1.) Dada at the National Gallery. The most important American museum exhibition in many years. An intensely anti-war show at the foot of the U.S. Capitol. When no one raised a stink about it we should have known it was going to be an anti-war year at the polls.
2.) Robert Rauschenberg‘s Combines at MOCA. Forget the Met’s airport-conveyer-belt presentation (which opened a week before the end of 2005), MOCA’s installation of Paul Schimmel’s show was superb; the work as fresh as ever.
3.) Amy Sillman at Sikkema Jenkins. The best contemporary painting show of the year. If Sillman were a younger male, then museums would be falling over themselves to show her work. (Similarly: Marilyn Minter.) Sillman should have already had a Hirshhorn Directions-level show somewhere.
4.) Courbet and the Modern Landcape at the Getty. It was a banner year for Courbet in the US as the Wadsworth and FAMSF both acquired major canvases. (Both purchases were first reported on MAN.) If you saw only the Walters presentation of this show, you missed the show.
5.) The Bloch-Bauer Klimts at LACMA. With a building project underway the museum could put together “just” $150 million (likely a museum-record offer) and lost out on adding these great works to its collection. Still, the Stephanie Barron installation out-did the Neue Galerie’s show.
6.) Robert Adams at the Getty. How strange is it that NYTer Michael Kimmelman complains about mad money in the art market… but then reviews (and end-of-the-year-lists) a commercial gallery’s Robert Adams show instead of the Getty’s wonderful, more comprehensive exhibit? Adams’ photographs expose the contradictions that we’ve placed built into the American West.
7.) Societie Anonyme at the Hammer. A year after MoMA opened, this show was a welcome reminder that art history doesn’t follow a single timeline. Wonderfully installed, too.
8.) The freebies: Indianapolis, Baltimore, the Walters, and more. In a year that saw $24 tickets for (legit, non-Tut) museum shows, many museums became free and many more re-dedicated themselves to staying that way.
9.) Robert Polidori’s After the Flood. Painful and powerful. Best in book form, where the sheer weight of it all is stunning.
10.) Steven Cantor’s What Remains. This documentary about Sally Mann is a moving portrait of an artist’s life and challenges.
(Note: I reserve the right to go wobbly by adding to this list after I see several current NYC shows. And I could have linked to lots of MAN coverage of these 10 shows/etc. but I thought that would get a little dense. There’s plenty in the archives via the search feature though.)