carol Bove: RA, or Why Is an Orange Like a Bell?’ at Maccarone
    Walking the line between mysticism and madness—it’s a narrow line—this ostensibly centerless show concealed a distinctly linear progress, from an earthly plane of beautiful but unspooled archival materials to a mountaintop of concrete and brass geometries, and finally a heaven displayed in two powder-coated white steel sculptures, Solar Feminine and Hieroglyph, each a long cylinder bent into deceptively simple curves.

    ‘John Houck: A History of Graph Paper’ at On Stellar Rays
    John Houck’s photographs of childhood mementos—a beaded, blue medallion given to him on the Lakota reservation where he was born, a set of drawing tools given to him by friends of his mother—could have played as an inquisition into the nature of identity, but it was most impressive as a defiant display of the powers of analog photography. Shooting and reshooting still lifes on life-size prints of earlier iterations of the same tableaux, Mr. Houck built up confusing, complex and layered but strangely flat images that look like exactly what they are.

    William Kentridge at Marian Goodman Gallery
    That the piece was so suffused with mortality and the spirit’s futile cry against the decaying limits of its flesh while Mr. Kentridge, who drew himself strolling, staring thoughtfully at his feet and striding right over chairs placed in his way, distinctly resembles my own bald, Jewish father probably biased me a little, but I’d still argue that the artist’s seven-minute video Second-hand Reading was not only the highlight of this show but one of the highlights of the year.

    ‘Hair and Skin’ at Derek Eller
    This summer group show, organized by the gallery’s associate director, Isaac Lyles, and comprised of strong work by Hans Bellmer, Louise Bourgeois, Günter Brus, Borden Capalino, David Dupuis, Daniel Gordon, Aneta Grzeszykowska, Kineko Ivic, Lionel Maunz, Maria Petschnig, Chloe Piene, Adam Putnam, Aura Rosenberg, Davina Semo, Bobbi Woods and Rona Yefman, provided gorily substantial and substantially gory proof that a mere few centuries of science and perspectival art have hardly broken the surface of what these rapturous prisons we find ourselves in have to say—not to mention secrete.

    ‘Minty’ at Foxy Production
    Paintings, video and sculpture by Nicholas Buffon, Ben Horns, Megan Marrin, Cassie Raihl and Matt Savitsky were delicately stacked by the gallery’s associate director, Ebony L. Haynes, into a camp card house of mirrors. (It’s as simple as the title: Mr. Savitsky performs a drag character named Minty after a band that performance artist Leigh Bowery used to have.) The body here was a site of social conflict, an anchor of personal identity, a code to be mastered and conveyed, and a fuzzy glow created by overlapping societal roles—everything but a straightforward fact.

  • It featured the late Dieter Roth’s collaborators, his son, Björn, and grandsons, Oddur and Einar, casting busts of their forebear in chocolate; a full-scale bar, prepared Roth-style for the artists’ use during installation and then opened to inspection, if not use, by the public during the show; and half a dozen of Roth’s supernatural transformations of the materials of his life into art. But the show probably remains most memorable for The Floor I and The Floor II, two 19-by-40-foot sections of wooden floor pulled out of Roth’s studio in Mosfellsbaer, Iceland, and tipped up on their sides to display at once the artist’s breakneck ambition and the colossal scale of a new gallery sited in the former Roxy Disco.

    Image: Dieter and Björn Roth, Zuckerturm (Sugar Tower), 1994–2013. (Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth)