The 10 best art shows of 2017

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Published December 25, 2017

10. Misha Kahn “Midden Heap” at Friedman Benda (New York, pictured above)

In his show “Midden Heap,” New York-based artist Misha Kahn used materials he sourced from trips to Dead Horse Bay in the Rockaways to create outrageously original interiors. The multidisciplinary artist, who used techniques such as  glassblowing and bronze casting among others, was inspired by how an octopus collects sea debris to decorate its home. Departing from traditional design practice, Kahn allowed himself to be spontaneous in two realms—land and sea. — Austen Tosone

9. Peter Doig at Michael Werner Gallery (New York)

While some contemporary painting seems intent on stripping the medium of magic, mystery, and psychological turmoil, the great Scottish painter’s return to New York proved a reminder of how provocative, playful, and dreamy painting can be. Doig excels at creating unsettling scenes of life and decay, and Michael Werner’s Upper East Side gallery proved the perfect, slightly claustrophobic setting for the salon-like presentation of Doig’s landscapes, fragile male bodies, and stalking lions. It was a haunting show. — Christopher Bollen

8. “We need to talk…” at Petzel Gallery (New York)

“We need to talk…” at New York’s Petzel Gallery made a statement as one of the first overtly political art shows of 2017, which brought works by artists like Louise Lawler, Hans Haacke, and Barbara Kruger together to create a collective dialogue on the state of our nation. Painter Sarah Morris took aim at Trump with her work Liar and Yael Bartana’s neon yellow sculpture asked the question What If Women Ruled the World? sending a message that we can acknowledge misuse of power and actively resist it. — Austen Tosone

7. “Stamina” at Secret Dungeon (New York)

Curated by Alexandra Fanning, “Stamina” featured two female artists who confronted the implications of domestic labor through different mediums. While Thai-Australian artist Kawita Vatanajyankur tested her body’s limits in recorded performances alluding to daily (often thankless) tasks done by women, New York-based artist Liza Buzytsky put her process on display by weaving for 200 hours in the gallery space to acknowledge the time-consuming nature of her craft. — Austen Tosone

6. Carolee Schneeman “Kinetic Painting” at MoMA PS1 (New York)

Carolee Schneemann’s show at MoMA PS1 is proof of her lasting impact on late 20th century art. The retrospective spans her six-decade long career and features her work in painting, performance and installation. In addition to her thoughtful commentary on the history of art, she also tackles social constructions of the female body in her works and even uses her own body as a medium, revealing a new duality between subject and creator. — Austen Tosone

5. Wade Guyton “Siamo Arrivati” at Museo Madre (Naples, Italy)

The New York artist has been working with constructs of time and place for a while now, using screen grabs of the New York Times homepage for his fractured inkjet paintings. But last spring, Guyton spent two months in the city of Naples soaking up the local atmosphere, shooting everything from shellfish to a charnel house on his phone, and ultimately creating a lyrical, mesmerizing exhibition that served as a painterly ode to Italy. — Christopher Bollen

4. The German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (Venice, Italy)

For her Venice Biennale installation, “Faust,” artist Anne Imhof utilized the physical architecture of the German Pavilion to illustrate the invisible social, economic, and political power structures by which individuals are constrained. It was a fascinating medley of movement, as performers interacted with the space—sitting the edge of the roof, for instance, or writhing underneath a glass panel specially built above the Pavilion’s pavement—music, and art, but also a necessary work in the tumultuous sociopolitical landscape of 2017. — Jane Gayduk

3. Sophie Calle at Green-Wood Cemetery (New York)

Sophie Calle has never been one to shy away from spectacle, and in Here Lie the Secrets of the Visitors of Green-Wood Cemetery, the French conceptual artist created a cause célèbre around secrets. The project—which opened in May 2017, and is intended to run 25 years—features a marble obelisk fitted with a letter slot. Visitors to the Brooklyn cemetery are encouraged to write down their secrets, seal them in envelopes, and drop them in the slot, where they will descend underground. It’s a brilliantly simple concept, and a deeply moving experience all the same. — Matt Mullen

2. Alice Neel “Uptown” curated by Hilton Als at David Zwirner (New York)

It’s really no surprise Hilton Als and Alice Neel seem like such kindred spirits. Als writes brilliantly on the arts and the public and private lives of artists, while for 50 years Neel painted portraits of family, friends, writers, poets, artists, and activists she encountered in New York. Both approach their subjects with a preternatural sense of empathy and understanding. In his expertly curated show of Neel’s paintings, which spanned from the ‘20s to the ‘80s, Als gave new life to the late painters’ work. — Matt Mullen

1. Kara Walker at Sikkema Jenkins (New York)

Kara Walker’s fall show at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. started with a bang before it even opened: Walker penned a fantastically baroque press release, which announced the show in the vein of a carnival barker, and took aim at her own work, the art world, the entire world. “Parents will cover the eyes of innocent children!” she wrote. For those whose eyes weren’t covered, the show—which featured drawings, paintings, and collages, some in this silhouette style she has become known for—did live up to the hype. — Matt Mullen