The art critics of The New York Times Roberta Smith, Holland Cotter and Jason Farago share their picks for the best art of the year.
1. BEST GALLERY SHOW I REGRETTABLY DID NOT REVIEW “Ad Reinhardt: Blue Paintings” at the David Zwirner Gallery, which brought together 28 luminous abstract paintings from this artist’s early-1950s “blue period” — the most ever. With blue fields layered with levitating blocks, or intersecting beams of contrasting blues and sometimes greens or purples, these immersive paintings evoked geometric versions of Monet’s “Water Lilies.” Their joyfulness stood in striking contrast to Reinhardt’s relatively daunting if better-known Black Paintings, which suddenly seem a little pretentious.
Florian Troebinger performing in the artist Rirkrit Tiravanija’s frame-by-frame re-creation of a Rainer Werner Fassbinder film, at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise. Credit Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York/Rome
2. ANOTHER ONE At Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in Harlem, Rirkrit Tiravanija continued his Johnsian devotion to inventing nothing with a masterpiece: a loving and infinitely touching frame-by-frame re-creation of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1974 film “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.” The story centers on Emmi, a widowed German cleaning woman, and Ali, a much younger Moroccan migrant worker, whose unlikely romance and marriage elicit every species of bigotry from those around them. The Tiravanija version has an exquisite corpse of a title: “‘skip the bruising of the eskimos to the exquisite words’ vs. ‘if I give you a penny you can give me a pair of scissors.’” It was an in-house job, shot in the gallery in four weeks with a cast consisting almost entirely of artists, friends and employees, on sets that then became part of the exhibition. The stiffness of the amateur acting gave the proceedings an odd clarity, and the random casting unsettled stereotypes, as did giving the leading female roles to men: The Swedish artist Karl Holmqvist played Emmi; Florian Troebinger, the film’s only professional actor, portrayed Barbara, the blond Germanic bar owner and Ali’s sometime lover. In keeping with Mr. Tiravanija’s relational-aesthetics pieces involving the serving of free food, Mr. Troebinger tended the bar throughout the show. As Ali, Hamid Amini, who has worked with this artist on various projects, gave the remake its center of gravity as well as a touch of Hollywood dreamboat.
3. BEST FIRST IMPRESSION “War and Pieced: The Annette Gero Collection of Quilts From Military Fabric” at the American Folk Art Museum and its furnace blast of geometric patterns, predominantly in the reds, blacks and yellows of the military fabrics. On view through Jan. 7, it is some of the best abstract art you’ll see this season.
4. BEST SHOW ABOUT FASHION AS ART (AND EXHIBITION DESIGN AS ARCHITECTURE) The ravishing “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between,” from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. It inhabited a small village of structures, with some 120 quasi-wearable sculptural ensembles in an array of colors and innovative textiles, disrupting notions of style and gender, past and present, and continually delivering fresh ideas about form, process and meaning.
Norma Kamali’s “Sleeping Bag Coat” (1980-89), in the show “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” at the Museum of Modern Art. Credit Mark Wickens for The New York Times
5. BEST SHOW ABOUT FASHION AS JUST GETTING DRESSED “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” at the Museum of Modern Art presented a kind of canon of global dress in the postwar period, ranging from biker jackets to burkinis, from little black dresses to saris. It is an eye-opening examination of practicality, religious belief, clubbishness and personal identity played out in mostly familiar garments from around the world.
India Salvor Menuez in a reinvention of commedia dell’arte by Ryan McNamara and John Zorn, presented at the Guggenheim Museum. Credit Ryan McNamara
6. MOST SITE-SPECIFIC PERFORMANCE The updated commedia dell’arte concocted by the artist-choreographer Ryan McNamara in collaboration with the composer John Zorn was part of the Works & Process series at the Guggenheim Museum. In five segments, starting with “Harlequin,” eight dancers used all the available space and numerous design details of Frank Lloyd Wright’s small, eccentric and circular (of course) auditorium. Whatever nooks and crannies they missed were usually occupied by the different groups of musicians, including a jazz trio and an a cappella quartet performing Mr. Zorn’s compositions. The auditorium became a kind of theater in the round, whose every detail was dazzlingly articulated. The event also reflected Mr. McNamara’s increasingly impressive transition from performance art to choreography.
7. SECOND-BIGGEST WASTE OF MONEY AFTER THE LEONARDO AUCTION “Hansel and Gretel,” one of the year’s more expensive works of installation art, involving the latest in high-tech surveillance technology reiterated as fun-house spectacle. It was cooked up by the Chinese activist artist Ai Weiwei and the architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron and staged at the Park Avenue Armory. They all should have known better.
8. BEST WHITNEY BIENNIAL IN RECENT MEMORY The 2017 version, for its diversity, its accessibility and even for the storms it ignited.
9. SOME OF THE BEST RECENT SIGNS THAT THE FUTURE IS FEMALE New York’s museums had so many impressive monographic shows of the work of modern women, it’s almost feeling normal: Florine Stettheimer at the Jewish Museum; Louise Lawler at the Museum of Modern Art; Marisa Merz and Lygia Pape at the Met Breuer; Carol Rama and Kaari Upson at the New Museum; Laura Owens at the Whitney Museum of American Art (through Feb. 4); Patty Chang at the Queens Museum (through Feb. 18); Judy Chicago at the Brooklyn Museum (through March 4); and Carolee Schneemann and Cathy Wilkes at MoMA/PS1 (through March 11).
10. BEST EXHIBITION SCHEDULE AT A MUSEUM IN UPHEAVAL The Met’s, which included shows of camera-phone images exchanged by 12 pairs of artists; the nearly abstract etchings of the 17th-century Dutch artist Hercules Segers; Marsden Hartley’s Maine paintings; an astounding survey of Japanese bamboo art and basketry (through Feb. 4); and, of course, the recently opened shows of David Hockney’s paintings (through Feb. 25) and Michelangelo’s drawings. That last exhibition includes a veritable show-within-a-show of sheets by his teacher Domenico Ghirlandaio (through Feb. 12).
11. GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN Linda Nochlin, Glenn O’Brien, Jack Tilton, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Vito Acconci, A. R. Penck, Trisha Brown, James Rosenquist, Holly Block, George Braziller, Barkley L. Hendricks, Jannis Kounellis, Saloua Raouda Choucair, Dore Ashton, Ousmane Sow, Karl Katz, John Ashbery, Edit DeAk, Julian Stanczak, Beau Dick, James S. Ackerman, Richard Benson and Howard Hodgkin.