Catherine Opie at the Guggenheim: Spot-on title, fantastic catalogue, mind-numbingly stupid installation. Even when the Gugg gets one right, it can’t get one just right.
Sarah Oppenheimer at the Mattress Factory: The Carnegie International-concurrent show in which Oppenheimer was featured had its ups-and-downs, but the New York artist’s nearby installation stole the show. (Part one, two.)
Dialogue Among Giants at the Getty: This show should have been titled “He’s Carleton Watkins and No One Else Was.” The exhibition has a simple, straightforward concept: Carleton Watkins was a mega-stud, a photographer to whom composition was paramount. His peers, notably Eadweard Muybridge, were wanna-bes. I don’t know if this was the best show of the year — no catalogue?!!? — but it sure was the most thrilling.
The Year of Mark Bradford: For me, his roof-top installation at the Carnegie International is the work of art that best sums up America in the Bush years. (Did he know a financial meltdown was ahead?) He had a breakout year. (With Vija Celmins.)
Steve Roden at Suzanne Vielmetter: Usually when painters pack about 20 influences into their paintings, they end up looking like they’re trying really hard. Roden’s paintings at Vielmetter looked so easy and so natural it hurt.
Chris Burden’s Urban Light at LACMA: A populist metaphor + destination.
Cottage Industry at the Baltimore Contemporary: In hindsight, it’s amazing that no one else has done this show (and that they left out Filip Noterdaeme, but oh well). (Part one, two, three, four, five.)
Robert Irwin at the Indianapolis Museum of Art: The artist’s only permanent indoor installation at a U.S. museum. (Irwin rises above.)
Remodeling the Huntington, Cleveland: The Huntington’s Portrait Gallery is now one of the best, most elegant rooms of art in America. The Cleveland Museum of Art re-opened its 1916 building, to superb effect.
Vik Muniz, Rebus at MoMA: A clever marriage of concept, collection.
Honorable mention: Morandi at the Met, Miro at MoMA, Francis Alys’ Fabiola at LACMA, Franz West at Baltimore, the Carnegie International, Dargerism at the American Folk Art Museum, Oranges and Sardines at the Hammer.