The Top 10 NYC Gallery Shows of 2015

It was a year in which the art world waved its freak flag, finally

#10. Marlon Mullen at JTT February 22 - March 15, 2015. Pictured: Untitled (the new art LA), 2013. (Photo: Courtesy of JTT)
Sometimes a painter is just so exceptional, that his innate talent uplifts the mundanity of his project. Such is the case with Marlon Mullen, who exploded onto the scene with a  February show at JTT, a young gallery ironically known more for emerging multimedia artists and sculptors than painters. Painting abstracted versions of art magazine pages doesn't sound like a recipe for greatness, but in the hands of this Richmond, Calif.-based artist, it's both visually arresting and profound. Somehow Mullen turns his transient insider source material into a meditation on the insular yet highly visible (and dissected) life of the artist, proving that it's most definitely "the singer not the song" in this business.
#9. Jessica Jackson Hutchins "I Do Choose" Marianne Boesky Gallery, May 9 - June 13, 2015. Pictured: Installation view of Jessica Jackson Hutchins, "I Do Choose". (Photo: Courtesy of Marianne Boesky Gallery)
This Portland-based artist knocked it out of the park this year with a densely-packed show that brought the "f-word" (fun) back to Chelsea (where it has been MIA for far too long.) Hutchins has channelled Bob Rauschenberg—through the lens of American suburbia—to build this colossal show, throwing ceramics, abstract painting and furniture together in an unfettered and remarkably seamless way. It has been rewarding to see her work evolve over the last decade, with each new solo show offering something fresh and exciting, but her latest (which was virtually brimming out of this extra-large, multi-room Chelsea gallery) felt like a power move; one that could put this artist on the map for years to come.
#8. Roger Brown at DC Moore, June 18 - August 7, 2015 and Maccarone, June 25 – August 14, 2015. Pictured: Roger Brown, Gulf War, 1991. (Photo: Courtesy of DC Moore)
The late Roger Brown was proven to be one of the great unsung enigmas of our time this year, thanks to dual shows of his work at DC Moore and Maccarone. The Chicagoan, by way of Hamilton, AL, never really settled into the 60s and 70s Imagist scene, instead evolving into a more versatile and informed version of the folk artists he so closely followed. His detailed, and inflammatory political work at DC Moore showed us his fervent activist side while his meditative Maccarone show of abstract landscapes, used as backdrops for the artist's collected pottery, reveal the profile of an evocative aesthete. Brown was an artist who was intent on forging his own path and had the ability to bring pleasure or gravitas in a myriad of forms. That's why his was our eighth-best show of 2015.
#7. Jon Kessler, "Jon Kessler's Gifts" at Salon 94, February 15, 2015–March 28, 2015. Pictured: Installation view of Jon Kessler's exhibition "Jon Kessler's Gifts" at Salon 94. (Photo: Courtesy of Salon 94)
When a show can enthrall one of the most powerful art advisers, a technologically gifted art handler, a Marxist sociologist and a seven-year-old all at once, I take notice. Jon Kessler has been wowing art insiders for years with his whiz-kid mechanical sculptures and installations, but this show of intimate and uniquely generous (downright bizarre by mainstream market standards) kinetic sculptures simply titled "Jon Kessler's Gifts" lifted the profile of this quintessential New York City artist even higher. In fact, Kessler's elegant surrealist riffs, which incorporate '50s toys, Chinatown oddities and other sundry items, also double as love letters to the crazy, messy multicultural city we call home. What a gift indeed. 
#6. Leidy Churchman "The Meal of the Lion" at Murray Guy, April 25 – June 13, 2015. Pictured: Installation view of Leidy Churchman's exhibition "The Meal of the Lion" at Murray Guy. (Photo: Courtesy of Murray Guy)
An idiosyncratic painter who has been entertaining with his brightly colored images of homoerotic encounters for some time now, Churchman somehow summoned a cabal of powerful forces together for this spellbinding show at Murray Guy. Eighteen variously-sized canvases depicting, amongst other things, a Brooklyn restaurant's vegan menu, a Jacob Lawrence painting of a soldier, a luxury bathroom in a residential tower, and an Alexander Calder-attired jumbo jet at night, all come together to forge a symbolic and open-ended narrative via Churchman's unusual and highly specific subjects. Abstracted via a plethora of brush styles, the show was clearly imbued with a deep relationship to folk art, though equally informed by the rock-star history of Modernism. All together, it's a beautiful balance that's worthy of this years #6 show.
#5. Brie Ruais "130 lbs. of Proximal Frontage" at Mesler/Feuer, May 10 – June 14, 2015. Pictured: Installation view of Brie Ruais' exhibition, "130 lbs. of Proximal Frontage." (Photo: Courtesy of Feuer/Mesler)
Maybe you've noticed an influx of ceramics in contemporary art lately? Much of this art form's newfound acceptability is directly related to Brie Ruais punching and kicking down the door for her under-appreciated medium. Her prowess culminated in this year's spectacular show at Feuer/Mesler (in conjunction with her longtime dealer Nicole Klagsbrun) where the full scope of her process-based works were on display. Often pummeling, clawing or spreading out her weight in clay, Ruais creates a visceral sense of vulnerability through her actions, yet continues to up the ante on the absurdity and grace of her project. There's no question that her show deserves to be considered one of the top 5 of 2015.
#4. Jesús Rafael Soto "Chronochrome" at Perrotin, January 15 - February 21, 2015. Pictured: Installation view of Jesús Rafael Soto at Perrotin. (Photo: Courtesy of Perrotin)
Modernism often boasts of its international scope, but it has been historically defined as a fairly white and European enterprise. The process of correcting this issue took a big step with this year's dual New York and Paris Jesús Rafael Soto shows, which filled both Perrotin gallery spaces with remarkable examples of the Venezuelan's forward-thinking phenomenological artworks (meaning artworks that appear to change and shift as you move around them in space.) A gifted student of painting in Caracas, Soto quickly applied his talents to new forms of art after he moved to Paris in the fifties, and the result was like nothing anyone had ever seen. His brilliantly hued squares and lines buzzed and crackled with each new experiment he undertook, but his work got lost between the more specific Minimalist and Op tendencies of the time. Thankfully Soto is finding his way back into the spotlight while proving he's a formalist who simply must be reckoned with.
#3. "What Nerve! Alternative Figures in American Art, 1960 to the Present" Matthew Marks Gallery, July 8 - August 14, 2015. Pictured: Forcefield, P Lobe Shroud, 1995-2015. (Photo: Courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery)
Slated as this Mega-gallery's summer stop-gap, "What Nerve!" caught on as the rambling American Wunderkammer that blasé New York art lovers were thirsting for after years of cool, academic abstraction. Expertly organized by writer, editor, curator and designer Dan Nadel and starring both art world luminaries (Mike Kelley, Ken Price and Jim Shaw) and lesser known treasures (Sullen Rocca, Niagara and many others), "What Nerve!" proved that little outsider groups from the other 49 states can not only pack a punch, but can rise to the top of their class with the right coverage. With funky full-body knit suits, adorned porch chairs, wacky zines and tons of boisterously jam-packed paintings, we had no choice but to anoint this show the 3rd best show of 2015.
#2. Etel Adnan at Galerie Lelong, April 2 - May 8, 2015. Pictured: Etel Adnan, Untitled, 2014. (Photo: Courtesy of Galerie Lelong)
More than a few exhibitions at this esteemed gallery could've made our list this year, but it was impossible not to reward 90-year-old Lebanese-born artist and writer Etel Adnan for her first major solo gallery exhibition in New York, which included a striking grouping of paintings, works on paper, and tapestries. One of the most important and prominent Arab and Arab-American poets working today, Adnan finally got serious recognition for her small paintings at Documenta 13 in 2012 and then at the Whitney Biennial in 2014. Adnan has adopted a familiar Modernist approach to color, shape, gesture, and perception in her landscapes while blending the color and light from both her homeland (Beirut) and her adopted place of residence (California) to unique effect. This show also brought the artist's accordion-fold books and tapestries into the fray, giving fans in New York a fuller view of an artistry, that delightfully dances between the opposing poles of art and writing.
#1. Alice Neel "Drawings and Watercolors 1927-1978" at David Zwirner, February 19 - April 18, 2015. Pictured: Alice Neel, Hartley and Ginny, 1970. (Photo: Courtesy of David Zwirner Gallery)
The best show of 2015 goes to an artist we still consider underrated, only because her work should be elevated to the rarest of air. Alice Neel had next to none of the privileges that female painters (who should still be considered marginalized) have today, and yet she managed to produce one of the most singular artistic oeuvres ever on American soil. This show starts to hint at the breadth and depth of her excellence by exposing a group of astounding minor works (which are not minor at all) that consist mostly of drawings and watercolors. Her unique vision of portraiture has influenced and moved so many, it was frankly quite easy to make this our favorite show of 2015. [Seven other not-to-be-forgotten gallery shows of 2015 include Cameron at Jeffrey Deitch; Mark Bradford and Mike Kelley at Hauser & Wirth, Jacqueline Humphries at Greene Naftali, Max Ernst at Paul Kasmin, Alina Szapocznikow at Andrea Rosen and Peter Saul at Venus Over Manhattan.]

Sign Up For Our Daily Newsletter

By clicking submit, you agree to our <a rel="noreferrer" href="">terms of service</a> and acknowledge we may use your information to send you emails, product samples, and promotions on this website and other properties. You can opt out anytime.

See all of our newsletters

In a world that has increasingly become computerized and mechanized, old-fashioned individualism seems hard to come by.

Even in the art world, a recent flood of interchangeable, high-yield art units, er artworks, had many worried about the future of said art world. The emphasis in Contemporary art, in many circles, seemed to turn toward anonymous numbers and away from the living, breathing, sweaty, neurotic object-makers that inspire through sheer creative force.

Yet oddly enough, 2015 saw the art world once again embrace its freak flag. A “return to figuration” was heralded, but this was really beyond the endgame image; what we saw was a clamoring for all things that set us apart and make us weird in surprising—and yes, beautiful—ways.

These are the top 10 gallery shows—of Contemporary art—that stood out for these reasons, and more.

We noticed you're using an ad blocker.

We get it: you like to have control of your own internet experience.
But advertising revenue helps support our journalism.

To read our full stories, please turn off your ad blocker.
We'd really appreciate it.

How Do I Whitelist Observer?

How Do I Whitelist Observer?

Below are steps you can take in order to whitelist on your browser:

For Adblock:

Click the AdBlock button on your browser and select Don't run on pages on this domain.

For Adblock Plus on Google Chrome:

Click the AdBlock Plus button on your browser and select Enabled on this site.

For Adblock Plus on Firefox:

Click the AdBlock Plus button on your browser and select Disable on

Then Reload the Page